Happiness, Nostalgia & Longing!

I have always been driven to do the right and decent thing. And my standards are seldom self-serving. I often find myself having to go against my own wishes and desires, against some of my own internal predispositions even, to do what appears to me right and decent by the “traditional” if not “universal” standards for these things, albeit filtered through my personal experiences. After all, ignoring my desires and wishes is one thing, but I cannot ignore the dictates of reason conscience.
Perhaps, we are all like that. But I am driven, obsessed, to the point where my relation with the present is tenuous at best. I am past-propelled and future-driven. I cannot build a rapport with today. I cannot see the now, just what has been and what will be. I live my life torn between nostalgia and longing, between yesterday and tomorrow, bereft of an anchor. Well, almost. Had it not been for Khawla and the kids, I would be insane, and perhaps even dead.

I may not be so right being so obsessed about doing what is right, or what feels right, but that’s who I am at the heart of me, and for all the shortcomings that do come of out that, I have to accept who I am and go on living. The pursuit of happiness is not necessarily my goal, though I do stumble upon it occasionally, and I do find it indeed as it many say it would be, both beautiful and fleeting. Perhaps, this is why my relation with the present is also fleeting – it is not always so beautiful and alluring. Tomorrow could often be expected to be better.

For a liberal Arab, I can only live and feed on this hope.

25 thoughts on “Happiness, Nostalgia & Longing!

  1. Ammar,You describe yourself as a liberal Arab. I happen to believe that Islam and liberalism are incompatible. I am sure that you are well aware of the recent poll that surveyed Muslim attitudes in Britain which published the following results: 81 % view freedom of speech as means of insulting Islam, 61% support the Sharia, 88% want Islam in schools, and 60% do not think they need to integrate. If this is the thought process of Muslims in one the bastions of enlightenments then one can only guess the feelings of the Arab Muslim world towards secular liberal vales. In effect, it is clear that western liberal culture is yet to make inroads into the genetic DNA of the Muslim world. In other words, Islam seems to have rejected the ideology of secularism thus far. This is due to the fact that secularists want Islam to stay out of politics and to limit its role to personal worship. This, of course, directly contradicts the teachings and doctrine of Islam that cannot accept the separation of Islam from politics. The removal of the Syrian regime, therefore, must carry with it the risk that Islamists will fill the void. Being a secular liberal myself, I am extremely uncomfortable with this seemingly inevitable outcome. I hear the assurances that it will not be so, but I must admit that these arguments have been less than satisfactory. The Muslim world genuinely feels that its salvation rests on adopting political Islam and that it is only a matter of time before this dream is realized. Iran, of course, got their wish in 1979, and the results are all there for us to see. The Arab and Muslim world will have to get this out of their system before they can move on. The Iranian experiment is now 27 years old. It is hard to know when the Iranian people will finally rise and demand a change. After all, they would have gotten it out of their system. The future generations of Iranians would have learnt their lesson. Were future Islamists to ever run under the banner of “Islam is the solution”, the people are now in a position to counter by saying “No thanks. We have been there. We tried that”. As hard as it is for me to admit this, I fear that the Arab world needs to get this “Islam is the solution” out if its system. Only when disappointment sinks in after they embark on this experiment can the Arab world stand ready to embrace a platform of liberalism and democracy.

