Saturday, February 26, 2005


First I have to say that I was touched by all the feedback I have received on- and off-line, as a result of my latest entry. But indeed, some clarifications are in order here.

No, it’s not the security situation in itself that’s getting to me. But, this whole situation and its impact upon my family has forced me to reassess, or, to my be more precise, it has reminded me of my priorities in life.

Khawla’s father was imprisoned in 1980 on charges of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood. He reportedly died under torture a year later, though no one but some of his released cellmate would confirm this report. Khawla’s mother was arrested at the time as well, but was released within weeks. For years, various security directorates have kept on harassing Khawla’s family, and in 1999 her eldest brother was accosted and spent 11 months in prison on unspecified charges.

So, you can now have some idea of the horrible impact my repeated “visits” to various security branches had had upon Khawla’s state of mind. In her desperate attempt to avoid the wait and the fear it brings, she insisted on a couple of occasions on going with me to the Political Security Headquarters, and I consented. She was treated politely as well. But that’s beside the point. The point is the kids were horrified The point is that she was trying to cope with her fears and the stressed she was under were tearing her apart right in front of my eyes.

But I’ll be damned if I let my lively vivacious life-embracing Khawla join the ranks of the living-dead that fill this City to the tip of Mount Qasayun, on account of some foolish messianic aspiration of mine.

On a different note, the thought of leaving is not meant as an abandonment of our projects at DarEmar and Tharwa. Thanks to the Internet, I can run these projects from wherever, as I have indeed done throughout those beautiful and fulfilling six months I recently spent in Washington DC. So for now, my primary concern is to make sure that our local team is trained and expanded and new modus operandi is reached, allowing for more input from the more experienced team members into the decision-making process.

As such, my departure will not really come as a concession and the little seed of change that has been planted will continue to be looked after and nourished.

So, and as a whole, this decision of mine, this turn around of events, is not really as bleak as it might at first. So, keep hope alive friends. And heresy.

Heretically yours,

A thought. I can be very brave, very foolish, or very cowardly in the face of my interrogators. But all this is meaningless. My interrogator’s orders are the only things of relevance here. If he is told to simply ask me certain questions and report my answers, he will do it. If he is told that I should be tortured, he will torture me, and it wouldn’t matter in the least to him how I took the torture, bravely, silently, miserably… Oh perhaps, a show of bravery and fortitude will impress him, but will impress him enough to change him? To make him a better man, to make him quit this lousy job, to make of him a rebel?

And will any of these possibilities really matter in light of what this ordeal is doing to me and my family?

In my daydreams before I met Khawla, there were occasions when I faced my interrogators and executioners with such a show of fortitude that I converted them into adherents of my cause, and times when I killed them all in a single thought, and times when I died gracefully and quietly and left them simply shattered.

But in my daydreams these days, I seldom dwell upon such themes. I find enough victory, glory and fulfillment in the simple thought of waking up peacefully, and having nothing to worry about in life but the mundane things of daily subsistence. God bless the meek indeed.

PS. To those who encouraged me to go to Beirut. Indeed, this is the option we are currently considering at this stage, though nothing has yet been finalized. We will not likely spend the year of 2005 in its entirety here in Damascus.

Friday, February 25, 2005

A Heretical Epiphany!

In a rather rare moment of epiphany these days, I suddenly realize that the City, the Forever Decrepit City, no longer means anything to me.

But then, hasn’t this been the truth all along? After all, why did I really return to the City? Was it really her love that pulled me back after all these years? Is it really her love that is binding me to her while here? Or hasn’t it been my need all along, and my fear?

Tonight, a long awaited epiphany has finally empowered me to accept the truth of the answers that I have always given to these rather heretical questions, - heretical, that is, within the traditional framework of patriotism, nationalism, Baathism, Islamism, and all the other isms that had been taught to me all through my subsistence in the City, - and to understand their implications and face the consequences.

Tonight, I have finally accepted the truth of what needs to be done, and have finally found the will to do it. Soon indeed, I will have to leave the City…

…the city, the country, and perhaps the entire region. They all mean nothing to me anymore. They have never been hospitable or accepting of me, and they will never be. The certainty of that has always been with me, and the only reason that kept me here was a certain foolish messianic/suicidal tendency that, - no I can no longer ignore the obvious fact of it, - represents a deep betrayal of everything I believe in and of all the people I love.

