Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Assad’s Olive Branch Can Bear No Fruit!

Ammar Abdulhamid Fri. Dec 29, 2006
Forward Forum

According to an article in Time magazine this month, I am the central figure in some cockamamie plot to overthrow the Syrian government. The plan, apparently, is to undermine Bashar al-Assad’s regime through the ballot box, starting with the parliamentary elections scheduled for March 2007.

But as every Syrian knows, these elections tend to be quite staged and inconsequential. Perhaps the American officials who concocted the classified plan for regime change believed they could make it appear more credible by assigning a primary role to a dissident like myself. No one, however, could exude the kind of aura needed to cover the naiveté of the proposed scheme.

If nothing else, this half-baked plot exposes how much the United States is struggling to develop a coherent policy toward Syria. Washington is clearly unable to grasp the reality on the ground, both in Syria and across the Middle East — and nowhere is this disconnect more visible than in the naive insistence, by the Iraq Study Group and others, on linking progress in Iraq to the revival of Syrian-Israeli peace talks.

If Israel returns the Golan Heights to Syria, the advocates of this line argue, the Assad regime will become more agreeable to helping the United States in Iraq and to reining in Hezbollah and Hamas. But little consideration is given, at least officially, to the fact that Assad may not be in a position to help achieve any of these things once the United Nations’ investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri is completed.

This open secret has led many to believe — with ample justification — that despite the Iraq Study Group’s emphasis on obliging Damascus to abide by all relevant U.N. resolutions, the Assad regime will ultimately be rewarded with a free pass on the Hariri assassination. Indeed, there is an implicit acknowledgement among all advocates of talks with Assad that the regime’s real interest lies more in killing the Hariri investigation than in retrieving the Golan. But since this matter cannot be acknowledged publicly by either Damascus or Washington, returning the Golan is made out to be a key to solving the region’s problems.

Why, some might ask, should Israel care about all this, if in the end it gets something out of the deal — such as the containment of Hezbollah and Hamas?

For one, it is not really clear that Damascus actually can deliver in this regard, seeing that the real financial backer here is Iran. So, unless the Assad regime suddenly becomes willing to turn against Iran, it is unlikely to cause a serious break in the flow of arms and funds to Lebanon and Gaza.

No matter how desirable this turnaround might seem in the eyes of American and Israeli policy-makers, it remains an unlikely course of action for Assad. The alliance between the two regimes dates back to the early days of the Iranian revolution, and the security and economic dimensions of the relationship have been developed for years.

Iran invests hundreds of millions of dollars in Syria, and annual bilateral trade tops a billion dollars. More importantly, Iranians have been able to heavily infiltrate the Syrian security apparatuses, to the point where Tehran has the ability to manipulate existing differences among different members of the Assad family. Today, Iran is both a security threat and a lucrative business partner to the Syrian regime — and both sides are well aware of it.

The fact that Iran has so much influence on the Assad regime likely means that Iranian concerns would filter into talks between Israel and Syria. Considering the nature of relations among Iran, Israel and the United States at the moment, it is not at all clear that diplomacy with Damascus would be productive.

And that’s not all that could hamper Damascus’s ability to achieve peace. There is the Assad regime’s growing nationalistic jingoism, as well as the fact that the ruling Alawites represent less than 10% of Syria’s population. And, of course, there’s the ongoing Hariri investigation.

This might mean that even if Damascus does agree to sit at the negotiating table — which itself is far from a given — discussions could drag on due to the Assad regime’s inability to commit to specific concessions. Any concession to Israel, or to the United States, would likely be held against the regime by its domestic critics, meaning that Assad would be hard pressed to settle for anything less than a perfect deal.

Indeed, it was just such an impossible quest that made then-president Hafez al-Assad — who was a far more credible and pragmatic leader than his son — walk out on talks with President Clinton in 2000. How reasonable, then, would it be to expect that the embattled Bashar Assad will accept what his respected and feared father could not? One need only look at how the younger Assad has tried to appropriate Hezbollah’s perceived victory in Lebanon to grasp that at this stage, he is more interested in burnishing his militant credentials than his diplomatic ones.

Yet even if Assad were to sign a peace treaty with Israel — which, again, seems rather hard to imagine at the moment — such a deal would almost certainly be viewed as tainted by most Syrians. Any concessions made to the Jewish state would be portrayed by critics of the regime as Assad preserving his power at the expense of the national interest.

What exactly this would mean for the future of Syria is hard to say, but one can get a pretty good idea by looking next door, in Iraq and in Lebanon. With communal lines being drawn ever darker, the minority Alawites’ rule in Syria is far from guaranteed.

