“Syrian Americans: The Identity Balancing Act,” by Salma al-Shami

Syrian-Americans: The Identity Balancing Act
By Salma Al-Shami
Originally published in Forward Magazine, Damascus
December 2007

“What America does not ask is as important as what she does ask of new Americans,” wrote Reverend W.A. Mansur in the January 1928 edition of The Syrian World magazine. “She does not ask that you forget and not love the land of your early humanity; that you refuse to acknowledge your race and your love of your race; that you feel a sense of shame because of early material poverty; that you lose your love for the language of the homeland; that you make no reference to the talents and achievements of your race and homeland; that you see no beauty in the customs of your people.”K

Or does it?

In the wake of 9/11, the experiences of many Arab-Americans might suggest otherwise.

While President George W. Bush publicly declared, “These acts of violence against innocents violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith,” fanatic American citizens drove automotive vehicles through mosques in Ohio and Florida. While members of St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Virginia offered to publicly escort Muslim women who feared leaving their houses, the U.S. Congress passed the PATRIOT Act, a law allowing authorities to place wiretaps, keep watch-lists, hold secret trials, and conduct searches and seizures without warrants—measures that violate the constitutional rights of all American citizens.

Unfortunately, ignorant, vengeful voices overpowered statements supporting Arab-Americans. Media outlets were flooded with non-Arab Americans asking why the Arab and Muslim communities in the United States were not doing more to distance themselves from the crimes, condemn the perpetrators, and affirm their themselves as American first. 

But for many Arab-Americans, this latter task is impossible. Unlike the hyphen that can linguistically separate the duality of their identity, most Arab-Americans cannot so clearly demarcate the boundaries of their ethnic or nationalistic associations. A fluid fusion of cultures, their identity continuously adapts and responds to changing political environments.

In spite of the post-9/11 backlash, Arab-Americans continue to educate the public about their heritage and to fight for justice. Now, it is not America but Americans who were calling upon themselves to celebrate the lands, languages, and accomplishments of their ancestors.

Syrian-Americans lead such efforts on both individual and group levels. In the United States, they manage two balancing acts, first as members of the Syrian-American community and second as members of the Arab-American community. They strive to celebrate the uniqueness of their Syrian heritage while working as a part of one political unit with their fellow Arabs. The processes through which they form their identities are as varied and complex as those identities are colorful and distinct. They may not be the loudest community, but they are also not as silent as some critics claim.

According to the United States Census brief “The Arab Population: 2000,” Syrians comprise 12 percent of the Arab population in the U.S., the second largest nationality among Arab-Americans. The Syrian population grew by 10 percent between 1990 and 2000, and communities reporting Syrian ancestry were largest in California, Illinois, and New York.K “We the People of Arab Ancestry in the United States,” a Census 2000 Special Report, indicated that 59.2 percent of polled Syrians were American born and that 45.8 percent of them reported that they spoke only English at home.K

Economically, the Syrian community has fared well. In 1999, the reported median family income of a Syrian family was $58,204, surpassing both the Arab ($52,318) and national ($50,046) medians. Meanwhile, the poverty rate (by age) of the Syrian community was 11.3 percent, lower than both the Arab (16.7) and national (12.4) rates. 35.0 percent of Syrians report having a bachelor’s degree or more, which is higher than the national average (24.4) but trails the Arab population, of whom 41.2 report having a bachelor’s degree or more. The plurality of Syrians, 41.9 percent, work in managerial or professional capacities, followed by 32.5 in sales and office work, and roughly a quarter of the population working in various other industries.

More telling than such statistics about their current status in the United States, however, are Syrian-Americans’ perceptions of themselves. 

Talking to Syrian-Americans

“Identity cannot be compartmentalized. You cannot divide it into halves or thirds or any other separate segments,” wrote Amin Maalouf in Hawiyat Qatilah (1999). Several Syrian-Americans interviewed agreed.

“I have one identity, and that is Syrian-American,” says Wael El-Nachef, a second year medical student at Northwestern. “Ultimately, the two identities are inextricable.”

