“Language Atlas of Syria” reviewed by Nikolaos van Dam

Here is a wonderful book review of the "Language Atlas of Syria".

The Reviewer, Dr. Nikolaos van Dam is Ambassador of the Netherlands in Indonesia and author of The Struggle for Power in Syria: Politics and Society under Asad and the Ba’th Party (London & New York: I.B. Tauris, 1996) (downloadable for free in Arabic).

I have posted my review of his book, which was published in 1998, in the previous post.

His book is among the four best books on modern Syrian political history. Alongside Patrick Seale's two books and Hanna Batatu's, Ambassador van Dam's is a must read.

كـــلـــنـــا شــــركـــاء فـي الــــوطــــــــــن

 عدد 17 حزيران 2008

ALL4SYRIA.ORG, 17 June 2008

Book Review


Peter Behnstedt, Sprachatlas von Syrien I, Kartenband & Beiheft, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1997, 1037 & 242 pages. Sprachatlas von Syrien II: Volkskundliche Texte, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2000, 661 pages. [Language Atlas of Syria Part I: Maps & Accompanying Volume. Part II: Ethnographic Texts].

Reviewed by Nikolaos van Dam (1)

Dr. Peter Behnstedts Language Atlas of Syria and its accompanying volumes contain an enormously rich wealth of information on Syrian Arabic dialects, to be enjoyed most particularly by the real connoisseur. This monumental work uncovers a linguistic, social and cultural diversity of Syria, which is not generally known. Apart from the Arabic dialects of Syria, other spoken languages are dealt with in the linguistic maps as well. The Accompanying Volume (Beiheft) to the Atlas provides explanatory notes to the linguistic maps. It also contains word lists on the various Arabic dialects, as well as on New West Aramaic, Turoyo, Assyrian, Kildani, Turkish, Kurdish, Circassian, Chechen, Armenian and Greek, which are the languages which Behnstedt came across during his research. The 518 large and highly detailed linguistic maps are of great benefit, even to those who have not mastered the German language, the original language of this publication. This is the first and perhaps last time that such a highly diverse collection of Syrian Arabic dialect materials has ever been published. Various dialects may not survive the present generation of speakers and may have already begun to disappear.

After publishing the well-known Atlas of Egyptian Arabic Dialects (2) together with Dr. Manfred Woidich – a project of some ten years of painstaking research – , it was originally Behnstedt’s more “modest” intention to produce a Language Atlas on the Surroundings of Aleppo”.  His new project eventually led to the publication of this impressive Language Atlas covering the whole of Syria, simply because he “could not resist” studying the entire country after all.

Arabic dialect research is not held in high esteem in Arab nationalist Syria, if only because dialects are generally seen as “degenerate” deviations from the classical standard language, al-‘Arabiya al-Fusha, which is the unifying language of all Arabs. Nevertheless Behnstedt did not encounter any problems in doing his field work in Syria, like he had before experienced continuously in Egypt (fayditu ē?). On the contrary, the atmospheric circumstances for his research were not only ideal, he was also able to freely interview Alawi, Christian or Ismaili women in the coastal mountains without any problems, just as well as women in all of eastern Syria among the sedentarized Bedouin (Beiheft, pp. 9-10).

Behnstedt identifies some twelve main dialect groups which can be sub-divided into more than 60 subtypes, all having their own specific combinations of phonological, morphological and lexicographical profiles. They are classified according to regions, cities, neighbourhoods, villages, urban/rural, mountains, semi-deserts, Bedouin tribes (Shammar, Rwala, Baggara), Shawi, mixed Bedouin/sedentary, religious communities (Sunni Muslim, Christian, Alawi, Ismaili, Druze, Shii), and so on.

This detailed division is the result of research conducted in 508 locations (including the 85 which Cantineau discussed in his earlier work, mainly in the Hawran) (3). Research was done on basis of 1214 question questionnaires, of which 250 were purely lexical. This meticulous method has allowed Behnstedt to produce enormous amounts of data. To illustrate: he identified 49 different forms and pronunciations of the word for the fruit orange (burtaqāl, burugdān, mirdaghān, etc.); 66 for peach (durrāq, dirroen, dirrayne, etc.); 45 different forms for the imperative of ktb (“write”): ktōb, ičtub, ukətbam, etc.; 58 forms of the imperative of kl (“eat”): kōl, čil, ōklin, etc.; 114 variants for “a piece of bread”: khubza, laqam, shuqfi, kisra, etc.; and 80 variants for the expression “last year”.

