Sunday, June 26, 2005

Turning Point!

I am not of the Crowd. I don’t even look the same anymore. I thought to myself as I walked along the sinewy pathways of Tishreen Park.

But my family was with me, walking right there beside me, Khawla, Ola and Mouhannad, they were there too looking and feeling as different as I do. I am definitely not alone anymore and I do have something now that I can and do belong to.

My son, Mouhannad, blames me for my dissident (or should I say dissonant?) activities, because they tend to endanger me (and as such us), and for what?, he asks. Most people here wouldn’t even like me (or us) or what I (we) represent.

He’s right, of course.

But what choices do I really have? Do I shake my head in a sign of sorrow and let a sad smile paints itself on my face and murmur some apologetic words regarding the foolishness of the human race? I am not that old yet. I don’t know if I will ever be that old.

Staying here, my wife says, you most probably won’t live to be that old.

She’s right, of course.

Pouting Ola is right too.

Everyone’s right these days. Perhaps even me.

But it is probably about time for me to be right differently. There are other ways of doing the right thing, and other places.


Thursday, June 23, 2005

No Glasnost in Syria!

It is more like glasbust really – going for broke because you don’t know how to do anything else. Loosening your hold on power is simply out of the question, because you know the whole thing will come crashing down around you. It was meticulously designed to do just that. If not, there are those who will make sure the whole thing comes down out of sheer spite, and you know it, and you know them.

So, the best you can do in this situation is to keep relying on the same old corrupt and incompetent elite, who will make sure the whole thing will come crashing down if you try to replace them, and hope that they will, somehow, discover wisdom and sobriety along the way. To make the process a slightly more credible, so you can believe in it yourself, not to mention be able to sell it to others, you bring in people like Abdallah Al-Dardari and Imad Moustapha and hope they will help improve your image.

But these people are not real decision-makers – they are only advisors whose recommendations will always be filtered through prism of parochial interests of the corrupt ruling elite and will lose much of their potential in the process.

Some people insist on seeing the glass half-full, some half-empty, but I see only a dry broken glass and, in a momentary incredulity, I cut myself on the sharp edges.
I cannot feel myself bleed and remain willfully blind.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The Breaking Point!

Optimists should read this.

Pessimists should read that.

And to bring things up to date, let’s point out that the Syrian regime is currently trying to acquire some new cards to play with and avoid reaching the Breaking Point: the chaos in Iraq and the Islamist specter, two things that Syrians simply don’t want to see in their country.

For external consumption, the regime is trying to play on the mayhem card as the assassinations in Lebanon are showing. The message is simple: if ignore us or keep your pressures on us, we’ll make trouble for you.

This is not the most effective and intelligent strategy by all means, but what else can one really expect from Baathists and nincompoops?

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Going Full Monte in Damascus!

No longer a lion cub, ours is now the real grown thing. The Baath Congress, we are told, has gone just as planned, as far as he is concerned, and he has just appointed members of his team to all key positions in the country’s military and security institutions – with General Dashing playing quite the important role I have to say, but then he always had.

This was quite a daring act of striptease indeed, complete frontal nudity and all that. The last fig leaf has just been removed. If reforms should not take place soon, everybody will know to whom they should assign the blame.

Jolly good show Cubbie! You make us all oh so proud.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Just My Luck!

Well, I have to admit the whole thing was more stupid than ominous.

Something did indeed happen. I was turned back at the airport. But no, not because of a security crackdown in the form of a new travel ban, but because of sheer bureaucratic incompetence.

Ten months ago, while doing my fellowship in DC, I received a kind invitation to attend a cultural festival in Italy and be honored for my novel Menstruation, which had only recently been translated to Italian. but, siince I was not a resident of the US, I was not allowed to apply for a visa to Italy from there. So I had sent my passport via DHL to Damascus to get the visa from one of the European embassies there. This was not exactly kosher, but I had enough friends in the diplomatic community to “wing” it.

Weeks passed but the passport did not arrive in Syria, and finally DHL declared lost. Naturally, I reported the matter to the local Syrian embassy and applied for a new passport.

But the Embassy could not issue a passport for me locally seeing that the format of the Syrian passport had recently been changed and that the new machine has not arrive yet. The passport, therefore, needed to be issued from Syria and sent via diplomatic pouch. So far so good.

