Tuesday, January 30, 2007

To Engage or Not to Engage!

I have been repeatedly asked before as to my policy recommendations to the current administrations will be. This statement of mine, which I recently sent for inclusion in the European Parliament file on the Association Agreement with Syria, might be helpful in this regard. My approach might be described as a call for public and conditional engagement that puts everything on the table, including the sensitive issue of political reforms, serious political reforms, ones that begin with general amnesty for all political prisoners and exiles and culminate in free and internationally-monitored parliamentary and presidential elections within an agreed timeframe, no longer than 2 years.

Will the Assads accept such conditions? Not when they think there is room to maneuver. The conflict between the European and American stands vis-à-vis Syria, and between different political current within the various governments concerned, as the divide between the neo-cons and realists, not to mention Republicans and Democrats, in the US amply illustrates, is allowing the Assads much room to maneuver. Coupled with their reinvigorated alliance with Iran, their recent vicarious sense of triumph in the aftermath of Israel’s August Folly in Lebanon, and their continued dabbling in the Palestinian Territories, they are even emboldened now and will not likely settle for anything less than that illusive “perfect deal” that can somehow allow for the indefinite prolongation of the rein of a handful of losers over the affairs of 20 million dehumanized creatures mired in manifest misery. If logic does not militate against this, if the people involved themselves do not rebel, I will. I have nothing better to do with my time, I guess.

Call me a Saint Jude, if you like, or a pretentious asshole even, it does not matter. I don’t pretend to be driven by principle alone, or by principle at all, I just don’t know what else to do. If I knew how I can conduct myself differently and save myself and my family from the troubles that my course of action will bring upon us all, I probably would have taken it. But I don’t. So, there but for the Grace of Whoever, go I…

As for the Assads, this post notwithstanding, it does not matter in the least what the US and the EU will or will not do with them, because their fate, in the final analysis, rests with their people (Sunnis and Alawites alike), and, surface appearances notwithstanding, they are not happy, they are not happy at all.


I have titled my brief intervention in this manner because, despite the fact that I am currently a member of the Syrian opposition, and of the National Salvation Front to be more specific, I have always been a strong advocate of signing the Syrian-European Association Agreement. In fact, considering my 3-year affiliation as a consultant with the Syrian-European Business Center (2001-2004), an initiative sponsored by the MEDA II Program, I have personally been involved in translating and preparing many of the reports and studies intimately related to the Association talks, and I have, therefore, managed to acquire a virtual insider knowledge of the process, the way it was conducted by the Syrian side, and the various pitfalls it encountered before it was finally frozen for lack of serious progress.

More so, I have been invited on a number of occasions to speak, both publicly and privately, to various European delegations visiting the country, or to take part in quiet briefings at a variety of European embassies and ministries, for the sole purpose of discussing the viability of the Association Agreement and its potential contributions to improving the human rights conditions and encouraging political and economic reforms in the country. Throughout all these meetings and briefings, my main argument has been and continues to be that it is indeed quite possible for the SEAA to produce some positive results in this regard provided that the European side did not fail to push hard for a greater emphasis on Article 2 of the Agreement, and to do so in a systematic and methodical manner. That is, the Europeans should ask their Syrian counterparts for a clear timetable for reforms, preferably no longer than 7 years, that begins with a general amnesty allowing for immediate lifting of the Martial laws, in effect since 1963, and for the return of all political exiles, and culminating in free parliamentary and presidential elections.

Naturally, my European counterparts thought that this was a bit too much. But my assessment and recommendations were based on the simple observation that the Assad regime has always proven resilient to change, and that the Assads have always wanted to give themselves enough wiggling room to back down on any promise. It is for this reason that all the economic and administrative reforms that took place since the arrival of Bashar al-Assad to power, as meager and inconsequential as they are, were premised on presidential decrees rather than acts of legislator. This means that Bashar can repeal or reverse any decision he made without having to obtain parliamentary approval, not even for formalities’ sake. In this way, he can avoid any potential “embarrassment” that some truly independent MPs such as Mamoun al-Homsi and Riad Seif can cause. Such temperament and mentality are by no means compatible with the inherent requirements of reform, where the basic ethos calls for a real measure of accountability to popular will.