Behnstedts Atlas provides an interesting overview of the regions in which the qaf is really pronounced and where it has transformed into hamza, g, k, and so on (to mention just one of the 518 linguistic maps). The phoneme qaf is being appreciated differently among Syrians. According to Bernard Lewin (1969), the Alawis interviewed by him were qaf-speakers who ridiculed the “weak” hamza-speakers of Hama (4). Sami al-Jundi, writing his memoires in the same period (1969), noted that after the Bathist takeover of power in 1963, caravans of villagers started to leave the villages of the plains and mountains for Damascus, where the alarming qaf started to predominate the streets, coffee houses and the waiting rooms of the ministries…” (5). (It should be noted here that the qaf is not so much a sectarian characteristic of “Alawi, Druze or Ismaili dialects”, but rather a rural feature also present in the speech of Sunnis, Christians or anyone else living in certain areas.) Behnstedt, on the other hand, noted an opposite trend in 1996, notably that the pronunciation of qaf as hamza was also seen as a prestige pronunciation, which was advancing in various areas and cities. He mentions Hama as a typical dialect island in this respect. Later generations of the above-mentioned “qaf villagers” have to a great extent adapted to a more Damascene type of Syrian Arabic without the qaf.

Mustafa Talas notes in his memoires the use of “hint“ (“you”) instead of inte by people from the mountainous regions of Lattakia, and quotes an Alawi officer as saying to him: “wallah yahmik hint wa Hafiz al-Asad” (may God protect you and Hafiz al-Asad). “It is the habit of the inhabitants of Lattakia, in particular in the mountains, to replace the ‘alif with ha’, which is permitted in the language of the Arabs”, according to Talas (6). Behnstedts Atlas map 251 provides a detailed overview of the 17 different forms of the second person singular masculine and feminine and shows that in Syria “hint“ is exclusively used in the coastal mountains and the rural areas around Hama.

The Ethnographic Texts (Volkskundliche Texte) in Volume II are not only of great interest to linguists, but also for cultural anthropologists or anyone with a particular interest in fascinating intricacies of traditional Syrian society.  They deal with a wide variety of topics such as folktales, magic and sorcery, traditional medicine, agricultural techniques and instruments, food, falcon hunting and hunting falcons, weddings, kidnapping of a prospective Christian bride, looking for truffles, camels, sheep, Bedouin traditions (dealt with extensively), blood revenge, and a whole range of other detailed subjects.

Each dialect type is introduced by a grammatical description, the length of which depends on whether it has been described extensively before and whether it is more or less well-known. For that reason dialect material from some of the more important dialects (taking their number of speakers into account) is not included in Volume II, such as the dialects of Damascus (described extensively by Bergsträsser, Grotzfeld and others), Hama (by Lewin), Deir al-Zor (by Jastrow), or other places such as Soukhne (described in a special monograph by Behnstedt himself). Many grammatical details about the Christian (and other) dialects of Aleppo and its surroundings have already been published by Behnstedt in the Zeitschrift für Arabische Linguistik (Journal of Arabic Linguistics) and are therefore not repeated here either. Texts from Aleppo, on the other hand, are relatively strongly represented in the Ethnographic Texts, because the phonology of the Aleppine dialect had, according to Behnstedt, not yet been adequately treated before, and because these texts contain interesting ethnographic material which would otherwise be lost.

Behnstedt interestingly notes that the dialects in the semi arid areas and desert fringes of Palmyra, Soukhne and Qiryaten may well have retained an older Arabic pre-Islamic linguistic substratum (p. 204). Behnstedt also notes that among the Christians of Aleppo two different Arab dialects are being spoken. In an earlier publication (7) Behnstedt interpreted one of these vernaculars as a linguistic relict island (Reliktinsel”), but he later concluded that the Christians in the Harat al-Arbain of Aleppo are the descendants of forty Lebanese families from Bsharre, who settled in Aleppo in the seventeenth century.

The Ethnographic Texts should be considered as complementary to Behnstedts other academic works. He does not like to repeat himself. Neither does he want to repeat or duplicate the research of others. Behnstedt, who is one of the most experienced researchers active in Arabic dialect geography in the world, has a strong preference for original work and the untrodden path. This makes his work special among the special.