  2. EHSANI2,I do not agree with you that Islam and liberalism are incompatible. Yes, Islamism as we know it today certainly is by its very nature at odds with liberalism, but that is its own weakness, and even if it temporarily has a victory, it is ultimately destined to fail as did the repressive theocracies of times past.The Muslims in Britain are an interesting sampling, and they certainly do not reflect the opinions of Muslims in the rest of the West or even Arab Muslims in the Middle East. Finally, I think it is important to realize what is behind the increasing interest in Islamism. I think that if the secular governments in power now were honest, and were dealing with the problems of their people in a relatively successful, tolerant, and respectful manner, the proponents of Islamism would be a very small faction within society.The point is that even if somebody supports an Islamic state in theory, they will not be inclined to push for it–at least not by violence–unless the system in which they are presently in pushes them to do it. But you see, the very same principle applies for us. For several years, the norm in Syria has been “don’t mess with politics, and all goes relatively well.” Few people will advocate or support the government, agreeing with all its policies. In fact, most people probably have a list of criticisms for it. But until this interferes in the daily lives of a majority of the citizenship, and until the government does something really, really stupid to its own people, there will be little urge to act against the government when there is also the option of emigration.So, then, the days must be limited. The government today is responsible for pushing itself to the breaking point. I hate to say it, but on a certain level, the extremists are helping us (secular liberals). Everytime they engage in an act of violence, the government responds with more draconian measures. Eventually, these will interfere with the norms of life, and people will be pissed. That said, I’m not a fan of “the ends justify the means” when it comes to violence, so this statement is not a justification or an acceptance, merely an observation.As I understand it, there is a very, very Islamist trend of thought amongst Britain’s Muslims. But there is also a strong liberal trend, exemplified by the writers and producers of Islamica Magazine. Finally, I don’t think it is appropriate to group together all Muslims when it comes to such abstract issues. I do believe that there is a difference between, say, Muslims in Syria, and Muslims in Britain or Indonesia.Ammar, keep doing what you sincerely believe to be right. It’s the only way forward.

  3. Yaman,I have no doubt that Political Islam is destined to fail if and when it is ever given the mandate to rule. On this point we seem to agree.What I am suggesting is that our people may never come to agree with us till they actually try and verify. Until they do, they will always dream of what “it could be like” if Islam took over. For the record, although I referred to myself as a secular liberal, my views on economic matters are firmly grounded in free markets and capitalism as the basis for Syria’s economic development

  4. Ammar,I have been following your blog for a while and I am loving your thoughts and discussions. Keep up your work and hopefully the day you are waiting for will come.Another Liberal Arab

  5. EHSANI2, once again we seem to be on the same page. Indeed, and as you stressed to Yaman, “our people may never come to agree with us till they actually try and verify.” Still, Yaman’s point regarding regional variations between Muslims is important. What it could mean is that Islamism will be experienced differently from one country to another. In Syria, religious minorities make up around 20% of the population, thrown in the Kurds at 10%, and considering the fact that there exists indeed a strong secular currently among the Sunnis, and divisions between the various Islamist movements, and we might, might have a chance at containing the Islamist movement. I am sure this is one of the arguments that you hear and find unsatisfactory. I am not that satisfied either, I am just unwilling to give up.

  6. Ammar, that is a big might. 99% will tell you they oppose sectarian violence. But that is irrevelant. What we really need to know is what those 99% are going to do to stop the 1% that will take violent action against other Syrians. History suggests that they are going to do nothing but mind their own business.

  7. And when violence starts, some of the other 99% get a bit more emotional and start supporting “their side”, especially if their side is more under attack from the other side… if you have any doubt, I can refresh your memories with some examples from other MIddle Eastern conflicts.But that does not mean there is no way out, a good test for ability of moderates to accept to compromise, is to see if they accept Ammar’s bicameral assembly.I have tried three times so far to get the readers in this blog and in Joshua’s blog to discuss it … no one wants to. Why? … I am starting to conclude that even the “moderates” are not willing to accept this middle ground solution.here it is again (Quoting Ammar)””Indeed, in my first meeting with Assef Chawkat I have proposed the idea of a bicameral assembly, where proportional representations determine who control the House of Representatives, while the Senate is made up of equal number of senators from the country’s different provinces. This will ensure that the majority in the Senate is made of representatives of minority groups. The Senate will be in charge of revising all laws passed by the House of Representatives to ensure that they don’t transgress against the secular nature of the State or issues of minority rights. The Senate will also control the Security apparatuses and the army.”