When asked if they saw themselves as Syrian-Americans or Syrians in America, most answered the question as a function of where they were born, the former referring to individuals born in the U.S. and the latter referring to expatriates. But some say that while association with the country where one is born and/or raised does not exhaustively define the parameters of identity, it is not completely inconsequential either.

“I feel more comfortable in the United States,” says Sara Suleiman, a sophomore studying political science and journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. “I’ve lived my whole life here. I am more accustomed to an American lifestyle.”

While Suleiman loves “waking up with the athan, being surrounded by extended family, the street vendors and shouting peddlers selling things,” she says she could not live in Syria, as she is too accustomed to the modern amenities she enjoys in the U.S.. Alternatively, Mazen Khabbaz, a Syrian expatriate studying Molecular and Cell Biology and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, expresses a responsibility to return to Syria after completing his college education. “I would like Arabs to go abroad and study and bring back their skills and knowledge to help their countries.”K

But identifying “home” to be in one country did not diminish the importance of the other. Of the Syrian-Americans interviewed, none could hierarchically categorize components of their identity and in fact reject the very notion of referring to multiple “identities.” Rather, they see themselves as having one identity with fluid components whose relevance and importance constantly shift with varying circumstances.

“When I’m in America, I’m always the Arab. But in Syria, I’m introduced as the American kid. You realize no matter where you go you’re identified by what is unique about you,” explains Sarab Al-Jijakli of New York.K “My childhood and fondest memories are from Damascus. My heart, heritage, and my blood go back there. On the other hand, I’m a New Yorker. My life, my home, and my professional career are in New York. I am forever destined to be connected to both worlds.”

Balancing Act No. 2: Syrian/Arab

Syrians comprise only .05 percent of the U.S. population, but as Arab-Americans they comprise .42 percent. While Syrian-Americans want to recognize and celebrate the diversity of Arab-American population, they are aware that highlighting differences potentially exacerbates cleavages in the community, thereby rendering it less effective in the American political arena.

What separates Syrians from other Arab-Americans? (Half)-jokingly, some say better food and prettier women, but more seriously, others add unsurpassed hospitality and a reputation for being a people “of their word.” Yet, despite such distinguishing characteristics, Aesop’s famed observation,  “united we stand, divided we fall,” is confirmed in the opinions of several individuals.

“If you want an Arab-American community, we need to stick together,” explains Marwan Kamel of Chicago, IL.  “The problem is that people tend to stick with their individual nationalities, Syrian, Egyptian, Lebanese etc. So when problems arise that affect the entire Arab-American population, [these smaller groups] start pointing fingers and blaming each other.  You see the same conflicts between groups in the Middle East replicated within the Arab-American community.”

Aside from these imported cleavages, the motivation behind immigrating and the environment into which individuals are trying to assimilate also provide explanations for the divisions in the Arab-American community. El-Nachef suggests that, “individuals have their own reasons for coming to the States, whether they’re refugees or fleeing civil wars or looking for jobs. So they have their own prerogatives for being active. If you’re here and you’re a successful professional, you might not want to be come politically active.”

Indeed, activist members within the Arab-American community criticize their fellow compatriots for limiting their civic involvement once they have met their professional aspirations and secured their financial comfort. While this criticism might be equally applicable to past generations of Arab-Americans, the political climate in the aftermath of 9/11 seems to have given further impetus for some members of the current Arab-America community to retreat into private life.

Overwhelmingly negative public sentiment towards this community and the constant probing of government agencies have caused some Arab-Americans to first affirm their loyalty to the U.S. and wait for rampant emotions to subside before responding to the ignorant and racist statements made against Arabs everywhere. With the clamor of sound bytes from foreign policy officials, a biased media, and racist members of the non-Arab American public raging in the foreground of American political life, some Arab-Americans see that organizational efforts and activism might be wasted on deaf ears.

But thus far there is no evidence to suggest that the majority of Arab-Americans feel this way. Moreover, a lack of organizational affiliations is not synonymous with a silent community, and in fact, attempting to judge the political activism of these Arab-Americans solely based on what they do at the collective level unjustly ignores what they accomplish on the everyday basis and at the individual level.

“It’s like Ché Guevara once said,” explains Kamel, “‘a revolution is not built by hundreds of thousands of people, but by one person talking to another.’ It’s much more effective to befriend other people and tell them you’re Syrian. Over time, they’ll see that what’s said in the news is not true.”

