“What Syria stands for: The moral argument for US friendship with Syria,” by S. Farah

What Syria stands for: The moral argument for US friendship with Syria
By S. Farah
for Syria Comment, June 15, 2008

Clerics Gather in Damascus 2006 
(photo: Clerics of many faiths assemble in Damascus: 2006)

In a recent Op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal, US senators John Kerry and Chuck Hagel presented a persuasive argument for reengaging Syria for the mutual strategic benefit for both the US and Syria and to advance the peace process in the ME. However, they failed to see the moral reasons to engage Syria in a strategic partnership, arguing, “Cooperation with Syria rests not on shared values, but on shared interests.”

Syria’s detractors have focused attention on its political system. Many who know President Bashar Al Assad know that he, too, longs for the much-needed political reform. But as he mentioned in press interviews during his recent tour of several Gulf States, such reforms have been slowed by the unprecedented security challenges facing the region, from Lebanon to Iraq.

While continuing to expand freedom and reforms, Syria should draw the attention of the world to its religious democracy and its cohesive yet diverse culture (a much-needed model for the new ME) where people are free to explore and worship God. Poopa Dweck, the author of “Aromas of Aleppo,” a Syrian-Jewish cookbook, was quoted in the NY Times as saying, “The Europeans (Jews) built a wall around themselves. We didn’t. My mother was shoulder to shoulder with Arabs in the market. We learned all our recipes from them.”  

Syria is also a cradle of Christianity, the depositary and living example of the universal message of St. Paul.  Islam in Syria is truly a spiritual enlightenment. Syria is perhaps the only Muslim nation where Muslims often frequent Christian monasteries for worship. And Syria is the only country that states clearly in its grade school Islamic religion books that Christians will go to heaven, and it has insisted that its struggle with Israel is not a struggle against Jews, but rather a struggle for Arab rights. 

An important measure of a state is how it protects its minorities and weakest citizens. Syria has been a refuge that few Middle Eastern states can equal. The Lebanese, during their civil war, found Syria a hospitable haven where they could work and worship. Today, close to a million and a half Iraqis live and work in Syria supported by Syrians and the Syrian government. Shiaas, Sunnis and Christians live and worship side by side, spared the sectarian violence that has beset Iraq since the US invasion, that beset Lebanon during its long civil war, or Palestine/Israel for the better part of 100 years. The half million Palestinians that live in Syria enjoy rights and equality that few other countries offer. Time and again during the past one hundred years Syria has acted as a refuge for persecuted minorities. Over a million Armenian Christians passed through Syria after the events of 1915; many of whom stayed and found a welcoming home in Syria. Similarly, Assyrians in 1932, Syriacs in 1915 to 1922, Kurds in 1926 and later, Alawites and Christians fleeing Antioch in 1938 all found Syria a safe and a welcoming home.

Syria has stood fast for Arab and Palestinian rights and has been a broker of peace in the Middle East. After Lebanon slipped into a civil war, Syria, under the auspices of the Arab League and the consent of the United States, entered Lebanon, ended the civil war and reunited the country by enforcing the Taef agreement. Syria also helped craft and implement the April Understanding that saved Lebanese and Israeli civilian lives and paved the way for the Israeli army withdrawal form its occupied south.

It prevented the Iraq-Iran war from becoming an Arab-Iranian war, and played a key roll in keeping the waters of the Persian Gulf open for shipping during that protracted war. It helped liberate Kuwait by joining the American-led desert storm. And it has been credited again in helping broker the most recent Qatari sponsored agreement that ended the political stalemate that almost plunged Lebanon into a new civil war. 

Syria has supported a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace and the integration of Israel in the Middle East by supporting the Arab peace plan, all this while promoting religious harmony and fighting extremists. Syria has also been credited for being a reliable ally in combating Al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism, and saving lives by thwarting terrorist attacks on Arab, American and European targets. The United States’ blinkered foreign policy during the current administration has harmed US interests in the ME.

Arabs have become disenchanted with an America that they believe is hypocritical about human rights and, in particular, their human rights. Syria has weathered tremendous pressure for its positions when it believes they are right and principled, even as others disagree. But Syria has always kept the door open to constructive dialogue in order to restore Arab rights and its occupied land. 

America must reclaim its clout in the region and its status as a beacon for freedom and human rights. To do this, Washington should engage Syria as a moral and strategic partner to promote a just and a comprehensive peace in the ME based on the inadmissibility of acquisition of land by force, while encouraging and supporting human rights.

Comments (157)


AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Syria funds terrorsits and harbors them. Mesha’al is a guest of Asad as was Mugniyeh a terrorist wanted in tens of countries. Syria has funded and armed Hizballah a terrorist organization directly responsible for killing hundreds of US marines. Syria is most probably behind the murder of Rafik Hariri and countless other murders in Lebanon. The Syrians sucked Lebanon dry and if it were not for the Syria Accountability Act in congress, its army would still be in Lebanon.

All the text is full of inaccuracies, falsehoods and very weak excuses. I will list a few.
“But as he mentioned in press interviews during his recent tour of several Gulf States, such reforms have been slowed by the unprecedented security challenges facing the region, from Lebanon to Iraq.”

The ususal excuse of dictators. Blaming outside problems for why they have to oppress their own people. Israel’s situation is the same as Syria yet there is freedom of speech in Israel and a liberal democracy.

“The Europeans (Jews) built a wall around themselves. We didn’t. My mother was shoulder to shoulder with Arabs in the market. We learned all our recipes from them.”

A huge falsehood that the writer chooses to adapt. Most European Jews wanted to very much be part of European society. Freud, Einstein, Herzl etc. etc. are all examples of Jews the countless Jews who did not create a wall around themselves and attempted to be assimilated. The number of doctors, lawyers and businessmen among Jews in Germany attests to that.

“Islam in Syria is truly a spiritual enlightenment. ”
And that is why Hafez had to kill 20,000 people in Hama. The fact is that many Syrians are deathly afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood and their “spirtual enlightment”.

“And Syria is the only country that states clearly in its grade school Islamic religion books that Christians will go to heaven, and it has insisted that its struggle with Israel is not a struggle against Jews, but rather a struggle for Arab rights.”

Syria has harrassed its Jewish community so that out of 50,000 strong in 48 only 60 remain. A best seller in Syria is a book by Tlass a former defense minister that argues that Jews kill Christians to use their blood in Christian rituals. Just recently a Syrian vice minister said that Jews are the sons of apes and pigs. Syria hounded its Jewish community out of existence.

The bottom line is that until Syria opens up and shows real progress in becoming a democracy, there is no moral ground to deal with it. And since it has lost its “resistance” abilities, there are no pragmatic grounds to talk to it either.

June 16th, 2008, 2:34 pm

 

Akbar Palace said:

AIG –

Here’s Professor Josh’s take on Syrian Textbooks.

Note that Professor Josh cites Dr. Meyrav Wurser’s findings and he doesn’t dispute them (MEMRI). Dr. Josh also mentioned that the textbooks were not changed:

http://faculty-staff.ou.edu/L/Joshua.M.Landis-1/Islamic%20Education%20in%20Syria.htm

June 16th, 2008, 4:15 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

AP,
Thanks for the link. Even Landis agrees that antisemitism is taught in Syrian schools:
“The Syrian government teaches school children that over half of the world’s six billion inhabitants will go to hell and must be actively fought by Muslims. Jews have their own status. The Jewish religion – the Torah and the Jewish prophets – are considered divine – but the Jewish people, who, it is claimed, deny their prophets, are fated to go to hell and must be eliminated.”

Not the Zionists or the “Zionist Entity”, Landis clearly says that that Syrians are taught that the Jews must be eliminated. Yes, another argument for why Syria should be engaged for “moral” reasons.

June 16th, 2008, 4:35 pm

 

Alex said:

AIG< Israel elected more terrorists to become its prime ministers than any other country on earth… does this make Israel the most evil country on earth?

Israel failed to respect more binding UNSC resolutions (all approved by the US and other European allies of Israel) than all the other Arab countries combined … does this make Israel the most outlaw state on earth?

Yes, and Yes.

Your choice of “the bottom line” is that of Syria’s enemy, Israel that you come from. This article is not talking to your AIPAC robots, it is talking to Americans who are not stupid enough to believe your wonderful “democracy” bottom line… the same bottom line that Daniel Pipes, Cheney and countless other neocons have been hiding behind as they led their country to the trillion dollar, million dead Iraq war.

Having said that, I agree that Islam in Syria is not universally in that state of enlightenment. I estimate that 10% to 15% of Syrians are not enlightened at all … Muslim or Christian. There are those who hate the Jews, there are those who believe Christians are infidels, there are Christians who refuse to have Muslim neighbors …

But that’s a much lower number than the dogmatic Israelis, Saudis, Egyptians, or Iranians.

Syria is indeed much more enlightened than Israel… Israel does not save Christian, Armenian, Muslim, Kurdish, Lebanese, Iraqi, Palestinian refugees by the millions like Syria always did, Israel murders them! … one of the major (not the biggest) murder machines in the Middle East. Saddam, and the Sudanese are the top murderers, not Israel… Israel comes number three.

So … THAT is the elephant in the Room AIG … your country is filthy and powerful and people like you have the nerve to repeat lies about Syria’s treatment of its Jews … despite what those same Jews keep saying about Syria … its people and its leaders.

Here are some links for you

http://joshualandis.com/blog/?p=656

“But among the assortment of memorabilia, the Syrian [jewish] doctor is particularly fond of a small stack of folded newspaper clips that show him and other Jewish leaders shaking hands with the late Syrian President Hafez al-Asad.”

And you know what, every time you keep your “elephant in the room” propaganda tactics, I will imitate you and use your same AIPAC tactics by reposting the video of one of your many enlightened Israelis … just like you want the readers to believe that Tlass to represent ALL Syrians … I am claiming that this settler represents how ALL Israelis think of us Christians … what a shameful group of people you are!! … I think it is “despicable”!

June 16th, 2008, 4:43 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Alex,
What lies? I am quoting Landis. Is he a liar?

As for “Americans who are not stupid enough to believe your bottom line” they should examine the totality of the evidence and make up their own mind.

As for how “enlightened” Syrians are, we will only know when there is free speech and freedom of press in Syria. Until then, we have only your propaganda to count on. Even Landis says that Syrians do not understand how much the religious antisemitic education influences them.

And as for your petty examples, are you really going to make arguments like: Osma bin-Laden is a muslim and a terrorist, therefore all muslims are terrorsits?

June 16th, 2008, 4:58 pm

 

Alex said:

Those religion books that you are referring to are from Nasser’s time … the Egyptians (when Syria was united with Egypt) came up with those stupidities.

They have to go, if they are still used today. The regime in Syria is too cautious … they worry that if they specifically edit out the parts related to Jews in those old religion books, then they will be accused of being Israeli agents … the lovely Saudis spend a lot of money of the stupid fanatics in Syria who do believe that Jews are evil.

And I told you many times that those fanatics do exist in Syria, but they are the minority …

Here is what Bashar is doing instead … his Grand Mufti meets regularly with, and prays with visiting Rabbis … and if this is not convincing enough to you … who cares!

You are an AIPAC robot… you are pre-programmed to FOCUS on one negative and to promote the negativity with all your pre-programmed routines … you are afraid that, god forbid, there might be peace with Syria if you don’t do your destructive job right.

June 16th, 2008, 5:10 pm

 

Alex said:

I know that SimoHUrrta already pasted this story but since AIG insists on repeating his Tlass routine, I will do the same:

It is A FACT that Israelis hate us Christians. Here is what is still going on today in Israel:

Orthodox Jewish Youths Burn New Testaments in Israel

May 28, 2008

Orthodox Jews set fire to hundreds of copies of the New Testament in the latest act of violence against Christian missionaries in the Holy Land.

June 16th, 2008, 5:17 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Finally, some sanity…

Rice presses Israel on checkpoints, settlements

JERUSALEM (AFP) — US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wraps up a Middle East tour on Monday after strongly condemning Jewish settlement activity in the occupied West Bank.

She was holding a one-on-one meeting with Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak where she was also expected to press for the removal of more of over 600 checkpoints and roadblocks scattered across the West Bank.

The two were then to be joined by Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad, who has been heading up efforts to revitalise the West Bank economy and the deployment of newly-trained Palestinian forces.

“We have not made the progress that we would like to in terms of movement and access, removal of barriers,” Rice said on Sunday at a press conference with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

“Particularly, I am concerned about the outposts which are, after all, illegal under Israeli law,” she added, referring to dozens of wildcat West Bank settlements Israel has pledged to remove under a 2003 roadmap agreement.

keep reading

June 16th, 2008, 5:35 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Alex,
It is a fact that Tlass published a best seller in which he claimed that Jews murder Christians and use their blood in rituals. It is a fact that some Jews recently burned copies of the New Testament. So far we agree.

It is a fact the Israeli government immediately condemned the burning and that the story was published FIRST in Israeli newspapers and the act was widely condemned. It is also a fact that NOT ONE Syrian newspaper came out against the Tlass book. In fact, they all praised him and his book. It is a fact that Bashar did not say ONE bad word about the book. It is also a fact that the book was HIGHLIGHTED in an international book fair in Damascus. The Syrian regime is PROUD of this book. In addition, even the Christian community in Syria did not say that the book was wrong.

These are the facts. Let each person interpret them as he wishes.

June 16th, 2008, 5:36 pm

 

Alex said:

Your facts are “amusing” (since SH is not here)

it is A FACT that you choose to forget what I explained to you many times

Tlass is out … he is quite old … he offended Christian Syrians in his book by stating that it is understandable that their loyalty can be questioned … he claimed that they will be on the side of Christian America and against Syria.

It is A FACT that Christian Syrians are not robotic AIPAC propagandists … they do not forget all the goodness in their country and focus on Tlass and his stupid book …

It is A FACT that you do not know how “amusing” it is to read you claim with absolute certainty about ALL Syrian newspapers “In fact, they all praised him and his book.” … I like it how “an Israeli businessman” that you claim to be, you have absolute knowledge about ALL Syrian Arabic newspapers and how they ALL wrote to praise Tlass’s book!

It is A FACT that less thatn 1% of Syrians read books (unfortunately) … just like most Arabs. So … it is A FACT that at least 99% of Syrians did not read or know about Tlass’ book that you are making it sound like some kind of required reading in Syria!