As such, peace with Assad may not necessarily mean peace with Syria. Indeed, a peace treaty might not even outlive the regime. So unless Israel, the United States and the international community are willing to assume the role of protector, it is unlikely that peace with an Assad-ruled Syria will prove enduring. Syria cannot make peace with anybody, least of all Israel, until it first makes peace with itself.

Ammar Abdulhamid, a Syrian blogger and author, was forced into exile in 2005 for criticism of the Assad regime. He is founder of the Tharwa Foundation, an independent initiative focusing on diversity issues in the Middle East, and is a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Is Dialogue with Iran and Syria Worth It?

Ammar Abdulhamid
(Spanish, Russian, French, German, Czech, Chinese, Arabic)

Despite frequent claims to the contrary, the fundamental problem in the Middle East is not intervention by the West. On the contrary, the real problem is that, for all their dabbling, the Western powers seem capable of neither war nor dialogue. This leaves everyone in the region at the mercy of the Middle East’s oppressive regimes and proliferating terrorists.

Advocates of the Iraq war lacked an understanding of the complexities on the ground to wage an effective war of liberation and democratization. As a result, their policies merely ended up eliminating Iran’s two major regional rivals: the Taliban and Saddam Hussein’s regime. This presented Iran with a golden opportunity to project itself as a regional hegemon, and Iran’s leaders are unlikely to let this opportunity slip away.

Advocates of dialogue with the Iranians and their Syrian allies, like former United States Secretary of State James Baker, labor under the delusion that they can actually reach an understanding that can enable a graceful US exit from Iraq and help stabilize that wounded country. The delusion is based on two false assumptions: that the Iranians and the Syrians can succeed in Iraq where the US has failed, and that the international community can afford to pay the price of ensuring their cooperation.

True, Syria and Iran are playing a major role in supporting Iraqi insurgents, and Syria is still encouraging the trafficking of jihadists and weapons across its borders with Iraq. But the idea that these activities can be halted at will is naïve.

For one thing, the interests of the Shia communities in Iraq and Iran are not the same. Iraqi Shia have never accepted Iranian dictates, and many took part in Saddam’s war against Iran in the 1980’s. After all, the Iraqi Shia are Arabs, and if they are now willing to coordinate their activities with their Persian counterparts, their main goal will always be to secure an independent course as soon as possible, even while they carry on with their internecine disputes within Iraq. Iran is in no better position than the US to convince them to resolve their differences.

President Basher al-Assad of Syria faces a similar dilemma. Although he has opened Syria’s border to jihadists and has allowed Saddam’s supporters to operate freely there, that choice may not be entirely his. Syria’s aid to Saddam in maneuvering around the United Nations’ oil-for food program brought Iraqi money to inhabitants of the border region, who have always been closer in customs, dialect, and outlook to their Iraqi neighbors than to their fellow Syrians. In the absence of government investment, local inhabitants’ loyalty went to Iraqi Baathists who helped improve their lot. Indeed, even local security apparatuses have been unwilling to comply with dictates from Assad and his clique to seal the borders.

In these cirumstances, neither Syria nor Iran seems capable of delivering anything but mayhem in Iraq. What, then, would the proposed dialogue between the US and these states achieve other than continue to empower their corrupt yet ambitious regimes?

The story gets more complicated when one considers the UN inquiry into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri. Assad wants nothing more than to see this affair forgotten – and the proponents of dialogue think that they can give him what he wants in the hope of breaking Syria’s alliance with Iran.

But that is merely another erroneous (not to mention amoral) assumption. The alliance between Syria and Iran dates back more than two decades, and was explicitly reaffirmed by the two ruling regimes as recently as January 2005. Indeed, the two regimes are now joined at the hip. Assad’s recent refusal to attend a summit in Tehran with his Iranian and Iraqi counterparts was a mere tactical move designed to appeal to the proponents of dialogue.

In fact, Iran has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in Syria, and annual bilateral trade tops a billion dollars. Irani’s growing influence over the Syrian security apparatus is well established, and Iran is funding an effort to create Syrian Shia militias to compensate for Assad’s sagging support in the army and in the minority Alawite community.

Assad cannot turn his back on all of this. No deal would be sweet enough, even if it included the return of the Golan Heights. For Assad and his supporters, survival is more important than sovereignty.

Still, to read the well-known names of commentators and policymakers who are recommending engaging Syria and/or Iran is a testament to how inconsequential and cut off the Western powers have become from the realities on the ground in the world’s most turbulent region. That, it seems, is the price of their arrogance.