The activism of Syrian-Americans takes many forms. Suleiman regularly attends lectures and discussions relating to Arab-American issues. As a member of the American Student Medical Association, El-Nachef takes his activism to another level. “I don’t just focus on Arab or Syrian issues. I focus mainly on global health and human rights. I’ll talk about Iraqi refugees and Palestine, but I’ll also talk about health care and access to medicine. That way you show people that on a more fundamental level you have things in common with them.”

Arab-American activism is also prevalent at professional levels. Al-Jijakli is the co-founder of the NY chapter of the Network of Arab-American Professionals (NAAP), whose mission is to enhance social interaction between Arab-Americans, to explore their heritage and expose it to the public, to insure that Arab-American interests are being pursued in the political arena, to encourage community service, and to help foster and mentor the Arab student movement.

“Here we are not targeted as Syrians, but as Arabs,” says Al-Jijakli. “People in the U.S. are not informed, so it’s up to us to position ourselves as ambassadors for our home countries, to answer the questions, and to set the political agenda.”

Rallying the Syrian-American Community

In the spirit of activism, the Syrian American Congress (SAC) and the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) have mobilized and encouraged Syrian-Americans to take responsibility for improving their own lives and those of other Syrians living in the United States and in Syria.

Founded in November 2005, the SAC is a nongovernmental organization whose self-described mission is to be “recognized as a leading organization for the empowerment of Syrian Americans” and “to develop better understanding and cooperation between Syrian and American people.”

“We have a dual responsibility towards Syria, our motherland, and to the U.S., where we have progressed, gotten married, and sent our children to college,” says SAC president, Dr. Talal Sunbulli. “We see no contradiction between working for the Syrian people and for the American people.”
Thus far, the organization has worked towards achieving its goals by holding lectures called Hadith al-Sham, where topics such as the state of Syrian economy are discussed and where past speakers have included former U.S. Ambassador to Syria Theodore Kattouf and Syrian Parliamentarian Mohammad Habash. In the future, it would like to sponsor politician and professor exchanges between the two countries as a way of educating Syrian and American citizens about each other.

While acknowledging that the Syrian-American community is not yet as active as it can be, Sunbulli sees the SAC as an organization that can rally and channel the efforts of the Syrian-American community to get involved in political and cultural events locally and nationally. He mentions that the SAC has already established connections with American civic organizations such as United for Peace and Justice, a coalition of groups opposed to the Iraq War, and the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee.

Sunbulli hopes that the organization’s efforts “will encourage newcomers from Syria to be active. In the past, there was a feeling that it was useless to do anything. But doing nothing will get us nowhere.”

This belief in the power of activism also motivates SAMS, whose objectives are to promote general health, disseminate medical information, and increase partnerships between physicians in the U.S. and Syria. With more than 600 members, SAMS provides free medical services and supplies to disadvantaged patients and runs workshops to transfer vital medical skills to Syrian physicians. An average of 150 medical professionals from the U.S. attend its annual conventions in Syria.

Dr. Thabet Al-Sheikh, who just finished his tenure as president of SAMS, explains that focusing efforts in Syria has contributed to the organization’s success. “Initially, it was thought of as a step backwards to [identify] the organization as Syrian instead of Arab-American. But focusing on one geographic area has allowed our program to grow from simply giving lectures in one city to all the SAMS today in five cities and at times more than 18 hospitals.”

Al-Sheikh is one of many volunteers who lead tutorial courses in Arabic on various medical procedures. Each year, he estimates he brings $200,000-$300,000 worth of donated equipment with him to SAMS’s annual conventions. After six years of giving courses, more physicians in Syria are independently able to implant such devices such as pacemakers and stents in patients.

SAMS’s efforts have won it recognition and acclaim in both Syria and the United States. The Syrian Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education both consulted SAMS to help write the Continuing Medical Education policy for Syrian physicians. Furthermore, SAMS won the 2004 Humanitarian Service Award from the Florida Chapter of the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and the 2006 International Service Award from the national chapter of the ACC. Though presented specifically to Al-Sheikh, a cardiologist, he stresses that he accepted the awards on behalf of the organization. “You can’t make a difference of this magnitude individually.”