June 16th, 2008, 5:52 pm

 

Nour said:

Alex,

AIG’s aim is to attack anything positive about Syria in order to put Syria in as bad a light as possible. However, his tactics are failing. People who visit Syria and see for themselves what it’s like are always impressed. This is what bothers AIG the most. He wants people to believe that Syria is this medieval, terror state where people are afraid to merely stick their heads out the window. He would like to portray Syrians as the movie 300 portrayed the Persians. The bottom line is that “Israel” is founded on the ethnic cleansing of another people, and has continuously engaged in the murder, land occupation, house demolition, land expropriation, etc. of other peoples. It is a murderous, racist, cancerous entity that wants to empty the region of its natural inhabitants. On the other hand, Syria has been a place where many people have sought refuge and where they were protected by the Syrian people and government.

June 16th, 2008, 5:56 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Alex,
Is it true or not that not ONE Syrian newspaper crticized the Tlass book? Is it not true that ALL the Syrian newspapers that reviewed it, praised it? (This is what I meant) Is it true or not that the Syrian government did not criticize the book but higlighted it in an international book fair?

And what is your excuse for allowing antisemitic books in Syria? That less than 1% of Syrians read book. What a great excuse. And what is the excuse for antisemitism in the religion books taught in school? That the books are from Nasser’s time? Or that Bashar is afraid to change them? Is that an excuse?

June 16th, 2008, 6:06 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Nour,
A country where less than 1% of the population read books is pretty medieval to say the least.

June 16th, 2008, 6:22 pm

 

Alex said:

AIG,

Failing to change the offensive paragraphs in Nasser’s religion books is not acceptable. I know why they don’t want to play with those books, but I am not justifying it at all. I can see where these could potentially lead to anti semitic opinions when the teacher in some classroom happens to be an antisemite too… he would emphasize rather than ignore those parts.

But I am saying that if you really knew what is going on in Syria the past few years, you would have joined all the visiting Rabbbis who love Syria and appreciate its respect for Jews.

The overwhelming message in Syria is for religious tolerance … it is A FACT that the regime is religiously working for religious tolerance.

As for Tlass’ stupid book which no one read … I would appreciate it if you stop wasting out time.

The topic of this article is that the United states should cooperate with Syria not only because it is in America’s best interest, but also because there are fundamental moral values that both countries share and can cooperate to successfully promote.

You disagree of course, but most of us here share Farah’s conviction that Syria is the United States’ natural moral ally in the Middle East, not the neocons’ other favorite regional partners who are good for large scale wars, violence, failures, and destruction.

Israel is “the Jewish nation” … Saudi Arabia is the protector of Sunni Islam .. Iran is the Shia state.

Only Syria is for everyone … the Saudis did not do a thing to the 1.5 million Iraqi refugees … most of them were Christian and Shia …

Israel killed 1500 Lebanese in 2006 … Syrians opened their homes to 250,000 Lebanese refugees of all religions.

June 16th, 2008, 6:27 pm

 

norman said:

Israel-Syria talks ‘constructive’
Israel and Syria have completed two days of indirect peace talks in Turkey, with Israeli and Turkish officials hailing them as a success.

The two sides have agreed to at least two more sets of talks under Turkish mediation, the officials said.

The Israeli delegation is thought to include two top aides of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Previous peace talks collapsed in 2000 over disagreements about the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel since 1967.

The two sides announced the existence of indirect talks last month.

An unnamed Israeli official told journalists the discussions had been held “in a positive and constructive atmosphere”.

“The two sides reiterated their commitment to make progress in the talks and to meet on a regular basis.”

Turkish officials also said an agreement had been reached to carry on the talks, although Damascus has not yet confirmed that any talks have taken place.

And it is not thought there is any firm plan for a face-to-face meeting between the two sides.

At the moment, Turkish officials have been passing messages between the two delegations.

Israeli President Shimon Peres said on Sunday that Israeli and Syrian leaders should meet.

He recalled the groundbreaking visit by Egypt’s Anwar Sadat to Israel in 1977 which triggered a process that led to a peace treaty.

“If the Syrians really want peace, they must agree to a summit meeting between the Syrian president and the Israeli prime minister,” said Mr Peres during a visit to the US.

The Syrian government has insisted peace talks can be resumed only on the basis of Israel returning the Golan Heights.

Israeli authorities, for their part, have demanded that Syria abandon its support for Palestinian and Lebanese militant groups.

Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/middle_east/7456073.stm

Published: 2008/06/16 16:36:53 GMT

© BBC MMVIII

June 16th, 2008, 6:31 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Alex,
Your and Farah’s argument will only start being credible when Syria is a democracy and has basic freedoms. But until then your arguments are basically: Yes the books are antisemitc and taught to all Syrians but Syria is not antisemitic. Yes, there are no Jews left in Syria but that is not because they were treated badly.

If you want to make a moral argument, then be moral (not you, the regime). Freedom of speech is one of the most fundamental values of the US. There is basically no such freedom in Syria. And this is just one example out of many. Since Syria is the one of the most oppressive dictatorships in the world, you will convince very few people that Syria shares “moral” values with the US. You will then of course argue that this is because of AIPAC. No, it is because of how Syria is in fact acting.

June 16th, 2008, 6:35 pm

 

Alex said:

Can secular Israel take on all the backward ultra-religious Israelis?

Not always… it is a struggle.

Same in Syria.

I am very optimistic that about a year to two years form now, max, there will be great cooperation between the United States and Syria.

And it will be the best thing that happened to the whole Middle East (including Israel).

June 16th, 2008, 6:43 pm

 

why-discuss said:

AIG

You keep repeating obsessively the Tlass sory at nausea, you keep hammering the need of democracy in Syria. Please clean your rubbish in your backward before making the lessons to the others. You are offering a very negative and materialistic view of Israel, that wont help the arabs to like it or respect it. Your supposed economical success pumped by the billions you receive from the US means nothing in terms or morality and humanism. It may impress you but it does not impress me.
Do good to others, show humanism and compassion for the victims of your wars and stop boasting your financial successes and worshipping the Golden Calf!

June 16th, 2008, 6:48 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Alex,
Unlike the Syrian state, the Israeli state is not in the business of telling people what to believe. They can believe what they want and say what they want as long as they follow the laws. Unlike Syria, Israel does not “take on” the beliefs of any one of its citizens. And that is why Israel is a natural ally of the US and Syria is not.

The best thing that can happen for the middle east is for Syria to begin real democratic reforms. All the rest is wishful thinking.

June 16th, 2008, 6:52 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Why,
It is a fact that the Arab citizens of Israel have much more rights and are 6 to 7 times richer than the average Syrian. Are you now more impressed?

The number of Arab citizens in Israel has grown 200% percent since 1948. The Jewish population of Syria has disappeared. How is that for compassion?

June 16th, 2008, 6:58 pm

 

Alex said:

AIG

you killed 1500 Lebanese people in 2006 and you blame THEM for not cleaning YOUR cluster bombs fast enough!

How is THAT for compassion!

And … “All the rest is wishful thinking.” ??

I think I am the one who in August last year said that Syria’s favorite candidate Michel Sleiman will be the next president of Lebanon, and it was YOU who said that Syria will be very disappointed when Lebanon gets an M14 president to join it sM14 prime minister and the two together will really make us cry in Syria.

How is THAT for wishful thinking?

June 16th, 2008, 7:16 pm

 

Alex said:

Did you try to twist the facts on Syria’s disappearing Jewish population again?

OK .. here is another example of your savage and murderous Israel again doing its humanitarian best to be the best host to Arabs:

June 16th, 2008, 7:26 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Alex,
Right, Syria arms Hizballah with rockets that it fires at Israeli citizens and when Israel exercises its right of self defense you invoke compassion.

It is a simple fact: Israel is more compassionate with its Arab citizens than Syria is with its Arab citizens. The Arab citizens of Israel are better off in every aspect: human rights, education and economic situation. A country’s compassion is first measure by how it treats its own citizens.

June 16th, 2008, 7:32 pm

 

Alex said:

AIG .. keep telling us how sweet you are

June 16th, 2008, 7:38 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Alex,
What in the following statement is wrong:
There were about 50,000 Jews in Syria in 1948, there are only 60 now.

Communities that are left alone and not harassed usually grow, they do not disappear.

June 16th, 2008, 7:38 pm

 

Majhool said:

“An important measure of a state is how it protects its minorities and weakest citizens”

I don’t see how this statement applies!! The regime is mainly supported by a collation of minorities, they are not the “weakest citizens” it’s quite the contrary. I say they don’t get to have the bragging rights for this one.

The credit should be given to Islamic Culture that was, when compared to Christian Europe, more tolerant to minorities.

June 16th, 2008, 7:41 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Alex,
Israel is far from perfect. It is a democracy muddling along in a complex situation. But it is a democracy unlike Syria which is an oppressive dictatorship and that is the main reason it is a natural ally of the US and Syria isn’t.

If you want to change that, it is quite simple. Make Syria democratic at least as much as Israel. There is no mystery about what you have to do. You are just reluctant to do it.

June 16th, 2008, 7:42 pm

 

Alex said:

AIG

Keep your robotic propaganda

Here is the answer to our question,

http://joshualandis.com/blog/?p=656

and here

http://joshualandis.com/blog/?p=654

The same Jews who left (because they “did not know if the future will be safe”) love Syria .. still visit Syria … and they get met sometimes by president Assad himself who they love.

And here is my imitation of your propaganda

June 16th, 2008, 7:44 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Alex,
Is a place treating you well if you don’t believe you will be safe in the future? Do you listen to your excuses? Everything was great in Syria except that the Jews were not sure they will be safe in the future. They felt so unsecure that ALL basically left. Part of being treated well is being secure. And you try to argue that Syria was a great country for Jews. Not only that, they had to read how they should be eliminated in their religious studies books.

And of course, all Syrian Jews or most of them love Asad. That is a good joke.

It is a fact: There are basically no Jews left in Syria. There is just no way to spin away this simple fact. If a place is good for people, they do not all leave it.

June 16th, 2008, 7:55 pm

 

Counter revisionist said:

Well interesting debate. I have to say though, Alex is quite unconvincing, and AIG takes this match hands tied.

June 16th, 2008, 8:42 pm

 

JustOneAmerican said:

Well, as an American I have to partially agree with AIG that the US will never be a “moral” partner, much less an ally, with Syria so long as it remains a dictatorship. Asad is a dictator plain and simple and few Americans will find common cause with him even if he might be more benevolent than most. For all of its faults, the Israeli government is at least accountable to its population.

That is not to say, however, that there cannot be shared interests between the US and Syria. What I would like to see is a return to realism in US foreign policy that focuses more on interests and less on the moralizing that has taken place in recent years.

What’s interesting in the debate here is how actions and “facts” are interpreted according to the arguer’s preexisting biases- hence the dispute over Jews in Syria. I might suggest that things are not so black-and-white in reality.

June 16th, 2008, 8:46 pm

 

Nour said:

The comparisons are misplaced between “Israel” and Syria. “Israel” is a cancerous entity founded on the destruction of another people. Syria is not. The fact that Syria has had to go through internal growing pains since the end of the Ottoman occupation and subsequent colonial rule is a completely irrelevant matter. All nations have had to go through a lot of ups and downs and have had to struggle tremendously to attain maturation. Syria is still going through this process, which has been manifested in its periods of instability, authoritarian rule, etc. Internal problems affected all Syrians, and not just one particular group, therefore, continuing to hammer about Syrian Jews having left Syria is nonsense. Many Syrians left Syria looking for a better life, not just Jews. This is not because Syria is an inherently oppressive place, but rather because several social, political, and economic factors has led it to experience hardship on its way to full maturation.

To say that “Israeli Arabs” have increased in numbers is not the proper way to judge the nature of “Israel”. Rather, let us look at how many Palestinians have had to leave as a result of the establishment of the Jewish entity. In other words, in order to establish “Israel,” how many indigenous people had to be forced out? How many had to be killed? And the ones still living on their land today are living in some of the most horrid conditions. “Israel” sympathizers argue that this is not their problem because these people are not “Israeli” citizens. However, the fact that “Israel” occupies their land, builds settlements on their territory, and forcefully imposes conditions that lead to their misery is conveniently left unmentioned.

Syria does not occupy others’ lands, nor was it founded on the ethnic cleansing of another people. Syria is not a country for a particularistic group of people. It is not a country based on a belief in a divine promise. Syria is a country with a long and great history of inclusiveness and tolerance. The same cannot be said for “Israel.”

June 16th, 2008, 9:04 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Nour,
Thank you for reminding us what is written in the Baathist text books. You see Landis, not all Syrians forget what they read in their text books.

Quote of the year:
“Syria is a country with a long and great history of inclusiveness and tolerance”.

June 16th, 2008, 9:15 pm

 

Brent said:

The Jews in Syria were given permission by the government of Syria to emigrate to Israel if they wished. Around 300 still remain in Damascus. I’d say the benefits of living in a Jewish state were the motivation, rather than the negative motivations of living as a minority in a pluralistic society.

June 16th, 2008, 9:17 pm

 

CWW said:

I can see a strategic case for the US to engage Syria, but I don’t see a moral case.

“An important measure of a state is how it protects its minorities and weakest citizens.”

Well, ask the Kurds of Syria how they are treated. It’s far worse than in Iran or Turkey. Most of them lack citizenship, some say the figure is as high as 80%. This group can’t attend University or travel abroad (no passport). The international human rights groups reported that in March, during a celebration of Nawruz, the Kurdish New Year, the security services opened fire on an unarmed crowd and killed 3 people. I wouldn’t want to be part of a non-Arab community in Syria while it is ruled by an authoritarian dictatorship that waves the banner of Arab Nationalism.

June 16th, 2008, 9:17 pm

 

Brent said:

It is hilarious that Arabs with Israeli citizenship are being compared to Arabs elsewhere. Palestinian refugees have it the best in Syria, where they can do anything that Syrians can do with the exception of voting. In Israel, Arab citizens can’t even speak Arabic without being harassed–they’re constantly under suspicion and asked for their ID cards. There’s no comparison.

June 16th, 2008, 9:22 pm

 

ausamaa said:

In one breath, Chutzpah expresses itself in a magnificiant manner:

“All the text (about Syria) is full of inaccuracies, falsehoods and very weak excuses.”

I thought this was in referrence to the state of Israel and to the the stupid policies carried on by the US, the country that calls itself the beacon of Freedom, Liberty and Democracy.