Ammar Abdulhamid is a Syrian author, blogger and dissident. He runs the Tharwa Foundation, an independent initiative that focuses on diversity issues in the region.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2006.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Rhoids!

So here I was crouching head-down on my belly in the Doctor’s chair, my ass hoisted in the air in a very un-reassuring position for a shy reclusive and heretical buttocks, when it suddenly hit me, no, not the intrusive instruments of the doctors perianal conspiracy, but the sudden realization that the problems with my ass, if memory served me correctly, seem to have come about around the same time as my problems with my Assads, which, indeed, made perfect sense to me, seeing that all involved are indeed full of shit.

But then my realization went deeper than that when I remembered that I can actually date my first serious bout of hemorrhoidal pain and bleeding back to the early days of the US-led invasion of Iraq. I, then, had a series of “dry runs” coinciding nicely with my first stint at Brookings in mid 2004. But, and beginning in mid January 20005, things went down hill and colon upon my return to Damascus, with the onset of that long period of incessant interrogations by Syria’s various security apparatuses, and my incessant defiance thereof. Consequently, a surgery became necessary in April - the bleeding stopped - a death-threat inevitable in June -the throbbing pain came back - and exile a relief in September - the bleeding of anus and soul returned, and never looked back.

My bleeding is but a reflection of the turbulence around and within me, my anus a barometer. This world is going indeed to shit, and, if some had their way, so will my life.

The latest ramification of the Time’s article is the embellishment in an Arabic site run by another troubled Syrian soul in exile, a journalist and a graduate of the Syrian prison system who have developed his own unique way of coping with his own growing disillusionment with the Syrian regime and his own messianic predilections, Nizat Nayouf. His way allows him to quote “widely knowledgeable sources” in Syria, while maintaining a semblance of objectivity and stating that their claims "are rather difficult to verify." indeed. The “widely knowledgeable sources” in Syria claim that I am a triple agent of sorts playing all sides, including the US Administration, the regime and the NSF, and that I have secretly recorded NSF meetings, and sent the recordings to the Presidential Palace in my Damascus, through my mother, the well-known actress Muna Wasssef who, naturally, is very "close to the Palace."

The source also identifies the Tharwa Project as the vehicle of the US conspiracy, albeit it admits that our funding initially came from a Dutch organization connected, according to "widely knowledgeable sources" in the Netherlands this time around, to the Protestant-Jewish lobby.

In fact, however, I never attended any of the NSF meetings, because, here I am the center of a CIA covert plot to bring down the Syrian regime and no one has seen fit so far to speed up the approval of my asylum application and give me a goddamn passport. I took part in establishing the NSF virtually, I have never yet met Khaddam or Bayanouni, and other than the US-based members of the NSF, I only met those who came here for occasional visits. Now, I should think that that would make it pretty hard for me to get any recordings of NSF meetings, unless, of course, I had accomplices. This is what the new version of the report will likely claim in some future date.

As for my Dutch donors, well, actually, they happen to be a branch of an international Catholic organization, namely the well-known Pax Christi, known for its peacebuilding and humanitarian activities all through the world, even here in the good old USA.


* The widely knowledgeable sources remain the bane of our existence in this world. They fuck up war. They fuck up peace. They fuck up objectivity. When they are real, that is. More often, however, they are nothing more than tattered disguises for our growing sense of insecurity and paranoia.

* We all live under the delusion of being right and good most if not all of the time. And though I tend to question myself often with regard to my basic motives, intentions and means, I cannot claim to be any less susceptible to this tendency than any given one of us. For this reason, I have no option but to muddle through the dark days and ways that lie in front of me, stumbling from one sudden realization to another until I make some sense of it all, or someone makes some sense of me.

Ouch Doc, yeah, that really does hurt.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A Heretic in the Wind!

A recent article in the Time paints me as the central figure of some cockamamie covert plot to overthrow the Syrian regime. But, and while I'd really like to see our illustrious regime overthrown and reconciled to the dustbin of history (to borrow a term that is so dear to the hearts of regime spokesmen), news of my involvement in such “sinister” plot come as news to me as well. I was never aware of that fact that I was that creative. I think I should take up writing again, soon.

Meanwhile, I am, at this stage, a member of the board of the Tharwa Foundation USA, which was recently incorporated in Washington to conduct human rights and democracy activities along lines similar to our Tharwa Project in Syria with its focus on diversity issues. Tharwa Foundation USA will be the recipient of funds from a variety of donor organizations in the US, but nothing that directly comes from the US government (where our donors get their money, however, is their problem). Moreover, the Tharwa Foundation will not be carrying out any partisan activities, such as supporting any particular political candidate, party, or movement inside or outside Syria, or anywhere in the region (we have representatives in Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, Palestine, Morocco and the Gulf).

