Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Engaging Syria – Opportunity or Ambush?

The following is a bullet-point summary of my recent presentation at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. The "other side," so to speak was represented by my favorite sparring partner Joshua Landis.

* Just as is case with military engagement, political engagement has its rules. The following is one such rule: when dealing with corrupt authoritarian regimes, especially when they seem to have some ideological motivation, no matter how minimal, you do not give more than you take, lest you end up creating a problem in the future that is bigger than the one you were trying to resolve.

* The fact that Syria and Iran are important and vital in the region does not necessarily mean that the regimes are engageable or that the rules of the proposed political engagement are practical and conducive to the desired results: peace and stability in the region, and some tangible progress in the Global War on Terror, as this latter seems to set the overall context for the current US intervention in the region and the entire democracy drive.

* Those who speak in favor of engaging the Assads tend to posit them as national leaders, but, while one can make a somewhat credible argument for Hafiz al-Assad as having been a national leader, for all his glaring faults and shortcomings, Bashar & Co. seem more motivated by personal greed and power-lust than they are by national considerations. No, this is not meant to say that the Assads are completely devoid of national convictions and interests, but they often tend to confuse these interests with their personal, family and to a lesser extant, communal interests, often erring on the side of the purely parochial and personal.

* Those who argue for engaging of the Assads seem always willing to concede to them, even before any talks have taken place, not only the Golan, but also Lebanon, parts of Iraq and the Palestinian territories to the direct or indirect control of the Assads. But, it is not clear at all why it is in the US interest to concede so much to a corrupt and authoritarian regime that has made a business of defying the US for decades now? How can such concessions make the Assads less willing to defy the US? And what guarantees are there that the Assads will not mismanage the affairs of their “acquired” realm, and not grow more ambitious and problematic in the future?

* The callousness with which the Hariri Investigation is treated by engagement-advocates is really remarkable here, as they all seem to be quite comfortable with the idea of undermining an international legal proceeding. How can states in this region be expected to respect each other’s boundaries and sovereignty when the international community seems always willing to cave in to the demands and the blackmail and extortion tactics of the more thuggish and rogue elements? We want the states of this region, Israel included, to conform to agreed international norms and conventions, not international norms to conform to the regional and local penchant for cruelty and lawlessness. The insistence on holding this region accountable to a different and ethically inferior set of rules will only serve to perpetuate these rules.

What is even more callous in this regard is the unwillingness to consider the potential impact of killing the Hariri Investigation, and so soon after the killing of Hariri himself, on Lebanon. Such development will likely pave the way for the eventual implosion of Lebanon and will leave Hezbollah virtually in control of Lebanon. How are US interests served by this, and how are the prospects of regional peace and stability served by an imploding Lebanon, or one that is under the control of an Islamist organization?

* The above points should be taken in conjunction with certain hard-to-neglect-yet-somehow-always-neglected developments that have taken place over the last few years, namely: the recent removal of two main traditional rivals of Iran from the scene, namely: the Taliban and Saddam regimes. As such, the confrontational approach of the current administration have served to prop up the Iranian regime. Now now engagement-advocates are suggesting that we prop up the Assads regime and Hezbollah, Iran’s main regional allies. Considering all this, one cannot but wonder in this regard: are Americans policymakers actively and purposefully engaged in an attempt to recreate the Persian Empire, or are they just diehard masochistic morons?

* Engagement advocates speak of engagement as if it were a simple mechanical task. They forget that engagement has been tried before and failed, not only during the reign of Hafiz al-Assad, but even under Bashar, as negotiations related to the Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreement, an all-carrots agreement in essence, dragged on for more three years, having been stalled under his father for five. Then, and as a result of Bashar’s confrontational stance vis-à-vis the US-led invasion of Iraq, the Bush Administration pressured the EU to add a special clause to the agreement concerning the banning of all WMDs. This put an effective end to the negotiations at the time.

Why did the talks drag on for so many years on such a clear-cut agreement? Because implementing the economic reforms necessitated by the agreement would have impinged on the interest of the ruling elite and would have opened the system, both politically and economically, at a much faster pace than the Assads, the control freaks that they are, would have been comfortable with.