Do you want to compare Syria’s actions to those of Israel and the US, as practiced by each in its historic sphere of actions and which were aimed at spreading World Peace and Freedom such as in Mai Lai, Guantanamo, Nagazaki, Hiroshima, Iraq, Qibya, Dair Yassin, Qana, Chilli and the rest…

Or do you want to compare the victims of Syria’s actions to the some 30 million Red Indians who lost their lives and scalps at the hands of the founders of the Greatest Democracy in the World, and later the largest user and manufacturer of Cluster Bombs, Napalm, and thermonuclear bombs, the same “peace-loving” country that erased Dusseldorf, Dresden, Hamburg and most of remaining Germany before deciding to call it quits in WWII, the same “humanitarian” country that used the Nuclear Bomb on the Japanese “after” it has won the war.

“Falsehoods and Inaccuracies”, that is more representative of your claim to “civilization” than it is to any claims made by or for Syria.

Before shooting off your mouths about others, why dont both, the US and Israel give us an accurate account of thier actions so that we can use it a measuring yard to expose the “inaccuracies” of other nations.

Go read some history books and tell us something we dont know…or something “humanitarian” or “moral” that we can learn from.

June 16th, 2008, 9:33 pm

 

CWW said:

“…Syria should draw the attention of the world to its religious democracy…”

I really don’t know what the term “religious democracy” means, but usually the word democracy connotes ideas like choice and/or pluralism. When it comes to religion there isn’t much of this in Syria. Proselytizing is not tolerated. People who do proselytize in Syria may face 5 years to life in prison for “posing a threat to the relations among religious groups.” Leaving the faith of one’s family can result in murder. And of course, if you are a very religious Muslim and believe that your religion should for the basis of governance you will probably be taken away in the middle of the night and tortured.

About Jews (from the U.S. Dept. of State):
Jews were the only religious minority group whose passports and identity cards noted their religion. They must obtain the permission of the security services before traveling abroad. Jews also faced extra scrutiny from the Government when applying for licenses, deeds, or other government papers.

June 16th, 2008, 9:46 pm

 

nafdik said:

Alex, how are you doing?

Your contributions are becoming reflexive, angry and erratic, unlike your usual witty, tolerant self.

As for AIG, I think you are mixing apples and oranges. It is clear that Syria is a dictatorship, so is every contry in the ME with the possible exceptions of Israel, Iran and Lebanon.

However, you have to give credit to the Syrian people and government for having more religiously tolerant society than most its neighbors.

I challenge you to provide metrics that compare Syria disfavourably with the Arab allies of the US: Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

June 16th, 2008, 9:46 pm

 

JustOneAmerican said:

This whole discussion is like an escalating schoolyard argument about who is worse than whom which each side upping the ante to “prove” how bad the other side is. The fact is that there isn’t anyone without blood on their hands and this “debate” is rather pointless.

June 16th, 2008, 9:46 pm

 

ausamaa said:

True: there is blood, and there is blood. And history, if not the bolggers here, has a long and harsh memory.

And in all fairness, one can not allow a “….” to breach about fidelity and remain silent.

June 16th, 2008, 9:53 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Ausamma,
You are very confused. If the US is immoral, why would you try interesting it in a moral argument to be friends with Syria? Moral arguments do not work with immoral people.

Nobody is perfect, but first and foremost a country is judged by how it treats its own citizens. In this regard Syria is a huge failure.

June 16th, 2008, 9:55 pm

 

CWW said:

Ausamaa:

The text above is about Syria. What Israel or the USA does has nothing to do with whether the text about Syria is “full of inaccuracies, falsehoods and very weak excuses.”

I really think that a better approach to refuting the claim that the text above about Syria is inaccurate would be talk about how it is accurate. Accusing the US or Israel of things rather than talking about why you may think S. Farah’s characterization of Syria is accurate makes people wonder why you are deciding to avoid the question by accusing other parties of things. Saying “Israel and the US have done xyz” is irrelevant to the question of how Syria operates.

The people on this blog aren’t working for the State Dept. of the Israeli Foreign Ministry we are just people from specific countries and ought to be concerned about human rights everywhere.

June 16th, 2008, 9:58 pm

 

ausamaa said:

CWW,

I beg your pardon, nothing is irrelevant in this world. And at the risk of repeating my self, a “…” is not entitled to preach fidelity to others, let alone “grade” them or “classify” them. Or is it do as I preach but not as I do…??? What happened to leading through example? Can you guys guide us? How can we listen to the “teacher”, let alone “learn’ from him if we know that he is lacking in credibility, misrepresenting and lying to further his own agenda with no real intent to teach or to help us?

And maybe what you say about Syria is right for security reasons (as Syria is in a state of war with Israel), but it pales next to what the US did to its Japanese citizens during WWII. The camps, the barbed wires… remember!

And if you wanna take it one step further, or closer, the only place where I hear “normal” people cursing Jews or making fun of them or making unfavorable reference to them is in the current good ol’ USA. Watch some US movies, you will believe me.. if you have not noticed already.

Wanna keep this “enlightening” discussion going on, or should we change the subject??!!

June 16th, 2008, 10:01 pm

 

CWW said:

Ausamaa:

Again I don’t understand what the relevance of your point is to the piece by S. Farah. My earlier post about the Kurds in Syria was to counter the claim by S. Farah that minorities are treated well in Syria. You are lashing out at me by criticizing the United States. What is the relevance of that, or what any other country does for that matter with respect to their minorities, to the question of minority rights in Syria?

June 16th, 2008, 10:07 pm

 

ausamaa said:

I bet you dont!

June 16th, 2008, 10:15 pm

 

Alex said:

JustOneAmerican said:

Well, as an American I have to partially agree with AIG that the US will never be a “moral” partner, much less an ally, with Syria so long as it remains a dictatorship.

Eh …. do you have access to a TV set at home? … do you ever watch the news? … did you ever check CNN.com?

If not, I’ll help you with pictures of some of your existing partners/allies:

June 16th, 2008, 10:33 pm

 

Alex said:

CWW

Syria has about 20 different minorities … we even have Yezidis … devil worshipers according to some people (not exactly) … Syria treat 19 out of those 20 minorities very well.

So … if we are logical people .. can we try to at least consider blaming it on the Kurds themselves up to a point? .. or at least can we ask some questions before we use the example of the Kurds to negate ALL the other minorities who are enjoying safety and freedom of worship in Syria?

Do you know that until 1998, when Turkey threatened to invade Syria, most Kurdish leaders used to hide in Syria? … do you know that a large number of Syrian Kurds are not really Syrian? .. they are refugees from Turkey who illegally entered Syria from 1960’s until the late 90’s?

Here is a quote from an anti Syria site that explains to you why Syria reduced its support to Kurds:

“Turkey nearly invaded Syria in 1998, when Mr. Assad’s father Hafez at first refused to surrender Kurdish terrorist leader Abdullah Occalan.”

But thanks to Israel and the United States, they promised Iraq’s kurds (and Syria’s new kurds, who are really from Turkey) help in establishing their state if they cooperated with the United States and Israel.

June 16th, 2008, 10:42 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Alex,
These pictures are of pragmatic allies not moral allies. The whole point of the Farah comment is that Syria should be a moral ally unlike Egypt or Saudi. Farah quotes and disagrees with Kerry and Hagel that “cooperation with Syria rests not on shared values, but on shared interests.” The Kerry and Hagel quote is certainly true of Egpyt and Saudi, and if ever Syria becomes a US ally, it will be true of Syria also.

June 16th, 2008, 10:43 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Alex,
Your argument does not make sense. If the US would treat all minorities well except the Arabs, do you think it would be a good excuse for the US to say: look we treat everyone well except the Arabs, it must be their fault then.

But the fact is, that the only minority that is treated well in Syria is the Alawites. All the rest have very few rights compared to minorities in the US. The Kurds are treated worse than the others, but the others are not treated well.

June 16th, 2008, 10:48 pm

 

Hans Morgenthau said:

The original post does hagiophy Syria in a way that obscures the truth. There is no mention of Syria’s hegemonic Lebanon policy from the mid-1970s till present nor of Syria’s repeated attempts to sideline Fatah and dominate the Palestinian movement. Both these ends have been pursued through horrific means. I see very little here that justifies US engagement on moral grounds. Many of the “positive” actions cited in the piece were in fact shrewd strategic moves (i.e. support for Desert Storm). Also, while the Sarah does highlight some of the more cosmopolitan aspects of Syrian history, there is no denying that the society is today rife with sectarianism. My Syrian Christian friends are hostile to Muslims and Kurds. My Syrian Kurdish friends are hostile towards Arabs. Of course none of this is overt, but it does come out subtlely in conversation.

June 16th, 2008, 10:51 pm

 

Alex said:

AIG,

First, I did not talk about “moral” partners there … read what I wrote above the pictures if you want.

Besides, JustOneAmerican said:

I have to partially agree with AIG that the US will never be a “moral” partner, much less an ally, with Syria so long as it remains a dictatorship.

And I have nicer pictures if the one above was not reflect the “special” relationship with the Al-Saud family

June 16th, 2008, 10:51 pm

 

Zenobia said:

All the rest have very few rights compared to minorities in the US. The Kurds are treated worse than the others, but the others are not treated well.

aig, do you want to site some source for this claim that ethno-religious minorities are persecuted (by the state) in Syria at this time?

Or is this just your belief?

June 16th, 2008, 10:53 pm

 

Majhool said:

Zen,

Kurds are not allowed to have their own schools (Kurdish Schools). On the other hand Armenians are allowed.

The Armenians (new comers) were given Syrian nationality, the Kurds were not.

Etc..

June 16th, 2008, 11:07 pm

 

Alex said:

Zenobia,

Please give him credit for at least not starting by saying “THE FACT IS …”

Hans,

Syria’s detractors love to tell stories about all of the bad things that happened when the Syrian army was in Lebanon. Let me remind you of what you do not seem to want to know … Syria lost 13,000 soldiers until the Lebanese war was ended.

And if you insist on forgetting that large sacrifice and focus instead on Syria’s mistakes in Lebanon, then let me show you a video clip about another immoral country in that case:

June 16th, 2008, 11:14 pm

 

Alex said:

The Armenians are not “newcomers” … they were Syrians since 1915 … the Kurds who do not have nationality are Turkish refugees from the 70’s and 80’s… Syria took them when they were afraid of Turkish punishment. Syria’s older Kurds in Damascus are full citizens and many ex prime ministers of Syria were kurds.

And once the Israelis and Americans stop trying to play with their hopes and aspirations for a part of Syria for their homeland, Syria will give them nationality and will allow them to have their Kurdish schools, just like the Armenians … except if you are claiming that Syria loves Armenians specifically.

June 16th, 2008, 11:16 pm

 

Majhool said:

Alex Said: “the Kurds who do not have nationality are Turkish refugees from the 70’s and 80’s…”

from Human Rights Watch Report Dated 1996
http://www.hrw.org/reports/1996/Syria.htm

Kurds are the largest non-Arab ethnic minority in Syria, comprising about 8.5 to 10 percent of the population of 13.8 million. This report documents the situation of stateless Syrian-born Kurds — 142,465 by the government’s count, and well over 200,000 according to Kurdish sources — who have been arbitrarily denied the right to Syrian nationality in violation of international law. These Kurds, who have no claim to a nationality other than Syrian, are literally trapped in Syria: not only are they treated in a discriminatory fashion in the land of their birth, but also they do not have the option of relocating to another country because they lack passports or other internationally recognized travel documents. This report also examines policies and practices of the Syrian government that violate the right of Kurds in Syria to enjoy their own culture, use their own language, and otherwise exercise freedom of expression, also in violation of international human rights standards. These issues have received little international attention.
In 1962, an exceptional census stripped some 120,000 Syrian Kurds –20 percent of the Syrian Kurdish population — of their Syrian citizenship. They were left stateless, and with no claim to another nationality. Decree No. 93, issued in August 1962, ordered that a census be carried out in Hasakeh governorate in northeastern Syria for the purpose of identifying “alien infiltrators.” The stated purpose of this census was to discover how many people had illegally crossed the border from Turkish Kurdistan. Kurds had to prove that they had lived in Syria at least since 1945 or lose any claim to Syrian citizenship. The census was one component of a comprehensive plan to Arabize the resources-rich northeast of Syria, an area with the largest concentration of non-Arabs in the country.
By many accounts, the special census was carried out in an arbitrary manner. Brothers from the same family, born in the same Syrian village, were classified differently. Fathers became foreigners while their sons remained citizens. Kurds who had served in the Syrian army lost citizenship while families who bribed officials kept theirs. This report includes the names of Kuridsh men and women, born in Syria in 1935 or earlier, who lost their citizenship as a result of the census and became “foreigners” (ajanib, in Arabic) in their own country. According to Syrian lawyers, as a result of the census

“thousands of people went to sleep as Syrians and woke up to find that they no longer were [citizens].”
Since these Syrian Kurds did not — and do not — have citizenship in another country, they are stateless as a matter of international law. They have been issued special red identity cards by the Ministry of Interior and, pursuant to discriminatory state policy, are denied many rights which other Syrians enjoy, such as the right to vote, the right to own property, and the right to have marriages legally recognized. They are not entitled to passports and thus cannot exercise the internationally guaranteed right to freedom of movement and to legally leave and return to their own country (Syria). Kurdish sources say that there are now an estimated 200,000 Kurds in Syria who are officially classified as a special category of “foreigners.” The Syrian government informed Human Rights Watch in July 1996 that the number is 67,465

June 16th, 2008, 11:24 pm

 

Zenobia said:

Actually, i was asking AIG because he was the one who made the statement. At least you, Majhool, are Syrian and you may have your own knowledge.
But putting aside Kurds,,, I am asking what he knows.. everybody knows a certain extent about Kurds. As this involves a number of countries across several borders and is an unresolved problem.

but you, Majhool, said “etc…” as if this is supposed to mean something… and?

what about the other eighteen minority groups or sects?

Cause, i didn’t hear Aig say anything about anybody specific; he just made a sweeping generalization.

I would really like to know … what the evidence is that he has. I don’t know for certain. But I haven’t heard that the Yazidiz or the Ismailis or versions of Ismailis and Alawis, or Druze,Circassians, and Syriacs,… were oppressed people’s that the state persecutes.

so, let me hear it in detail….instead of just a statement about Kurds and then “etc… “….

June 16th, 2008, 11:40 pm

 

Alex said:

This article by Farah was making the point that Syria is very friendly to minorities. And we know that almost all minorities religious or ethnic are safe and secure in Syria.