While not explicitly political in nature, the framework for activism as established by SAMS provides a model for types of interactions that can yield fruitful results in the future. “The medical profession allows you to touch people’s lives at the human level without letting politics interfere,” says Al-Sheikh. “Anything that is nonpolitical and successful will have political results, directly or indirectly.”

Syrian-Americans have much to accomplish in the years to come, but the magnitude of the tasks ahead of them should not overshadow their achievements thus far.  As Al-Jijakli explains, “Right now, many of us suffer from setting unrealistic expectations for ourselves. We’re in a state of infancy. Only when we mature will we be able to impact larger issues.”

To achieve their goals, Syrian- and Arab-Americans at large must continue to use machinery and of the American political system to advance their causes. In the U.S., the most powerful and effective voices are not the loudest ones: they are the most organized ones.

Comments (20)

Abu Hatem said:

Interesting article Joshua,

I think there are however a number of Syrian Americans born in the USA – such as myself – who see ourselves as both citizens of the United States, and citizens of Syria. I don’t think identity matters as much to some people – and in the end I see myself as a human being. We play many roles in our lives – male, brother, son, Arab, Syrian, American, youth, student – which all make up our identity.

Syrian Americans – since their births – also tend to visit Syria annually or biannually for long periods, which contribute to the idea of being both Syrian and American, a citizen of both countries. I think ‘birth,’ itself is irrelevant.

December 30th, 2007, 11:11 pm


norman said:

France ends contact with Syria over Lebanese presidential election

The Associated Press
Monday, December 31, 2007
CAIRO, Egypt: France is cutting off talks with Syria until Damascus shows its willingness to let Lebanon elect a new president, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said.

Lebanon’s Western-backed government and pro-Syrian opposition have been unable to break a deadlock over filling the presidential post, empty for a month, and many Western countries have accused Damascus of interfering in the process — a claim Syria denies.

“I will not have any more contact with the Syrians until … we have received proof of Syria’s intention to let Lebanon designate a president of consensus,” said Sarkozy at a press conference Sunday in Cairo after meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

France, Lebanon’s former colonial ruler, has led the international effort to mediate between feuding Lebanese politicians and has consistently implored the Syrians to cooperate.

Syrian Information Minister Mohsen Bilal called Sarkozy’s comments “surprising,” telling Syrian state television that Damascus was “working with France to reach an agreement on a president who represents all Lebanese.”

The French president spoke with Syrian President Bashar Assad as recently as the beginning of December to urge him to “facilitate” the election in Lebanon.

Sarkozy sent his chief of staff, Claude Gueant, to Damascus in early November, and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner met his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Moallem earlier that month on the sidelines of an Iraq conference in Turkey.

“France has taken the responsibility of talking with Syria,” said Sarkozy. “One must recognize today that we cannot wait any longer, Syria must stop talking and now must act.”

Syria has denied meddling with the election and has accused the French of working too closely with the U.S., which Damascus claims is trying to manipulate the Lebanese political process for its own interests — an accusation Washington denies.

Sarkozy also called on Israel to halt construction in Jewish settlements as a gesture to push forward peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

“I have said on several occasions … that it is the moment for the Israelis to make some gestures that would show that peace is possible — including a freeze on the implantation of colonies,” Sarkozy said.

Sarkozy met Mubarak in the last days of a personal vacation the French president has taken in Egypt the past week. Later Sunday, Sarkozy toured the pyramids with his girlfriend, supermodel-turned-singer Carla Bruni.

Lebanon has been without a president since Nov. 23, when pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud stepped down without a successor. Opposition boycotts have thwarted attempts to choose a president by preventing a two-thirds quorum in parliament.

Lawmakers on both sides have agreed to back Army Commander Gen. Michel Suleiman as a compromise candidate, but parliament must first amend the constitution to allow a sitting military chief to become president.

That process has been complicated by the opposition’s demand for a new unity government that would give it veto power over major decisions.

The ruling coalition has accused the opposition of obstructing the presidential vote under orders from Syria and Iran. In turn, the opposition claims pro-government groups bend to the will of the U.S.

