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Friday, July 27, 2007

آل سيمبسون

Here is what some prominent Syrian political figures might look like as characters on The Simpsons:
Hafez Assad - حافظ الأسد

Bashar Assad - بشار الأسد

Antoun Saadeh - أنطون سعادة

Abdul Halim Khaddam - عبدالحليم خدّام

Assef Chawkat - آصف شوكت

Rami Makhlouf - رامي مخلوف

note: thanks to Wassim for pointing out correctly that Farid Ghadry is not a prominent figure. In fact, he's not really Syrian either. But as Wassim notes in the comments, the representation is accurate.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

جبهة الخلاص الوطني مع ولايات متحدة

Today the Wall Street Journal printed an article by Jay Solomon, covering the Syrian opposition, which was full of inaccuracies. The piece began:

"On a humid afternoon in late May, about 100 supporters of Syria's largest exile opposition group, the National Salvation Front, gathered outside Damascus's embassy here to protest Syrian President Bashar Assad's rule. The participants shouted anti-Assad slogans and raised banners proclaiming: Change the Regime Now."
As I recall, there was also a banner that said "Bashar, 99.9% of the Syrian people reject your candidacy." You've got to give the NSF the credit for having the guts to turn out less than 100 people and claim that they represent more than 18 million.

Solomon continued:
"In the 1960s, the Baath party and the Assad family seized power, ushering in a violent chapter in Syrian history."
Actually, Hafez Assad was Defense Minister in the late 60s and didn't seize power until 1970. And that was a bloodless coup - the violence didn't surface until almost a decade later.

There was also mention of Ammar Abdhulhamid:
"During 2006, Syrian exile and democracy activist Ammar Abdulhamid emerged as one of the NSF's main liaisons with senior White House officials. In the weeks surrounding the Lebanon war, which began in July, Messrs. Abdulhamid and Ghadbian and other Syrian-Americans met with Mr. Abrams's deputies in the Old Executive Office building next to the White House. Through these intermediaries, the White House exhorted the NSF to build a wide coalition of opposition groups and to run it in a transparent and democratic manner, participants say. The two sides began discussing ways to highlight the problems of Syria's parliamentary and presidential elections, approaching in 2007. The Baathists allowed no candidates from other parties to run in the May 27 presidential poll."
The only trouble is that Ammar made it pretty clear that he was leaving the NSF back in June. And the elections were held back in May, as mentioned. I find this whole piece out of date, in fact. But some PR agency rang up the right people at the WSJ to get an obsolete puff-piece printed. For example, see this rosy portrayal of Khaddam as a do-gooder.

"By 2003, Mr. Khaddam says he believed one-party rule was fueling corruption and wrecking Syria's economy. Mr. Khaddam, then Syria's vice president, secretly contacted Mr. Bayanouni to discuss a rapprochement. Through a third party, Mr. Khaddam says he conveyed his belief that Syria could progress only if the Muslim Brotherhood was brought inside the political system. In 2005, Mr. Khaddam resigned and fled to Paris.

Messrs. Khaddam and Bayanouni formed the NSF in February 2006. The marriage of the Muslim Brothers and breakaway Baathists shocked many in the Arab world. The pair also reached out to the Bush administration, hoping a partnership with the U.S. could increase pressure on President Assad. Instead of requesting military aid or financing, the group is seeking Washington's help in focusing on Syria's human-rights record."

The subtitle of the piece also mentioned women's rights. Does anyone honestly believe that if the Brotherhood took over Syria, women would enjoy more rights than they currently do?