As for the Kurds …. out of 1.3 million (according to the above info) … 1.1 million are ok .. they have full nationality and they live in Damascus and Aleppo like any Syrian and some of them become prime ministers of Syria.

Out of the remaining 150,000 to 200,000 … large number of them were Turkish Kurds who entered Syria in the past (70’s, 80’s, and 60’s) to escape the not very friendly Turkish army… Syria took them.

The remaining ones were mistakingly (or through non-bribery) classified as foreigners in 1962… that was not Assad’s Syria. Assad appointed Kurdish prime ministers.

Syria says it wants to give them citizenship eventually … but outside interference must fully stop before things happen. Both sides have to do their part in order to make sure these poor people have their full rights.

Going back to out original point … Syria still is the best country in the Middle East for minorities. Lebanon is good for its own minorities (it is the country of minorities after all) … but it does not treat other nationalities as well as Syria did with the Iraqi and Palestinian refugees.

June 16th, 2008, 11:43 pm

 

love you alex said:

Alex you are an Army of one. Wealth of info backed by evidence. You won!

June 16th, 2008, 11:55 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Zenobia,
What I wrote is very obvious. All minorities are oppressed in Syria. Do you deny this? Not one has freedom of speech or association etc. etc. The Kurds are just oppressed even more than the others.

Syria does not treat its minorities well because in general the Syrian state does not treat its citizens well. It denies most citizens basic human rights.

June 16th, 2008, 11:56 pm

 

Karim said:

In fact many if not most of the kurds in Syria they are sons of refugies who came to Syria after the revolt of Sheikh Said against Ataturk in the 30’s.
But we have also old kurdish towns in Syria like Afrin and Amuda(qamishli is a new city).As for the old kurdish families of the syrian cities they played an important role in Syrian history.Many of the syrian aristocratic families are also of kurdish origin.
I think that even these refugies deserve the syrian nationality ,because these boundaries between us and turkey are not natural borders and during the Ottoman era, Aleppo was the regional capital of north Syria and South Turkey so in one way or an another they are inhabitants of the same land.
The same with the armenians ,most of them are sons of refugies but we also had an important armenian community in the syrian cities ,specially in Aleppo in which you can see the old church of the 40 martyrs in al Jdeideh,it was build during the end of the Mameluk Era in the 15th century and during the Ottoman era ,they were the richest people of the city.So armenians,jews ,chaldo assyrians,syriacs and turks of the region around Aleppo and Mosul should not be considered as foreigners people in Syria because they belong to the same land.

June 17th, 2008, 12:00 am

 

ugarit said:

AIG said: “There were about 50,000 Jews in Syria in 1948, there are only 60 now.”

Hmm! I wonder why? Oh, yes now I remember. A colonial settler state which committed ethnic cleansing and destroyed over 400 cities and villages, was created in Palestine and called Israel.

Democracy is not a guarantee of good behavior. The US government has been responsible for facilitating the killing of over a million Iraqis. That’s a number far higher than what Saddam had done during his reign. I favor democracy but your use of the term is clearly a red-herring and diversionary tactic.

June 17th, 2008, 12:03 am

 

Zenobia said:

AIG,

don’t try to slip out of this. We all know that you contend that people in general are oppressed in Syria because you assert that the system of government is oppressive. But that is not what we are talking about, and you know it.

I may agree that the overall system is repressive, and therefore the limits on freedom of speech or association will affect all citizen including minority ethnic or religious groups. but Yes, I deny that this is BECAUSE they are minority groups. That fact has little to do with it. And that is the subject we are talking about.

You entered this by contending that ‘minorities’ are particularly oppressed by other groups or by the state in ways other than your general contention that the entire state system is repressive.

I understood your statement to be obvious. And obviously without any evidence attached to it.
I asked if you have some specific data (something you are always haranguing others for not having) to back up your statement.

So, spit it out. Instead of giving the “everybody knows… ” blather…

June 17th, 2008, 12:09 am

 

Alex said:

Nafdik,

Today I am trying to play some hypothetical Syrian version of an AIPAC supported blogger … It works like this:

You have to call your enemies “despicable”, “murderous”, “terrorists” .. you have to FOCUS on their negatives and to change any topic of discussion to the thing you are focused on … never give them credit for anything good they do, and make sure you simplify everything for Americans who are reading … things are either Good or Bad …

Try it … it is fun. I feel like I am on the side of moral goodness for a change. Now I know how they feel when they make those pompous statements : )

June 17th, 2008, 12:11 am

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Zenobia,
No, I meant exactly that all minorities are oppressed except the Alawites because all citizens are oppressed. This is exactly what I meant. You are trying to find something that isn’t there.

June 17th, 2008, 12:17 am

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Alex,
The whole premise of this thread is that Syria can be a “moral” ally of the US. This is of course obviously false as the discussion above shows. The “moral” issue was introduced by Farah and this is what the discussion was all about. If you put forward Syria as moral, then be prepared to discuss whether Syria is really moral or not. Why are you complaining?

June 17th, 2008, 12:22 am

 

Zenobia said:

oh. i see. Then i guess you were making a very obvious statement indeed, that is completely irrelevant to the discussion and doesn’t offer anything new to say at all.

I understood the relevant material here to be about policy in Syria regarding particular groups living.

The Alawi as a group have a lock on political and economic power. They distribute it as they see fit and to the degree that it does not threaten their privilege. That is clear. And they will not allow another group to dominate or take that away.

To reiterate this is to state the obvious.

It seems more interesting to understand society and how groups relate within it, not simply how they relate to the power base.
The myriad ethno-cultural groups and religious sects are treated fairly equally under the state… relative to each other. And the Syrian nation accepts this diversity and is proud of it despite their prejudices and beliefs in tribal loyalty and marriage obligations to ones own group.

I think Majhool correctly said it in his first comment: the Alawis are the minority here, and everyone else collectively is the majority.
One might argue that the limitations of power and freedom are distributed without prejudice across syria’s plethora of cultural and religious groups.

June 17th, 2008, 12:32 am

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Alex,
Your problem is that you think you could convince any American that having a dictator and no democracy can be good and that the dictator should be considered “moral” in any sense. Good luck with that. Yes, the US deals with dictators, but it would much rather prefer to deal with democracies which are the natural allies of the US.

June 17th, 2008, 12:34 am

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Zenobia,
Pardon the language, but when you treat everyone like shit, it really doesn’t matter that you do so fairly.

Let’s say a person runs an orphanage and gives very little food to the children there. When one of them complains he is told: Why are you complaining, no one is getting more than you! This is a secular and egalitarian orphanage.

Give me a break.

June 17th, 2008, 12:38 am

 

love you alex said:

ANOTHERISRAELIGUY:

South Africa was a democracy, but also known as an apartheid south africa
The US before the civil rights movement was also a democracy

June 17th, 2008, 12:40 am

 

Zenobia said:

AIG,

ok, but that is a different post. We are talking about the situation within the given system, not some other system. It is like your questions about schools and the answers you got. Because Syria had the influence of the Soviet communists- they ended up with relative egalitarians but a low common denominator, a mediocre standard.
Maybe a comparison is that there is a fair level of social harmony and egalitarian standards, but freedom and power is limited relatively speaking.

Only to you, such details or nuances don’t matter. Others might think it interesting.

and re: morality

Morality is about as relative as abstract concepts get. I didn’t agree with the writer of the post very much, as I think the writer was romanticizing more than necessary.

The political system may not be moral. But that is not about bigotry so much as power.
I think that is the point. And the way that Syria has integrated so many groups historically and presently, for the most part, as a people and a society, and as a nation, despite the shortcomings and intolerance that sometimes rears its head, is “Moral” I believe. At least one can reasonably make that argument.
Whether this is as moral as the ideals of the American constitution,in essence – tolerance written into law, well, of course, I would not say that.

This does not detract however from what good there is to be found in Syrian society.

June 17th, 2008, 1:09 am

 

Zenobia said:

re the comment directed to Alex from Aig,

i think he is not here to answer, so I would answer that I don’t think Alex’s mission is to convince Americans. Where you got that, i don’t know.

I think Alex presented enough beautiful pictures throughout today illustrating the hypocrisy of the United States of America in terms of its allies and partners.

dear AIG, you mistake so often the concept of Democracy- for that of Capitalism.
It is not democratic entities that the US seeks to be allies with. History holds a graveyard of democratically elected leaders that the US has overthrown, especially in South America, and tried to kill Castro, they over threw the Iranian president and installed the Shah.
You are deluding yourself. The interest is in states that open their markets and allow US Capital. Democracy is not the criteria.

June 17th, 2008, 1:27 am

 
 

Qifa Nabki said:

Where’s Ehsani?

Can we switch back to economics?

I’m a little dizzy.

In other news, the U.S. seems to be sending some positive signals to Syria via Rice’s visit to Beirut. She had nothing but praise to lavish upon President Suleiman, who in turn had nothing but praise to lavish upon Syria’s government. She also slammed Israel’s plan for 1300 new settlements in and around East Jerusalem, and brought up the problem of Shebaa.

So, it seems that the Americans may be sniffing Bashar out again. Too bad it’s too little too late… As Joshua has said, they should have switched to this tack back in the fall of 2005. They could have gotten more (Syria’s help in Iraq, accelerating peace talks, making Lebanese allies play nice, etc.) for less. But hindsight is 20/20.

June 17th, 2008, 2:17 am

 

Enlightened said:

What a wonderful post to promote discussion, dialogue and build bridges! (LOL)

I want to remind everyone here that the only source of true enlightenment is me! And the rules are no talking about religion, if we want to all get along.

QN: I am going to apply for a ministers position in the Lebanese Government. It is a newly created position titled “The Minister of Vice, Moral, Cultural and Degradation”.

I am told I am a shoe in for the position!

June 17th, 2008, 2:26 am

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Enlightened

You have my vote!

Not that it means anything (or anyone else’s vote in Lebanon, for that matter)

It seems that the only qualification you need to become a minister in Lebanon is to be a butt boy of either: Saad Hariri, Michel Aoun, or Nabih Berri.

June 17th, 2008, 2:34 am

 

JustOneAmerican said:

Alex,

The reason that SA, Egypt et al are American allies is because they have something Syria does not – strategic importance. If SA lacked oil and if Egypt wasn’t sitting on one of the world’s vital waterways, they’d be in the same boat as Syria is. Since I don’t see Syria gaining a similar kind of strategic importance anytime soon, then the US won’t have much interest or incentive in being Syria’s ally.

As another example, consider Pakistan which becomes an “ally” whenever it is vital enough for the US to do so but it is ultimately only an ally of necessity. The same can be said with respect South Korea when it was a dictatorship, numerous South American dictatorships and others. America’s enduring alliances are formed with other democracies or those nations with special strategic importance or both. This isn’t so different from how other nations form strategic relationships, including Syria. For example, I think the alliance between Iran and Syria is ultimately one of convenience and of limited goals.

And as I said before, all this doesn’t mean that the US and Syria cannot work together on specific issues, but there will be nothing even close to an alliance until Syria is a democracy. The exception may be a peace deal with Israel which might see Syria getting the kind of aid Egypt gets. Personally, I think the US needs to engage with Syria on a host of issues and therefore I don’t support the Bush policy.

Zenobia,

Yes, American policy is full of hypocrisy which has been with us since our founding. Of course, all nations engage in hypocrisy to a greater or lesser extent. Perhaps America is the worst – powerful nations historically have that luxury. Regardless, pointing out hypocrisy is rarely an effective means of convincing anyone beyond the already converted to adopt your point of view.

Getting back to the original post, I’ll repeat the US cannot be a “moral” ally of Syria anymore than it can be a moral ally of North Korea. Our respective moral viewpoints are simply too divergent.

June 17th, 2008, 3:15 am

 

EHSANI2 said:

Nafdik is a name from the past that had regrettably not visited this forum for a while.

What a joy to see him back.

Alex is indeed a one man army holding the fort. The man’s energy and intellect is amazing regardless Of whether you agree with him or not (AIG, I am sure that you agree).

For the record, I happen to personally know S. Farah. He is one of the finest that Syria has to offer. His goal is healthier US-Syrian relations. He wants this because he loves his country of birth and he happens to appreciate the positive influence that America can have in the world. This is an important discussion.

QN,

Thanks for checking up on me but was tied up doing volunteer work for the local school.

June 17th, 2008, 3:40 am

 

Alex said:

Just one American,

I understand how difficult it is for you to realize that your country is often the opposite of moral … you started an unnecessary war that killed hundreds of thousands of poor Iraqis … before that you supported harsh sanctions on that same country that led to over a million dead Iraqis …

So … I agree, as you said … “Our respective moral viewpoints are simply too divergent.”. America has freedom of speech and accountability, Syria has corruption and not much freedom of speech … but Syria saves millions of people that America failed to kill in Iraq or Israel failed to kill in Palestine of Lebanon.

Very different indeed. I just hope you are not trying to claim that one is more moral than the other.

I’m sure America will be back to its real values. I am still hopeful in Obama. The whole world is watching if you don’t know. Everyone is counting the days until America is on the good side again.

June 17th, 2008, 3:48 am

 

Alex said:

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Alex,
Your problem is that you think you could convince any American that having a dictator and no democracy can be good and that the dictator should be considered “moral” in any sense.

AIG,

Sorry to tell you that I already convinced many Americans (and Europeans) … some of the opinion pieces you read and did not like the past year were after the journalist spoke to me.

June 17th, 2008, 3:52 am

 

nafdik said:

Sorry Alex, failed to read the sarcasm 🙂

Apparently it is a sign of early demntia:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/03/health/research/03sarc.html

Thx Ehsani for the welcoming message, great to see you here as well. I still visit the blog, but less often than before, now that Facebook is here 🙂

June 17th, 2008, 3:58 am

 

why-discuss said:

AIG
Israel is a country born in violence and oppression. Its history is bloody and its conscience full of hatred, revenge, arrogance, guilt and suspicions. These are stigmas that it will have hard time to get rid of, despite its ‘succesfull economy” ,the richness of its people and the pretention of democracy.
Syria may not be a democracy, it may be poor, but its people have humility, compassion and tolerance to receive millions of refugees, christians and moslems when Israel was throwing out and denying the rights to hundred of thousands of palestinians, then bombing civilians with cluster bombs etc.. Having been the victims of the hate of the European christians for generation is not an excuse to make the palestinians victims and expect them to submit to your violence. You did not submit, they won’t.