Mubarak also called on Syria to push Lebanese politicians to follow through with the election, saying it was “illogical” for the country to go without a president for so long.

“I ask Syria, with its influence, to intervene so that the parliament meets and elects a president,” said Mubarak at the press conference. “I call on Syria to do so because it has more influence on the conflicting parties than the others.”

Syria effectively controlled Lebanon for almost three decades but was forced to withdraw its troops in 2005 after the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.


Associated Press Writer Pauline Freour contributed to this report from Paris.


Copyright © 2007 The International Herald Tribune | http://www.iht.com

December 31st, 2007, 4:21 am


idaf said:

US Congressmen secure Syria pledge to free dissidents

Two visiting US Congressmen announced after talks with Syrian leaders on Sunday that they had secured a pledge that jailed dissidents would be freed and said they saw scope for progress in the peace process with Israel.

The upbeat note contrasted with that of US President George W. Bush earlier this month who ruled out direct talks with Damascus, saying: “My patience ran out on President (Bashar) al-Assad a long time ago.”

Senator Arlen Specter, a member of Bush’s Republican Party, and Congressman Patrick Kennedy, a Democrat, held talks with both Assad and Foreign Minister Walid Muallem.

Kennedy said that he had secured Assad’s undertaking that seven secular dissidents in jail for criticising the Damascus regime and its policy towards neighbouring Lebanon would all be freed.

“The president said that they would be released,” Kennedy told reporters.

“(He named) Akram Bunni, Walid Bunni, Jaber Shufi, Ali Abdullah, Fidaa Horani, Mohammad Yasser Aiti and Ahmed Tohmeh. The president assured me personally that they were (to be) released.”

Syria releases activist after five-month detention
Syrian authorities released a political activist after a five-month detention, a Syrian human rights organization said Saturday.

Ali Sadek al-Barazi was released Wednesday, even though a military court had ordered his release on Nov. 11, Abdul-Karim Rihawi, head of the Syrian Human Rights League, said in a statement.

December 31st, 2007, 8:20 am


t_desco said:

UNIFIL steps up supervision to deter Hezbollah re-armament

UN officials point an accusatory finger regarding Lebanon’s political crisis toward Syria, claiming that “Syria defeats every attempt at an agreement and pushes Hezbollah and its other allies in Lebanon to increase their demands all the time.” They say that Syria’s President Bashar Assad wants to demonstrate at any price that “nothing moves in Lebanon without him” and predict that as a result the crisis in Lebanon will continue for months to come.

The main problem, as the UN officials see it, is that not enough pressure is being placed on Assad. “He will only move if he senses a threat to the stability of his regime,” they said. “If the Americans were, for example, to send ships close to Lebanon’s beaches, that would send a clear message to Assad, but they’re not doing that.”

The Arab world is nearly the only means left for pressuring Assad. Next March an Arab summit is scheduled to convene in Damascus. The hope of many in Europe and in Washington is that prominent Arab states such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia will boycott the conference to send Assad a clear message telling him to stop interfering in Lebanon’s internal affairs.
Haaretz, 30/12/2007

December 31st, 2007, 11:15 am


offended said:

Josh, I think it’s high time you dedicate a post (probably a commentary as well) to discuss the deteriorating diplomatic ties between the French and the Syrians……

Happy new years everyone…

December 31st, 2007, 1:54 pm


Abu Kareem said:

Good summary of where things stand with Syrian-Americans. One critical issue that the author did not address is the real limiting factor in Syrian-American political activism: Fear. Fear of the long arm of the regime. This limits the free exchange of ideas in public among Syrian-Americans when it comes to any “sensitive” issue with regards to Syria. The fear is perhaps exaggerated but it is there nonetheless. I saw it most clearly in the poor turnout for the first Syrian American Congress (SAC) meeting and the rather timid interactions among the participants. Also, there has been little followup since the initial meeting. The objectives of the SAC are laudable but unless the Syrian government shows a willingness to engage the organization, it will not be able to achieve its objectives. Non-political organizations such as the SAMS are much more likely to be successful in mobilizing Syrian-Americans.