The grammar of some of the more “eccentric” Syrian Arabic dialects (“Extremdialekte), such as those of Palmyra, Soukhne, Taybet al-Imam and Mhardi (both near Hama), is dealt with in some detail. At times it turned out to be impossible, however, for Behnstedt or his assistants to record “authentic” speech. This happened among others with the dialect of Taybet al-Imam, which is described by Behnstedt as one of the most ridiculed” in Syria, because of its radical transformation of verbal and pronominal forms, which has apparently been the result of sedentary and Bedouin dialects merging together. Instead of the 1st plural imperfect nākul (“we eat”) the vernacular of Taybet al-Imam produces nāka (sic!); instead of the more common 3rd plural hinne (“they”), it has masculine hinhan and feminine hinhin; instead of the 2nd plural feminine tishrabu (“you drink”), the local dialect produces tishrabni (which would normally mean “you drink me”), and so on. Something similar happened in Palmyra, where Behnstedt never really heard the Palmyra dialect being spoken as described by Cantineau (8), and the recordings made for him locally only resulted in long texts of Honoratiorenpalmyrenisch (i.e. Palmyra Arabic having few dialectal elements). Some of those interviewed only produced long texts of almost “completely neutral Syrian Arabic”, in which only the real expert could still detect some specific Palmyrene characteristics. The question remains, of course, whether such idiosyncratic dialects have survived at all.

One of the real tests to find out whether or not one is really able to understand pure colloquial Arabic is by listening to Arabs who use their own dialect when addressing one another while not being aware that they are being listened to by an outsider. As soon as such an awareness arises, however, there is the inclination to switch to a different type of spoken Arabic which goes more in the direction of a “neutral” koine or Syrian Arab lingua franca. This makes this type of linguistic research so difficult, as Behnstedt experienced time and again. Moreover, people speaking so-called “extreme dialects” are not only inclined to renounce their original vernaculars by speaking a variety containing fewer dialectal elements, at least in the presence of an outsider, but they also tend to make “hypercorrections” (qanam instead of ghanam; or astaqfirullāh, mīn ghallak hēč? instead of astaghfirullāh, mīn qallak hēč ), and so on.

When transcribing his sound recordings, Behnstedt generally prefers, where appropriate,  to note the sound pairs i – u (e, o) phonetically, instead of the phonological representation of schwa ə (i.e.  e and o are then only recognized as ‘allophones’ of the phoneme /ə/, and both sounds are represented only by ə  in a purely phonological transcription). Behnstedt only notes the schwa ə when he is really sure of having heard it (“ich schreibe was ich höre” – “I write down what I hear”). Sometimes it took him more than 33 hours to ascertain whether it should be i – u or schwa ə. (According to Professor Otto Jastrow 33 hours would be sufficient to make a basic analysis of an Arabic dialect). It is easier to afterwards substitute schwa ə for i or u, than the other way around. Various other scholars have often chosen the schwa ə, but it is difficult to know how one should exactly pronounce it, if one is unfamiliar with the precise conditioning that results in the different phonetic values of this phoneme. In this respect Professor Manfred Woidich has cynically noted that it is the dialectologist who makes the dialect (Beiheft, p. 24). Behnstedt asks himself, by way of an example, how a student of “Syrian Arabic” should know how to pronounce “kəll səne“  (every year). As [kul sune], [kul səne], [kel sune], [kəl səne], [kil sune], [kil səne], [kul sine], [kil sine], [kel sone], or [kol sene]?

"Syrian Arabic" language courses offered to foreigners usually present a type of vernacular which is not really a pure dialect but rather a kind of general educated “Syrian Arabic”, which is close to one of the major types of Arabic spoken in Syria, usually that of Damascus. When a book or language course is described as being “based on the dialect of Damascus, it usually means that it is not the original dialect itself but something which in various aspects is close to it. Over the last decades a certain kind of leveling and general “Syrianisation” has taken place with respect to various dialects, as a result of which a generally accepted kind of well educated urban Syrian Arabic has emerged, parallel to the original vernaculars.

For those who want to dig much deeper, and want to enjoy the linguistic intricacies of Syria beyond the more general Syrian Arabic”, Behnstedts study is highly rewarding, and unveils the linguistic wealth of Syria, which is generally quite invisible to one who is only skimming the languages surface. (At the same time it may be noted that Syrians, and Arabs in general, do not attach much importance to this subject.)

Those who want to listen to some of the original sound recordings made by Behnstedt and others can download them on the internet from the highly interesting Semitic Sound Archives of the Ruprecht-Karls University in Heidelberg, Germany: http://www.semarch.uni-hd.de/index.php4 .