  8. A few weeks the U.S.’s Public Broadcasting Corporation (PBS) aired a one-hour documentary entitled “The Armenian Genocide”. Due to the controversy surrounding the topic, only half of the stations decided to air the program. Having watched and taped the report, I found it to be extremely relevant to the discussion we have been having. Our region’s history is rich with ethnic and religious violence. The tipping point that triggers such events always seems tenuous and unimportant at first. But, things develop very quickly and dangerously out of hand when this tipping point is reached. The Armenian Genocide report makes this very clear. Strong central governments such as the ones dominated by the Baath parties of both Syria and Iraq have made it difficult to allow such tendencies from taking place. Once such central powers are removed, the genetic, tribal and even caveman mentality of our people is likely to take over from their better judgment. Iraq, of course, has given us a live contemporary example. One can suggest that Syrians are different. But, the argument does not stand on firm grounds. Till our sense of “belonging” becomes more to the “country” than to a “tribe”, “religion” or “sect” within that country, future episodes of sectarian strife appear to be highly likely if not inevitable.

  9. “Freedom and Capitalism” is EHSANI2’S platform. One of the massive miscalculations of the Baath party has centered on the issue of unity. I have always felt that trying to unite the people of the Arab world under one banner or platform has been one of the most far fetched exercises in politics. There is no doubt that the concept sounds appealing on paper. In practice, however, it is utopian, impractical and not credible. The tribal nature of our people makes it very difficult for them to unite beyond their sect, tribe and religion. Unity within a single country like Iraq is proving to be an enormous undertaking. Can you, therefore, imagine uniting the whole Arab world together? The Baath party thought that it could achieve a three-pillar strategy.1- Unity, which has proved illusive and utopian.2- Freedom, which was never possible in a one-party state.3- Socialism, which has been on the wrong side of history.Not surprisngly, they ended up with zero out of three.

  10. Ehsani2, I’m happy you watched that PBS documentary.Tens of my four grand parents’ family members were cut into pieces during the Armenian genocide, few of the children escaped … to Syria. We are not even Armenians, but Greek Christians. A majority of the killing in that area was at the hands of the local Kurds by the way.Here is where you can expect more potential troubles in case there is no authoritarian regime to force co-existance: in North Eastern Syria. You know that the Christians who escaped the genocide in Southern Turkey 90 years ago, settled mostly in Hassakai and Qamishli which were mostly Christian cities. Since the 1960s, Kurds escaping “bad treatment” from Turkey have been also settling in the same area. Today kurds are the clear majority in Qamishly, and in Hassakai about 50% of the population is now Kurdish. The Christians who escaped Turkey after their parents were killed at the hands of Kurds, are now fearing the increasing calls from the newly empowered Kurds for making Hassakai and Qamishli part of “Kurdistan”. Do you think those two groups will compete nicely in future democratic elections for that area?This leads me to your next, very important issue: “Syria” … the trend is supposed to be towards open borders and regional groups (like Europs, North America …etc). the problem in the Middle East is that “Pan Arabism” is not very desirable these days, as you know. I, again, for the sake of helping the area move towards democracy with no violence, propose the following way out:People like to associate with success. If you want the Kurds and Assyrians, and Alawites and Sunnis to think “Syria” before they think about their own sects and groups, then make “Syria” a success, and make it bigger and more varried. Unite it with Lebanon (in few years) … That resulting country will be much more likely to make people want ot be part of … and I know how hte Lebanese think today of today’s version of “Syria” .. but it is just a snapshot of a long movie …. it could look much better.But of course, Israel does not want a strong Syria either … but htey are mistaken. A strong stable Syria, at peace with Israel, would be the best insurance for stability in the area.If anyone has less dramatic solutions, I would like to hear it.

  11. The authoritarian predilections of the Syrian regime might indeed be serving to keep a rather fractious country together, but its minoritarian nature is clearly feeding the growing sectarian and ethnic cleavages. Unless we address this issue, and the issue of Syria’s ethnic and religious diversity we will never be able come up with any realistic proposal for the country’s future. The Assads need to go, and minoritarian rule need to go, but we need to create a new system of checks-and-balances that can assure each group that its basic rights and interests will be safeguarded. This is not then a simple question of demographics. Due to their over-representations in the public sector, not to mention the army and the various security apparatuses, the Alawites have more at stake than then numbers would suggest, this need to be reflected in whatever transitional arrangements we seek to make. The Druzes, the Christians, and the Kurds will also have their say in this matter. We need to begin speaking along these lines and soon if we are to come up with a vision for Syria’s future that we can sell to the Sunnis, both secular and Islamists. Alex, I agree with your basic solution minus Lebanon, the Lebanese are simply not ready for such a concept. We need to make Syria a success first before we can ever approach the Lebanese with such an idea. So, let’s keep focused on what we actually have, or still have: Syria in its current recognizable borders (bearing in mind that this means we still need to get the Golan back, of course). Of course, the trick here is how to make Syria a success? Part of that success is going to rest on whatever new political arrangements we have in mind for the country.