December 31st, 2007, 2:05 pm


norman said:

الاسد يصدر قانون احداث هيئة الضرائب والرسوم

أصدرالرئيس بشار الأسد صباح اليوم الاثنين القانون رقم 41 للعام 2007 القاضي بإحداث هيئة عامة تسمى الهيئة العامة للضرائب والرسوم تتمتع بالشخصية الاعتبارية والاستقلال المالي والاداري وترتبط بوزير المالية .


December 31st, 2007, 2:12 pm


offended said:

It’s high time for such comittee…

btw, we were just talking about tax reform couple of days ago, perhabs the ‘law of attraction’ is at work here in this blog?

or is it some sort of telepathy?

either way, it’s good news…let’s spread the positive spirit!

December 31st, 2007, 2:23 pm


Honest Patriot said:

Abu Hatem, just a small linguitic clarification:
biannual = twice a year
biennial = once every two years
From the context of your post, I think you probably meant to say
“…visit Syria annually or biennially for long periods…”
I wish you and all Syrian-Americans the very best in continued happy ties to your native land and in good progress towards prosperity, peace, domestic tranquility, and evolution towards a harmonious relationship between the US and Syria as well as peace with Israel and the recovery of the Golan Heights.

December 31st, 2007, 3:36 pm


norman said:

( Economically, the Syrian community has fared well. In 1999, the reported median family income of a Syrian family was $58,204, surpassing both the Arab ($52,318) and national ($50,046) medians. Meanwhile, the poverty rate (by age) of the Syrian community was 11.3 percent )

Are they counting the syrian Jews.?

December 31st, 2007, 6:07 pm


Seeking the Truth said:


Now, with this question of yours, you will be accused of antisemitism, for stereotyping Jews as rich people!

December 31st, 2007, 6:51 pm


norman said:

No ,
It is well known from previous topic on the Syrian Jews and from the people i know , they are in good financial shape.so it is a true fact.

December 31st, 2007, 7:19 pm


Trident said:

Here is a little fact which was not published in the article (and don’t ask me for my source either for he/she wishes to remain anonymous) 😉
American-Syrians have demonstrated the genes of egotism can dominate even the best of what the American culture can teach. Translation: They’re the worst ethnic group ever in activities requiring group work. But they’re the best in individual achievements, which explains the higher income bracket (mostly due to the large percentage of Syrian doctors in the US). It is official, I even see it on this blog with the exception of a *very* few posters, many respond and take elaborate measures to demonstrate their linguistic skills, mostly because they enjoy reading themselves. Oh yeah, and because it is probably the easiest way for them to be exonerated from being thick-accented foreigners!

December 31st, 2007, 11:51 pm


Honest Patriot said:


Hmm… your psychoanalysis is interesting. However, the prize for the “worst ethnic group ever in activities requiring group work” has to go to Russian immigrants. If you know anyone in any high technology field where there are many Russian “stars” he/she will tell you that their individualism, competitiveness, and aversion to group success (vs. individual success) gets in the way of much more significant contributions they could have made – not to mention it being the cause of many an unfortunate conflict.

Secondly, your statement regarding being “exonerated from being thick-accented foreigners” is regrettably racist. Note please that I am NOT accusing you of racism, only commenting on the connotation of your statement.

Finally, as far bloggers who “enjoy reading themselves” I have to vehemently disagree. My opinion is that it is the exchange of ideas, jousting, feedback, and ability to express an opinion in a forum of expectedly sincere, educated, and reasonable co-bloggers that is the primary motivation. I enjoy reading the posts I react to as well as the reaction to my posts much more than I do spell-checking my post before hitting the send button. Now, of coure, there can be exceptions and I wouldn’t comment on your apparent motivation (zing zing).

Happy New Year!

January 1st, 2008, 6:30 pm


Trident said:


Fair enough. However (you knew there would be a “however” 🙂 ) you can state what your motivation is and you have, but can’t claim to know mine. By the way, not to make you feel guilty or anything, but you’re one of the *few* exempt ones from my earlier accusative statement! As for what you saw as a racist statement, I say no need to adopt the “politically correct” allergy de jour announced daily by Oprah and the likes, which has littered our speeches, attitudes, statements, and even relationships, in self-promoting ways which were never intended in the first place. These politically correct statements were borrowed from worthier causes some decades ago but have mutated to become mere decorations for our personas. This is not only detrimental to the worthier causes, but is also a cheap way out.