In the same vein, peace talks, once started, are also likely to drag on and on, regardless of any initial promises, commitments and assurances made
. This will give the Assads and their Iranian backers enough time to wait for the breaking up of the existing international coalition against them seeing that the Russians and Chinese are already not on board, that the Europeans are of 25-30 minds about anything and everything, and that the Americans are of two minds, sometimes equally unenlightened. On the other side, you have two dictatorial regimes who discuss their strategies and tactics behind closed doors, not in open think tanks and weblogs.

* Can the Assads be useful in the Global War on Terror? Considering that one of the main handicaps of the Assads regime is its essentially minoritarian sectarian character, its ability for undertaking secular reforms has always been undercut. Indeed, and despite, if not because of, the showdown with the Islamists, among other oppositional groups, in the late 70s and early 80s, the regime was forced to develop a dual containment strategy with regard to the country’s Islamists and majority Sunni community in general.

With regard to social and educational issues, regime policies straddled the well-defined traditional lines of Sunni doctrine and sharia law and encouraged their dissemination all over the country, using the country’s obligatory religious studies curriculum and allowing for the establishment of public schools that emphasized religious education and Qur’an memorization.

But, with regard to the more politically active currents, the regime encouraged the adoption of a special arrangement that allowed Islamist terrorist organization to use the country as an operational base and safe-haven while executing its actual operations abroad, often in congruence with certain perceived interest of the regimes (the regime employed the services of secular nationalists Palestinian grounds in this regard as well). In other words, the Assads exported their Islamist problem. Seeing that they have recently fallen on this habit with regard to the situation in Iraq, there is every reason to believe that they will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, even if engagement-advocates granted them everything they wanted. The Assads’ perception of their Islamist threat is always alarmingly high because the whole development is seen through a purely sectarian prism. As such, the Assads’ actual role in the Global War on Terror is extremely negative, since their preferred method for combating terrorism is to export it, and make it somebody else’s problem, preferably the United States.

* Conclusion: taking all of the above points under consideration, it become clear that the current proposals for engaging the Assads will fall far short of achieving the desired objective, and could indeed easily backfire. For all the proposals seem to violate the spirit and letter of the main rule of political engagement highlighted above, as they tend to give far in excess of what they could take. They will save the Assads, dust them off and prep them up as a new and quite dangerous regional powerhouse, which along with its close and recently empowered allies the Iranians and Hezbollah, can pose tremendous threats for US interests and for the prospects of regional stability and peace. Moreover, and rather than constituting some tangible progress in the Global War on Terror, engaging the Assads is likely to make the problem worse, for in the battle of perceptions, engaging the Assads will be viewed as a reversal of an all-but declared policy of regime change on part of the US, not to mention France, and this could only further encourage and empower the terrorists.

* Recommendations: if engage we must, engagement should be done within the context of an overall regional approach that will not leave much room for spoilers and will not ignore the issues of international legality and legitimacy as it pertains to the full implementation of all relevant UN resolutions, including those related to Israel, and/or the need for serious political and economic reforms in most if not all states involved. Representatives of opposition movements, civil society, democracy and human rights activists as well as public intellectuals should be included in the talks as counterweight to the regimes and to make the real interests and concerns of the peoples of the region truly represented. Haphazard approaches aimed at satisfying the needs of only one party without much thought for the potential internal or regional ramifications will backfire. The mere public consideration of such approaches is already having a negative effect on the region and serving to embolden the stances of rogue actors and regimes, the Assads a case in point.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A Heretical Release!

A press release issued by the Reform Party of Syria on October 18, 2006 claims that Ammar Abdulhamid, a Nonresident Fellow at Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, will be opening an office in Washington DC on behalf of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and/or the National Salvation Front (NSF). This is false.

Mr. Abdulhamid is not a member of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and has never been. He is not opening and will not be opening an office for the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and/or the NSF in Washington DC. Mr. Abdulhamid is a founding liberal member of the NSF, a broad-based pragmatic coalition of Syrian opposition groups and independent liberal activists.

Ammar Abdulhamid is a Nonresident Fellow at Saban Center for Middle East Policy, where he provides analysis and commentary on Syrian politics, Arab democratization, and US-Syrian relations. He previously served as a Visiting Fellow in the Saban Center, during 2004 and then from September 2005 to March 2006.

