The American MidEast Leadership Network’s Virtual Scrapbook

(posted by Alex)

What would lay American citizens—not members of the media, analysts, or representatives of the U.S. government—think of Syria if they had the opportunity to visit it? How, if at all, would their experiences alter their perceptions of Syrian citizens, culture, and politics? What would they learn and what could they teach to their Syrian counterparts?

Greg Cohen shares his excitement at discussing his Jewish origin with the Grand Mufti of Damascus and of his enjoying the company of his “warm, outgoing, and hospitable” Syrian hosts on his numerous excursions. Nick Jaeger reveals the difficulty of personally addressing and debunking the political stereotypes that precede him in Syria on account of US foreign policy. Rima Abdelkader shares her findings on Syria’s public university system after meeting Damascus University President Dr. Wael Moualla.

These thoughts (or posts rather) are currently being collected on the American MidEast Leadership Network’s Virtual Scrapbook, a daily events blog and online collection of photographs and audio-visual clips gathered by participants of AMLN’s United States-Syria Grassroots Diplomacy Program. Now in its third year, the three-week cultural exchange run by the New York- based nonprofit organization affords American students and young professionals the opportunity to meet face-to-face with their Syrian counterparts to address misconceptions between them and to form a bridge of understanding at the citizen level.

Follow more adventures of these Citizen Diplomats as they engage in dialogue sessions with their Syrian counterparts, meet officials, visit Syria’s cities and historical sites, and immerse themselves in Syrian culture.

Contact Salma Al-Shami, Chief Program Coordinator of the United States-Syria Grassroots Diplomacy Program, at for more information about the program or visit

Comments (27)

Al Hamra said:

It is difficult for people to try to improve the image of Syria when they are testing missiles with Iran and North Korea. Even worse, their incompetence is resulting in testing malfunctions that is killing Syrians, their own people.

Report: 20 Syrian civilians killed in failed missile test

Twenty Syrian civilians were killed and 60 more were injured after a Scud missile test-fired jointly by Syria, North Korea and Iran in late May strayed off course, Japan’s Kyodo News reported.

The launch was an attempt to test a new short-range ballistic Scud missile jointly developed by the three countries that they meant to replace an outdated version, according to the Japanese report, which quoted Western diplomatic sources.

A technical malfunction caused one of the two missiles test-fired to land in a market located in a town on the Syria-Turkey border, killing 20 and injuring 60 more.

Syrian military officials blocked off access to the area to recover what was left of the missile, Kyodo News reported, and told residents there had been a gas explosion.

The other missile may have landed in a border area between Syria and Iraq, the diplomatic source told Kyodo.

Kyodo also quoted a Middle Eastern military source, who said a problem with the missiles’ guidance systems caused them to go astray.

August 15th, 2009, 7:24 pm


Dr Riad Awwad said:

My name is Riad Awwad. I was born in Syria, but today I avoid to go there. Everybody knows the political situation in Middle East, but no one have tried to change with something this fact.
The danger today is that the commitments to spread human rights and democracy in the Middle East will remain an empty promise. In order to ensure that lip service, nondemocratic regimes in the region must understand that they, too, face a clear choice: If they continue to repress their people and stifle dissent, they will lose all the benefits of the free world has to offer from legitimacy and security guarantees to direct aid and trade privileges.
The free world should not wait for dictatorial regimes to consent to reform. If there are courageous leaders in the Arab world who are genuinely willing to democratize and liberalize their countries, then they should be applauded and supported.
We must also not wait for the support of international organizations. Many of the countries that wield that influence in these organizations are nondemocratic regimes.
To protect and promote democracy around the world, I believe that new international institution, one in which only those governments who give their people the right to be heard and counted will themselves have a right to be heard and counted can be an enormously important force for democratic change. Perhaps in less than a couple of generation, the world could become a community of free nations in which each country would built a democracy that suits its unique culture, history, religion, and traditions, but where no nation would be able to undermine the right to dissent that truly is God’s gift to humanity.
I am convinced that a successful effort to expand the freedom around the world must be inspired and led by the United States. In the twentieth century, America proved time and again that it possessed both he clarity and courage that is necessary to defeat evil. Following that example, the democracies of the world can defeat the tyranny that threatens our world today and the tyrannies that would threaten it tomorrow. To do so, we must believe that all the peoples are created equal.

