Washington DC – August 19, 2009 (Farid Ghadry Blog) — I had the misfortune three weeks ago of speaking in a Syrian chat room about the latest US rapprochement with Assad with about 100 people present. I was invited as the speaker.
The group in the room was a hodgepodge of people representing the mosaic landscape of Syria. From Islamists, to Ba’athists, to secularists, to liberals, to regime hacks and agents, to minorities, to Kurds.
What struck me hard was the hate at display by the majority of Syrians (Those who oppose the regime and those who support it) and they were not timid to express it.
We all know that the Assad regime supporters are all “followers”. They will regurgitate the same slogans and concepts the Assad regime has brainwashed them with. So if Assad calls Israel by some awful names, the regime agents mirrored the same ideas and words.
At one point, I, nonchalantly said in starting a sentence “Our cousins to the south” [meaning the Jews of Israel in reference to all of us being the sons and daughters of Abraham], “were only interested in peace overtures to Assad at this time”. None of the regime agents or the Islamists objected to the concept of peace with Assad, but they all objected to the concept that I called the Jews “Our cousins”.
Similarly, I heard comments with poisonous overtones against the US and Israel by pro and anti-regime participants.
The pro-regime crowd defined their worldly vision by following Assad to the letter (Probably because of either fear or conviction on their part) and the anti-regime crowd was angry over the support such a violent man would receive from the US and Israel despite his oppression of the Syrian people.
Their central idea was that the Syrian people can never count on the two countries most important to Assad’s survival to relieve them from their miseries by lifting the immunity Assad enjoys as a minority ruler ruling the majority with an iron fist.
How do you approach such accusations? Do you explain to them that Israel’s short-term security dictates its foreign policy thus inviting more criticism and allowing them to inject the Palestinian cause into the discussion or do you listen to them in the hope that you can slowly change their minds by approaching the problem from a different angle?
I chose the latter and the angle I used was the following: “No one speaks for us because we are not engaged in the game of lobbying our foes the way we lobby our friends.” In fact, I stated that over the last 45 years, only Assad has had the right to engage with and speak with the Israelis and through well focused rhetoric, he has been able to monopolize that relationship.
I told them that is why Assad was very upset over my visit to Israel because it broke down this invisible wall erected specifically to forbid any Syrian from engaging productively with any of our neighbors. The same could be true of the US after witnessing the 12-year sentence Dr. Kamal Labwani received because he visited the US and met with high officials of the government.
Assad does not want any dissidents to open a dialogue with any country that could effectively bring about regime change in Syria.
To myself, I thought the argument to be logical and approachable. Some understood it but the majority could not but continue to display a deep hate for Israel and the US as a result of watching themselves come so close to returning home, or tasting freedom, or engaging in building their society for a brighter future, only to see it all disappear when the Obama administration started engaging with Assad.
It was a good start to change minds. However, the undertones were very strong in favor of hate. Not the senseless hate resulting from religion or race but one resulting from despair.
Syrians are watching the Lebanese succeed building a democratic nation. They are watching Iraq on its way towards a bright future. They are watching Jordanians enjoy freedoms only Syrians can dream of. They are watching the vibrant democracy and the free people of Israel.
Then they are asking: Why not for Syrians?
In fact they are saying: No one speaks for the Syrian people. No one cares about our dilemma and our miseries. No one understands the fear we live in or the desperation that envelops our daily lives. No one really feels how hard it is to live on $110 a month with 3 children in the house while Asma spends $1,500 on a pair of shoes (The Asma story was brought to our attention by Syrians inside the country).
Syrians are asking: Is this the interpretation of western civilization? To stifle the liberties of others? If it is, then I am proud to be a Muslim. I am even prouder to become an extremist and spread Islam instead of this inhuman western civilization.
This is the sense that I got from this 2-hour conversation.
How can you ask Syrians not to hate when they lost hope?
How can you ask Syrians to organize for a better future when they see themselves as powerless in the face of political decisions taken as if they do not exist?
How can Syrians, or any other Arab for that matter, listen to Obama and believe him when he speaks about democracy?
What happened to Sarkozy after an acceptance speech in 2007 in which he lauded human rights and blasted oppressive rulers?
Surrounded by four democratic nations, Syria remains a repressive and backward country ruled by a ruthless family with a history of violence, illegal activities, terror, and everything the Koran, the Bible, and the Torah teach humanity to avoid and discard.
Syrians are asking: Why them?
All I can do is keep talking to them. Keep their hopes high.
Meanwhile, my hopes are directed towards some heroic bureaucrat who finds it in his heart the courage to stand-up to oppression and the Assad regime. Some brave soul who is close to Obama and who will tell him that if we free the Syrian people, we would be helping US interests in the long-term and that history always remembers mavericks, rarely the safe betters.
My hopes are directed to some Israeli genius who can visualize a plan of peace with the Syrian people before he sees a plan for cessation of hostilities with Assad. Some committed Israeli politician who can whisper in Benjamin Netanyahu’s ear that Syrians are peaceful people and we are not leveraging this asset for the good of the Levant.
Meanwhile, I am committed to “love thy neighbor” and “love peace”.
I am committed to engaging with anyone who believes in freedom, democracy, and human rights because I am committed to saving my people from Assad or any other dictator.