Mr. Abdulhamid is also the director of the Tharwa Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving public information and discussion regarding diversity and human rights issues in the Arab world.

Saban Center for Middle East Policy
The Brookings Institution

Monday, October 16, 2006

Surreal Heresies!

My take on Syrian politics have often been compared to neocon stands, and I have been often accused both in private and in the comment section of this blog of advocating war against the Syrian regime. This is recent response to a private criticism that echoed the above themes:

To me, my take on Syria has nothing to do with Zionism or neocon thought, it is about the reality we have to deal with in Syria on a daily basis. I cannot ignore this reality, or, to be more honest and accurate, my perception of it, simply because it coincides with that of some neocon thinker here or there. The Assads are the way they are, a brutal corrupt clique that will do anything to stay in power, I didn’t make them this way and I don’t see why they would, of their own volition, and in the absence of any pressures, choose to change their behavior. If there are those who want to ignore this reality and deal with the Assads as if they are some reasonable statesmen guided by consideration of national interest, then, I have the right to say that these people are wrong and are bound to screw things up for us, as a people, even more that the current administration, which might indeed be employing wrong tactics, but they are, at least, making the right assessment, namely that the Assads are unchangeable irreformable thugs.

But if some, while acknowledging the fact that the Assads are thugs and still want to talk shop with them, in the name of real politick and all that, then, this is extremely problematic, because, as 9/11 clearly demonstrated, empowering such figures is no longer detrimental to the interests of the peoples of the region only, but to peoples everywhere. For in this shrinking world our problems, our dissatisfaction, our dejection, our rebellion end up assuming an international character and our ire end up focused on external parties and powers, just as easily as it is focused on the internal actors, if not more so, a matter that is facilitated by the constant brainwashing to which we are subjected, certain messianic cultural traits, and good old-fashion human nature.

The corruption and authoritarian nature of the ruling regimes are serving to break the civil fabric in our region and are driving populations into recoiling onto primordial modes of belonging and extremist modes of thought. This, in turn, creates existential problems for the regimes which they can only address by encouraging their exportation elsewhere in the region and the world. This is why the Saudis back the establishment of wahhabi and salafi currents all through the world, and this is why the Assads, driven in particular by their minoritarian background which precludes any possibility of reform, or internal legitimization of their position, have gotten in bed with so many Jihadi movements in the region, back in the good old 80s, and now.

On the other hand, and if people want to wax critical of the current US administration, that's quite fine by me, but I caution against letting our criticism turn, or be turned, into an endorsement of policies that are bound to be equally disastrous. The reality is neither the neocon nor the liberals have a clue of how to handle the current crisis. Their continuous political bickering on so many issues not related to the Middle East, mostly domestic, is serving to recreate Cold War conditions in the region, where regimes attempt to ingratiate themselves to one side of the argument in the hope of relying on it to check the other side when it comes to certain critical decisions pertaining to the region.

Add to this, the continuing inability to coordinate with the allies in Europe, to carve place for China and Russia in the global decision-making process, or to come up with a new vision for NATO that will allow it to compensate for the shortcomings of the UN, not to mention actually coming up with a new vision for the UN itself, because, in the final analysis, this is what is really at stake here when we talk about a New World Order, and you have the recipe for a virtual disaster, the brunt of which will be felt by us all.

Unless there is a sufficient international will to tackle the challenges highlighted above, so that a real reform/peace package can be submitted to the peoples of the region, with real carrots and real sticks, for people tend to forget that this is not an either or situation, and the willingness to use both when needed, the only thing that the current politicking can produce at this stage is to move us from one disaster to another to yet another, until we hit the big one.

When it comes to real preemptive efforts, human beings have always proved lacking. We can only preempt in retrospect. But when it comes to plunging headfirst into disaster, we have always been proactive.

This is why I don’t bother much to criticize the Bush administration, what’s the point? My recommendations are too surreal for any administration to warrant serious consideration, and any criticisms I might have will simply be used as fodder in a meaningless political battle that will serve no real purpose, as far as I am concerned at least. The only reason I bother to criticize our side of the equation is my desire to find like-minded people with whom I can work and cooperate with regard to my surreal projects, including Tharwa.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

A Few Heresies in Honor of the Ramadan Season!