In the case of Syria, the Madrid and the Barcelona processes dragged on for years and produced no tangible results, in part due to the inability of the Syrian side to commit, as many of the negotiators involved on the European side will undoubtedly attest. The Assad regime is clearly more interested in the process than in the eventual rewards, more interested in maintaining power than in accepting the eventuality that, at one point in time, no matter how far into the future, reform should entail a peaceful transfer of power to a democratically elected alternative. If asking the Assads to reconcile themselves to this possibility is too much, then I think the EU should drop all pretense of interest in democratization and human rights in our part of the world.

But, should we grant that making such an “ambitious” request would have been too much within the geopolitical context of 2001-04, I think the current context argues strongly in favor of such a development now. After all, and despite their continued defiance, the Assads are clearly in a much more precarious position today. They are internationally isolated, and the current administration in the US will brook no possibility for talks with them so long as their behavior remains unchanged. Moreover, they are facing an existential threat of sorts posed by the continuing UN probe into the Hariri assassination, among other heinous developments in Lebanon, of which all indications point to high level involvement on part of the Assads. As such, to resume talks with the Assads at this stage over the signing of the Association Agreement have implications that go far beyond economics. It can indeed provide them with a way out of their diplomatic isolation and some wiggling room with regard to the Hariri investigation that could allow high-ranking members of the regime to escape indictment, without compromising the integrity of the investigation itself, not to mention the sovereignty of Lebanon.

If this is the reward that the Assads expect to reap, if this is the reward that the EU is willing to help provide, then the asking price must be high enough to be commensurate with it.

The European Parliament should make a clear and public call on the Assads to commit to a timetable of specific political and economic reforms in exchange for the signing of the Association Agreement and for a mediation role with regard to Syria’s relations with the United States, and the issue of the Golan Heights. The ball should be sent back where it belongs at this stage in the courts of Syria’s rulers. They should be obliged to earn their way out through serious and far-reaching reforms not through blackmail, assassinations, crackdowns and strong arm tactics.

If they cannot deliver on this, then the world has no choice but to reconcile itself to the necessity of their continued isolation. Meanwhile, the Assads, and by turning their back on a public offer of support in exchange for reforms will have been exposed to their people not as heroes of the national resistance, but as dictators interested only in maintaining their power regardless of the cost involved for the people.

Meanwhile, European officials should relinquish that long-standing and unfortunate assumption that dictators can somehow deliver on stability in the region. Nothing could be any farther from the truth. In fact, dictators always need an outlet for the pent-up rage, frustration and violence in their societies, for this reason, they will always export instability to neighboring countries and will always be locked in an internecine territorial feuds. This is what lies behind the Hariri assassination, this is what lies at the heart of Syrian official duplicity in abusing the oil-for-food program and encouraging insurgents in Iraq today, and this is why the Assads will continue to be one of the region’s worst troublemakers for as long as they exist.

But, if the events of the 9/11 have taught us anything, if the various terrorist attacks in Europe have demonstrated anything, and if the continuing waves of legal and illegal migration to the West prove anything, it’s that our region’s problems have long been globalized, we are not the only people who will suffer as a result of the authoritarian, corrupt and inept policies of our leaders, the world will suffer along with us. Indeed, the Assads are as much Europe’s problem as they are ours, and their current tactics are as detrimental to Europe’s interests as they are to ours. It is for this reason that Europe cannot afford to look weak and confused in their stands and policies vis-à-vis the Assads, and it is for this reason that they need to send a clear message to the effect that if the Assads want Europe’s help in saving their hides, they need to learn how to be nice and civilized both to their own people as well as to their neighbors.


This is a link to an excellent article by Guy Taylor, I am quoted somewhere near the end:

“Bashar is not simply a Ba’athist thug,” argues Ammar Abdulhamid, a Syrian author who has lived in the Washington, D.C., area since last year, when, he says, he left Syria after being threatened for criticizing the regime in print. “He is a member of a family that has imposed itself on the country and that conducts policy for its own purposes.” According to Abdulhamid, who now voices his opinions on the English-language blog amarji.blogspot.com, these circumstances mean that the “mafias of the ruling elite” try to co-opt anyone pushing for reform in Syria. “We’re talking about the Internet, but the same rules apply for any reformers,” he said. “Either you get neutralized, you get destroyed, or you get sucked into the game.” Assad, Abdulhamid added, “is part of the game.”