Besides, parliamentary elections in Syria are too farcical and tightly controlled to become the center of any meaningful opposition work or action. For them to be put at the center of a plot to overthrow the Syrian regime is ludicrous. If there is someone who thinks along these lines in the administration, then heaven help us.

My affiliation with the National Salvation Front has nothing to do with Tharwa, especially the branch in Syria, where the Tharwa team has always been critical of this recent aspect of my activism, albeit they accept my freedom to make my choices in these matters just as I accept theirs.

Indeed, Tharwa came to light in Syria in early 2003, following 2 years of preparation. The NSF, on the other hand, was established in Europe in March 2006. Tharwa emerged as a regional civic project that support dissident views, and is often run by dissidents. Still, it has no partisan affiliation with any existing political group inside or outside the country, and does not represent itself as a political operation anywhere. In fact, its members come from a variety of political backgrounds, not to mention ethnic and religious affiliations.

The Time story, therefore, is definitely not well-researched and tends to read too much into too little and stitches together disconnected pieces of a nonexistent puzzle. The current administration has not yet formed a coherent policy vis-à-vis Syria, albeit they are opening up more and more to the Syrian opposition, the NSF in particular. But that only means that we have been talking more often, nothing concrete has so far come out of the talks except for a general agreement that the NSF is an important and credible opposition movement whose views and basic expectations warrant to be factored in whatever policy that the Administration ends up adopting with regard to Syria. NSF members in Europe are conducting similar activities there as well with their local governments. Indeed, the NSF recently opened an office in London.

Still, I don't really mind in principle being the central figure of a rumored covert operation, provided it is substantive and real. This one is just too bloody farcical, and I would like to believe that I am smarter than to be involved in something like this. I was exiled from Syria less than 15 months ago – not enough time in this day and age for one to lose his grip on the realities he left behind.

Everybody in Syria knows of the staged nature of the parliamentary elections there, exposing this fact to an external audience is important, of course, and it should be done, and it will be done I know, with or without overt or covert US support, but the results of this activity will not have a major impact, if any, on the standing of the Assad regime vis-à-vis the Syrian population, who have long grown accustomed to this periodic song-and-dance.

Nevertheless, should the Time story cause someone in Syria to worry, for whatever reason, then, it is good. But if it made them laugh it is even better. For I noticed that the Assads are at their worst when they are confident and joyful, so they might as well dance naked around the campfire, as far as I am concerned (I wouldn't mind doing that myself actually. It's been a while).

As for the opposition, well, we have to admit that we are still relatively weak with limited grassroots appeal. But our weakness is more than compensated by the moronic policies of the Assads, not to mention their avarice, this is indeed what keeps us in the game, and this is the one constant that has been working for us all along, albeit we cannot keep on
counting on it
. Indeed, I believe that the NSF is slowly moving beyond that, which is why it finds itself so much in the news lately. But then, we have legitimate complaints vis-à-vis the Assads regime and our point of view merits an audience and merits support. Ignoring us and legitimizing the tyrannical and corrupt rule of the Assads is not realism, it is downright duplicitous and as equally moronic as the policies adopted by the Assads themselves.

But then, there are indeed plenty of morons all around. Some believe in farcical engagement justified on the basis of real politick, others in no less farcical warfare advocated on the basis of certain undying messianic expectations. Then there are opportunist morons who wouldn't mind scavenging around for a tasty morsel, and idealistic morons who think that they have to find a way to chart a path around all those moronic policies out there in an effort to salvage what can still be salvaged from the impending wreckage by way of mitigating the overall disaster and in the name of some ideal that keeps on militating within their souls.

I like to believe that I belong to that last category of morons. But there are those who will feel more comfortable putting me in the former. Be that as it may, I am only 40 years old, and I am going to be around for a while through the thick and thin of it, and if people can't see things my way today, perhaps, in a few years time, I will have created the sort of reality on the ground that can lend more credibility to what I and my dissident colleagues stand for.

On the other hand, stories like this, coming at a time like this, yearend and all, cannot but make me look back at the last few months of my fledgling political career, and yearn, really yearn, for early retirement. I enjoyed life more when I was just a heretical poet and author waiting for one or two of my misguided colleagues from the Time of Ignorance of yore, who, still high on atavistic religiosity rather than joi de vivre, would come and kill me while I lounged by the Sheraton poolside in Damascus with my equally heretical wife, kids and mother sipping on that odd mixture of lemon and beer that we are all so fond of in the family, and the country.

Oh well, I have to stop daydreaming I guess, there is some covert scheming waiting to be done back in the office.