Ramadan. The most hedonistic time of the Muslim year. So, hedonistic, in fact, it might as well be called the Muslim Christmas or Hanukah. Indeed, human nature, when given the chance, tends to bastardize all rituals and observances meant to celebrate our loftier desires and yearnings. So be it. I really don’t have much problem with this particular human contradiction. I much rather the heterogeneity of individualized bastardization than the homogeneity of collective ritualistic observance.

But, and judging from the few made-for-Ramadan TV series that we can catch on cable (being unable to install a satellite dish in our apartment and follow the Ramadan scene more closely), this heterogeneity is rapidly becoming superficial, and is under serious threat of diminishing to the point of insignificance.

Year after year, TV series, especially Egyptian ones, become more and more infused with so much male chauvinist and traditional religious values that one has to seriously wonder if a systematic effort is not actually involved here. For while many complain with regard to the increasing explicitness of pop videos, in reality, pop videos can inspire more guilt in the soul of at a teenager who has been raised all his life on traditional values than they can inspire rebellion against said values. And now, we have TV series that increasingly consecrate traditional values, serving a purpose that is diametrically opposite to the one that was entrusted onto them by the secular Arab regimes in Egypt and Syria in particular, with many of the same actors and script writers, not to mention political leaders, still involved.

And while, this observation might hold more true with regard to Egyptian series than Syrian ones, which continue to betray some pronounced secular sympathies, the gap between the two artistic communities is rapidly closing, as is the gap between religious and nationalist currents in the country and the region. Being an Arab is becoming more and more synonymous with being a Muslim even in Christian Arab minds. As such, you either rebel against both, or you end up embracing both. No, this does not meant that Christians are converting to Islam, or that they will convert to Islam, people are never that mechanical in their reaction to things.

But many Christians are becoming as conservative and anti-secular, if not anti-western, as Muslims in the region, a fact evidenced by their current tendency to turn towards their religious leaders for inspiration and guidance rather than their political ones. Those Christians who cannot accept this state of affairs are emigrating in increasingly large numbers.

As to how this plays out in the artistic community, it is indeed quite interesting, and somewhat painful, to see how, in the hope of postponing the inevitable or softening the blow, or out of complete ignorance of what is actually at stake (which is more often the case, especially with regard to younger stars), Christian actors are choosing to praise the very values that will soon prove quite inimical to their basic rights as citizens. It is equally interesting and saddening to see how the same actors who have championed the more secular values at one point now seem to be advocating the more traditional and religious ones, perhaps by way of preparing themselves for the encounter with their maker.

Virtue has no secular side to it these days. Virtue is purely Islamic. The “father knows best” attitude of earlier shows, after all, we have always been a male chauvinist culture, is now being defended on Islamic grounds. In other words, father knows best, because he is following the word of God, Who, of course, Knows Best. Rebellion against the authority of the father is now more sacrilegious than it has ever been. Modern values of individualism and free expression are condemned as a priori wrong and evil. No argument in this regard takes place, the plot presupposes that they are wrong and, more importantly perhaps, that people know and accept that they are wrong. Indeed, plots are constructed in such a way that leaves the viewer no choice but to agree with the conclusion.

Women in these series, especially when independent and not so enthralled with their motherly duties, or with the “fact” that a woman’s calling is to be a “good” mother above all, are invariably portrayed as sluts.

No. These series are not some Islamic versions of Hollywood Christmas classics. Nor are they a celebration of traditional family values. They are a rejection of and a systematic attempt at demonizing modern values. Hollywood classics, for all their simplifications and occasional pitfalls, are quite humanist in nature, rather than purely Christian. There is no humanism involved here, but a missionary zeal that is no longer constrained to the religious channels.

No. contemporary Arab pop culture is not a liberating influence, but an instrument of mobilization that now not the only the nationalist regimes but also the religious currents are using to reject modernity and western influence.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Israel and Syria: To talk or not to talk…

"Greetings from your Israeli reader and occasional correspondent. I'd be interested in hearing your views on the following matter.

