Saturday, February 25, 2006

A Casual Exchange with a Young and Inquisitive Mind!

Over the last few days, with a young man from the good old country.

Can you elaborate on the recent decision by the Bush Administration to allocate 5 million USD to fund the activities of the Syrian opposition?

In general, the sum involved is too miniscule really to finance any serious effort at destabilizing the Syrian regime, but it could help finance some small-scale meetings, travels, and the production of some necessary literature to explain the opposition’s point of view.

The importance of this symbolic gesture is that it crystallizes the position of the current Administration in the US regarding the Syrian regime – simply that it needs to be replaced and that viable alternatives to it need to be sought out and supported. The Syrian internal opposition may not be able to come out publicly and endorse this gesture for both ideological and tactical reasons. But, I seriously think that they need to revise both: the tactics and the ideology.

There are countries out there that accept massive US aid and yet can and do disagree, and quite publicly so, with some of the US policies in the region, e.g. Egypt. As such, accepting assistance from the US is not going to enslave anybody. On the other hand, creating contacts and linkages with the US on a variety of levels is extremely important at this stage, seeing that the future of our country will be shaped to large extant by its policies, whether we like it or not - (this is what happens to countries that squander 50 years of precious independence on petty sectarian squabbles rather than work to meet the serious developmental challenges that their country is facing – we find ourselves having to start all over again and under much tougher conditions. And the worst is yet to come! Ana Souri, Ah ya niyali!).

Cynicism aside, it is important to show the Syrian people that the opposition can sit down and negotiate with the powers that be in this world, after all, if we wanted incompetent morons to be responsible of our country’s relations with the world, our glorious regime seems to full of them. And just look where they got us for heavens sake!!!!

Other than Ghadri and Jbaili, who do you think will apply for such a not-so generous grant?

Well, believe me there are quite a few takers around, both inside and outside the country (including yours truly), most, if not all, are very credible and honest people (including yours truly), and though many of them seem to remain unknown for the wider public (including yours truly), perhaps this monetary support, no matter how miniscule at this stage, might help them overcome that barrier (including, perhaps, yours truly - for yours truly is not so sure about becoming famous).

Moreover, I hope that this funding will be used to help funds such activities that can help create broader coalition movements, establish specific programs and objectives and bridge the critical divide separating old and young activists.

But, being the cynical person that I am, I can assure you that people will focus on the pursuit of ineffective short-term goals and conceptual issues, leaving the future of our country to be determined solely on the basis of actions and policies adopted by the US and the EU, not to mention the regime itself, which, for all its stupidity can still outmaneuver us at any given time and for quite a while to come. Meanwhile, Islamist, tribalist and sectarian divides will continue to fester.

So, what do you suggest by way of handling this situation?

My strategy for dealing with this situation, if I can ever claim to have one, is to work quietly to establish an alternative form of leadership among young people (i.e. those below 40) from different communities – a strategy that will quietly work to both mount a civil disobedience movement that can help bring about the downfall of the regime on the short run, and, more importantly, one that will help us manage the ensuing chaos that will emerge as a "natural" consequence of:

a) vendetta tactics by the regime and its supporters,
b) the rise of extremist Islamists and other sectarian elements, who will benefit from the security problems that usually accompany such transitional periods to mount their own campaign against every modern façade and vestige in our society, and
c) the rise of the usual assortment of opportunists and demagogues who tend to rear their heads in such historical moments as well.

The real battle, then, is that that will ensue after regimefall, and it will take years for dust to settle on this one.

The trick to winning this battle, and the war, is to be able to choose the moment for fully joining in and to show the necessary patience in this regard. At the very least, this is a decade-long battle, and the war itself will likely take a few decades. It is not independence or sovereignty that is at stake here, it is the quality of our life and our ability as human beings to take an active part in working out our own destiny.

So, and in the face of my growing cynicism, all my “politicking” still leads me to this very idealistic point. Oh well, I am but a senile and cynical fool who still believes in human dignity. Shhhh… mums the word.

Where does the US and France fit into this?

Everywhere. I don’t think we have it in us to oppose them at this stage. I am not even sure if it is wise to do so. Every time we try to oppose "imperialist designs" we end up falling victims to the most unenlightened, authoritarian and corrupt elements in our society.

So, do you propose that we should just give up and latch on to this passing wagon to achieve some personal goals?

I propose that we be less ideological and more pragmatic. No. I am not calling for latching on to the passing wagon, I am just suggesting that we should not stand in its way, because, and thanks to the incompetence of our political leadership, including that in the opposition, the vehicle has gained too much momentum and we will not be able to stop it using our own naked and starved bodies.

Moreover, I am not suggesting that our sovereignty will be directly compromised by the French and the Americans through some sort of an Iraqi-style occupation. I think we will be facing a more subtle form of hegemony, and, as such, our response needs to be equally subtle. Brashness is not a prerogative of small isolated states. We need much more pragmatism here and much less idealism and ideology. Our idealism is better served by planning ahead and setting our eyes on the future, and by constantly rearranging our priorities to reflect the uneasy balance between principle, necessity and feasibility.

We cannot attain all our desired goals now, we have to prioritize, and we have to do so within the context of changing geopolitical realities all around us. The world is growing smaller and more interdependent by the minute, issues of sovereignty are becoming extremely meaningless, and usually amount to nothing more than turf wars between the haves. Our real concern should rather focus on development, education, participation, networking. In other words, we should focus on people more. I am not sure what role Syria can play in the future of humanity, I am not even sure if I care. What I do care and am rather sure about is this: Syrians do have a fair chance of playing a very important role.

Sounds like a nicely-worded sell out to me…

It may indeed be, I am selling out on quite a few traditional concepts in favor of new ones, ones that I have fashioned for myself on the basis of my own experiences in life, as meager and chaotic as they are. Even your average American or French citizen could find my new ideas offensive. For I take no pride in national belonging, you see. Nor do I take pride in pain, albeit nations have given us plenty of it to go around. But I do take some pride in my scattered little personal achievements, those little positive manifestations of my own humanity, no matter how fleeting and ephemeral - and that will have to suffice. I have no ideology to peddle, and no preconceived ideas or notions, only a few thought, a few doubts, and perhaps they too will suffice, in a land so full of convictions. A leadership based on doubt, rather than conviction, this is what I would like to nourish, to foster, if I ever get the chance to.