I didn’t come back to Damascus in ’94 because I was homesick or for some nationalistic reason. I came back because at the very last moment I stopped my hand from lunging a dagger into my heart, I came back because I had a mother and a father and I needed to be cuddled once again and saved from myself, I came back to write and commit suicide in other less dramatic ways, perhaps.

It’s only tonight, following what seems like a long overdue epiphany, that I am finally putting an end to my longstanding suicide attempt. Everything in my life has been, up to this moment, nothing more than a meaningless incomprehensible, - even to me, even after all these years, - process of self-mortification. Still, and while I may never truly understand the causes behind it all, I can no longer accept this betrayal of myself, and all those who care for me.

The City, that cruel judge, that unfair arbiter, that eager executioner that relishes the prospect of further executions, no longer means anything to me. The only home I have now is my wife’s bosom. Should she die before me, the only home I will ever have again will be my own madness. And that suffices for me. That suffices for the Heretic in me. That conforms to the very nature of my current heresy.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Auto-debaathification vs. Exo-debaathification!

Is the Syrian regime really serious about its announcement that it will execute a large-scale redeployment of its troops in Lebanon, perhaps in preparation for a complete withdrawal at a later date?

Hard to say. But if experience with this regime taught me anything, if precedents are taken into account, then the only thing I can do at this stage is to remain skeptical, skeptical until such time that the action promised actually takes place. Then, I still reserve the right to remain skeptical for a little while longer just in case our leaders took a counter-action that makes their first action meaningless.

With this regime “Never Trust and Verify Everything All the Time” should be the standard motto and operating procedure.

Our leaders say that they are confused, that they don’t really understand what the Americans really want from all these pressures they are exerting against them. Well, I don’ think I can be put it any more eloquently than the new UAE ruler did: “change or be changed.” That’s what the Americans want, their real intentions and reasons are beside the point.

In other words: auto-debaathification might indeed be preferable to exo-debaathification, seeing that debaathification is indeed a must.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Heretical Ramblings!

Running forward is not an art that this regime is capable of learning. The only thing our “leaders” can do in times of crises is fall back on old positions and stances, burying their heads in the sand hoping the crisis will blow over in time leaving them unharmed – the country and the people do not, of course, matter.

The main source of income, after oil, for our “leaders,” the cash flow that fill their coffers, is, as many people should know by now, drugs: hasheesh and opium to be specific. Since the main center of production for these “crops” is located in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, how can this regime ever be expected to pull out of that beleaguered country?

But then how can it really survive if it didn’t?

A drug trade is still a trade, a business, and does, therefore, require a certain amount of stability to thrive. So, wouldn’t be it be more advisable for this regime to try to work out new arrangements to conduct its business rather than risk confrontation, isolation, removal and chaos?

Fools. Fools. An old poem cannot help but resurface in the mind of this despairing heretic.

Friday, February 18, 2005

A Heretic in the Mist!

In the dead of night, the Heretic is busy working behind his desk, his wife and kids fast asleep, and his senses numb all but to one thought. Well, a question really, an oft recurring question these days: am I sealing my fate, or is my fate sealing me? Or, to wax even more philosophic:

How can one feel trapped by choices he seems to be making of his own volition?

The dead of night brings no answer to the Heretic, and, obviously, no sleep.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The Heretic's Dream

The people at the political security apparatus contacted me today and promised to resolve my “travel restrictions” situation soon. They said the whole issue was related to the fact that they were trying to find some legal/official framework to allow for the Tharwa Project to be operated from Damascus. This will not take more than a few weeks, they said. Meanwhile, I will be given permission to travel wherever I want, no questions asked, provided I give 24 hour notice. This arrangement is only temporary, I was told, and everything should be back to normal soon.

Despite my hesitation and while not totally convinced of the veracity of what I was told, the change in tone and the fact that I was promised that the matter would be resolved within “weeks” made me decide to take the offer.

My first trip is coming up in early March. Let’s see what happens. If official recognition should indeed be given to Tharwa, then this country might indeed still be hospitable to people like me. A room for heresy might still exist.

The heretic’s dream: a safe place where he can practice and preach his heresy, undisturbed, unmolested.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Infelix Vates!

I just survived another round of dubiously curt and polite investigation by the Military Security Directorate. This promises to be the last such session with this particular Directorate. But it seems obvious now that other security branches will be jumping into the fray soon.

As I returned home today and tried to organize my thoughts, I found it difficult to make sense of this while development. What do these people want anyway? Who is making the decision to investigate? Is all this taking place on the personal behest of each branch leader in an attempt to prove to themselves, and their superiors, that they are doing their job and that they remain on top of things? Or is there some kind of coordination taking place between the various branches, something that did not use to happen before? If so, what is the purpose of this coordination in my case? Is the clicking ticking on me?