Shimon Peres, Israel's inveterate devotee of the peace process, has ruffled a few feathers in the Prime Minister's office by calling for negotiations with Syria. This, in response to an apparent spate of newspaper interviews by Assad suggesting the peace process could move forward (ignoring, or winking an eye at Assad's simultaneous beating of the war drums). A prominent conservative Israeli economic columnist made an argument this morning in the economic supplement of Haaretz that now is the time for Israel to play the Syrian card, since Assad is opposed to Muslim fundamentalism, and peace with Israel could move him away from his alliance with Iran.

[These points come as] compelling arguments for Israelis politically adrift after the collapse of both the Oslo process (Barak) and unilateralism (Olmert). [They are] even more compelling for the Israeli left whose entire ideological fabric has been torn asunder. The questions this raises are obviously quite serious. Are Assad's flirtations a ruse to defuse international pressure over the Hariri assassination, an opportunity to move him in the right direction by use of a carrot, or both? Would heating up the Syrian-Israeli peace process strengthen a corrupt regime by shattering its isolation, lead to a simultaneous internal thaw and subsequent democratic change, or both? Would an Israel-Syria dialogue weaken the Assad-Ahmadinejad axis or allow it to continue under conditions of reduced international pressure? And as far as the hopes of the Israeli peace camp is concerned, is Assad another Sadat or another Arafat? No, you don't need to answer in black and white terms, but I'm sure these questions are relevant to the democratic camp in the Arab world as well as in Israel. Look forward to hearing from you."

Hi there,

These are some very interesting questions indeed. Let me put things in this succinct and to-the-point format:

* It will very embarrassing for Israel and the international community to embrace Bashar now only to discover in a few months time, when Brammertz issues the final report, that he, or high-ranking members of the regime, are actually involved in the Hariri assassination. For this reason, it would make much more sense for all the actors involved, the Israelis, the Europeans and the Americans, to say that negotiations with Syria could indeed take place but only following the conclusion of the investigation and depending on its outcome and on how the Syrian regime chooses to conduct itself in the interim period, and after. This is a very reasonable position to assume, and it shows that the international community, not to mention Israel, is not willing to jeopardize and waylay an ongoing investigation by embracing a suspect regime.

For attempting to actually “kill” the Hariri investigation, or to manipulate it by watering down its final conclusions is destined to backfire as it will end up sidelining the last few liberal figures and movements in the region, and will serve as a further argument in the arsenal of extremist forces regarding the hypocrisy of the international community, and the US in particular for all its democracy rhetoric.

** People will be wrong to conclude that the Assads' apparent desire to negotiate with Israel denotes a willingness to break with their Iranian backers. On the contrary, talks with Israel will be closely monitored and coordinated with the Iranians, and will serve as another instrument in the hand of the Iranian leaders to weaken the emerging international alliance against their nuclear designs, and to prevent its consolidation, by allowing the Iranians leaders to cast themselves in the garb of regional peacemakers.


Well, when public meetings and consultations continue to take place between the Assads and various high level Iranian officials all through the talks, and when some elements pertaining to Iranian concerns be put on the table, including certain issues related to Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Shebaa Farms, the Iranians can go on a PR campaign meant to polish their image making them appear more reasonable and pragmatic. Indeed, and in due course of time the successful conclusion of the talks will become intricately linked to launching negotiations with Iran as well.

Now, there is nothing necessarily wrong with that, especially if you reconciled to accepting Iran’s “right” to develop its own nuclear program, and if you are willing to believe that weapons are not part of the plans, or that regional stability is still achievable even with a nuclear Iran, and that Iran’s nuclear successes are not going to inspire similar ambitions across the region (including in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, etc.) But if you have a problem with any of this, and if you are seriously thinking about ways to isolate Iran, then, you should really be aware here that peace talks with the Assads are in no way conducive to this end, and that they might in fact backfire.

*** We should also bear in mind that the Iranians could create a lot of problems for the Assads should they contemplate charting an independent course at this stage. They have too much riding on them. But, I do not think that this is a major concern for the Iranians really, for they have managed to establish a firm grip on the Assads to the extant that Syria's foreign policy is today being effectively drafted in Tehran. As such, negotiations with the Assads will come as indirect negotiations with the Iranians, and perhaps a (necessary?) prelude to them.

