Posted by Alex on Thursday, July 31st, 2008
Posted by Alex on behalf of
I just got back from Damascus. Syria and the Syrians are ready for peace, I am glad to report.
Damascus was hot as usual during the summer months. It was bursting with life, people, and moving objects (sometimes referred to as cars) wondering around its busy and narrow streets. At traffic lights, the honking starts the minute drivers, who are religiously monitoring the traffic signal of the cross traffic, sense a green light is finally coming. And, as usual, lanes of traffic are ad hoc; you create your own lane at will and other drivers innocently oblige. I love the freedom and liberty of traffic lanes in Syria.
So after months of indoctrination by my Syrian expats here in the US, I was expecting to witness a disgruntled populace in Syria due to recent surges in prices of almost everything. I braced myself for the worst and filled my pockets with 50 liras bills – just in case. I was pleasantly disappointed. Instead, I found people going about their daily lives as they did before, but this time with a strong sense of Syrian pride of standing together and surviving the storm that was hatched in the dark alleys of the White House.
I have never seen or observed this feeling before in Syria. My local friends and relatives, who are usually professional naggers with advanced degrees in whining, are all of the sudden bragging about how great Syria is and the Syrians are. The feeling was that the whole world conspired against them and the Syrians finally won; and the lines at the foreign embassies for Syrian visa seekers have, all of the sudden, disappeared.
Can you find poverty is Syria? Yes. Can you find disenfranchised people in Syria? Sure. Are there prisoners of conscious in Syrian jails? Indeed. But one would be blind not to observe how genuinely the people of Syria feel that sense of vindication after the collapse of the Cheney project in the Middle East. Syrians are now very happy to have their country still in one piece – prosperous (in relative terms), dignified, and the envy of their neighbors.
That is why Syria today is ready for peace with Israel where it wasn’t just a year ago. That sense of vindication comes from repelling the demonic “neoconic” project of dismantling Syria (in which Hariri paid dearly for it with his life), the stellar wins of Hezbollah (twice) in Lebanon, and the demonstrable steps of the Syrian government to enact societal transformation and economic liberalization have all combined to produce a heightened sense of Syrian national identity that is unshakable and self-assured.
And, it was clear to me that Bashar Assad is a popular man in Syria – more so today than his father ever was. Somehow, humbly enough, he showed Syrians that he’s got what it takes to be a strong leader.
Syrians today feel secure, mature, and needing one final step to complete their march towards a viable nation-state. That step is heavily engrained in every Syrian mind: The return of Golan Heights – every inch (or centimeters) of it in exchange for a genuine and lasting peace with Israel. Read on.
Riad is my 30-something driver in Damascus. Every year, for the past 4 years, I hire Riad with his sharp eyes and incredible wit in navigating Damascus traffic and streets. Riad is a very patient driver – never complained about the heat, how late we party, the traffic, or the high prices of food or fuel. Riad is also a devout Muslim. The Quran is neatly tucked away in the car’s glove box compartment. When Riad is waiting, he is usually reading the Quran. Riad is also a Hajji who’s been to Hajj three times. And Riad loves Bashar and hates Khaddam.
Riad got married last year. My wife did meet Riad’s wife once last March. She is a young Syrian woman with an incredible radiance and beauty – clearly visible through her conservative hijab, according to my wife (who rarely mentions anything about beautiful women!)
So, this summer Riad told me the good news. His wife is pregnant and they are expecting twin boys sometime in December. Excited about the news, I asked Riad about what is he going to name the twins. “Ishaq and Elias.” he promptly answered.
Shocked by his answer, I asked the question again, in case I happened to loose my hearing.
“Ishak and Elias,” he repeated. “Ishaq for the Jews and Elias for the Christians. We Muslims are part of that Jewish and Christian religions, and both names are mentioned in the Quran,” Riad promptly answered. “I want to make sure that my children grow up in Syria with names that keep reminding them of our diverse nation (watan), this is Syria and not Saudi Arabia,” Riad concluded.
Syria is ready for peace and Riad is one of its newest heroes.