More on this story with a quote by me here. And this is an article that I recently wrote and which is being widely syndicated in a number of languages.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Flipping Moment!

Indeed, the Assads of Syria are currently being wooed by one and all, American Senators, European officials, and Arab leaders, but soon, I'd wager, everybody will be wowed by how little the Assads actually have to offer and by how bent they are on overplaying their hand, just as they have done on so many occasions over the last few years.

The Assads don’t have it in themselves to “flip” really. Flipping requires a certain family consensus that in light of existing family dynamics is very hard to reach. The interests of different family members still diverge along personality lines, individual ambitions and business interests. A suitable new arrangement or accommodation has not been reached yet, and will not likely be reached anytime soon, if ever.

Meanwhile, the current consensus on the necessity and usefulness of the alliance with Iran and Hezbollah was reached by default – the alliance has been a hallmark of Syrian foreign policy for decades now. Different family members simply lapsed on established positions and policies and stuck to their guns. The fact that events seemed to have justified this choice of theirs will argue in their individual minds that sticking to these policies is the best thing to do at this stage. So, they will do nothing but grandstand and will continue to do nothing but grandstand as the flipping moment fades away over the horizon.

This is why President Bashar told his Italian interviewer recently that, although Syria can do a lot to help the US in Iraq, considering that the Assads have such “excellent relations” with so many of the actors involved in the Iraqi scene, the US should also “talk to Iran.”

Meanwhile, those who think that they can talk some sense into the Assads should learn from the experience of Senator Bill Nelson, who was vilified in official Syrian press for claiming after the end of his visit to Syria that he had had a sharp exchange of views over Lebanon with the Syrian President, an assertion that has nothing to do with the rules of "politics, diplomacy and morality," according to the Syrian daily, Tishreen, that went on to list Nelson among those "two-faced" US officials who pay visits to Syria for purposes related to partisan politics in the US. Well, perhaps they got that last point right. Baathists are not all and always as dumb as we think. So, unless one is willing to grovel at the feet of the mighty Assads of the Middle Eastern jungle, perhaps there is no point in talking to them at all.

Indeed, the Assads will overplay their hand. We can always count on them doing just that when things seem to be going their way, even with Iranian coaching. It's a habit. It's well-nigh genetic.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

A Call for Action!

Well, it seems that a stream of senators is planning to follow in the footsteps of Senator Bill Nelson and go to Syria to engage the ever so charming Ass…ads. Well, I say, let’s give them a piece of our minds about that. No, we may not be able to discourage them from undertaking such a “noble” endeavor to reach out to the hardened criminals of the world in the hope of achieving peace and stability, but we can at least convince them to avoid the mistakes of Senator Nelson who did not bother to talk to the press afterwards or raise any contentious issue.

We need to convince these people to address both in private and in public the issue of worsening conditions of human rights in Syria, especially the plight of denaturalized Kurds, and to call for the freedom of all political prisoners, an end to the ongoing campaign of crackdown and intimidation against all activists and opposition members, and allowing political exiles to return home to live in freedom and security. They also need to encourage the Syrian regime to cease its efforts to destabilize the democratically elected government in Lebanon, and to review its dangerous connections to the Iranian regime and unsavory terrorist movements in the region.

These are the addresses and numbers of the people involved:

U.S. Senator Chris Dodd448 Russell Building Washington D.C., 20510Tel: (202) 224-2823 Fax: (202) 224-1083

U.S. Senator Arlen Specter 711 Hart BuildingWashington, DC 20510Tel: 202-224-4254

U.S. Senator John Kerry 304 Russell Bldg.Third FloorWashington D.C. 20510(202) 224-2742

U. S. Senator Bill Nelson 716 Senate Hart Office BuildingWashington, DC 20510Phone: 202-224-5274Fax: 202-228-2183

We can refer in this regard to the recent statement by President Bush with rgard to the human rights situation in Syria:

For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary
December 13, 2006

President's Statement on the Government of Syria

The United States supports the Syrian people's desire for democracy, human rights, and freedom of expression. Syrians deserve a government whose legitimacy is grounded in the consent of the people, not brute force.

The Syrian regime should immediately free all political prisoners, including Aref Dalila, Michel Kilo, Anwar al-Bunni, Mahmoud Issa, and Kamal Labwani. I am deeply troubled by reports that some ailing political prisoners are denied health care while others are held in cells with violent criminals.

Syria should disclose the fate and whereabouts of the many missing Lebanese citizens who "disappeared" following their arrest in Lebanon during the decades of Syrian military occupation.