(1)   Dr. Nikolaos van Dam is Ambassador of the Netherlands in Indonesia and author of The Struggle for Power in Syria: Politics and Society under Asad and the Bath Party (London & New York: I.B. Tauris, 1996) (downloadable for free in Arabic: http://www.democracy.org.nz/mideast/index.htm).

(2)   Peter Behnstedt & Manfred Woidich, Die ägyptisch-arabischen Dialekte, 5 Vols, Wiesbaden, 1985-1999.

(3)   J. Cantineau, Les parlers arabes du Horan, Paris, 1946

(4)   Bernard Lewin, Notes on Cabali: The Arabic Dialect Spoken by the Alawis of Jebel Ansariye, Göteborg, 1969, p. 8.

(5)   Sami al-Jundi, al-Bath, Beirut, 1969, pp. 136-7.

(6)   Mustafa Talas, Mirat Hayati, Vol. 2, Damascus 1995, p. 567.

(7)   Peter Behnstedt, “Christlich-Aleppinische Texte“, Zeitschrift für arabische Linguistik, Vol. 20, 1989, pp. 43-96.

(8) J. Cantineau, Le dialecte arabe de Palmyre, Beirut, 1934.

Comments (25)

norman said:

欢迎访问新华网 – http://WWW.XINHUANET.COM


Olmert: Israel ready for major concessions on border dispute

JERUSALEM, June 19 (Xinhua) — Israel is ready to make major concessions on the redrawing of its borders in an effort to secure peace with Syria and the Palestinians, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in an interview broadcasted Thursday on BBC Arabic Television.

“There is no cause or reason to enter a war with Syria,” Olmert said during the interview, which was held in Olmert’s Tel Aviv office.

Olmert said his government was determined to continue efforts to resolve the conflict that has been going on for generations, and that he was working towards bridging the “historical gap” between Israel and Syria through negotiations.

On Wednesday, the prime minister said in an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro that Israel and Syria, which have recently renewed indirect talks under Turkish mediation, are not far away from direct peace talks.

Olmert said that direct peace talks could be opened once Israel and Syria agree on a precise agenda and issues to discuss, adding that better relations with Syria would alter the whole dynamic of the Middle East.

Turning to relations with the Palestinians, the prime minister told BBC that progress has been made on numerous issues in Israel’s talks with the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), including the dispute over the borders.

Despite boasting progress in many fields with the PNA, Olmert remains skeptical that a full agreement can be signed and delivered during the remaining months of U.S. President George W. Bush’s term.

The Bush administration sponsored an international meeting in Annapolis, Maryland, in November 2007 in a bid to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas pledged at the Annapolis meeting to try to reach a deal before Bush leaves the White House in January 2009.

During the BBC interview, Olmert also touched on Hamas.

Olmert said the Islamic movement would be welcome to join peace negotiations after it accepted and complied with the demands of the international community, namely calling off terror attacks and recognizing Israel.

“I don’t think there can be reconciliation (with Hamas) without basic acceptance,” said the prime minister.

The conditions set by the Quartet, the Middle East peacemakers which consist of Russia, the United States, the UN and the European Union, also call for Hamas to observe past accords signed with Israel and release Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who was kidnapped by Gaza militants in a 2006 cross-border raid.



June 19th, 2008, 7:54 pm


Hans Morgenthau said:

This sounds like a fascinating book…any word on a forthcoming English translation???

June 19th, 2008, 10:14 pm


Joshua said:

Not likely to be translated, Hans. The price is over $400! It a true specialist’s book that is likely only to be acquired by libraries, alas.

June 19th, 2008, 10:21 pm


AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

QN and HP,

It seems the Sheba farms returning to Lebanon will not convince Hizballah to disarm:

June 19th, 2008, 10:21 pm


Honest Patriot said:


This position is not new. HA will strive to keep its weapons no matter what happens. The question is when the pressure and circumstances will be such that it can be put in a position where it has no other choice but to transition to a purely political movement. The best hope for Lebanon is to have Syria and the Palestinians come to a settlement with Israel. Without that, Lebanon will always be used as a pawn. Yeah there is an increasing awareness by the Lebanese people and an emerging national will but the lack of a strong state and the proliferation of weapons and foreing influence will continue to get in the way –at least in the near future.

There seem to me hopeful signs though:
– The American administration is finally putting pressure on Israel and expressing vocally the need to stop building new settlements in East Jesuralem.
– Hamas appears to be signaling its openness to shifting its goals towards accepting a “long-term truce” which should be a first step towards peace – one or two generations hence.
– Syria and its leader appear to slowly getting reintegrated into the moderate camp, one that is open to real peace with Israel. For sure, the photographs of Assad and his spouse symbolize a very civilized approach.
– Although of questionable influence within Israel, Olmert does appear to be making all the right moves at this stage. Too bad he is so weak at home.