****As for empowering a corrupt and authoritarian regime, I wouldn’t worry too much about that, I think the Assads are beyond empowerment at this stage, peace or no peace. There is nothing that they or anyone else can do that will prevent the implosion of Syria at the not-too-distant future. But I will elaborate on this matter in a future posting.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Few personal notes on the making of suicide bombers

Much has been written and said about the phenomenon of suicide bombing recently, and though only recently launched, the Tharwa Commentary could not but address the issue. For this reason, I thought, it might be useful to share the following thoughts with a wider readership in order to shed some lights on this important phenomenon, which I primarily view as being quite psychological in nature.

Indeed, spoken as a former Muslim extremist, I think I can probably contribute a few personal insights into the making of the would-be suicide bomber– the fate that I was lucky enough to elude.

The disaffected, the maladjusted, the alienated, the outcasts, the neglected, the oppressed, the maltreated and the marginalized, who come from a certain community, will always find ways and means derived from the basic traditions of their community to express and vent their frustration. People always feel the need to justify and legitimate their actions to others, especially when their actions come to disrupt certain accepted norms, or fly in the face of accepted values. It’s no surprising that the first thing they would do in this case is to look for whatever precedent, quotes or duly forgotten and neglected aspect of the common faith and traditions and use that to justify their actions.

Once such internal modes of justification are absent, or, once they prove insufficient, they would then turn to external sources, or invent their own arguments. The absence of justification will not cancel out their desire to rebel, reject and protest. The desire, the readiness and the willingness come first. Then comes the justification.

The process is not always so well-thought out, intentional and willful of course, but it is all too real and, to me, quite familiar.

Naturally, the reasons for the disaffection, maladjustment and resentment differ from one person to another, but there are several traits that are quite common to all: jealousy, covetousness and a desire to belong, to be accepted, and to shine.

We (if I am allowed a momentary lapse into my old frame of mind) want what others have, that sense of empowerment they appear to have, that sense of ownership over the world. We say that we rebel against injustice, and perhaps we do, but only in part, the other part side of our rebellion is our desire to trade places with our oppressors and become ourselves the oppressors. Hence the violence we are willing to reek upon the world. And hence our animosity towards the US, the most powerful country in the world. The fact that it has interests in our region and that it is often willing to pursue them even at the expense of our basic rights sometimes is an additional, albeit important, element behind our hatred. But the willingness to hate America because it is powerful is far more guttural really.

But, even in the Brotherhood of the Faithful, as the disaffected will soon find out, to their utter horror and dismay sometimes, there is still a lot of room for disdain, ostracism and stratification. One’s position is not always so empowering and does not always mean that one can be part of the inner circle where all the important decisions are made. Transparency is almost completely absent here, despite an occasional, and necessary, show at consultation of the wider membership, a fact that is justified on the not so unusual grounds of necessity and security. After all most circles are either being hunted down or operate under severe restriction and duress. Yet, and while this justification is accepted by many, the same people who would not accept such a justification when deployed by the ruling regimes, others will still seek a greater access into the decision-making circle, or they will opt to form their own circles which may or may not continue to remain affiliated with the original circle. Interrelations are not always that friendly either, and mutual recriminations are more the norm than the exception.

But radical groups have a heightened sense of danger and purpose, this allows for the adoption of certain transitional arrangements where focus of all cells remain focused on the external enemy, most of the time.

Once violence is adopted by a group of the disaffected as a legitimate means to express frustration and deliver the message, violence becomes also a way for one to gain greater legitimacy and credibility and move up the ranks within the group. The greater the disaffection, the greater the violence and the nihilism involved. Living in this world is the closest thing to a worldly Paradise the believer can ever have. To most, this will satisfy and suffice. The risk and hardships involved will only sweeten the deal by serving as a further evidence that salvation and purification are actually being earned with every passing moment, regardless of how mundane the effort is. Even the simple (or usually simple) act of defecation becomes actually “holy” here, not only because one has to observe the usual rituals and ablutions involved, but because the entire context is now holy.

Living as part of the Brotherhood is like living on the periphery of the real heavenly Paradise itself, you can smell the scent of it on almost daily basis, and the yearning for final acceptance will only grow with every passing day.

But and for the more idealistic members, the fake nature of it all, is bound to strike them sooner or later, the contradictions between the more criminal aspects of the entire enterprise, in which most other members will revel, and their romantic notions and desires will continue to haunt them, until they either lead them out, or further in.