The Syrian regime should also cease its efforts to undermine Lebanese sovereignty by denying the Lebanese people their right to participate in the democratic process free of foreign intimidation and interference.

The people of Syria hope for a prosperous future with greater opportunities for their children, and for a government that fights corruption, respects the rule of law, guarantees the rights of all Syrians, and works toward achieving peace in the region.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Middle Eastern Realities! (1)

Every new conflict in the region becomes inextricably linked to the ongoing Arab-Israeli Conflict as well as western imperialism in the discourse and tactics employed by the various regional actors invovled, who are often more interested in prolonging the said conflict. Festering old wounds are always a good distraction from developing new ones. However, the real panacea here does not lie in treating the causes of one set of wounds at the expense of another, as so many experts end up recommending, but in tackling the real issues involved: the development and democracy gaps. Any realism that attempts a song-and-dance around these issues represent nothing more than a cop-out mechanism, a running away from the real challenges ahead, and will only make the problems worse in the not-too-distant future. For things are moving at a much faster pace than they used to, and any problem that gets neglected today will haunt us all in the near morrow.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The Death of Moderation!

What can be said about the current developments in Lebanon except that we might be seeing the prelude to a civil war? What could really be more telling than this?

But yes, I can praise the March 14 forces for showing so much restraint and from refraining to challenge the current show of force by Hezbollah and supporters, the pro-Syria demonstrators, by mounting an equally impressive show of their own. But this will be adding more fuel to the fire, and already several agents provocateurs, some of which reportedly Syrian, have been involved in trying to steer the crowds into doing something stupid such as storming the Serail. The restraint shown by the March 14 forces is indeed wise and commendable.

The challenge, however, lies in the ability to maintain it over the long hold.

Restraint may not prevent violence indefinitely, however, especially if the other side, or at least certain elements in it, is/are intent on provoking it. But restraint could serve to demonstrate clearly to the international community which side needs to be blamed for the violence and, therefore, contained, and which side merits to be supported. Admittedly, however, if civil war should break out, this may not account for much in the overall scheme of things.

Some in the region are begging for huge crisis that can allow them to avert being held accountable for their crimes, and retain their positions, no mater illegitimately gained. This is not about any legitimate demands or concerns; this is more about their abuse by capricious elements on the highest level of governance and society in several states in the region, but mainly, in Lebanon itself, as well as in Syria and Iran.

Yet, there are those who would suggest rewarding the evil-mongers, to ward off the greater evil, as they contend, as though this policy has not been tried for decades now, to no avail. Falling back on more of the same is a sign of weakness on all sides, and will only serve to embolden the worst among us. Let's not underestimate the mayhem that they could do, that they will be willing to do, if further emboldened. Isnt' it enough for us to see how willing they are to push things to the brink?

Indeed, in the age of asymmetric warfare, and pure unadulterated thugary, no power will remain unchallenged no matter how technologically superior. Why? I think Marlon Brando put it best in his monologue in Apocalypse Now:

"I remember when I was with Special Forces...Seems a thousand centuries ago...We went into a camp to inoculate the children. We left the camp after we had inoculated the children for Polio, and this old man came running after us and he was crying. He couldn't see. We went back there and they had come and hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile...A pile of little arms. And I remember...I...I...I cried... I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out. I didn't know what I wanted to do. And I want to remember it. I never want to forget it. I never want to forget.

And then I I was shot...Like I was shot with a diamond...a diamond bullet right through my forehead...And I thought: My God...the genius of that. The genius. The will to do that. Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure.

And then I realized they were stronger than we. Because they could stand that these were not monsters...These were men...trained cadres...these men who fought with their hearts, who had families, who had children, who were filled with love...but they had the strength...the do that. If I had ten divisions of those men our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are moral...and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling...without passion...without judgment...without judgment. Because it's judgment that defeats us."

Of course Marlon Brando’s character “had” to be killed at the end, as the very idea of civility militates against amorality. Civility does condone at occasions recourse to barbarous behavior, but it will never accept it as a way of life. At one point or another, people have to feel guilty about their barbarism, otherwise they could never be civilized. The lot we are dealing with is not the kind that will feel guilty about anything, otherwise they would not be risking taking things this far. This is not a peaceful protest, this is an act of intimidation, one meant to draw violence in order to unleash greater violence, one that is designed to be Act One of something bigger, much bigger.

Of course, this is an argument in extremis, there is usually much grey involved in most situations. But these are extremist times when extremist agendas are unfolding. You can cut-and-run, or you can face the music. Peacemaking requires teeth, not prayers nor wishful thinking, nor even… realism. Take a bite now, or gnash your teeth later. Moderation has been killed.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

A Tragicomedy of Errors!