June 19th, 2008, 10:51 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


Behnstedt is a phenomenon, a giant among dialectologists. His language atlases of Egypt, Syria, and the Jazira are landmarks, and rumor has it that he is now braving the final frontier: the Maghrib.

I’m glad to see you scratching your Princeton philologist itch. 😉

(BTW, I’m visiting your old stomping grounds this week and next.)

June 19th, 2008, 10:52 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


They have always had more than just Shebaa as a precondition. There are other legitimate demands too, the so-called four bleeding wounds:

1. Shebaa
2. Kfar Shuba
3. Maps to landmines
4. Prisoners

Deliver these, and Hizbullah would disarm gradually and integrate. I don’t doubt it.

But delivering these is practically tantamount to a peace deal.

June 19th, 2008, 11:06 pm


norman said:

President Bush might be planing an attack after the election and before the new president take office,

Published by The New American (http://thenewamerican.com)
President Bush Targets Iran and Syria at Mideast Summit
By JBS Staff
Created 2008-06-09 17:00
Is President Bush planning a military strike against Iran (and perhaps Syria too) before leaving office? The administration’s internationalist neoconservative advisers continue to push for it, as does the neocon talk-radio chorus. The president gave some telling nods in that direction during his recent Middle East trip.

Speaking to the Israeli Knesset on May 15, President Bush declared: “America stands with you in firmly opposing Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions. Permitting the world’s leading sponsor of terror to possess the world’s deadliest weapons would be an unforgivable betrayal for future generations. For the sake of peace, the world must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.”

On May 18, Bush repeated the message in his speech to the leaders of business and government attending the World Economic Forum at Egypt’s Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheihk. “We must stand with the good and decent people of Iran and Syria, who deserve so much better than the life they have today,” said President Bush. “Every peaceful nation in the region has an interest in stopping these nations from supporting terrorism. And every peaceful nation in the region has an interest in opposing Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions. To allow the world’s leading sponsor of terror to gain the world’s deadliest weapon would be an unforgivable betrayal of future generations. For the sake of peace, the world must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.”

June 20th, 2008, 2:06 am


norman said:

US diplomat to visit Syria on Iraqi refugees
By MATTHEW LEE 06.19.08, 5:26 PM ET

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WASHINGTON – A senior American diplomat will make a rare visit to Syria next week in a bid to speed up the processing of Iraqi refugees for admission to the United States, the State Department said Thursday.

Ambassador James Foley, the department’s coordinator for Iraqi refugees, will travel to Syria on June 23-26 as part of a four-nation Mideast tour to boost the numbers of Iraqi refugees coming to the U.S. to meet the Bush administration’s goal of accepting 12,000 by the end of September.

“He will assess the needs of Iraqi refugees in these countries and look at ways to enhance programs that provide assistance to refugees and help resettle the most vulnerable in third countries,” said Kurtis Cooper, a department spokesman.

Foley also will visit Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, but the Syria stop will be the highlight because it is home to the largest number of Iraqi refugees and because of strong U.S. objections to Syrian policies in Lebanon and its support for anti-Israel groups.

The United States does not currently have an ambassador in Syria and trips there by senior U.S. officials are unusual. Foley’s visit to Damascus will be his second as the Iraq refugee coordinator. Last year, he went to Syria and won approval for a small number of U.S. immigration agents to go there to interview Iraqi refugees.

Cooper said the trip did not imply any change in U.S. policy toward Syria, which Washington accuses of backing the militant Hezbollah movement in Lebanon and pursuing anti-Israel positions despite nascent Turkish-brokered indirect talks between the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad and the Jewish state.

“Ambassador Foley will only be engaging on the issue of the Iraqi refugee population, just as he did during his previous visit to Syria,” he said. “He will meet with refugees and officials there as he did in his previous visit and again review the programs available to Iraqi refugees there.”

Increasing the number of Iraqi refugee admissions from Syria will be critical to meeting the administration’s pledge to accept 12,000 Iraqi refugees in the current budget year that began on Oct. 1, 2007 and ends on Sept. 30.

Syria is home to more than 1 million Iraqi refugees and has the largest pool of applicants for admission to the United States but processing there has lagged due to Syrian restrictions on the number of U.S. interviewers it will allow.