Friday, July 20, 2007

سوريا مو الجمهورية العربية السورية

In the March issue of FW:, editor Sami Moubayed wrote a charming piece about "Ahlam", a baby girl born on April 17, 1946, whom he described as having "magnificent Oriental beauty and a smile that simply would not go away. She came from a wealthy and prestigious family that boasted of heritage and traced its roots back to the beginning of civilization." I wrote to Sami to congratulate him, saying:

"that's a lovely piece Sami, although you forgot to mention that Ahlam, though beautiful, was not born intact in 1946 and is missing major parts of her body."
Of course, what I mean is that the Syrian Arab Republic – whose independence is commemorated on April 17, Ahlam's birthday – cannot full claim the heritage of Syria. The Syrian Arab Republic contains most of Syria, embodies the essence of Syria, and pays homage to Syria, but the Syrian Arab Republic is not Syria.

Syria is as old as civilization. It is a geographic region, it is a historical concept, it is a constant of humanity throughout the millennia. Its memory transcends the ages. And it is far above the quibbling over colonial boundaries drawn by outsiders who cannot even hope to grasp its inheritance. And its people – ALL its people – carry its spirit, no matter what emotional baggage of conflicting modern nation-states burdens them, or how separated from their roots by time and distance they may be.

Syrians in America bear witness to that legacy. Seven years ago, I stood beside my grandfather as he read in the newspaper that Hafez Assad had died. Practically with tears in his eyes, he said in a sorrowful tone:

"He was the best Syrian president we ever had!"

"We? Who is 'we' Jido? You were born in the United States in 1917. Hafez was not even born until 1930, and you only visited Syria for the first time in your life in 1993!!!"

For him, it did not matter. To this day, Jido still talks both in English and Arabic, as if he lived his whole life in Aleppo and moved to the United States 2 weeks ago. When we installed satellite TV at home several years ago for him to keep in touch with his roots, he was confused by the political coverage. To this day he cannot comprehend why "Syria" and "Lebanon" have separate Presidents and separate governments.

Jido, and I by extension, are Syrians in the mold of Khalil Gibran, the acclaimed poet who wrote in 1926 the following:

"Stand before the towers of New York, Washington, Chicago and San Francisco saying in your heart, 'I am the descendant of a people that built Damascus, and Byblus, and Tyre and Sidon, and Antioch, and now I am here to build with you, and with a will.'

Be proud of being an American, but also be proud that your fathers and mothers came from a land upon which God laid his gracious hand and raised His messengers.

Young Americans of Syrian origin, I believe in you."

It is the Syria of Antoun Saadeh, the patriot who advocated for a single independent political Syrian entity based on the principle that "Syria is for the Syrians and the Syrians are one nation."

It is the Syria of Abraham Mitrie Rihbany, who wrote The Syrian Christ, and said:

"whatever else Jesus was, as regards his modes of thought and life and his method of teaching, he was a Syrian of the Syrians…

It is most natural, then, that Gospel truths should have come down to the succeeding generations—and to the nations of the West—cast in Oriental moulds of thought, and intimately intermingled with the simple domestic and social habits of Syria. The gold of the Gospel carries with it the sand and dust of its original home."

Indeed, St. Matthew wrote in Chapter 4, verse 24 of Jesus Christ that "His fame spread to all of Syria."

Sometimes Lebanese, Jordanian, or Palestinian friends will ask me what my origin is:

"Halabi," I proudly reply.
They respond with a confused look. "Souri, yaeni…"
"La, halabi."
"I don't understand, why don't you just say that you are Syrian?"
"Why don't you?"

Then they ask me, a third-generation member of my family born in the United States and whose ancestors left their homeland on Ottoman and French passports between 1913 and 1921, if I am a dual citizen of Syria:
"No, my political allegiance is to the United States - but I hope one day a true, integral political entity will come to exist, worthy of the name Syria."
For now, Syrians must play with the cards they have been dealt. No one can deconstruct the modern nation-states that comprise Syria. To advocate that would be silly and counterproductive. But Syrians should never abandon their idealism, never forsake their true heritage, and always remember that whatever political action they take in the here and now must only be taken to restore Syria for the coming generations, because the true Syria is forever.

George Ajjan is an American of Syrian origin and a member of the Arab American Institute's National Policy Council. This article first appeared in the June issue of the English-language Syrian Magazine "FW:".