Sunday, January 28, 2007

A Heretic in the Spotlight!

Ammar Abdulhamid of the Tharwa Foundation

Awareness, activism, empowerment, and education. These goals of the Tharwa Foundation are what direct its tireless efforts to develop and strengthen Muslim communities throughout the Mideast. The institution's Director, Ammar Abdulhamid, explains that one of the ultimate objectives is for individuals to make greater political strides, becoming more involved in their governments' futures, and to personally define what they expect from their fellow countrymen and themselves. This Maryland-based non-profit acts as the mechanism to help thousands of Muslims highlight cross-culture commonalities and set aside divergent ideologies. In operation since 2001, the Tharwa Foundation has outlined a number of exciting proposals, such as the Tharwa Institute for Leadership and Tharwa Radio & TV, to launch its business capabilities to the next level. Learn more about the foundation and how you can become part of its ever-growing movement in this week's Non-Profit Spotlight... More.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Heretic & the Cause!

I never really had high expectations for the American venture in Iraq, because I have always known that the challenges of modernization and democratization are too enormous to be handled in such manner. Indeed, I do not believe in quick fixes and shortcuts when it comes to such major social transformations. There is no way around the mountain (or the abyss) for us in order to get to the other side, albeit it’s quite understandable that we should hope and pray for one. For the alternative is to do what others have done: go through hell in order to get what we want, what we think we deserve and are entitled to.

But then, some experiences cannot be had for free or on the cheap. All civilized peoples have had to pay dearly for their freedom and their democracy, and so will we. Democracy is not a cure-all, still we need it. It is not cheap, still, we have to get it even if we had to pay with our own blood for it, as we probably will, as we indeed are.

The debate over democracy might be over in some camps, true, but it hasn't yet really begun in the main ones – our streets, our minds, our psyches, our deeper recesses. So don’t count democracy out so soon. Just don’t expect us to get fucked, get pregnant then give birth all in the span of a solitary month!

The US adventure in Iraq and the region has clearly showed us that dictators are mere manifestations of our real problems, that our sectarianism is intrinsic and deadly, that bottom feeders are numerous and murderous and that our social and state structures are all too fragile. Yet, for all this, we need to change. If anything US failure underscores our deep and intrinsic need for change.

So, and while some insist on seeing in the US failure in Iraq (and the region) an ultimate failure for the cause of change and democratization in the region, I see it as the end of an unfortunate distraction and of a unique, though perhaps unnecessary, learning opportunity (at least for those of us who invested themselves in it even while knowing that it cannot possibly succeed). Now we can go back to the real business at hand, the business that only we can and should conduct. If the US, whether under a Democratic or Republican administration, wants to remain relevant to this business, it can always support us. This is what we have wanted all along anyway, the US support of the cause, not its hijacking of it.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Heretical Grief!

The reasons why I left the US in 1994 and went back to Syria after a 9-year long absence are many, but one of the contributing factors was the fear of losing one or both of my parents while I was abroad. This fear stemmed from two facts: I lost my paternal grandmother who doubled as my nanny really when I was studying in the Moscow in 1984, and all the phone calls that I made in 93-94 to my parents featured announcements of someone close dying: my step grandfather, my younger uncle (a gregarious life-embracing fellow – by far my favorite uncle), and two close family friends, one of whom, the late Syrian actor Yusuf Hanna, was like a second father to me. Not wanting to face another such loss while abroad, I chose to get back to Syria and stay there so I can deal with whatever loss as it happens and be there for those who need me, in both body and spirit, and so that I can take in the loss as well. After all, the passing of my grandma was something that haunted me for many years, my mind kept on treating her as though she was still alive and waiting for me back in her old-style Damascene house hugging Mount Qasayoun.