Since the start of the budget year, the United States has admitted 4,742 Iraqi refugees, meaning it must allow in another 7,258 in the next four months.

Foley will be in Turkey and Jordan over the weekend before moving on to Syria and then to Lebanon. He will then travel to Geneva to meet with officials from the U.N. refugee agency before returning to Washington.

Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

June 20th, 2008, 2:27 am


AnotherSyrianGuy said:

An interesting phenomenon is that many people vary the dialect they are using according to where they are and who they are speaking to. In the region of Kassab, where there are Armenians, Alawis and Sunnis (I think in this order, given their numbers) I have noticed that people change their dialect according to who they are speaking to. It is very funny that someone will use qaf with a first person and hamza with another one a few minutes later. It also depends on places. In such a confessionally and ethnically mixed area, people have learned over time this kind of “politeness”.

June 20th, 2008, 7:12 am


offended said:

Jean Claude is also very famous in Syria.

June 20th, 2008, 9:55 am


Honest Patriot said:

Not sure how new it is but I came across the following joke (sorry it’s in Arabic and I’ll leave it up to a “humanities-major” on this blog to translate if so inclined):
ظهرت نكتة في لبنان – عقب الحرب الأخيرة – تقول ان لبنانيا مسيحيا هدم منزله بسبب القصف الإسرائيلي ولم يجد من اغراض بيته الا صورة المسيح مصلوبا وقد تحطم إطارها، فأخذها وذهب إلى «سعد الحريري قائلا.. يا أستاذ، ما فضل من بيتي إلا صورة سيدنا.. هيدا،
فأعطاه «الحريري» مائة الف دولار ليرمم بيته!
سمع جاره اللبناني الشيعي – بالحكاية، فأخذ صورة السيد «حسن نصرالله» وذهب بها
إلى «الحريري» قائلا
..«يا استاذ.. ما فضل من بيتي إلا صورة.. سيدنا»، فأعطاه
الحريري.. عشرة آلاف دولار فقط، فاستغرب الرجل وقال.. «بس انت عطيت جاري
المسيحي مائة الف دولار»، فرد عليه
«سعد» قائلا.. «ايوه، كلامك مزبوط، بس
هو جابلي صورة السيد.. تبعه وهو.. مصلوب»!!

روح جيب صورة سيدك مصلوب وأنا أعطيك خمسة ملايين دولار !!!!!……

June 20th, 2008, 11:10 am


Qifa Nabki said:

Not sure who the humanities major is, but I’ll give a shot:

A Christian man had his house destroyed after the last war with Israel, and the only thing among his possessions that was left was a picture of Jesus Christ crucified on the cross. So he went to Saad Hariri and he said: “Sir, nothing is left of my house except the picture of our master!(sayyid)” So Hariri gave him a hundred thousand dollars to renovate his house.

The man’s Shi`i neighbor heard the story and so he took a picture of Sayyid Hasan Nasrallah and went to Hariri saying, “Sir, the only thing left of my house is the picture of our master!” And so Hariri gave him ten thousand dollars only. The man was taken aback and said: “But you gave my neighbor a hundred thousand dollars!” Hariri responded to him saying: “That’s right… but he brought me a picture of his master crucified. Go bring me a picture of your master crucified and I’ll give you five million dollars!”

June 20th, 2008, 12:32 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

In the “This is the Country We Live In” department:

U.S. lawmakers want Mandela off terror list
Thu Jun 19, 3:37 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Some U.S. lawmakers are trying to pass legislation to remove former South African President Nelson Mandela from a U.S. list of terrorists by his 90th birthday next month, officials said on Thursday.

South African Ambassador to the United States Welile Nhlapo said he was in talks with the State Department and lawmakers to resolve the issue by Mandela’s birthday on July 18.

Lawmakers in April introduced legislation in Congress to remove Mandela from the list, a step that is normally a government administrative matter, because they were frustrated by the time the process was taking.

The State Department has said it and the Justice Department fully support the bill, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives on May 8 and is awaiting Senate approval.

“We have been able to clarify and resolve certain questions that were hanging in the minds of some people as to whether to support the process or not,” Nhlapo said without elaborating.

“We are trying ourselves to talk to some of these people, clarify what else they may have on their mind … so that we can get this over,” he added.

The former South African president and some in the now-ruling African National Congress are still blacklisted under U.S. laws and need special permission to enter the United States more than a decade after the apartheid struggle ended.

No plan has been announced for Mandela to visit the United States once the bill passes. He last visited the United States in May 2005.