The first alternative is the more difficult one, of course, as you end up losing everything, with no guarantees that the real world, which you so willingly abandoned at one point, will be so welcoming and accepting, or that you can adjust to it somehow this time around. But in order to have the luxury of even contemplating such an option, luck and time are needed. Yet often, time and luck are but luxuries which many the many young jihadis are deprived.

This brings us to the second path, the path of martyrdom through the suicide attack. For, in order to move further in, and the talk here is about the condition, the mental framework and the frame of mind that lead one to this path to begin with, not the group as a structured entity, one has to become a more perfect embodiment of the ideals one’s preach, but necessarily practice.
For, one might be dejected with oneself as well, and this is not to be taken lightly as a factor. Sexual urges, for instance, will continue to bedevil one, and no matter how many ways the jihadis find to accommodate this within the limits of the Sharia, sinning, in one’s mind and heart at least, is all but unavoidable, and the weight of this sin within the holy context in which one now lives, is that far more heavy. Reconcile yourself to dying through a suicide operation though, and the whole burden might seem a bit lighter for the interim.

A martyr is often then, but not always, an individual who is dejected with the very cause he espoused and the very people with whom he threw his lot in this world, and often, he is dejected with himself as well. But his desire to commit this ultimate act of "sacrifice" is not necessarily fueled by despair and guilt. More often, hope plays a more motivating role, hope that through this act (and only through this act for those driven by guilt) one can actually cleanse himself, cross that bridge and earn entry into the real Paradise, where one's belonging is eternal, and, more importantly perhaps, unconditional. Well, at least, once you are in.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Slide!

Signs continue to bode ill for the future of regional peace and stability. Indeed, it now seems more likely that the recent terrorist attack against the US embassy in Damascus has actually been real, not staged. But note that the Syrian authorities no longer link the attack to Jund al-Sham, the bogus group indirectly set up and “cleverly” manipulated by the Syrian military security apparatus over the last few years. Rather, the attack is now attributed to a new group of Syrian expatriates who have recently returned from Saudi Arabia, with the ideas of a certain unnamed Saudi cleric filling their heads.

The more one think about it then, the more the whole development seems like the case of the proverbial chicken coming home to roost, or an all too predictable case of “what goes around comes around.”

For long the Assads have blackmailed the Saudis, among other “Gulfies,” by threatening terror and mayhem, while relying on their well-known abilities, made legendary in the aftermath of Hama 82, to deal effectively with any potential payback or backlash at home. I dread to think that, seeing that the credentials of the new Assads in this regard have not been effectively established yet, despite the chain of assassinations in Lebanon and the continued crackdown against all opposition at home, there is a real chance that the Assads might yet be called to task for their adventurist behavior in the last couple of years through a new externally sponsored internal challenge (as has often been the case of course).

Indeed, and while many are predicting that Lebanon will be the scene for a renewed regional settling of score, Syria might just emerge as the more likely theater of operations in this regard, or, at least, an additional one (additional, that is, to both Lebanon and Iraq, if not Afghanistan as well. Through in Somalia and parts of the Sahel for good measure).

Seeing that none of the major players currently involved, especially Iran, the US, France, Israel and Syria, is likely to reverse its particular policies helping pave the way to this impending showdown, with all the external and internal implications of it, the only way that I can see to spare Syria from the looming mayhem is for the Assads to be taken out through an internal move, that is, to put it more precisely, a coup. This is probably what former VP Abdul Haleem Khaddam had in mind when he called upon the Syrian military to rebel against the Assads, using the commemoration of the October 73 “victory” as an occasion to do it.

I say, while it might be very tempting to shoot the messenger in this regard, it will do people well to heed the message itself. Otherwise, we are almost assured of disaster.

Admittedly though, the likelihood of anyone being even capable of heeding any such message at this stage is next to none. The weakest players on the scene are, nonetheless, strong enough internally to survive an immediate challenge. Or so it seems. Good for them, bad for Syria.

For if we are to avert the impending disaster, someone gotta give: if not the Assads, who? And if not now, when?


On a completely unrelated note, I would like to thank Yaman Salahi for reminding me that I am actually an author, and not a political analyst.