But then, when my father passed away in 2004, and though I was there for him throughout all his final night on earth, it didn’t feel like I was really there at all, not for him anyway. The vacant look in his eyes should have told me that he was dying, and should have compelled me to stay next to him and chat with him about anything and everything, but it did not. I just checked on him every now and then, throughout that night, taking a small nap in between, and allowing myself to be fooled by the look of recognition in his eyes and the smile that got painted on his face each time I entered his room. He was dying, and I did not want to see it. To top it off, next day noon, I left his side and went to the office, leaving him to the loving care of my mother and Khawla. A couple of hours later I received a call from Khawla telling me that they need me back, I didn’t ask why. I didn’t think why. But I soon learned that my father had passed away. So, I wasn’t really there after all, was I?

Still, when I think of my father these days, and it’s only natural that I should think of him at this point in time, after all January 17 marks the anniversary of his passing (not to mention my anniversary with Khawla), I have no delusions that he is still alive – I know he is gone, I can feel the void. Is that what it means to be there, or almost there?

Perhaps indeed this is the best that can be achieved in the face of such loss. Which, somehow, means that I am now back to square one, having left Syria once again, no matter how involuntary.

This morning, there was another phone call and a brief announcement. A maternal aunt has passed away. Ghada Wassef, 55, a small time actress, diabetic, overweight, gregarious, life-embracing, people’s person, helpful, kind, definitely my favorite aunt, passed away in her sleep due to kidney failure. She had already been admitted to a hospital on the previous day for a sudden increase in blood sugar, a routine occurrence in her case, just as death is part of life’s daily routine, I guess.

And I wasn’t there for her, or for that increasingly lonely mother I left behind. This is another facet of exile with which I have to deal. I can never be there to anyone anymore. Not that being there was any help, to others that is.

I am one of thousands in this situation, I know, yet this knowledge does not matter in the least. My choices in life will continue to bedevil and haunt me, and everyone around me for the rest of my life, and perhaps beyond - an enduring legacy of pain and abandonment. When will they ever make a difference, I wonder, or at least begin haunting those who deserve to be thus haunted?

Will my choices in life ever be justified, or do I have to stumble on blindly to my last days hoping that the path, semi-chosen if not self-inflicted, is, somehow by some reasonable standard of decency, right?

Monday, January 22, 2007

Notes on a New Scandal – in Iraq!

The situation is getting more serious by the day for the Syrians in Iraq, as many refugees live hand to mouth and spend their time moving from one willing friend’s place to another for safety as the hunt and the raids continue.

Today a new sign of coordination between Syrian and Iraqi security in this regard surfaced when the two sons of one of the most visible Syrian refugees and opposition members in Iraq, Muhammad Bakkur, were arrested in Hama in central Syria. Omar and Sufian had returned to Syria in 2003 following the US-led invasion of Iraq, the Syrian authorities had allowed at the time for a handful of refugees to return home as part of their campaign to polish the image of the regime. Their arrest today denotes the Assads’ growing confidence, defiance and possible coordination efforts with Iraqi counterparts. No wonder Talibani is calling on the US to engage them. The Assholes of the world have always had a pretty good sense as to when it behooves them to unite. This all too unfortunate tendency, it seems, has allowed the Assads to get back to their old habit of hunting opposition figures wherever they are allowed to reach. Failing that, revenge against more easily accessible family members is in vogue again. This should give much food for thought for people in my position, I guess.

On a related note, attacks on Palestinian refugees in Baghdad took place yesterday as well, which makes one has to wonder: first Syrians and now Palestinian refugees, is a deliberate policy of ethnic cleansing unfolding in Baghdad? If so, where will it lead? What’s Maliki’s government role in all of this? And what potential backlash could there be among the wider Sunni community (considering that all these refugees are almost exclusively Sunni)? Indeed, the re-engineering of Baghdad into clearly demarcated Sunni/Shia cantons have been taken place for a while now, with some success. Could this trend be part of it?

Should the Sunnis in the region perceive themselves as the target of some organized ethnic cleansing in Iraq, and considering recent developments elsewhere in the region where Sunnis were on the losing end (Afghanistan, Somalia, Gaza, etc.), the implications of such perception for the Global War on Terror and regional stability are very serious indeed.

Infelix Vates.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Blood & Circumstance!