The ANC was banned by South Africa’s white rulers in 1960, its leaders jailed or forced into exile until the ban on the movement was lifted 30 years later.

Strict security measures passed by Congress after the September 11, 2001 attacks against the United States kept the ANC’s “terrorist” label because it used armed force as part of its campaign against apartheid.

Nhlapo said he was worried the legislation would get delayed by Congress’ summer recess. Congress takes a break over the July 4 week and then recesses for much of August.

“Certainly there is a lot of anxiety and interest in South Africa as to the resolution of this matter particularly by the time of Mandela’s birthday,” Nhlapo added.

Rep. Donald Payne, a New Jersey Democrat, told the Africa Society late on Wednesday that removing organizations from the terrorist list was an administrative matter that had taken too long, adding: “We’re trying to make sure that he is not a terrorist when we celebrate his 90th birthday.”

Mandela was jailed for 27 years for his struggle against apartheid, and has become a worldwide symbol of freedom. He was hailed for overseeing the peaceful transition from white to black rule as South Africa’s first post-apartheid era president.

June 20th, 2008, 12:43 pm


norman said:

Syria calls for joint solution for Gaza, Golan Heights and Lebanon

Syria has called for a joint package of solutions to the Middle East conflict. Speaking during a state visit to India, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the situation in Lebanon and the indirect peace negotiations between Syria and Israel could not be viewed in isolation. Meanwhile a fragile truce entered its second day in the Gaza Strip on Friday amid scepticism over how long the Egyptian-brokered deal between Israel and the Hamas movement would hold. Israel has emphasised that if the ceasefire lasts it will gradually relax its blockade of the Hamas-controlled territory from Sunday.

June 20th, 2008, 12:47 pm


trustquest said:

My observation is that dialect is a silence devil waiting for awakening and it is going to be used as a tool to remove restraint. Dialect has been used as a tool of association and a base for level of trust between people in public life. A person has to hear the other person to base his level of trust, hierarchy and influence.

Although the people speaking Qaf, are in ministries and high positions but I do not remember I’ve heard their dialect on TV. If they presented occasionally in any work in the media, they can not be casted as evil doers. The Qaf people are always in the background, in the Mokhabarat, in the Army but not on media. There are fear and hate for this dialect especially in the cities. Last year when TV series Bab Alhara aired and all Syrians were listening and excited, it was essentially the triumph of Damascene dialect over other dialects, and maybe over spoken Fousha on TV. The series were working behind the scene empowering and consequently stripping oppression. Fosha is the standard adopted media language and it was always forbidden by the Baathis to let people speak or write their local dialect in any sort in the media. It is hardly you can see poetry in local dialect not like Lebanon where dialect is acknowledged. It was surprising to me to read a lot of blogs and chartrooms writing in the local dialect especially the damascene dialect which is now dominate as a reaction to the repression as a showing of strength against the Qaf tongue.

June 20th, 2008, 1:46 pm


Observer said:

The moves by Olmert towards Syria and Lebanon are smoke screens and an attempt to insure that the strike on Iran does not involve also HA and Syria in a three way confrontation.
This is the only reason for the talks and they will amount to nothing.
The Shebaa farms are at the lower door to Moung Hermon and at the source of one of the tributaries of the Jordan river.
They will not be given back anytime soon. Likewise for the Golan, as it provided for food and water sufficiency.
The SOFA agreement being signed by July 31 means that the airplanes that are going to attack Natanz will have to fly through Jordan, Iraq, and on to Iran. The SOFA agreement will cover the US in its effort to help the Israeli strike on Iran. I expect the strike in early August.

June 20th, 2008, 2:06 pm


AnotherSyrianGuy said:

I expect the strike August 3rd, 3,13 p.m. There will be 5 planes exactly and the operation will last for 12 hours, exactly and approximately.

June 20th, 2008, 2:57 pm


Karim said:

In the region of Kassab, where there are Armenians, Alawis and Sunnis

There are few alawis in Kasab region,it’s mostly sunni.I have noticed that there are more and more rich aleppians in the Mountains between Latakkia and Ariha.

June 20th, 2008, 3:47 pm


ausamaa said:

No, no, no….

…I doubt that Hizbullah is palanning to strike Israel on August 3rd, 3,13 p.m., and the small drone plans they have can not fly for so many hours!!!