August 15th, 2009, 8:59 pm


Dr Riad Awwad said:

‎I’m fighting day and night for peace in our teritory and dream that one day the money’s of Arabs with the mind of Israelians will mix and the Middle East become as best as Japan. From my point of view, all I have in my mind and in my pocke

August 15th, 2009, 9:00 pm


Dr Riad Awwad said:

Riad‎‎There are many similar point of views between us. If Arabs would made peace with Israel along time ago, the Middle East now would a high developed zone based on a great formula: the money of Arabs and the brain of Israelians. Besides, we are cousins (Arabs and Israelians).
A lot of hard work have to be done to get rid of terorists. These terrorist are empowered by dictatorship Arab states.
We keep in touch.‎

August 15th, 2009, 9:02 pm


Dr Riad Awwad said:

‎Since our father is only one man, Abraham, we the arabs and you the jews have the same father. We have had, since than, a great relationship until the big forces in the world have interveened to spoil it.
After the holocaust the jews thaught wer…e to go, and they came to their cousins, the arabs. The problem is the arabs did not welcome their cousins like they should, with flowers, but with war !!
I think this is the reason our area could not become like Japan or Switherland and has become the contrary, living hell every day !!
There is only blood shead between us!
The terorists are the others that do not want peace to come forth in our region, political interests are those that do not let Irak, Lebanon and Israel be peacefull and calm…
Well, let us try to make peace now, if not for us, then for our chidren and our grandchildren here to come !!
Dr Riad Awwad

August 15th, 2009, 9:03 pm


Shami said:

Dr Awwad ,
Zionism,(not only Arab dictatorships -Theocratic regimes)- are all together incompatible with your vision of jewish arab cooperation.
The Jews always lived among us and after hundred of years of co existence ,they betrayed the same people who protected them from persecution in post reconquista spain.
I would like to know the percentage of sephardi and mezrahi jews /jewish pop in today Palestine?

August 15th, 2009, 11:04 pm


Amir in Tel Aviv said:

The doctor is absolutely right. Shame on you Shami.
And it’s the first time, that I hear that the Arabs got the money,
and not the Jews. That’s refreshing.

August 16th, 2009, 3:42 am


jad said:

That is AVI using different person’s name and comments, it’s cut and past from different funny!! just Google it!

August 16th, 2009, 5:34 pm


Amir in Tel Aviv said:

What’s funny Jad, is your level of trust.
If I read something by a Jew who likes Arabs (like Shai and Yossi here)
I would have never had the urge to “Google” it.
I would just have it, as is…. But you.. Ha HA…

August 16th, 2009, 9:18 pm


norman said:

I guess , Jad has the brain and you have the money here.

August 16th, 2009, 9:25 pm


jad said:

Hi Norman,
Where have you been? I didn’t read for you in ages.
I think Amir doesn’t have the money neither, my comments where not about the content of Awad’s it was about the silly act of someone to cut and paste something that doesn’t belong to him, it sounds very immature, and for you Amir to take something as is, it is plain stupid.

August 17th, 2009, 12:39 am


SimoHurtta said:

Indeed to “Google” Riad Awwad is amusing, he is an interesting person.

For example Riad Awwad in Facebook (the person is now been obviously deleted, but his page still exists as a cache page).

Riad Awwad is a fan of:
Applications Websites Non-Profits Politicians

* Shabbat Shalom
* The Jewish Internet Defense Force
* ✡ I Support Israel Against Her Enemies! ✡
* Dr. Bashar Al Assad د. بشار الأسد

Rather strange “hobbies” for a person born in Syria and promoting democracy for Syria and other Arab countries.

August 17th, 2009, 7:30 am


why-discuss said:

Dr Riad

What an absurb vision, Japan or Switzerland! Money from the ‘brainless’ arabs and money from the ‘destituted’ jews.. come on, Give us break. Only the US can promote democracy, really? Iraq is a good example of US blood and hatred made democracy. Vietnam, South America?
Not long time ago in the USA blacks were discriminated, racism is still prevalent in the south. Not long time ago the USA dropped a bomb on Hiroshima, Maccarty was persecuting “communists”. How can such a country be a social model to follow.
Many Jews are our cousins, yes, but most Israelis are not, the majority have a totally different culture, they are mostly eastern european with almost nothing in common with the arabs.
Arabs have more in common with Iran and Turkey than they have with Israel. So invoking Abraham will not close the deep gap that exists between arabs and Israelis. It is just hopeful thinking.