The attacks on Syrian refugees in Iraq are increasing by the day, scores have been killed so far, and dozens have been rendered homeless or under arrest as terrorists. The campaign is being justified by the Maliki government as a crackdown on terrorists, but these refugees have been in Iraq for decades having been driven out from Syria by their ideological and personal differences with the Assads. As such they have no reason whatsoever to collaborate with the Assads to bring about any instability in Iraq. Indeed many of them are organized opposition members. Some are in fact affiliated with the National Salvation Front.

Coming at this particular point in time, following Iraqi president Jalal Talabani’s trip to Syria and his meeting with his Syrian counterpart among other top Syrian officials, and following the conclusion of a bilateral agreement on security between Syrian and Iraqi officials, the current bloody crackdown is prompting many Syrian Iraqis to see a potential connection here, and the outlines of a sinister plot against them. Indeed, are Iraqi security and military officials helping the Syrian regime settle some old scores with Syrian opposition members in Iraq? While it is difficult answer this question with any certainty, the fact that the Assad regime refuses to allow these Syrian refugees back to their motherland at a time when virtually hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees are allowed to flood Syrian cities tend to give credence to this perception.

But this situation shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. In fact, and regardless of the accuracy of this perception at this stage, arrangements like these, ones that will allow for the silencing of opposition members even beyond Syria’s borders, are indeed the kind of quid pro quos that engagement with the Assads is bound to produce. This is exactly the kind of price that the Assads will demand. An agreement with the Assads will need to be signed in blood, Syrian blood, Iraqi blood, Palestinian blood, Lebanese blood, American blood.

No, this is not meant to exonerate America from its own responsibility with regard to the current bloodletting in Iraq, but it merely seeks to underscore that correcting one bloody policy cannot take place by advancing another. This is what got us into this mess to begin with. The only way forward is to actually proceed forward not roll the clock back to some “magical time” when realist policies turned a blind eye on the various acts of repression and mayhem that regimes, such as the Assad’s, unleashed on their people. This world has grown too small for a policy of willful blindness to go unpunished for long. The world these days seems to allow at least this one certainty.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Talking Lions! Walking Snails!

With regard to the current controversy generated by the revelations in Haaretz of secret talks between Israeli and Syrian representatives spread out over a 2-year period between mid 2004 and mid 2006, I would like to make the following points:

* I was indeed aware of the early efforts and contacts made to hold talks between Syrian and Israeli representatives in Madrid. If anything, the year of 2004 was the year for quiet overtures between the two governments, and I had already commented on my always-and-forever independent part in such endeavors earlier. I had nothing to do with this particular initiative, however, and am really surprised that the talks did last for as long as they did and produced an actual “agreement.

* The denial by Syrian officials that such talks did indeed take place, and the reaction of so many people commenting on this news in a variety of Arabic forums and websites, if anything, serve to demonstrate the validity of the arguments I made in my recent article in the Forward, namely: that peace with the Assads at this stage would be tainted, and that the Assads are quite aware of that. For this reason, the Assads will talk the talk, but they will not walk the walk. So, if this leak to the Haaretz was meant to show that the Assads mean business, to me, the reactions to it perfectly illustrate why they can’t.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Notes from a Conference!

* You can always hold our leaders to their words, for they always speak in good faith, right until they act in bad one.

* In our region, if not the world, everyone holds everyone else by the balls, no one is in the habit of keeping one’s hand to oneself, for we perennially covet what our neighbor has, even when he is not so well-endowed.

* Our national disease is that we are all so poor in spirit.

* I see hope as I see life – as a condemnation, a prison sentence, a necessary evil which I have to endure until release comes, be it in the form of death or insanity.

* We have long reached the point where we have to divest ourselves of all leaders, national and religious, and burn the whole lot of them, and not only in effigy. It is about time that our leaders tasted some of the suffering they have been inflicting upon us.

* Moderation is not an ultimate virtue, and should not be embraced as such. There is no ultimate virtue. We are all too lacking, all too human, to dabble with ultimates. But then, perhaps that’s why we are so obsessed with this kind of dabbling.

* Moderation is not a virtue in itself. Nothing is virtuous in itself.

* Moderation is a means towards an end, if it cannot deliver, it should not be embraced.

* Virtue is always utilitarian even when people think and claim that it isn’t.