As for this forum, well it has been sanitisized so much and beyond recognition that it has become the Sesame Street of Syrian politics, and Dr. Landis is looking more like Dr. Huxtable from the Cosby Show, defeating the purpose of this blog, and I think by design. That’s to say, you can continue congratulating yourselves and each other on your well-written articles and Dr. Landis can continue feeling fulfilled with his career’s work, having attracted the /Sarcasm On “intellectual elite” of Syrians /Sarcasm Off. The only thing missing from this forum, is a George Wassuf link and a Tabbouleh recipe. So you’ll have to pardon me if I don’t share your enthusiasm about exchanges in this forum.

I stand by my earlier statement about Syrian individual egotism. It explains why Syrians can produce someone who could win a gold medal in the Olympics, but can never qualify to win any team-sport event. The list can go on and on, but I need not give sociology lectures on this forum.

Happy New Year to you too.

January 1st, 2008, 7:41 pm


George Y. Krikorian said:

Irrespective of the present or past Syrian governments, even the most brilliant Syrian individuals in the U.S. have always kept a low profile in the everyday life of their American “journey”, contrary for example to some Lebanese. Whether we like it or not, our past shapes somehow our future. Now, as far as inter-action with any Syrian regime, it is not necessarily a must: we could be very sharp critics of what is going on in Syria, at least for some leading issues, without forgetting our ancestry at all. Being Syrian and feeling Syrian has become a way of life, a “philosophy” articulated on the fact of being decent, moderate, compassionate, understanding, etc.

January 1st, 2008, 8:45 pm


ayman said:

The saying: our enemy defines us, was never truer than it is today. We Syrians are more about “reaction” than we are about action. Today I define us as being Brand Syrians, and Brand Syria is the brand of “rejection to Israeli inspired U.S. world hegemony”. To be fair I must note here that even before the Iraq war or the creation of Israel in 1948 we Brand Syrians had rejected Ottoman, Crusader, Fatimid etc., world hegemony. Presently we are just reacting to spreading Israeli-inspired U.S. foreign policy. Our Brand’s credo is a soft “yes,” or more precisely; “no, but”! The ‘but’ cancels the no-or-yes by it’s qualifying the answer. Our most common Syrian phrase is this “ay, bas” (yes, but.) Look carefully at it…it’s an equivocation of an affirmation. It’s so bad, that we can’t say a single yes or a simple no without a caveat. Brand Syria’s logo would be-if it had one-a Kufi LA (a big no in calligraphy) inside a crescent. A fertile crescent, not an Islamic crescent one…mind you. Yes, but…that subtle no, is the only thing that binds us Syrians. If you ask us Syrians; do you want to fight Israel? We’d say; yes, but! It’s a nuanced no. Ask us do you want Peace with Israel? No, but. Are you anti American policy? No, but. Pro American policy? No, but. For Iraqi freedom? Yes, but. Saddam? No, but. Pro Lebanon’s freedom? Yes, but. etc. The clearest example of this odd mindset, so prevalent in Syrians of all types, is the mindset of the Syrian Jews in Brooklyn N.Y… Ask them; are you more Syrian than Jews or vice versa? I challenge you to get a straight answer from any member of that wonderful and very prosperous community, they-more than any of us exemplify our Brand at its nuanced best. A friend of mine who worked on the 2000 US census told me that she was surprised by a statistical anomaly that involved Syrians. They were the one and only group who had a zero percent welfare enrollment percentage. So in summery; we are doing well and unique but, we could be even better if we all (and I mean all) got along.