June 17th, 2008, 3:59 am

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Zenobia,
I do not mix up capitalism and democracy. The US makes alliances based on its interests but it has natural allies and those that are just allies of convenience.

Its natural allies or what we are calling “moral” allies are those countries that share similar values with the US. Freedom of speech is one such important value. “Give me liberty or give me death”, the famous words of Patrick Henry describe another value. Capitalism (free market economy) is another value. The more the values overlap, the more natural an ally is. Syria overlaps the US in very few values. It is a dictatorship without a market economy.

This does not mean that at a personal level Syrians are not moral or good people. Farah has made the mistake of framing this argument in moral terms but I think the preferable way to go is to talk of how much different values that relate to politics and economy overlap.

June 17th, 2008, 4:02 am

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Alex,
Really, so you have convinced Americans and Europeans that a dictatorship is good for Syria? Can you show me one commentary in a serious publication that says that?

June 17th, 2008, 4:09 am

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Why,
Syria has humility and compassion? When Hafez killed 20,000 of his fellow countrymen is that humility or compassion or both? When intellectuals are put in jail just for stating their opinions, is that compassion or humility? When to get anything done you need to bribe people is that compassion or humility? When the minorities in Syria as so scared of Asad falling and the Sunnis gaining power is it because Syrians are full of compassion and humility? Is a country in which honor killing is not a crime a compassionate country?

Wake up and smell the roses. Syrians are not more or less compasionate or humble then anybody else. The same goes for Israelis. What is stopping Syria from achieving its potential and being stronger than Israel is the political system of the last 60 years.

June 17th, 2008, 4:17 am

 

Alex said:

That was so amusing AIG.

I convinced them that America has to talk to Syria. I convinced them that Syria is not as bad as most other American allies in the Middle East. I convinced them that it is in Israel’s best interest to talk to Syria.

There might be many ups and downs during the next six months to a year … But good things are probably coming.

June 17th, 2008, 4:21 am

 

Alex said:

Nafdik,

It’s my fault … I should have used some of these 🙂 😉 🙂 😉

And please don’t mention Facebook … now AIG will remind us that it is often banned in Syria! : )

June 17th, 2008, 4:27 am

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Alex,
I think you are getting things mixed up. It is Syria that has to talk to the US. It is in Syria’s best interst to talk to Israel but it certainly not in Israel’s interest to talk to Syria.

Good things are coming. On this we agree. Netanyahu will soon be in power in Israel.

June 17th, 2008, 4:32 am

 

Alex said:

Good for you … we know.

He is no match for our Assads : )

June 17th, 2008, 4:35 am

 

JustOneAmerican said:

Alex,

I understand how difficult it is for you to realize that your country is often the opposite of moral

That’s quite an arrogant statement to make considering you don’t know me.

What I do understand is that debating nation-state relationships in terms of morality is ultimately pointless as are comparisons, valid or not, between different nations regarding which one is more or less “moral” than the other. The reasons should be obvious. That virtually every reply you’ve provided in this thread is in that vein – seeking, apparently, to “prove” that the US and Israel are worse than Syria in a moral sense does not provide much basis for a rational discussion on US-Syrian relations. It might make you feel good about yourself and engender supportive high-fives from those who share your opinion and biases, but it seems you are smart enough to know that such argumentative tactics are unlikely (to put it charitably) to get anyone, particularly Americans, to adopt your viewpoint.

June 17th, 2008, 4:47 am

 

Shai said:

This is indeed an “interesting” discussion… It’s probably the first time that I find myself siding with.. no one! Most comments are too extreme, and back the other side into a corner, from which the only response is, too, an extreme one. So both sides are in the boxing ring, trying to score knock-outs. Except, that in cyberspace, no side ever get knocked-out, they just keep getting up and fighting. So it gets boring after a while, no?

Why not go back to trying to BRIDGE between the sides, looking for what we have in common, not how we differ. Generalizations and discrediting will not get us far along the path to peace (if that is anyone’s intention or hope). Calling Israel a “cancerous entity” will not cause Israelis to want to change their ways. If anything, they’ll harden, and justify their actions by saying “You see, look at their real intentions – they want to remove us (we’re a cancer)…” Discrediting any progress made by Syria, and indeed any of its moral acts (like taking in millions of refugees), will also cause Syria to harden, and to say “You see, they’re not interested in mutual respect or peace – all they want is to have their way…”

Brainwashing is something that belongs to former Communist regimes, that sought to mold their people into a particular ideology. By repeating the same rhetoric about one another, we’re not going to achieve anything positive – only the opposite. We’re all smart enough to understand what each one of us is attempting to do. So let’s take that into account, when selecting what to say, and what not to say. Even to the greatest pessimist (about the prospects for peace, democracy, etc.), this forum should NOT become a boxing arena. It’s a shame, it’s senseless, and it’s almost always counterproductive.

Just a few “wize” words maybe… (where is Wizart?)

June 17th, 2008, 5:08 am

 

Alex said:

JUST ONE AMERICAN,

I am glad that you found me arrogant today. As I explained, I was imitating Mr. AIG and countless others who want to convince us that they are some moral knights fighting for freedom, liberty and democracy while us Syrians are shamefully supporting dictatorship and an assortment of other bad things.

Do you really understand my point of view that you suggest that no American will adopt?

By the way, I am not a salesman … People accept ideas when they are ready to accept them, not when some “Alex” acts abnoxious for a day on some blog.

June 17th, 2008, 5:09 am

 

SOL said:

Alex said;
“Here is what Bashar is doing instead … his Grand Mufti meets regularly with, and prays with visiting Rabbis … and if this is not convincing enough to you … who cares!”

In May of 2001 Pope John Paul II visited Syria.This is from the NYT article reporting on his trip.

“No sooner had he arrived in Damascus, retracing the steps of St. Paul, than Syria’s new president, Bashar al-Assad, delivered a bare-knuckled attack on Jews. This went beyond formulaic denunciations of Israel. It raised the specter of the blood libel of Jews as Christ-killers — those, he said, ”who try to kill the principles of all religions with the same mentality with which they betrayed Jesus Christ.” More anti-Jewish allusions followed from Syria’s minister of religious affairs.”

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D01E7DF1F3BF930A25756C0A9679C8B63

June 17th, 2008, 5:12 am

 

Alex said:

Shai,

I knew you will like me today : )

I was mostly acting, I swear!

Here is a very interesting piece of news. Mr. Larsen, who is practically boycotted by the Syrians actually tried to lobby the Israelis to NOT talk peace with Syria!!

What a wonderful UN “diplomat” … no wonder he is not welcome in Damascus

UN envoy: Israel giving Syria ‘huge gift’ for free
By Barak Ravid

A senior United Nations official has harshly criticized Israel’s indirect negotiations with Syria, whose second round ended yesterday, charging that “Israel has given Syria a huge gift, without thus far receiving anything in exchange.”

Terje Roed-Larsen, the UN secretary-general’s special envoy for the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1559, made the comments last week in a conversation with Israeli diplomats.

In a classified telegram to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, Israel’s UN delegation wrote that Larsen had complained that “Syria is receiving legitimacy for free.”

“Europe is courting the Syrians because of the negotiations with Israel, and they are no longer being asked to give anything in exchange,” the telegram quoted Larsen as saying.

June 17th, 2008, 5:13 am

 

Alex said:

SOL,

Ask AIG … I reminded him of this incident myself (he probably did not know it). At the time AIG challenged me to criticize Bashar. I replied that Bashar made a terrible mistake when he made that remark next to the pope.

But I KNOW that Bashar does not mean it … it was bad advise from an old speech writer in Syria (A Christian) who Bashar asked him what to say when he welcomes the pope.

June 17th, 2008, 5:17 am

 

Shai said:

Alex,

Yes, I know you’re playing the AIG-wannabe role today… 🙂 I was just about to link to the same Larsen article, but you beat me to it. What an idiot, no? What the hell is his role in the region, or in the UN for that matter, if not to help facilitate peace between enemies? He’s suddenly become Israel’s representative to the UN? Perhaps he has lunches with Talansky every now and then… I know why he’s doing what he is. It’s called “pity party”. He’s hurt (poor guy) because he wasn’t able to convince the Syrians to do what he suggested they do in the past. So he lashes back, like a kid that was told by another kid “no…”

June 17th, 2008, 5:22 am

 

Alex said:

Shai,

I agree.

Also, last year, Haykal (Egyptian super journalist) said that Shimon Peres is Larsen’s mentor (in a well known fraternity) … and Peres does not like the Syrians either. He prefers the Palestinian/”Arab moderates” track.

June 17th, 2008, 5:36 am

 

Majhool said:

AIG,

Let me make it simple:

Syria’s regime relies on a collation of minorities for its survival. The command of the army and intelligence is full of Druz, Ismalie, Alawie. These minorities are not treated bad by the government. They are the government.

Kurds who are not arabized and live in the northeastern tip of Syria are not treated well, even those in Aleppo and Damascus are denied their own schools.

If your read the Syrian Constitution you will find that there not much room in it for non Arabs (or not yet arabized Arabs).

The Christians are treated very very well by the government.

The majority Sunni are treated like shit in Syria.

Government aside, The Syrians follow a long tradition rooted in Islam that tolerates minorities (Jews in Spain as an example)

These are facts, the rest is all spin.

June 17th, 2008, 5:38 am

 

Shai said:

Funny you mentioned Peres. I believe he pretty much hates Larsen, and that the feeling is mutual. As for the Syrians, I think Peres very much wants to see peace in his lifetime (he is quite old, you know). He just said a day or two ago that if Syria is serious, Bashar should meet with Olmert. I guess he’s not the first to say it… 😉

June 17th, 2008, 5:40 am

 

Mazen said:

Obsessive Compulsive Israeli Guy (aka AIG),
And JustOneAmerican

Democracy is a political system for the circulation of power and it has many merits. It does not mean that any sh** that oozes from you is kosher, though. The conflict is much, much deeper than the political system, and than the superficial nomenclatures at that.

We know you don’t care about democracy in Arab countries not one bit. You turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to the very non democratic and extremely corrupt Arab rulers just when it suits you to do so. The US, (which is a democracy,) put its hands in the hand of Saddam when he was gassing the Kurds and the Iranians.

When you do that, you no longer can use “democracy” in your arguments, because we know it’s a not true and that you are not telling the truth. But OCIG is still trying the old saying “Don’t tell the truth, Don’t tell the truth, Don’t tell the truth, until they believe you.” Keep trying, pal, but the joke is wearing thin.

Like Alex said, let us hope that America will turn to the good side this December.

June 17th, 2008, 5:57 am

 

Majhool said:

Mazen

Just a friendly reminder: when you accuse someone of lying the moderator must block you (rules of the forum)

June 17th, 2008, 6:02 am

 

Alex said:

Shai,

I can’t trust Peres. He is simply too slick. I would be happy to hear that I am wrong of course.

Mazen

No accusing anyone (even AIG) of lying please.

June 17th, 2008, 6:07 am

 

Shai said:

Alex,

You’re wrong. You shouldn’t be happy to hear that you are wrong… 🙂
Few politicians should be trusted on their words. Only their action should count.

June 17th, 2008, 6:17 am

 

Zenobia said:

Aig,
per your last comment to me, ok, i accept what you said. And basically I sort of agree that the “morality” theme was not the best approach to making his point.

I think all he wanted to say is that America usually symbolizes around the world – a place that has opened its doors to the world… “bring us your tired, your weak.. ” etc and so forth.
And Farah is trying to draw a parallel with this particular representation of America, and say that in some ways – this aspect of a moral america can be found in Syria as well, for Syria has a long history of peoples arriving and settling and integrating. As well, she has opened her doors to the tired and the weak who sought refuge from conflicts.

so there it is. a very simple argument, that can easily make a good essay. but people see the word “moral” put next to the word “Syria” and they seem to get furious about the suggestion.

I just would have put it in a more qualified way because there are too many aspects in which value systems of the two countries have nothing in common, and that’s all that gets the attention.

I think Majhool’s recent comment is helpful in terms of offering some clarity about dynamics in Syria regarding ‘minority’ ‘majority’… two words that sort of lose their meaning when power is not in the hands of a numerical majority.

June 17th, 2008, 6:21 am

 

Alex said:

Zenobia,

I think this article says the same thing you just said

The Statue of Liberty belongs in Syria

Mideast refugees find a home and haven in an unexpected place

By GABE HUCK

We came back from 10 months in Damascus in mid-June and plan to return to Syria early in September. When we speak about Syria with small groups in homes or churches here these days, my wife always makes a suggestion: Let’s start a movement to tow the Statue of Liberty from the harbor in New York City to Syria’s Mediterranean seaport at Latakia. That’s where it belongs if there’s anything at all to this business about giving over “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.”

Just in these weeks we’ve been here in the United States, Syria has again been the only place of refuge for the Lebanese whose homes and jobs have been destroyed and whose lives have been endangered by Israel’s air strikes. Even though Israel bombed the roads and bridges that connect Beirut and Damascus, killing many, still hundreds of thousands of Lebanese have gotten to the border. Did Syria have a homeland security department there to decide who got in and who did not? Did the refugees pass through any metal detector? I would be surprised if anyone even asked them to put their meager baggage on an x-ray belt.

Instead they probably heard: “Ahlan ou sahalan!” You are welcome! It comes naturally to the lips of Syrians.

We have heard from friends in Damascus that public schools and other institutions are being used to house these refugees. We have heard that President Bashar al-Assad has asked households to open their doors and give sanctuary to the stranger. One U.S. journalist suggested this was a public relations move on Syria’s part. Some move. The United States should hire that PR firm.

Americans should know that Syrians are good at this work of receiving refugees. They have been practicing. If we go back a whole century, we’ll find that Armenians were taken in. In 1948 and the years following, tens of thousands of Palestinians fleeing Israel’s seizure of their homes and farms sought and received refuge in Syria. They and their children and their children’s children are still there, unable even to visit the land of their ancestors. The early Palestinian camps in Damascus are now neighborhoods of four- and five-story cinderblock apartments.

Then there are the Iraqis. As the U.S. occupation of Iraq grinds on through its fourth year, more than half a million Iraqis have fled to Syria and a like number to Jordan. Once again, Syria’s borders were open. Iraqi children can enroll in Syrian schools. Iraqis can seek work in an economy that already has much unemployment and underemployment. Refugees do what refugees always do: find their relatives, crowd into small apartments, find ways to earn enough for dinner.