The bureaucrats in Syria, however, were just so competent they kept on making one mistake after another in the application process and the whole matter dragged on for months. Until one day, someone knocked on our apartment door in Damascus and delivered the old passport to my daughter, Ola. OH yes, DHL finally came though for us, albeit five months late.

So, I reported the passport found to the people at the Embassy and the appropriate authorities in Damascus, and I used my newly found passport, that had been sent back to me through the diplomatic pouch, to return home.

Then, and as all know, upon arrival at Damascus's International Airport, I was immediately slapped with that infamous travel ban, which was, however, lifted a couple of months later, and I used my passport to travel to Doha. Everything was going fine.

Until yesterday, that is, when I found out that someone had reported my passport lost again to the Airport security and, as such, I couldn't be allowed to travel.

The security people wanted to take away my passport even. But I shouted and threatened and I spoke with such authority that they decided to play safe and allowed me to keep my passport, just in case I was really connected you see. You just never these days. Indeed, mentioning General Dashing’s name and threatening to wake him up to handle the matter personally did the trick. Otherwise, the passport would have really been lost, along with my US and Schengen visas.

So what was the story? What did happen?

Well, not much really. Someone in the police department seems to have finally noticed that little report about a lost passport that had been sitting on his desk for the last ten months now, and he must have decided to read it, worse, he must have decided to do something about it. Unfortunately for me, he did not bother to read the follow up report which said that the passport had been found. It woul d take him probably a few more months to get to it. I don’t think I am going to wait that long.

First thing Sunday, I will go to the central police station and pay the necessary bribes and expedite the whole thing.

Damn it, if it’s not one thing it’s another in this fucked-up country. Blows come from all sides, and even a heretical dissident like me has to use General Dashing's name in vain and has to take part in the local corruption schemes, to survive.

Is this culture still reformable? Are we still viable as a people? These are the real questions at the heart of everything around here?

But the answers can only be found through trial and error. For reform in these parts is but a continuous testing of the limits of the viability of the human spirit, a continuous search for that ultimate breaking point separating man from biological machine.

Considering that most of our reformers need to be reformed themselves, can I really tell for certain on what side of the breaking point I happen to be at a given point in time? What are the clues that I should be looking for in this regard? How do I really know for sure if I am still a viable human being?

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The Risks of Virtual and Other Forms of Activism!

In Syria, we have several cases where people were arrested, tried in a security court and jailed for having an illegal content on their pcs, or in their emails. Still, software to circumvent the government firewall is available everywhere at a cost of less than one USD. Everybody uses this software to access forbidden sites, such as those of various opposition groups abroad. No one has so far been jailed for accessing an actual opposition site, but there was a recent arrest against a well-known dissident who read a statement from the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood in a public forum. He had received the statement via email.

Some of those currently rotting in Syrian jails for having illegal contents on their pcs are not even dissidents or politically active. Others are. Some made the choice to have certain "forbidden" contacts and content, others didn't. Yet, none deserve to be jailed. But, we live in an authoritarian country, and this is part of our lot.

I guess what I am trying to say is this: people are now increasingly making the choice whether to take certain electronic risks or not, the more we can expand this sphere of choice, the better. Very few people stumble blindly unto activism and dissent, even if it is virtual.

So, if I should get jailed one day for these blog entries, for my newspaper articles or for my activities with the Tharwa Project, among other things, there should be no doubt that I will have earned it. Whether I deserve it or not, in the moral sense, is a different matter. I am sure there will be people who would think so, but who really cares about them? I know that most will not.

Tomorrow I will be venturing out of the country again to attend a conference in Europe. I don’t expect that the country will have changed by the time I come back on Sunday.

But to be honest with you, there is something ominous in the air, I am not really sure what to make of it, I mean there is nothing really concrete, just a vague feeling that something bad is about to happen…

It could be my sinuses though. They usually act up this time of year.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Meaning of the End!

There is a story in the Qur’an about King Solomon, well, a story about his death to be specific. He is said to have died while standing on a hill leaning on his wooden staff. Watching from afar, the Djinn continued to do his bidding thinking that he was still alive. The Djinn only knew that Solomon was dead when earthworms ate through his staff and his body collapsed.

The Syrian regime is Solomon, the Baath is the staff, the Syrian people are the Djinn.