June 20th, 2008, 5:38 pm


why-discuss said:


The Israelis war stategists are making too much noise in the media about an imminent attack on Iran, which means they are far from taking that decision that may be the end of Israel, according to the prediction of the Iranians.
Iranians will probably immediately bomb the US bases in Kuwait and possibly Iraq bases too. Their rocket may hit Israel despite the Patriots, creating huge casualties.
I think this is why the US is trying to dissociate itself from that foolish adventure and acts low key.
Israel at this time in its history feel humiliated and threatened, especially that a democrat president will be less lenient on Israel. Therefore attacking Iran now can be seen as a desperate and urgent act to try to make a “successful” grand operation and reestablish its tarnished pride. So they may well choose that path and bear the terrible consequences. If they don’t they will loook even more weak and would need a face saving event. A real dilemma.

June 20th, 2008, 6:33 pm


Honest Patriot said:

QN, you took the bait! You’re the perfect student of “γνῶθι σεαυτόν” (know thyself). Whom else could I have meant? 😉

June 20th, 2008, 6:42 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


I hope to be a humanities major one day, once I go to college.


In other news:

Israel attempting to scuttle $400 million U.S.-Lebanon arms deal

By Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondent

Tags: Israel, Lebanon, Hezbollah

Israel is reportedly attempting to block a $400 million arms deal between the United States and Lebanon that would reportedly include hundreds of anti-tank missiles.

Israeli authorities have stated that recent events in Lebanon, including Hezbollah’s resurgence in the south, have led them to believe that the arms transfer could pose a security threat, namely if future clashes cause government forces to splinter, possibly causing the arms to fall into the hands of the Lebanese Shi’ite militia Hezbollah.

The Head of the Defense Ministry’s Diplomatic-Security Bureau.Amos Gilad has reportedly held talks recently with officials from the Pentagon, in order to convey Israeli reservations about the deal.

The United States is reportedly interested in the deal out of the belief that it will help the Lebanese Army better deal with the range of factions in the country, especially Hezbollah.

As a precursor to the weapons deal, the United States has agreed to help train units of the Lebanese Army and has sent military advisors to the country

June 20th, 2008, 7:39 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

Syrian source: We won’t opt for immidiate solution to Shebaa Farms

From Ynet

While Syria is reluctant to concede to US, French proposal to hand over farms to UN, Hizbullah’s Hassan Fadlallah promises ‘any Zionist withdrawal from Shebba Farms will signify a great achievement for the resistance’
Roee Nahmias

A Syrian source affiliated with the indirect talks between Damascus and Jerusalem says Friday that Syria was in no rush to find a solution to the Shebaa Farms sovereignty issue.

The source was quoted by the London-based Arabic-language al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper, following reports that the US and France support the transferal of the area at the foot of Mount Dov to the United Nations’ control. Later on, the area is to be divided between Syria and Lebanon

“How can Lebanon negotiate over Shebba Farms while it doesn’t even have documentation supporting its rights to it?” the Syrian source said over the phone.

“Does it make any sense to ask Syria to accept the border demarcation? And if Lebanon is on one said who will be on the other? Syria or Israel? If the territory is Syrian Israel must return it. The Israelis expect us to be accommodating and solve their problem, but what is in it for us?”

According to the source, the US proposal to hand the area over to the UN’s control “raises questions, since the US stance is unclear as far as Syria is concerned.” He added that the farm issue should be solved using the outline set at the Madrid Conference of 1991.

Following reports of Israel’s willingness to discuss the status of Shebaa Farms, Lebanese member of parliament on behalf of Hizbullah, Hassan Fadlallah said that “any Zionist withdrawal from Shebaa Farms will signify a great achievement for the resistance.”

Fadlallah reiterated before the Iranian news Agency (IRNA) that if Israel pulling out of the farms will not change Hizbullah’s policy towards it: “Returning Shebba Farms will not change the existing equation regarding Lebanon’s need of a resistance organization. It will only prove the logic behind the resistance and validate its existence as the only way of restoring land.”

June 20th, 2008, 7:42 pm


why-discuss said:

Israel will not release the Shebaa farms unless Lebanon negotiates a peace treaty with Israel… why would they?

The New York Times

“Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Israel over the weekend and made a surprise stop in Lebanon on Monday. She spoke to the Israeli and Lebanese governments about the United States’ desire to find a solution to the land dispute as a catalyst for solving bigger issues in the region, a senior Israeli official said. The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, agreed to this effort. Among the larger issues is strengthening the Lebanese government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

In the past, however, the Lebanese government has consistently opposed negotiations with Israel, saying the Israelis must first return the disputed piece of land. ”

June 20th, 2008, 9:55 pm


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