Syria and Jordan, two nations never mentioned among the big oil owners of the Middle East, are the countries people go to for refuge. Jordan, a U.S. ally, has grown stricter about who gets in and sends some Iraqis back to Iraq. Syria has rules too, but the refugees seem to stay on.

So who are these people who have been doing what the tall lady in New York harbor used to do, opening that door? To start with, there are only about 18 million Syrians. So go figure how many refugees the United States would have to admit from Iraq to be in the same league as Syria. The number comes to about 8 million, or a quarter of Iraq’s population. But few of the refugees in Amman and in Damascus even bother to apply for a visa of any kind to the United States. They know the odds are overwhelmingly against their receiving even a nonimmigrant visa, let alone an immigrant visa.

But wait, what about Iraqis still in Iraq? Don’t they apply at the U.S. embassy there, now the largest embassy in the world we hear? No. Iraqis are not allowed to apply for U.S. visas in Iraq. They must make the dangerous journey to Amman or Damascus first. That in itself determines that only a fraction of the Iraqis who take the Statue of Liberty seriously ever get to apply for a U.S. visa.

And does the United States dare admit that Iraqis can be refugees at all? What would that say about our invasion and occupation of Iraq?

But Syria, a nation somewhere near the bottom of the middle of the heap — a Syrian uses in an average day about one-eighth the energy allotted an American — still holds the gates open for Iraqis and Lebanese. The United Nations gives some help too.

Americans today seem to have turned their back on the hospitality they used to offer. They could do worse than to turn to Syria for while a relatively poor country — and certainly an imperfect one in many respects — Syria does a powerful amount of good to refugees in desperate need.

Gabe Huck was for many years the director of Liturgy Training Publications. He and his wife are currently studying Arabic in Damascus.

June 17th, 2008, 6:29 am

 

Mazen said:

Majhool,

Thank you for being so prompt to remind me (and Alex) of the rules of the forum. It reminded me of when I was in prep school. But those were the good old days, so thank you again for bringing a smile to my face after a long day.

Anyway, Alex, I did not mean the “anta” you, but the “antum” you. The plural you. The people that claim to be so sensitive to the cause of democracy, but who in fact use it, like they use anything else at their disposal as smoke screens. It is so obvious that these people are not sincere in their concern for democracy, yet OCIG will copy and paste and recycle anything as long as it has the buzz words in it.

You are as fake as the TV commercials that use children to sell products. Can I say they’re fake? bogus? phony? I think I should be allowed to say that, Maybe lying is too politically incorrect, so I won’t say it again, but the point remains.

The drill is pretty clear, OCIG. If the audience likes to hear “democracy”, then a phony would make sure they sprinkle two dozen references to it per page of 10 pt font. If the audience has been alternatively programmed to respond to “Islam”, then the fake preacher would make sure they repeated it well enough. Fakes, OCIG, use these tactics and think they’re actually doing something. But all fakes actually do is chip away at the principle they’re using to wipe their dirt.

June 17th, 2008, 6:39 am

 

Zenobia said:

Alex,
YES.. thanks for the article (although the link didn’t work when i tried it).
It was very much what i was thinking of, and I believe it was foremost what Farah might have been thinking of in his piece.

I remember from some “Frontline” (public television) episode awhile back regarding the Iraqi refugees – that some statistics were sited – wherein it said that the United States that past year (maybe it would have been 2005 or 2006) had given visas to a mere 4000 Iraqi refugees to come to the USA. The US was getting a lot of flak from the rest of the world and the UN for allowing such a pathetic amount considering our responsibility. The bureaucrats were saying that they were definitely going to enlarge the number for the coming year to 12,000, but that they were having a hard time because the Department of Homeland Security couldn’t process all the background checks in a timely way such that they could actually get that many people processed!
Then the documentary contrasted this situation with one of the Scandinavian countries ( I think it was Sweden) which had in the past year awarded visas and entry to 27,000 Iraqis into their country.
What do you know. It’s quite amazing.

June 17th, 2008, 6:52 am

 

CWW said:

The problem with the moral argument in the article above is not only that Syria is not a democracy (that would be highly unusual in this region) but that it happens to be one of the most, if not the most, brutal dictatorships in the region. S. Farah is glossing over that fact. Friends of mine in Syria have been tortured and fear being taken away in the middle of the night by the mukhabarat. That is not okay. The way the Kurds is Syria are treated, no matter what the security concerns are, is also not okay. It doesn’t matter what the U.S. or Britain or Israel or Kazakhstan for that matter have done. The democracies of the world have a responsibility to speak out and shine a light on regimes that perpetrate such gross violations of the most basic human rights.

June 17th, 2008, 9:27 am

 

norman said:

Israel, Syria talks “success” and more planned, Turkey says (Extra)

Luxembourg – Indirect peace talks between Israel and Syria held in Turkey on Sunday and Monday were a success, and two more sessions have been planned for July, Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said.

The talks, the second such set mediated by Turkey, were ‘completed with success,’ and both the Syrian and Israeli mediators ‘left very satisfied, and have already started talking details,’ Babacan told journalists after a meeting with EU diplomats in Luxembourg.

‘The calendar has been set for the next two meetings in July,’ he said.

Babacan characterized the indirect talks, in which Turkish diplomats shuttled between Israeli and Syrian delegations, as an ‘exchange of views’ between the two sides.

‘I do not wish to raise expectations, because it is a very complex issue – not as complex as the Israeli-Palestinian issue, but complex,’ he said.

Syria and Israel have not held direct peace talks since January 2000, when negotiations collapsed because of a dispute over the future of the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau overlooking northern Israel whose return Syria insists on as a prerequisite for peace.

On Monday, Israeli President Shimon Perez called on his Syrian counterpart, Bashar Assad, to join direct talks.

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June 17th, 2008, 12:16 pm

 

why-discuss said:

CWW

Syria is under siege, it is still at war with Israel and the US and its allies are plotting to eliminate Bashar for a more obedient regime. No wonder Syrian authorities are tough and suspicious of ‘freedom movements’ financed by the ennemies or promoters of Kurdish independance or religious sectarism like moslem brotherhood. The ethnic balance of this country is delicate and needs to be protected, even my dissuasive actions.
The US, under siege since sept 11 created the Patriot Act and Guanantamo and reinforced beyond imagination it borders.

June 17th, 2008, 12:16 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Mazen,
It is easy to recognize the fakes. They are those that live in the West under democracy but advocate dictatorship in Syria.

You don’t want democracy in Syria? That’s your right, but don’t complain about the situation in Syria and how other countries treat it. Each country has got to play the hand it is dealt. Syria is running out of oil to export and so it has to rely on its people for economic growth. In order to do that, the potential of the Syrian people must be exploited. It will not be done unless there is democracy and accountability in Syria. If less than 1% of Syrians read books, how do you plan to compete in the global economy?

June 17th, 2008, 12:17 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Why,
We have heard the same excuses for why there is no democracy in Syria for the last 40 years. Nobody is buying these ridculous (hey I get to use the word) excuses any more.

The bottom line is that you are supporting a dictator and justifying his oppressive actions based on bogus reasons. That is not the way to win a “moral” argument.

June 17th, 2008, 12:36 pm

 

norman said:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-syria-peace_slyjun17,0,3937256.story

chicagotribune.com
Syrians say they dream of peace with Israel
Reasons abound, officials say, to push talks with old enemy
By Liz Sly

Tribune correspondent

June 17, 2008

DAMASCUS, Syria — The long-abandoned border between Israel and Syria will be bustling with travelers and traders. Damascus hotels will be crammed with Israeli businessmen taking advantage of investment opportunities. Syrian tourists will flock to Jerusalem, making the 135-mile drive to visit the holy sites there.

It seems like an impossible dream, but it’s a vision that Syria — shunned by the Bush administration as a regional troublemaker — says it hopes can be realized if indirect peace talks between Israel and Syria bear fruit.

“When people can move freely between Syria, Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Egypt, a great change will take place,” said Syria Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Miqdad in an interview. “Our people will enjoy life without bad dreams of the martyrdom of their children, we will improve living conditions and we will open up to the international community. The impact of peace will be bliss for the entire region.”

The announcement last month that Israel and Syria had resumed indirect negotiations over the return of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights was initially greeted with widespread skepticism. Seven years of talks in the 1990s, when Syria was ruled by President Bashar Assad’s father, Hafez, ultimately fizzled.

By late last year, when Israeli warplanes bombed a suspected nuclear plant under construction in Syria, tensions between the countries reached such a pitch that outright war seemed possible.

But Syrian officials say they are determined to succeed with these talks, which resumed this week in Turkey. Reasons for skepticism abound—including doubts about the political survival of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. But analysts say there are also reasons to believe Syria is indeed serious about talks that not only would restore Syrian territory occupied since 1967 but also mend Syria’s hostile relationship with the U.S., bring new investment to its sagging economy and, above all, end the threat of war that hangs over the region.

Israel, for its part, has said it sees the talks as an opportunity to pry Syria away from its ally, Iran, as well as end its support for the Hamas and Hezbollah organizations.

Progress talk premature
It is too early to talk about progress yet, officials say. After an initial round last month, mediated by Turkey in Istanbul, a second session began Sunday and continued Monday in Ankara, The Associated Press quoted Israeli officials as saying. Syrian representatives are staying in one hotel and Israelis in another, while Turkish negotiators shuttle between them.

From Syria’s point of view, Miqdad said, there can be no direct talks until the U.S. gets involved—which seems unlikely as long as President George W. Bush remains in office. The Bush administration has sought to isolate Syria, accusing it of facilitating terrorism in Iraq and Lebanon, and has responded tepidly to the news that Syria and Israel are talking.

Real progress is therefore unlikely until at least January 2009. In the meantime, mediators can work on a framework for negotiations that could be upgraded to direct talks as soon as a new U.S. president takes office, Syrian officials say.

“We would like America to be the caretaker of the whole thing. We don’t expect them to do it under this administration but we have high hopes for the next administration,” said Riad Abrash, who advises the government on foreign affairs.

A pocketbook issue
Restoring Syria’s shattered relationship with the U.S. is one key incentive for Damascus to pursue talks, followed closely by the intertwined issue of Syria’s economy, which is struggling to emerge from decades of socialist mismanagement, laboring under high oil prices and stinging from the impact of U.S. sanctions, said Syrian political analyst Sami Moubayed.

“One reason more than ever before is economic,” said Moubayed, who was initially skeptical of the government’s intentions. “Syria needs to end its isolation to bring investment. It needs to normalize relations with the U.S.”

A key sticking point could be Israel’s insistence that Syria break ties with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas as a precondition for peace. Syrian officials say Israel has not raised the matter with them, but Israeli officials have publicly stated that they would expect Syria to do so.

Syria responded by dispatching its defense minister to Tehran to sign a mutual defense treaty with Iran, signaling that it is not prepared to end its friendship with the country that repeatedly calls for the destruction of Israel.

But there are hints that Syria may be flexible. A peace treaty would inevitably alter Syria’s relationship with groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, experts say.

“We are confident that the mechanisms of reaching a peace process will definitely evolve into a new stage, where new realities will be established,” said Miqdad, with reference to Hamas and Hezbollah. “And in this respect, Syria has always respected its commitments. We think if peace is achieved the situation will not be as it is today.”

The mere act of announcing the talks has created some of those “new realities,” said Syrian journalist Ibrahim Hamidi. Hamas is negotiating a truce with Israel in Egypt, Hezbollah is taking on a new role in the Lebanese government, and a wedge has been driven between the positions of Syria and Iran.

“Syria has reminded Hamas and Hezbollah that we are not like Iran. Iran believes in the destruction of Israel, while Syria believes in negotiating with Israel,” he said. “In diplomacy there are things that need never be written. Nobody now will be willing to show you the end game,” he added.

An external threat
Indeed, the biggest threat to a successful outcome of these talks may be external. Olmert’s political future is in doubt, and there are hawks in Israel’s Cabinet staunchly opposed to a deal with Syria. Opinion polls show a majority of Israelis oppose returning the Golan Heights.

A peace treaty with Israel that did not include a full resolution of the Palestinian problem, including the right of refugees to return to their original homes, also would not be popular with Syrians, said Syrian lawmaker Mohammed al-Habash.

While there is a risk that an Israeli-Syrian peace treaty would draw the ire of Al Qaeda-style radicals like those that launched attacks in Egypt and Jordan, Assad’s Baathist regime’s grip on Syrian society makes public manifestations of displeasure unlikely.

But the notion that Israelis and Syrians can ever be friends is far-fetched, Habash said.

“We cannot accept Israel as a normal country,” he said. “We can speak about a cease-fire and non-belligerency, but if you talk about normalization, I cannot accept this and even if our government takes steps toward that, our people won’t accept it.”

lsly@tribune.com

Copyright © 2008, Chicago Tribune

June 17th, 2008, 1:01 pm

 

Friend in America said:

The heated exchanges in this thread are clouding S. Farah’s message. Her article may claim too much for Syria but her message that there are common values as well as common interests with the U.S. is worthy of further exploration. The comments about religious diversity, however imperfect, will get the attention of many Americans, since it is a beacon in a region of the world where religious tempers run strong.
The Wall street Journal published this week an article by Siransky, the Soviet dissident now living in Israel, contrasting the European attitude of unity and “singleness” with America’s attitude of tolerating, even encouraging, different identities. One example he used was the banning of head scarves in European schools while in America the scarves are worn in public without comment (they are noticed by most of us because this is new to us and we are still learning). The Syrian toleration as expressed by S. Farah is closer to the American attitude (or is it the other way around?).
Ehsansi2 states the fiercely tribal and religious fervor prevents western style democracy from being created. Was that what America overlooked about the Iraqi society? Would it be different if the fervor was dampened? It would dampen if we taught toleration and respect for differing views.
I, for one, am not persuaded that regional instability prevents all political and economic reform. But that topic is for another time.

June 17th, 2008, 1:34 pm

 

Nour said:

AIG,

Could you please point to which SC forum member declared that they didn’t want democracy in Syria and in which post? Your propaganda machine is on overdrive today.

June 17th, 2008, 1:39 pm

 

jbello said:

As one who visited the Middle East, and has recently been reading a lot on the subject, I have followed this blog intermittently for some time. I learn a great deal from the primary content. The comments range between enlightening and extremely frustrating.
Good to see you standing up for this piece. As I read the history of the area, and look at the current situation Syria, the points made above have become very clear to me. I think it is good to consider them on occasion.
It appears you are here only to oppose whatever is presented. I suppose your input is a sharpening tool for those who are interested in Syria for it’s own sake, though it often seems you mostly waste their time and drain their energies.