* You don’t do the right thing because it is the right thing, you do it because you’re getting something out of it, even if only your peace of mind.

* Moderation is often a veil used by the most self-righteous Machiavellian elements among us to hide the true nature of their designs, not to mention their duplicity and their cowardice.

* Under authoritarianism there is no virtue, and moderation is a crime.

* I may not win my freedom or find the desired justice in the here-and-now, but I should start fighting for them and always push for their fulfillment in the here-and-now, otherwise the fight will never begin, and they will ever be fulfilled.

* Freedom and justice temporarily deferred are freedom and justice forever deferred.

* We will never be ready for democracy unless we begin experimenting with it.

* I shall strive to balance between my choice of means and the nature of my desired ends. But I should still keep my options open, and my enemy guessing.

* Sometimes, when the fire is so big and threatening, you have no choice but to fight it with more fire.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A Not So Heretical Consensus!

For long time, people who read this blog tended to classify some of my views as reflections of some personal isolated stands, unique only to certain members of the opposition, especially outside of Syria. This, however, is not simply inaccurate, it is downright false.

In reality, Syrian opposition groups, working inside and outside the country, have long adopted certain united stands on many of the issues involved in the struggle for change in Syria. Indeed, ever since the appearance of the Damascus Declaration on the scene and the formation of the National Salvation Front, the political discourse of Syria’s better organized oppositional coalitions has indeed been harmonized. Whether this was done by a careful act of coordination, by an independent assessment of certain realities on the ground, or by a combination of both is something worth wondering about since it might help US officials adopt a better strategy for dealing with Syria in the near future.

Indeed, and by way of connecting certain long-neglected dots, let’s remind here of a certain forgotten sequence of events.

First came the Damascus Declaration, a document authored and adopted by a variety of internal opposition groups and figure, calling for regime change in order to save the country from the adventurist policies of the Assad regime. Then came the formation of the National Salvation Front which subscribed to the Declaration. Third came a conference in Washington D.C. organized by the Syrian National Council, a US-based opposition group. The conference was unique in that it managed to bring several well-known signatories of the Damascus Declaration to take part in it the go back to Syria and communicate with the rest of the signatories. Other notable figures from the Damascus Declaration joined the conference by phone, including Riad Seif (mere days after his release from prison), Walid al-Bunni and Suhair al-Atassy. The fourth step happened a month later when the Syrian National Council threw its lot with former Syrian VP Abdul Halim Khaddam and Muslim Brotherhood leader, Ali Sadreddine al-Bayanouni, and formed the National Salvation Front.

Now, all that is left to connect all these dots in order to form a harmonious sensible whole is to bring to attention the fact that the various points that have been elaborated by me in my recent two articles have just been elaborated again in a new statement (Arabic) recently released by the Damascus Declaration. The statement condemns the regime’s adventurist policies that made the country get stuck in the bottleneck with no way out in sight, they warn against the regime’s pro-Iran policies, and warn against the regime’s false interest in peace with Israel etc.

So, what does this mean? Simple: the views often elaborated here do not reflect the personal views of some adventurist, as some might paint me, but the consensus of some of Syria’s most respected opposition figures and most organized opposition coalitions both inside and outside the country. As such, and as US policymakers continue to wrangle over the best policy course that needs to be adopted vis-à-vis Syria, the views often elaborated here do warrant serious consideration.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Year of Living Farcically!

The year of 2006 has been quite a strange one indeed. But then any year that starts with the defection of a Khaddam, the long time VP of an embattled regime, and ends with the execution of a Saddam, the father of all VIPs of a fallen one, is just bound to be strange I guess.

But no, there is a quality here that goes beyond the strange and the bizarre and right down into the tragicomic, if not even the farcical.

For this year witnessed the transformation, nay, the transmogrification, of our long established national charlatans and villains, both alive and recently hanged, into long-awaited national saviors and saintly heroes, sometimes reluctantly but often wholeheartedly and popularly endorsed. And we all fell into the trap of this endorsement by aligning with this or that set of equally questionable figures on our increasingly impoverished and farcical political scene, often with eyes wide shut, or blindfolded more likely with fear, ignorance, wishful thinking and too many vested interests, real and/or imagined, material and/or psychological, in the potential outcome, and sometimes with eyes wide open, pried open in fact, perhaps for the very aforesaid motives.