August 17th, 2009, 5:33 pm


Amir in Tel Aviv said:

Aren’t you tired Why-Discuss ?? So boring..!! Christ..!!!

August 17th, 2009, 7:17 pm


why-discuss said:

Amir in Tel Aviv

Moses No!

August 18th, 2009, 1:10 pm


Yossi (AKA Rumyal) said:

Let’s stop with the prophet name calling before we get a fatwa issued.

Amir, here’s a mirror:

August 19th, 2009, 1:26 am


why-discuss said:

A famous swedish writer visits Israel and Palestine and offers his views:

Stopped by Apartheid by Henning Mankell

2.6.09 in Aftonbladet

About a week ago, I visited Israel and Palestine. I was part of a delegation of authors with representatives from different parts of the world. We came to participate in the Palestinian Literary Festival. The opening ceremony was supposed to take place at the Palestinian National Theatre in Jerusalem. We had just gathered when heavily armed Israeli military and policemen walked in and announced that they were going to stop the ceremony. When we asked why, they answered: You are a security risk.

To claim that we at that moment posed a viable terroristic threat to Israel is absolute nonsense. But at the same time, they were right. We pose a threat when we come to Israel and speak our minds about the Israeli oppression of the Palestinian population. It can be compared to the threat that I and thousands of others once were to the Apartheid system in South Africa. Words are dangerous.

August 19th, 2009, 2:19 am


Amir in Tel Aviv said:

Why-Discuss’s supreme culture, which the Jews don’t share:

August 19th, 2009, 3:07 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Rather strange “hobbies” for a person born in Syria and promoting democracy…


Why would “promoting democracy” be a “hobby”? Democracy and the ability to vote is a human right, no matter where one lives, Syria included.

Did you think only Jews criticize their own governments?;)

Anyway why don’t you email this person and ask him if he posted here, etc.

For fun:

August 19th, 2009, 5:12 pm


Shai said:

Certain Israelis are now referred to as “a virus” by none other than… an Israeli Deputy Prime Minister! Akbar, I’m sure you’re quite impressed. Do you agree with him?,7340,L-3764439,00.html

August 19th, 2009, 7:59 pm


why-discuss said:

Amir in Tel Aviv

Why-Discuss’s supreme culture, which the Jews don’t share:

While many jews may have a culture of humanism and pacifism, from their history and actions I believe Israelis have a culture of superiority, violence, oppression and revenge…
Too many links …

August 19th, 2009, 10:02 pm


Ghat Albird said:

All Arabs, in fact all those who claim to be decent and humane aught to read what a Zionist American by the name of David Goldman writing under the alias “Spengler” has authored on the Asiatimes on line website.

A Nazi type “final” solution to the Palestenian “problem”.

August 19th, 2009, 10:10 pm


why-discuss said:

Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2009
Syria Helps France in Dealing with Iran
By Bruce Crumley / Paris

Will history one day point to a shy, soft-spoken French academic as the key to the return of Syria as a respected member of the international community? The next several days could provide an answer, as Damascus ups its efforts to help Paris gain the freedom of Clotilde Reiss, 24, an assistant teacher of French at Isfahan University, who has been detained in Iran since July 1 on charges of espionage.

Reiss was one of two French nationals — among several Europeans — arrested amid the street protests that rocked Iran following the disputed June re-election of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. After a month in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, Reiss was one of scores of demonstrators, reformers and bystanders who stood mass trial this month for allegedly inspiring the unrest and undermining the regime. On Aug. 16, Reiss was released on bail on the condition that she remain under house arrest at the French embassy until the announcement of the case’s verdict. Last week, Franco-Iranian national Nazak Afshar, who worked in the French embassy in Tehran and was held on similar charges, was released to the embassy to await a verdict in her trial. In both cases French officials attributed the release of the women to intervention by what an official in Paris called “our Syrian friends.” (See pictures of Iran’s presidential election and its turbulent aftermath.)

President Nicolas Sarkozy, Foreign Affairs Ministry officials say, has repeatedly spoken by phone with his Syrian counterpart, President Bashar Assad, in recent weeks, requesting that Syria use all its influence with Tehran to free Afshar and Reiss. French officials now suspect Iran will mete out some symbolic legal ruling allowing the pair to return to France — perhaps before the start of Ramadan on Friday, Aug. 21. International media reports say a hastily organized visit by Assad to Iran has been planned for this week — presumably to secure Reiss and Afshar’s freedom. (See pictures of Sarkozy celebrating Bastille Day.)