But about the current article, there is nothing there about Israel. Syria is not directly compared to Israel. Syria is merely held up as a model of stability and willingness to take responsibility for mitigating the human costs of the ongoing battles in the Middle East. The author did not blame anyone for those events. We all have our opinions about that.

Syria has been in a very difficult situation throughout the 20th century due to colonialist manipulation in the region and the changes wrought by the forceful introduction of new cultural ideas into the region, cultural ideas like socialism that caused a lot of upheaval in Europe as well. She should be praised for her handling of these problems as well as any other country has, and with more stability, generosity and good faith than many of it’s neighbors.

This isn’t about who has built a utopia (I haven’t seen one anywhere, much less the poor embattled Middle East), nor about demeaning any particular other country (although there are conflicts of interest ), but about acknowledging behaviors that have been observed.

True, Syria has had, and has some serious problems as well. All nations do. Mistakes have been made. All the significant players have committed and/or are committing atrocities in the world, Syria, Israel, The United States, Great Britain, France… I could go on and on. It is a sad truth.

But let’s give credit where credit is due. That’s all. If your animosity is so great that you can’t see that, then you really are wasting, not only everyone else’s time, but your own on this blog.

June 17th, 2008, 1:41 pm

 

AnotherSyrianGuy said:

AIG,

Do you know Eric Umansky? He is an American Journalist and happens to be Jewish. He lived in Syria for several months and went to Synagogue there and prayed in it. Please go to his website and read or listen to the interview with him about his time in Syria. That will give you a pretty balanced picture of how Jews live in Syria.

I don’t know who pays you to come here and talk about things you do not understand. I do not really care to argument for what I am going to say because to me it is a simple truth: The whole world should learn religious tolerance and freedome from Syria. I think when we have peace with you we should start bringing small groups on educational tours to teach you to be tolerant to other religions. If you will tolerate me making this last joke!

June 17th, 2008, 1:42 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Is Syria more religiously tolerant than Saudi Arabia? Yes, but that is not difficult. I just fail to see how a country that keeps teaching its children that Jews need to be eliminated, as Landis has shown is the case in Syria, can be called religiously tolerant.

June 17th, 2008, 1:44 pm

 

Shai said:

Norman, I was going to post that… you beat me to it!

Why-Discuss, do you really believe that Syria and the U.S. are “under siege”? If you mean that their national agendas (internal and foreign) have been overwhelmingly affected by 9/11 and the American policy against the so-called Axis-of-Evil, then I agree, but then according to that definition, both nations have been “under siege” for the past 60 plus years, for an unending variety of reasons (Mideast wars, the Cold War, Korea, Vietnam, etc.)

Personally, I believe that with the exception of the Palestinians (and the refugees throughout the ME), who are truly suffering, the rest of the region’s lack of development is given endless excuses, mostly by the various leaders, which involve every side and its mother, except for the leaders themselves…

June 17th, 2008, 1:44 pm

 

JustOneAmerican said:

Mazen,

Democracy is a political system for the circulation of power and it has many merits. It does not mean that any sh** that oozes from you is kosher, though. The conflict is much, much deeper than the political system, and than the superficial nomenclatures at that.

We know you don’t care about democracy in Arab countries not one bit. You turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to the very non democratic and extremely corrupt Arab rulers just when it suits you to do so.

No, democracy is not simply a political system – at least not to those of us who support democracy. It is much more and goes much deeper than that – at least for Americans. Nor is it perfect as decisions made collectively can turn out as bad or worse than decisions made by an autocrat.

To say that the US doesn’t care about democracy in Arab countries is not true, however, though I can see how it appears that way. The US does care about democracy, but often other interests, by necessity, take priority – I have already explained why the US supports regimes such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia. This has been the case throughout America’s history. It’s nations with less strategic importance to the US than them (like Syria) where democracy becomes a top priority. In this regard the US isn’t different than any other state who must order priorities and interest in the pursuit of foreign policy.

Personally, my opinion is that the US can do little beyond offer moral support to promote democracy in the ME or anywhere else. My opinion is that people in these countries, like Syria, must make or force that choice for themselves and the neocon idea of the US as an aggressive promoter of democracy is, at best, misplaced and counterproductive.

Getting back to the original post again, I agree with AIG that focusing on the moral is not likely to produce results. Whatever the reality, the US and the American people will not see a dictatorship in Syria as “moral” no matter how enlightened that dictatorship may be. Instead, the US and Syria need to focus on common interests, of which there are potentially many. For that to happen, the US must believe that Syria is serious about resolving these issues in a manner that isn’t contrary to US interests and it must convince the US it has the capability to deliver on those promises. All that assumes Syria is genuinely interested in engaging the US, which appears to be the case. Until the US is reasonably convinced of Syria’s capability and intent in these areas, the US will continue to ignore Syria. An Obama presidency might make this easier, but I don’t think he will radically change the course of US foreign policy as some allege he will.

June 17th, 2008, 1:55 pm

 

EHSANI2 said:

Syria is not a democracy. It is unlikely to be one in our life time. Those that are preaching or promising the concept are dreaming. The leaders of the region may pay lip service to “political reforms” but they fail to define it or articulate its limits.

Political reforms, if and when they come, will be of the cosmetic variety.

The fiercely tribal and ultra religious nature of our societies makes any comparisons to western style democracies precarious at best.

George W Bush will soon vacate the White House and move to his ranch in Texas. Bill Clinton made a fortune after he stepped down by writing books and making speeches. Jacques Chirac is enjoying sipping fine French wine since his term was up.

Middle East leaders are unlikely to enjoy a similar retirement after losing power.

Hafez Assad was barely in power when a religious based movement was underway to topple him. Was that to have succeeded, a bloody ending was in store. Retirement in Florida was not an option. Fighting back and hard was the only conceivable option. Shutting down any possible repeat of the insurgency has been in play ever since. The costs of losing power are just too high.

Until retirement and sipping wine become a viable option to death after losing power, so-called democracy is unlikely to see the light of day in our region anytime soon.

June 17th, 2008, 2:00 pm

 

JustOneAmerican said:

Ehsani2,

Overall I agree with your analysis of why Syria remains and will likely remain a dictatorship. Democracy is difficult enough in multi-ethnic states to begin with – it is nigh impossible when there is great instability and internal conflict. It’s also nice to see that you see the internal causes and don’t blame Syria’s lack of democracy on US or Israeli malfeasance.

June 17th, 2008, 2:06 pm

 

David said:

I would like to make a suggestion to the correspondents on this blog to quit responding to Another Israeli Guy’s blog entries. Just ignore them. He seems to me to be not helpful in advancing any serious discussion of events in his region of the world. His arguments, always predicated on the necessity and superiority of democracy as the ‘cure’ for what hinders the less democratic countries of the ME, is rubbish. It is democracy, after all, that has brought murderous war criminals to power in both Israel and the US for generations. These two democracies have kept the world safe for war. Since WW2 the only thing truly guaranteed by democracy in the US and Israel has been enrichment and empowerment of their intertwined military corporations – and war. Responding to Another Israeli Guy is a waste of time and effort – just what he’s after. When he gets abusive when no one rises to his bait, then he can be kicked off. If he becomes a respectable correspondent, rather than what looks like a paid provocateur, so much the better.

June 17th, 2008, 2:44 pm

 

Mazen said:

JustOneAmerican,

Thank you, at least you sound like you’re interested in a real dialog, unlike OCIG who claims that Syrians do not want democracy. I will offer you a simple analogy, and I encourage you to think about it, not brush it aside.

When I used to live in Saudi, the Wahabi clerics used to preach the praise of the Saudi regime day and night, using .. not Democracy, but Islam. Every article, every Mosque speech, every PR appearance used the words “Islam” and “Islamic System”. The doses were increased at times that the regime was on the defensive. Anyone trying to say anything in opposition was portrayed as anti-Islamic. They would go in a manner not at all different than OCIG. “You are against Islam?” and everyone in the room would turn and look at you in severe disapproval. It was a lethal weapon against dialog and true intellectual engagement.

I really encourage you to try and zoom out a little bit and see the pattern here. It’s been done in the name of Jesus, Freedom, Democracy, and any other good cause that you can think of. There are always those who take the easy path and try to reap the massive social programming.

You will not find a single Syrian who is “against democracy.” The article is saying that there are some really good sides to Syria. It’s not a utopia, but there are some good, humanitarian sides to the country that are moral no matter how you look at them.

But as soon as you finish reading the article, you find OCIG obsessively pressing the button again: “but they’re infidels!!”

Many immediately come to their pre-programmed senses, discount the article totally, and go on with their daily ignorance.

June 17th, 2008, 3:43 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Ehsani2,
Idi Amin died peacefully in bed after living many years in Saudi Arabia. I am sure nobody would mind if Bashar and his extended family moved to Qatar and lived peacefully there as long as they let Syria become democratic. There is a peaceful solution for the retirement of dictators.

June 17th, 2008, 4:07 pm

 

Alex said:

CWW said:

“It doesn’t matter what the U.S. or Britain or Israel or Kazakhstan for that matter have done. The democracies of the world have a responsibility to speak out and shine a light on regimes that perpetrate such gross violations of the most basic human rights.”

I’m afraid that it does matter. When most Arab people believe that the current administration is made up of a bunch of war criminals, there is nothing that its members can say to help the cause of democracy in the Middle East … to the contrary … they actually destroyed it … If you go to Cairo and tell a typical Egyptian that President Bush only wants to see a democratic Egypt … they will laugh at you … they don’t believe in the goodness of America anymore, and it is reflecting on democracy as a suspicious tool through which the neocons and their Israeli friends want to control their country.

President Carter could have managed to promote democracy … but not the current set of neocons … no one wants to be lectured by a neocon.

Let’s hope Obama will maintain a minimum level of integrity and that he will promote democracy after he establishes his credibility.

June 17th, 2008, 4:15 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Mazen,
Is Israel especially moral because it tool in 800,000 refugees from Arab countries and treated them much much better than the Arabs treated the Palestinian refugees? No. This is a basic thing that should be done and nobody should be rewarded for it.

I have said many times, the Syrian people are just as moral as any other people. Not more and not less. There are many good sides to Syria like there are to any country. Even Zimbabwe.

But so what? What is important to Americans is how a country treats its own citizens and what freedoms it gives them. In this account Syria is way behind most countries in the world.

You may say that this criteria is not important. I think it is. Can the fact that Syria accepted Iraqi refugees compensate for the fact that the Syrian regime is one of the most oppressive in the world? I don’t think so.

The point is, that Syria does not have to become democratic over night to gain the friendship of the US. All Asad has to do is put forward a credible multi-year plan and show that he is sticking to it. But for some reason, even this he is reluctant to do.

June 17th, 2008, 4:41 pm

 

JustOneAmerican said:

David,

If democracy is as terrible as you suggest, one wonders what system or ideology you think is preferable.

Mazen,

As I said I think in my first or second comment, there is rarely a black-and-white, good and bad dichotomy in reality. Of course there are good things about Syria – one can find good in most anything and anyone if one is open-minded and looks hard enough. But again, what good qualities the Syrian people, nation and/or government possess are beside the point since foreign policy is driven by national interest much more than perceptions of how good or moral or whatever a nation is. Therefore, making Americans or American policymakers cognizant of Syria’s good side will have limited effect as long as there remains fundamental differences and a lack of overriding strategic interests to overcome those differences. That’s why I don’t think S. Farah’s essay will have much effect. I come at this not from a position of advocacy, but one of explanation.

As an analogy one can look at the USSR. The US and USSR were allies only when strategic necessity dictated. Despite comparative good/moral aspects of the Soviet system, there were too many fundamental differences to maintain that alliance once the strategic necessity was gone. The same concept applies to Syrian-US relations. During Desert Storm, strategic necessity brought the US and Syria together, but like the Soviets and WWII, it was only temporary.

My point in all of this is to point out that national interests are ultimately what drive policy. What has to happen, therefore, is not a change in perception among US policymakers that Syria is a “good,” or, at least, “not bad” country (though that may help some), but a change in perception that engagement with Syria will bring strategic benefits to the US. We can debate about how this might be achieved or whether it’s even possible in the near to mid term; which is why I consider much of the “discussion” in this thread, such as it is, irrelevant and counter-productive since it focuses on subjective views of relative morality.

Alex,

Let’s hope Obama will maintain a minimum level of integrity and that he will promote democracy after he establishes his credibility.

Well, everyone seems to agree that America should “promote democracy” but what does that mean exactly? What policies should America take toward that end? I’m not sure where you live, but this question is an enduring policy debate within the US. Some think isolation and pressure will get people to change, some think engagement, trade and recognition will bring democracy. I personally think neither of those work and I think history shows both paths to be failures with few exceptions. It’s for this reason that I believe America’s capacity to promote democracy is very limited except in extraordinary cases.

June 17th, 2008, 4:44 pm

 

Alex said:

All this talk about tribes and democracy in the Middle East reminded me of this photo from mideastimage.com

Turkish public works minister Jemal el-saffah (Jemal the butcher) met with the Iraqi tribal leaders at the time … from their lowered heads, these proud men must have just experienced Jemal Pasha’s style of democratic leadership.

Original photograph by German photographer of Jemal Pasha, then the public works minister in the Ottoman Empire, at the celebrations of the completion of al-Hindya dam on the Euphrates near al-Hilla, south of Baghdad. Jemal Pasha is seen in his white jacket and his riding outfit, surrounded by the tribal leaders of the regions of south of Baghdad. The sophisticated western attire of Jemal Pasha sharply contrasted with the traditional costumes of the fierce-looking traditional local tribal leaders. Jemal Pasha was then to server as minister of the Navy, the governor of Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine, and led the military campaigns along the Suez Canal against the British and their allies. He was known to the Arabs by Jemal al-Saffah, Jemal the Butcher, for the number of nationalist Arab leaders executed by him (hanging) in both Beirut and Damascus. The two martyrs’ squares of Beirut and Damascus were named after his victims. After WWI, he briefly fought the British in Afghanistan. He was later gunned down by the Armenians in retaliation for the Armenian massacre perpetuated by the triumvirate of the young turks consisting of Jemal Pasha, Enver Pasha and Talaat Pasha.

http://www.mideastimage.com

June 17th, 2008, 4:45 pm

 

Majhool said:

I think AIG response to Ehsani2 with regard to the retirement issue is terrific.