January 1st, 2008, 11:03 pm


Friend in America said:

The balancing acts: If you take out “Syrian” and substitute “Mexican” or “Hispanic” or “Chinese” or “Vietnamese” or “Italian” or “Greek” or Polish or “Irish” or “Swedish,” the story line would be the same -dualism is common to all immigrants. But it is not unique to American immigrants. A Syrian could move to U.K., France, South Africa or elsewhere and the same dualism would exist. To a lesser extent it even applies to “American-Americans” who move from one part of the counrty to another. ‘We like it here but we are from the east’…’we still think of ourselves as mid-westerners’…’I have lived here 30 years but I am a southerner.’ Americans are accustomed to this…there is a considerable amount of geographical mobility. And, we admit 10 million legal immigrants a year.
Each of these groups have contributed to the American culture. In food we eat Italian, French, Mexican, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Greek, middle eastern as well as German and Irish. I live about 16km from an Afgan restaurant owned by the Karzai family. One food that I think will never catch on here is the Canadian ‘poutain’ – french fries covered with melted cheese and topped with gravy. I have never dared to calculate the calories or cholesteral!
Dualism seems to wear off in about 3 generations, some sooner (I have a friend born in China to Chinese parents who left China when he was an infant – he speaks no Chinese and has no desire to learn) Another freind is 4 generations born in America but calls himself Irish-American (for us that’s a long time). The dualism last longer where there are strong cultural ties or apparent racial identities.
So, Al Stami’s suggestion of uniqueness is not accurate.

al Stami’s call for solidariity: first of all it is not dualism. Syrians on this site know there are three identities: Syrian, Arab and religious, and the third at times has been the most divisive. Further, the Syrians who came to the US for studies that I have met say they are not Arabs.
Further nonsense is the suggestion at the beginning of her article that Syrians in America are besieged. Her description of the provisions of the Patriot Act is factually incorrect: there are no secret trial under the Patriot Act; there always have been wiretaps under a Court order – all the Patriot Act does is to allow a tap when there is reasonable cause that the individual is engaged in a terrorist related activity. This exception is limited only to suspected cases of terrorism or related to terrorism. And nobody else.
The reason why there has been a concern in the Arab community in the past few years is several of the terrorist suspects who were arrested were living in Arab American communities. That problem is mostly behind us, but not entirely.
In a recent poll 89% of Arab Americans strongly oppose terrorism. Dearborn, Michigan (near Detroit), which has perhaps the largest concentration of Arab Americans in the U.S., is a strongly patriotic
community. Arab American groups watch the media and promptly object to superficial characterizations by careless media writers (which do happen). Groups that call writers to account for prejudicial characterizations help make this country great. It is a self correction dynamic. And when it comes to Syrians in America, who is in a better position to do this than Syrian Americans?

January 2nd, 2008, 4:23 am


Trident said:


Actually, what you’re describing is only a single symptom of a defeated personality. The list of symptoms can include any number of negative conducts you see in a “developing” society. I take exception of course to the word “developing”, once again a politically correct adjective invented by people who unlike me, are sensitive. Developing implies progress. I’ll let you be the judge to tell me if Syria has a developing society or a regressing one, but I digress… for the point being the symptoms of defeatism. The underlining cause of what’ve described is a society that is worn out from being defeated time and again and who shall, going forward, keep all of its options open just in case it miscalculates as it must align itself with the winning side this time and manage to keep up appearances at the same time. For a comical analogy, you should see the masses during the Soccer World Cup roaming the streets of Damascus nightly, raising the flags of whoever won the game that night, proclaiming of course that “It is really my team who won”, again changing flags the very next day should someone else win.

January 2nd, 2008, 3:00 pm


ayman said:

This Syrian mindset is not new…so defeat, like victory, has not had any impact on Brand Syria. I’m not extolling or condemning our Brand I just think its primary function is prosperity and survival. That’s why Damascus is the longest continuously inhabited capital in the world. Syrians have survived every imaginable challenge and have done so all over the world. The soccer cup mentality is a winning mentality, anyone can take pride in Italy’s win, Italianism is no more important than Arabism or Judaism in one’s right to root for whatever team one roots for. And, the fact that they always root for the winner is even cuter. I don’t know who you are, but if you are lucky enough to meet more of us Syrians, and specifically the “Shwam” amongst us, you will understand the diplomacy that being a shami involves. In some circles it is shameful to be so malleable, but in Shami circles malleability is prized. Changing flags is cool if you think about it, and much healthier than the opposite posture

January 2nd, 2008, 8:08 pm


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