Voices are being raised on a daily basis tying progress in resolving the current situation in Iraq and the standoff with Iran to a peaceful conclusion of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. The most recent such call came from none other than Graham Fuller writing in the Winter issue of the Washington Quarterly (not available on the Internet). But, and while Fuller makes many excellent arguments with regard to the current dynamics in the region, his perspective, albeit far more nuanced and inclusive than most, is still too narrow.

Solving the Arab-Israeli Conflict is not a cure-all for the region’s myriad problems and will not denote the end of conflicts therein. The situations in the Sudan, Somalia and Algeria did not emerge as a result of the AIC, nor did the sectarian problems in Lebanon and Syria, nor the specific conditions that prevailed in Iraq and Afghanistan in the aftermath of the end of the Cold War. The claim by many in the region that the US went into Iraq and Afghanistan to execute an Israeli agenda is a reflection of the usual conspiratorial mentality so prevalent in the region and that reduces the complex dynamics of the American decision-making process to a single often over-inflated cause.

This is not meant to argue, however, that the AIC should be ignored. On the contrary, like all other conflicts in the region, it begs to be effectively addressed and resolved now. In fact, if regional stability and mounting an effective anti-terrorism campaign are really what is at stake here, the AIC can no longer be treated in isolation from other conflicts and challenges in the region, for these conflicts have now become intermeshed.

Indeed, ever since the establishment of the HISH (Hezbollah-Iran-Syria-Hamas) Alliance, the ability to address the AIC in isolation from other outstanding issues and conflicts in the region has become a well-nigh impossible task.

Can the Golan Heights issue be tackled in isolation from the issue of the Shebaa Farm? Can the Assads regime be engaged while avoiding to address the issue of the UN inquiry into the Hariri assassination and Syria role, old and new, in Lebanon? Can the issue of the Shebaa Farm be tackled in isolation from Hezbollah, its leaders and their particular vision and personal ambitions? Can any of these issues be tackled in isolation from Iran’s regional influence and interests, not to mention its relation to the world’s powers? Can they be addressed in isolation from Saudi interests? Can the role of al-Qaeda and other extremist and terrorist groups in the region be ignored? Can the fact that a new Taliban seems to be emerging in Somalia at this stage not have an impact on regional developments, especially when Somalia becomes a new training grounds and shelter for terrorists, just like Iraq is fast becoming as well and Afghanistan has up until recently been? Wouldn’t the main goal of the new wave of terrorists be to waylay any kind of peace talks, not to mention talks about peace talks taking place in the region?

The answers, I believe, are all too obvious, and all too ominous.

So, what can be done? Well, considering the nature of the actors involved on all sides, no realistic policy alternatives can frankly be recommended at this stage. The sorely needed international will to hold a new and expansive conference on the challenges posed by regional developments is simply nonexistent. Yet, even should such an event take place today, the powers involved are likely to opt to fall back on the usual “realistic” arrangements that empower regimes and betrays peoples, leaving the real issues unresolved. As a result, the Development Gap separating the two worlds will continue to increase, and so will popular frustration, anger and resentment as well as communal tensions – that is, the very things that fuel the current conflicts and ongoing terrorist activities.

There is a need for major international conference to draw the outlines of a new international system that takes the post-Cold War realities in mind and allow for the emergence of new regional and international powers in a peaceful manner. We have seen something along these lines after WWI and WWII, but not after the Cold War, and as a result, we slipped back into a multi-polar Cold War, a fact that is preventing any realistic peacemaking from taking place, anywhere. The few “success stories” that some might flaunt here, namely developments in the Balkans, have come at a high price, have not been easy to achieve, have been the results of a concerted effort by a real multilateral coalition that was painstakingly put together over a period of many months, and sometimes years, and the final results themselves are still all too fragile.

Indeed, if no new international arrangement is worked out, and soon, no peacemaking efforts are likely to prove effective (and no peace making can be effective without emphasis on developments, human rights and democratization), and the best that can be accomplished will be a hudna of sorts, – a temporary reprieve or cessation of hostilities that will not last long enough to satisfy anyone or to help accomplish anything tangible, other than the ability to create more mayhem.

That is what I believe to be the only realistic policy alternative that I can make at this stage. Until there is an international will to adopt such a comprehensive approach, which is likely to pose as many new challenges as it offers to resolve, though, hopefully, it will also least introduce a mechanism for dealing more effectively with these new challenges, we will continue to inch, if not occasionally leap, our way towards regional, if not global, implosion.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Why A Heretic’s Blog?