Why would the leader of a rogue state the U.S. still lists as a sponsor of terrorism want to play do-gooder for a Western power? In large part to repay Sarkozy for the French leader’s decision to reach out to Assad in 2008 with an invitation to France’s Bastille Day events. Late last year, Sarkozy renewed that embrace with a visit to Damascus, and in January he sought Assad’s help in ending the fighting in Gaza.

Now it appears Syria is ready to return Sarkozy’s favors. “Although the Americans have been slowly reaching out to Syria — especially since Barack Obama’s election — Assad is aware Sarkozy was the first Western leader to truly see him as an ally and even a friend,” says a French diplomat who asked not to be named. Sarkozy’s trust, he adds, was especially appreciated by Damascus given the hatred former French President Jacques Chirac reserved for Assad — whom he blamed for the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister and Chirac intimate Rafiq Hariri. “There’s some genuine gratitude at work right now,” the diplomat says. (Read “Did Hizballah Kill Rafiq Hariri?”)

Perhaps, but there’s also a good deal of Syrian pragmatism in Damascus’ actions — especially in seeking to normalize its position in the international community. Katerina Dalacoura, an international-relations lecturer at the London School of Economics, says that while Damascus is keen to end its pariah status once and for all, it still needs to balance a lot of conflicting regional relationships in doing so. “Syria’s improved relations with France, as well as the U.S., is in many ways aimed at allowing it to operate more freely in the complex Middle Eastern system that requires having influential Western allies,” Dalacoura says. “So it lowers its tone in Lebanon, sends signals to Israel via Turkey that it’s willing to negotiate, and continues using its influence with Iran — all as a part of its increasing ties with the West. And this intervention in support of the French detainees is part of that.” (Read “France’s Fling with Syria.”)

What’s more, Syria doesn’t risk much going to bat for Paris now, since Iran is likely to spring Reiss and Afshar anyway. Tehran has used the women in the way it wanted to: as symbols of the supposed foreign planning behind the postelection protests. The bigger question is, Could Syria now be a useful interlocutor on the nuclear deal?

August 19th, 2009, 10:15 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Do you agree with him?


No I do not agree with him.

Nor do I agree with the terrorist excuse-makers like Norman Finkelstein, Noam Chomsky, Richard Falk, Robert Novak, or HRW’s Joe Stork.

August 19th, 2009, 10:44 pm


Amir in Tel Aviv said:


The differentiation that you make between ‘Jews’ and ‘Israelis’ is false and phony.
Most Jews around the world are Zionists, and support Israel (though,
some are slightly critical).
If by ‘Jews’ you mean those loonys who look like a caricature of
a Jew (with black flat hats), and who go to lick the ass of Ahmedinejad in Tehran, then
you’re utterly wrong.


I think that when he says “virus”, he means more like the AIDS virus,
which weakens the body and system, and less the swine-flew virus.
And He’s right.

August 20th, 2009, 2:49 am


Amir in Tel Aviv said:

sorry.. flu..

August 20th, 2009, 2:51 am


Shai said:


You said the following, about the peace movement Peace Now: “I think that when he (Moshe Ya’alon) says “virus”, he means more like the AIDS virus, which weakens the body and system, and less the swine-flew virus.
And He’s right.”

Thank you for clarifying what “type” of virus a peace movement such as Peace Now is. I’m actually glad you said that, because it is important for all around us, Israelis and non-Israelis, to see the true face of those who claim they want to live in peace with everyone. I suppose it’s the sort of peace people want to reach with “viruses” all around us.

That you believe Peace Now is only weakening Israel is one thing (that’s a legitimate belief), but that you not only accept, but also understand and use the racist and dehumanizing rhetoric of Ya’alon, is shocking. It wasn’t very long ago, still in your grandparents’ lifetime, that a certain movement developed that would later erase one third of the Jewish people within just a few years. That movement, as you know, used precisely the same rhetoric in reference to Jews.

If tomorrow morning a Peace Now activist is murdered by some fanatic who needed just a “tiny push”, and received it last night with Ya’alon’s rhetoric, he and all those who “understand him” (seems you do) will have blood on their hands.

August 20th, 2009, 7:36 am


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