The mediocrity of the Baath Party Congress has just demonstrated to one and all that the Syrian Regime is defunct. Yes, it can still crackdown, imprison, kill and destroy, but it cannot reform itself or the country. The Baath is no longer a viable institution. As hard as it wants to, the regime can no longer lean on it. In fact, it has just collapsed under the regime’s weight.

How long will it take for the Syrian people to accept and acknowledge the collapse of the Baath Party and the death of the regime?

Well, it all depends on how many people there are that are still willing to think like our Minister of Expatriate Affairs, Bouthaina Shaaban, when she said: “if the there were no Baath we will invent it.”

Accepting the regime’s death means accepting responsibility for the reform process. Since this is an increasingly difficult well-nigh impossible task, and since most opposition parties and dissident movements have no clue how to go about it, they are unlikely to accept the death of the regime, not even when they too eventually collapse until its deadweight.

The voices of reason around are few, but they can still make a difference if they came together. A lively presence in a sea of death can still make a lot of difference, even at this late stage.

But I dare not hope.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

M'enfin Oui, C’est Fini!

While mice were busy pretending they were lions in Damascus, Arabs and Kurds were at each other’s throats in Qamishly, and kidnappings of businessmen continued in Aleppo, where Islamists have made sure that alcohol is effectively banned.

Is there any doubt left that something is indeed boiling in the country?

Meanwhile the Congress of Ambitious Mice has reportedly accepted the long anticipated and quite meaningless resignation of the country’s VP.

For her part, the Congress’s spokesperson, Minister Shaaban, basked in the waning glory of a final spotlight as she reported with Sahhaf-like confidence on the meaningless chatter taking place in the background.

For while some Baath varieties have gone with a bang, others seem destined to go with a shy and incredulous whimper. Fortune’s fools flourish briefly than they die – a minor flash in a rotted pan.

Adieu comrades and good riddance.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Who's Next?

Hariri, Maashouq, Kassir, all killed… Who’s next? In what pit of hell are we exactly descending?

While we go on with our eons-long slumber, the dark forces of chaos (not-so creative after all) are wasting no time. Soon, we will have nothing to wake up to. Soon we will be killed while we sleep.
Now that is not my idea of a quiet death.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Who Killed Maashouq?

Will the killing of Kurdish Sheikh Maashouq Al-Khaznawi prove a watershed of violent developments between Arab and Kurds in Syria? Perhaps. Kurdish popular reactions over the next few days will provide the answer.

Sheikh Maashouq began to play an increasingly prominent role in the Syrian Kurdish Community over the last couple of years both as an advocate or reconciliation with the Arab population and a spokesman for moderate Islam. His message of peace and reconciliation had attracted a lot of attention, support and admiration among Syria’s Kurdish population. Indeed, his sudden “disappearance” a short while ago drew thousands of Kurdish demonstrators to the streets in the Syria’s northernmost city of Qamishly.

But, and in contract to the tragic developments last year though, these demonstrations were pretty peaceful. The demonstrators, most of whom suspected that Sheikh Maashouq had been kidnapped by the local security apparatuses, merely urged the central authorities to find out the truth about his disappearance and to secure his release.

Instead, the authorities delivered to them his reportedly tortured and mutilated body. The Sheikh was killed by family members we are told. Can we believe that? Can Maashouq’s Kurdish disciples believe that? Will Maashouq prove to be Syria’s Hariri? Will he prove the hair that broke the camel’s back? Or, and as the Syrian saying goes, will the entire event prove to be just another fart against the marble floor?

For Syria’s Arab population, it might as well be? For Syria’s Kurdish population though, even if not rioting should take place for the moment, the event at the every least, is bound to increase their sense of alienation and radicalism.

So, and while Syria’s Arabs will continue, over the next few days, to look for a miracle to take place during the upcoming Baath Congress, the Kurds will continue to look at Syria’s realities from a completely different perspective, one that will be much harder to reconcile with Arab expectations. The fragmentation of the country continues.

But what country am I talking about here? Indeed, the upcoming Congress will feature a walking corpse presiding over a hunched corpse lording over a flattened corpse. Death is the only offering we have left. And we're giving it profusely.

PS. Oh yes. I should probably note here that in the midst of all this mayhem, my family and I found some time on May 30 to celebrate my birthday. I have just finished my 39th year of walking tall on this bedlam earth.
Is that too arrogant?