That’s one possibility I reckon. But, and no matter how serious it momentarily seems to be, and no matter how concerned I should probably be at this stage, still, and as my wife conveys to me the tragic news of al-Hariri’s assassination, a different perspective, a whole different ethos, suddenly imposes itself upon my mind.

All of a sudden all my worries vanish, I am no longer the center of own life. For a few short minutes, I will have to circumambulate another Kaabah, it seems, one that is simultaneously more majestic and more scarred than I could ever be.

Goodbye Hariri. Infelix vates.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Barometrically Yours!

A second round of investigation by the Military Security Apparatus took place earlier today. It lasted for only one hour. It did not include a meeting with the Brigadier General, as had been scheduled, because he was busy again. Instead, the meeting will have to take place tomorrow at 9:00 am. What a fortuitous start for an average Syrian day!

Still, the conversation that took place with his aid this time revealed a lot, enough to change my thinking about this whole development and to put things, I believe, in clearer perspective. I had earlier believed that coordination was lacing among the various security apparatuses, but perhaps the finger prints of our new Minister of Interior can already be seen here. At least the basic report about me (including my Daily Star articles, my public lectures and meetings in DC, and the Tharwa Project (Advisory Board, Funding and Affiliates) has been distributed to all branches of security, and each seems to have been charged with the task of making its own inquiries with me. So, there will be probably more rounds to come in the near future. I will be making the route, as they say here in activist circles. My initiation has finally begun.

Does that mean that my colleagues in civil society circles will become any less suspicious, or even envious, of me, seeing that I am now forced to partake of the same… disgusting little dish? I seriously doubt it.

Being a liberal in this imploding part of the world, means that I am more of a heretic than a dissident really. Other than to the small and seemingly marginal group that shares in the heresy, one way or another, I can belong to nothing over here. I can believe in nothing that seems too indigenous. Indeed, I sing a totally different tune, one that will not be appreciated any time soon. I am forever off-key around here. I am a heretic. If anything I have to say today is ever going to be appreciated widely by people here, this will not going to happen for a hundred some years. And though I am always willing to be surprised, I have long reconciled myself to that. Being solely recognized by my fellow heretic suffices me. Well, it will have to suffice.

As such, those who doubt the ability of “me and my ilk” to change things hereabout do seem to have a legitimate point, but that’s only because they misunderstand the nature of our intended role.

We are not meant to be the real leaders of the change process at this stage, but merely the catalyst thereof. More importantly though, we are also meant to function as barometers, noting the direction of change, its depth and of the intentions, abilities and mandate of the reform elements within the regimes. Because, after all is said and done, we are the only minds out there that have accepted the fusion of east and west and are actively trying to come to terms with the myriad implications of this acceptance. Pragmatic arrangements can be struck with many different groups out there, including those with Islamist tendencies (we all know what sort bedfellows politics produce at occasions). But real understanding and acceptance of the nature of global dynamics and modern values can only be worked out through us. Or do you expect an Islamist, communist or a Baathist to deliver on this?

So, here I am, little old me, holding the very credibility of the mighty Syrian regime in the palm of my all too fragile and shaking hand, and the only reason why they can still, nonetheless, be tempted to intimidate me, and perhaps seek to build some kind of a case against me on the long run, (what’s it going to be, I wonder: espionage, accepting foreign funds, hurting the image of the country, opposing the constitution, who knows?), is the fact that they don’t know that yet.

They really don’t who I am or what I do represent, despite my repeated attempts in a number of articles to explain that to them. The voice of international actors might be louder here. Indeed, the voice of international actors should be louder here.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Another day in Damascus!

Khawla is preparing to go to Beirut. It’s been 20 days since our return to the Senile Country. A cold security reception at the airport set the tone of this homecoming, more or less, and culminated in a travel ban. Still, seeing the kids at the airport was absolutely rejuvenating.

The travel ban is not total, that is, I can still travel if I want, provided that I get a security clearance before I leave and report back upon my return.

Oh, of all the stupid things they could do? Did they really think they can put me on a leash? Did they think that I’d accept, that I’d cooperate? Well, they have another thing coming. I happen to be very much fond of the idea of staying at home at this stage and cutting down on travel time. I Have proposals and articles to write, a team to enlarge, conferences to plan and people to hassle. This is going to be a productive year, a very productive year for all of us here.