In this regard, I lay no claim to innocence and seek no refuge in any alleged good intentions on my part. Such defensive stratagems are nonsensical, inconsequential and often even dishonest. After all, in popular imagination and perception, - and where else is politics played out? - we are all tainted now, the idealists and well-intentioned more so than any others. Attempts at self-defense and justification are but exercises in futility at this stage.

Therefore, the only assertion I will make in this regard is that I have long known that the odds have always been more in favor of such disastrous development than any other. The quality of the decision-makers involved on all sides was and continues to be just too mediocre for one to expect a different outcome, and popular awareness and understanding of the issues involved continues to be flawed and hostage to the whims and influences of a myriad unscrupulous characters, and to the undying lure of certain popular myths, beliefs and misconceptions. Meanwhile, the challenges that we face, political, social, economic and developmental, remain much too enormous than most people are willing to acknowledge. As such the proposed solutions, no matter how realistic, moderate, reasonable and pragmatic they appear to be, have always tended to fall much too short of what is required to make even the smallest adjustment in the disastrous course that lies ahead.

To say that the fate of so many hundreds of millions of people is at stake here does not appear as a romantic exaggeration to me, but a downplayed reality that is coming back to haunt us all with every passing day.

This is probably why I ended up venturing into this “gamble”, because it is really not a gamble at all as far as I am concerned. From where I stand, the way our various plans and schemes are unfolding seems to reflect a certain inevitability (albeit in objective socio-historical rather than metaphysical terms) than a gamble, calculated or not. In other words, I can see no way out of or around the looming and potentially disastrous confrontation, necessitated by the global clash of values, expectations (mostly consumerist in nature) and deeply held beliefs (mostly medievalist in basic ethos and outlook). In fact, everything that we do at this stage seems destined to help chart our path right into the thick of it, perhaps not as fast as some of us dread, but definitely not as a slow as many of us would like to think.

With America’s increasing troubles in the region, the continuing reaffirmation of sectarian identities there, and the new sense of legitimacy now ascribed to the positions and persons of national leaders and spokesmen of the new resistance doctrine, indeed, with the popular adoption of the concept of stand-off as a necessary and sufficient victory in the political discourse and popular awareness, the sun of this long period in the East and West is now about to set. What world will emerge out of the inevitable darkness is anyone’s guess.

So, how can we, the foolhardy few who still think that they can and should compete for the role of “national” saviors where it counts, on the grounds and in the face of all odds, and not necessarily, if at all, in popular imagination (where the battle will, for the foreseeable future at least, be always won by thugs and charlatans) manage a conflict that will take place in the darkest recesses of our minds and souls, not to mention our actual streets and neighborhoods? The only real strategy that can be recommended, it seems, is one of continuous experimentation with various approaches and mechanisms until we stumble, one hapless day, upon the most effective and viable ones.

Meanwhile, the least of our risks and worries should be how we will end up being labeled, not to mention often used and always abused by the various forces competing in our midst. For this, too, is inevitable. More importantly though, this happens to be a two-way street. Indeed, with careful planning, we could do some labeling and using of our own and, if we are not careful, we could even do some abusing. After all, playing god or savior is never a safe exercise, and the risk of falling under the delusion of self-ascribed grandeur is much greater than any other in this particular venture.

Indeed, caught between the fear and ignorance of most segments of our peoples, the corruption and authoritarian predilections of our rulers, and the constant profiteering and ignorant dabbling of external powers, we, the liberal reforming democrats (or however we choose to label ourselves these days) risk something that is much more serious than loss and defeat, we risk becoming part and parcel of the very destructive mechanisms that are currently at play in our midst.

In order to avoid falling into this particular trap myself, or, to be more specific, in order to climb out of it while there is still time, I should probably focus over the next few weeks and months into making some necessary course corrections. Course corrections, I said, not about-faces or jumping-ships or turning-on-dimes, I am neither a political gymnast nor a career oppositionist, I am just a heretic in search of relevance, belonging and peace of mind at continuingly troubling and often farcical times.

Facilis descensus Averno.

(The descent to hell is easy)