June 17th, 2008, 5:08 pm

 

Alex said:

JUSTONE AMERICAN SAID:

“Well, everyone seems to agree that America should “promote democracy” but what does that mean exactly? What policies should America take toward that end? I’m not sure where you live, but this question is an enduring policy debate within the US. Some think isolation and pressure will get people to change, some think engagement, trade and recognition will bring democracy. I personally think neither of those work and I think history shows both paths to be failures with few exceptions. It’s for this reason that I believe America’s capacity to promote democracy is very limited except in extraordinary cases.”

I agree that it is difficult. But I don’t think it is necessarily not doable.

There are CSF’s … critical success factors that can not be ignored if the next American president wanted to try again to promote democracy in the Middle East.

Can you (or other readers) write about your choice of CSF’s for a relatively successful promotion of Democracy (or at least political reforms) by the United States in the Middle East?

I am at work now, but I will try few hours from now to reply to the point you made with my understanding of those factors.

June 17th, 2008, 5:39 pm

 

EHSANI2 said:

AIG,

If my memory serves right, Idi Amin died in KSA after he attempted an ill fated foreign invasion of Tanzania. The invasion was a disaster as Tanzanian forces drove back Amin’s army, invaded Uganda and forced Amin to flee.

Your example does not strike me as highly relevant or “terrific”

June 17th, 2008, 5:48 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Ehsani,
It is merely an example in which a deposed dictator died peacefully in his bed. A deal can be reached by negotiation, not necessarrily by force. If Bashar is afraid for his life in case of reforms in Syria, such a deal may eventually be attractive to him if he has Syira’s interests at heart. He can retire with several billion dollars in Qatar and the Syrians can have democracy. Looks like win-win to me.

June 17th, 2008, 6:01 pm

 

lOVE YOU ALEX said:

See alex is still holding down the fort.
I would like to say to AnotherIsraeliGuy: Fix Israel’s Racist for jews olny apartheid, first then we will take care of Democracy in the rest of the ME.

June 17th, 2008, 6:13 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

LYA,
20% of Israel’s citizens are Arabs and they have much more rights and on average are 6 to 7 times richer than the average Syrian. Start treating Syrians in Syria as well as Israel treats its Arab citizens and then perhaps you could be a friend of the US.

As for an apartheid state, Syria is a prime example. A small minority (the Alawites) hold most of the political and economic power by force while denying the majority any rights. There can be no better example of an apartheid state than Syria.

June 17th, 2008, 6:22 pm

 

lOVE YOU ALEX said:

AnotherIsraeliGuy

Ask Jimmie carter which is the apartheid state.

June 17th, 2008, 6:58 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

You seem not even to understand Carter. He erroneously claims that the West Bank is an apartheid state not Israel. But I see you have no answer regarding Syria, the paradigm apartheid state.

June 17th, 2008, 7:22 pm

 

Alex said:

AIG,

Please define “political and economic power” … and then we will look at your statement.

“As for an apartheid state, Syria is a prime example. A small minority (the Alawites) hold most of the political and economic power by force while denying the majority any rights. There can be no better example of an apartheid state than Syria.”

LYA

Thanks! … defending Syria on SC is more fun than boring work.

: )

June 17th, 2008, 7:25 pm

 

lOVE YOU ALEX said:

AnotherIsraeliGuy:

If Israel is not an apartheid state, and is a modern democratic state, then let the Palestinians retuen to the more than 400 vilages that were ethnically cleansed by Israel. Oh forgot about Sabra and Shatila and Jenin when Sharon chased them into thier refugee camps to finish them off. Hold your head hi AnotherIsraeliGuy. On moral ground Israel is 0

June 17th, 2008, 8:00 pm

 

lOVE YOU ALEX said:

AIG:
Syria is not a democracy, but Isreal is racisit.

June 17th, 2008, 8:02 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Alex,
What is there to define? The Asad regime holds all the political power in Syria. Isn’t this obvious? As for economic power, how did Rami get the cellular license? Do you not need to bribe people in the regime to get economic project done? Do they not keep the must lucrative ones for themselves? Who mostly benefited from exploiting Lebanon?

June 17th, 2008, 8:10 pm

 

lOVE YOU ALEX said:

JustOneAmerican:

According to S Farah Syria IS AN AUTHORITATIVE STATE, other than that it share more values with the US than the racist country such of Israel that practices ethnic engineering deporting Palestinian and importing Jews. Also Strategically. Syria wields more influence in Iraq Lebanon and Palestine than Israel does, has influence with the Iranian and is effective against Alqaid fundamentalists. Israel’s practices and America’s support of her fuels anti US sentiment.

June 17th, 2008, 8:18 pm

 

Mazen said:

JustOneAmerican

I agree that it is a matter of national interest first and foremost for the US. Thank you. Democracy and Human Rights are very clearly used as tools and nothing but tools.

Thank you. I think you made my point.

On the question of US national interest, who defines that within the US? What time frame are those policy makers interested in? Decisions may seem beneficial in the short-sighted immediate future, but more often than not, the US has been acting against its long term national interest.

June 18th, 2008, 1:34 am

 

Mazen said:

OCIG said:

Blah blah blah blah blah blah democratic blah blah. Blah blah democracy blah blah blah blah blah dictatorship.
Blah blah democracy blah blah blah?
Blaaaaah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah!
Blah blah blah blah blah democracy democracy democracy!
“Blllllaaaaah” dictatorship blah blah blah.

My reply:
Fake, insincere dirt thrower. Not interested in real dialog. Another (mainstream) IsraeliGuy.

June 18th, 2008, 1:40 am

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Mazen,
You write:
“On the question of US national interest, who defines that within the US?”

Successive US administrations have been pretty consistent about how they view the middle east. Obama’s advisors on the middle east are well known supporters of Israel. Nothing much is going to change. But of course, you think Obama is either stupid or a fraud. He either does not understand that what the US does is stupid, or he does but pursues policies he does not believe only to get elected. Right, American politicians are dumb and easily fooled by AIPAC or are frauds while Syrians are geniuses who’s integrity is unsurpassed.

Your whole attitude that the problem is only with the US and that Syria does not need to change is quite sickening. The problem is mainly with Syria. Not with America, American politicians or AIPAC. Start real democratic reforms and see how quickly you will become a friend of the US.

By the way who decides in Syria? Oh, asking such questions means I do not want real dialog.

June 18th, 2008, 3:47 am

 

Mazen said:

OCIG,

Now you’re telling me what I think too? Where do you find me articulating my thoughts on Obama? And where did you find anyone on this forum making claims of unsurpassed integrity? And where on Earth, do you see me or Alex or many others making a single claim that Syria does not need to change?

Are you are so bankrupt that you have to make a caricature of your opponent to be able to breath better?

I have told you before and will tell you again. Many of us are working for a better Syria, but we are not about to give you, or people like you a report.

June 18th, 2008, 4:49 am

 

Mazen said:

Majhool,

Of course you find AIG terrific habibi. Of course you do.

June 18th, 2008, 4:52 am

 

JustOneAmerican said:

Mazen,

Democracy and Human Rights are very clearly used as tools and nothing but tools.

No, they are much more than tools, it’s just that they are sometimes trumped by more important interests (whether in appearance or reality) and so those values have to be compromised.

On the question of US national interest, who defines that within the US? What time frame are those policy makers interested in? Decisions may seem beneficial in the short-sighted immediate future, but more often than not, the US has been acting against its long term national interest.

Our national interests are ultimately determined by our elected officials. The time-frame depends on the specific issue – some interests are enduring (freedom of navigation on the oceans, for example) while others are of short duration. Your last statement is certainly debatable and again is dependent upon what you’re specifically talking about.

June 18th, 2008, 6:00 am

 

Alex said:

JustOneAmerican said:

Well, everyone seems to agree that America should “promote democracy” but what does that mean exactly? What policies should America take toward that end? I’m not sure where you live, but this question is an enduring policy debate within the US. Some think isolation and pressure will get people to change, some think engagement, trade and recognition will bring democracy. I personally think neither of those work and I think history shows both paths to be failures with few exceptions. It’s for this reason that I believe America’s capacity to promote democracy is very limited except in extraordinary cases.

JOA,

Here is how I would approach political reforms in the Middle East:

1) Elect a clearly trustworthy president who is not controllable by powerful assistants who have many other side agendas.

I was in Egypt when president Carter sponsored the Egyptian Israel peace treaty. Egyptian people loved him .. they trusted him .. they respected him … they respected his ideas… he succeeded in making Egypt sign peace with Israel.

President Reagan took over in 1980 … Egyptians were depressed … everyone (even those who could not read and write) felt that “Reagan is not like Carter” …

Reagan never visited Egypt … Sadat was killed, and that was the beginning of the end of the love affair that Egyptian people had with America during the Carter years.

Convincing enough Egyptians to support a separate peace treaty with Israel that was clearly at the expense of the Palestinians and Syrians was no easy feat … only a leader as likable and as credible as President Carter could have done it.

Same prerequisite is true in the case of trying to promote democracy.

2) Don’t focus on one country (which is not among America’s puppets) and ignore all the puppets …

I don’t know how credible the drive for democracy in Syria sounded to you in America, but in the Middle East not many people were fooled. You want to push Syria to be democratic, start with your allies … show the Syrian people that you are not using democracy as a tool to weaken or overthrow your opponents in the Middle East. Start with your allies.

Why didn’t they start with Egypt? … Syria and Iraq and Lebanon are the most difficult cases … full of many religions, sects, and ethnic backgrounds … and with issues that extend across their borders … like the Kurdish issue that complicates and affects relations between Syria, Turkey and Iraq … or like the way M14 Lebanese leaders were interfering with Syrian affairs the past few years while claiming they want democracy in Syria …

Too complex … Egypt (90%+ Sunni, “pure” Egyptians) would have been a much easier case… and it was more susceptible to American pressure thatn Syria which does not trade with, and does not receive any help from America.

3) Instead of 100% change in one country in one ear, be more modest … 25% improvement in 5 different countries in 5 years… that would be doable.

4) Promise lots of conditional carrots to the people of each country … it is nothing compared to the trillion dollar Iraq war. Make sure people know that you are promising huge assistance to their countries ONLY IF their authoritarian leaders accept to move forward with the modest political reforms you are suggesting … there is not much risk involved (Iraq like risk)

5) Do not mix Israel’s interests with your drive for democracy in the Arab word … the Neocons could not hide their real top objective … destroy the regimes that are not obedient … Iraq, Syria, Iran, Hizbollah, Hamas… Israel’s enemies.

That will automatically make you the enemy of Arabs. You simply can not fool them… if you are mostly trying to help Israel while “promoting democracy” … just forget about it.

Did any American administration satisfy all the above? … no.

June 18th, 2008, 6:07 am

 

Mazen said:

JOA,

Democracy and Freedom, just as Islam and Jesus, are much more than tools. What I said is that the US is using them as tools, just as the Saudis are using Islam as a tool. I really have to urge you to think for a moment about the analogy.

The social programming is extremely powerful in both cases. Huge amounts of money have been invested into turning these terms into sacred cows. The mere mention of them blinds a huge proportion of the population. At the mosques in Saudi Arabia, and in front of TV sets on Prime Time America.

But the politicians doing this are fake, and this forgery extends to the product they’re promoting. And as a Muslim, I acknowledge that Saudi Arabia has done great damage to the name of Islam. I urge you to see that the US has done the same thing to the great name of Democracy. Without this disassociation from the terms, we can never see the truth, in my opinion.

On the national interest issue. An elected elite who happen to be all lords of Big Oil, is likely to see National Interest quite differently than many Americans. They might choose to invade a country that never threatened the US and kill 1.5 million people in your name, while it’s actually for Oil more than any other single reason.

June 18th, 2008, 6:37 am

 

Shai said:

Alex, why are you up so late? Are you getting used to CET (Central European Time), so that you can be there at the Elysee Palace, with Bashar on July 14th? Aha!

June 18th, 2008, 6:48 am

 

SimoHurtta said:

Alex why not start from Saudi Arabia? If Saudi Arabia would elect a nationalistic democrat president + government which would maximize the price of oil and gas, it would be interesting to see the American “limits” in tolerating democratic governments.

The history after WW2 is full of examples how USA’s greatest fear are nationalistic democratically elected governments which do not play the game using US rules (= giving access to for US companies to their markets and natural reserves and a right to exploit their cheap labour + military bases). USA (=government) loves dictators, whom it can control more easily as democratic governments. Did the 200 year long “trade relations” with USA make Latin America rich and democratic? Well when USA focused its attention elsewhere they begun to be richer and more democratic and kick out the US “educated” dictators.

US government uses the democracy propaganda but it has nothing to show that it is/has been sincerely and without hidden agendas promoting democracy. Most people outside USA know that when Bush is speaking about democracy it is as believable as a Saudi prince lecturing about women’s rights.

June 18th, 2008, 7:33 am

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Mazen,
Well then, what are your thoughts about Obama and the speech he gave to AIPAC? Your and Alex basic position is that the US is influenced by AIPAC to work against its own national interest. If this is not your position, then what it is your position? As for changing Syria, Alex sometimes talks fo decades to democracy, but now he is talking of 7 to 14 years to half democracy and much longer till democracy in Syria. What is your estimate?

And I see that you have a huge problem with accountability. If you do not want to say what you are doing to change Syria, then it is reasonable to assume that you are doing nothing. You do not owe me any report. You owe yourself a report.

June 18th, 2008, 1:25 pm

 

ausamaa said:

Guys… why dont you take David’s advice above (17 June 2:44pm). It is a verrrrrrry good one, unless of course you enjoy reading and responding to the same rancid arguments repeated uselessly but provactively over and over again.

June 18th, 2008, 2:10 pm

 

Alex said:

AIG,

Instead of continuing to make Mazen and Alex look like they are only good for complaining, Why don’t you read and criticize my recommendations for how the United States can successfully promote democracy in the Middle East?

Here it is again

http://joshualandis.com/blog/?p=720#comment-171303

June 18th, 2008, 4:08 pm

 

Majhool said:

Mazen,

Are you surprised? I mean if the whole opression thing is due to lack of places to retire then my home is open and let’s get it over with.

When this happens you will be my candidate.

June 19th, 2008, 3:53 am

 

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