In a recent and not too friendly exchange concerning my alleged affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood, two interesting things emerged:

For one, once people have committed themselves publicly to an erroneous assumption and passed judgment on the basis of this assumption, it becomes very difficult for them to back down and recant later, not to mention to actually correct their mistake, even when their basic assumption is shown to be demonstrably wrong. For this reason, and despite the noble efforts of some commenters who actually bothered to do a little background check before jumping to conclusions, to some I now remain a possible crypto-Islamist sent to infiltrate the Democratic crowd in Congress.

The basis for this “nuanced” assumption, and this is the second point that emerged, is the name of this blog – A Heretics Blog. For if I had really seen the light, why did I not call my blog the Apostate’s Blog?

I think this is an interesting question really, and I should attempt to respond to it here, for this might clarify a few things about me, regardless how people will still end up classifying me at the end of the day.

Indeed, why not an Apostate’s Blog, after all, I am indeed an apostate, in the sense that I no longer believe in Islam (or any other religion or that matter)?

This is my two-cents.

While heresy is indeed a necessary transitional phase that every believer has to go through before finally finding himself an apostate, becoming an apostate is not the inevitable end-product of heresy. In other words, heresy is not necessarily conducive to apostasy. Indeed, it could simply lead to new interpretations of the faith, on an individual or communal basis, leading in the latter case to the emergence of schismatic movements within the faith.

In this regard, it is indeed legitimate to observe that the basic tenets of some of these movements might become so radically different from those of the “original” faith, as to represent, from the point of view of a neutral observer, new faith systems. But, and while a neutral academic observer may not have a problem classifying schismatic movements in such manner, the adherents of these movements, and those of the traditional faith, may beg to differ.

For we should be mindful here of the pejorative connotation of the terms: heretic and apostate. Indeed, the protagonists of new interpretations of the faith seldom regard themselves as heretics and/or apostates, these labels are often employed by their detractors, from other schismatic movements or from the adherents of the “original” faith. Believers often see their new interpretation of the faith as a legitimate extension of some original impetus or drive embedded in the faith (the renewalists), or as a return to the original nature of the faith (the fundamentalists and the puritans. Or in modern day parlance in our region, salafis and wahhabis).

Only a person like me, who is out to make a point by issuing a head-on challenge to traditional modes of piety and thought by advocating freedom of conscience, religion, expression and opinion, will be willing to endorse the use of the term heretic or apostate with regard to himself.

Indeed, in my case, I opted for the term heretic, because it was in heresy that I found the instrument of my freedom. If I advocate anything is the right to heresy. Apostasy, on the other hand, and while important to me personally, seems to represent a certain conclusion that may not be suitable to all. Indeed, most other heretics that I know still prefer to adhere to Islam, or to be more specific to their new and heretical version/interpretation of it, which appear much more suitable for the times at hand, from their perspective.

Muslims are not required to abandon their faith all together to be able to adjust to the requirements of modernity. The Christians surely didn’t. For no matter how unsuitable traditional faiths seem from a more rational perceptive, faith remains, in essence, a psychological phenomenon and the human psyche is all too complex and most people are quite capable of working out their own particular mental and intellectual stratagems to balance between the irrational requirements of faith and the all too rational realities of modern daily living.

Be that as it may, we have to bear in mind here as well the fact that not all heretical ventures are actually liberal, not to mention liberating. Indeed, many heresies can be quite disastrous, and tend to be much more problematic than the original faith, which the heretics found wanting. Indeed, Bin Ladin & Co. are quite the heretics, from the perspective of both the adherents to the traditional faith and the renewalists, not to mention the objective academic observer who might find their interpretation of Islam incongruous with the examples set by the “original” founders of the faith. Indeed, the heresies of Bin Ladin & Co. are not exactly what is needed for today’s Muslims to overcome their current helplessness, marginalization and backwardness. On the contrary, Bin Ladenism, its offshoots, and all similar developments in the ranks of the believers, is making life worse for them. But while most believers seem to be aware of that with regard to Bin Laden, things are not that clear with regard to people like Hassan Nasrallah for instance, who might just be far more dangerous, as he manages to bring atavistic heresies into the mainstream of our lives.

Still, heresy is the product of independent thought, and, as such, it’s the only thing that has the potential of freeing us from the clutches of ignorance. Almost every known thinker, philosopher and scientist was a heretic by his days’ standards and perhaps even by ours. It is for this reason that I advocate heresy, while reserving the right of people to take it all the way to apostasy if they want to. By naming this blog of mine A Heretic’s Blog rather than An Apostate’s Blog, I sought to make this point, which, perhaps, may not have been as obvious as I thought.