  12. Alex,I keep reading about the merits of uniting Syria with Lebanon. Frankly, I think that this is a total waste of time. No Lebanese would want to get into marriage with a state like Syria, and for very good reasons. What does Syria bring to this marriage? When you mention unity to a Lebanese, you are essentially asking him/her to accept the control of a bigger neighbor that happens to embrace a Baathist and socialist platform. Unless of course, you propose that the combined entity is governed from Beirut rather than Damascus. I suggest we stop these utopian dreams. Let Us Syrians look into the mirror and see what we can do as a country and people, and leave the Lebanese alone. For 43 years, the Baath party crashed any sense of belonging to Syria and opted instead to focus on the larger prize of the Arab world at large. It is time to reverse this. Syria has enormous economic opportunities. If the country’s present leadership has one single glaring failure, it would have to be its handling of the economy. Syria does not need Lebanon to succeed. Were Syria to fix its own house, it is Lebanon that should be looking at Syria with envy. As I keep reminding everyone, this country is on the cusp of having a direct border with a potential European border (Turkey) in the not too distant future. Regrettably, we are woefully and criminally unprepared for the exciting opportunities ahead.

  13. Indeed, EHSANI2, when we look at our own potential as a country, we have every reason to be optimistic, but when we examine the nature of the regime, the immensity of how much is being wasted hits us. The crux of the matter is the nature of the ruling regime, its dependence on military and sectarian support necessitated the transition of power from father to son, and kept a group of military ruffians, with their civilian lackeys (mostly Sunnis) with minimal exposure to the outside world in charge of running the country’s affairs. As a result, we failed to sign a peace deal with Israel when we had the chance to do so, we failed to sign an association agreement with the EU, and we chose a disastrous path of confrontation with the US. Sectarian politics lie at the heart of our current dilemma. We have to acknowledge that and begin address this problem in order for us to carve a path out of the impending quagmire.

  14. The current regime’s paranoia about stability and security (whether warranted or not) has made it impossible for them to do what is right for the country. An interesting question, of course, is whether they feel that this country equally belongs to them, you or me. My suspicion is that the answer is no. The “tribes with flags” attitude that dominates our thinking has made it impossible for us to think as one nation. In turn, this has made it hard to design a formula that presumably addresses what is good for the country at large.

  15. I can tell you from my various encounters with regime henchmen that they definitely don’t think of this country as equally belonging to them and us. It is their fiefdom, they somehow feel that they are owed that, that they have paid the price for that, that it’s their moment of glory and no one’s going to take that away from them, and no one is going to share that with them.The only way to change this around is to: 1) appeal to those Alawites who have reasons to be disgruntled with Bashar (and there are quite a few of them these days), 2) to show that the Sunnis are finally finding a way to come together. This second point might actually make the Alawites recoil into a solidarity mode at first, but, in time, and as the Grand Sunni Alliance (pardon my cynicism here, but I cannot believe that I am actually forced to think along these idiotic lines) makes more overtures for dialogue and reconciliation with the Alawites, and as the Assads’ woes increase as a result of the UN inquiry into the Hariri assassination, we might perhaps reach a point where a compromise is possible????

  16. Thanks Ammar,But why isn’t anyone else here willing to discuss your excellent compromise-proposal?As for Lebanon:I totally agree that Syria today is not attractive to Lebanon, but you know west Germany took back East Germany at a time when East Germany was a total liability … and things are fine now.Syria+Lebanon option is one possible way out, not the ONLY way out of course … I don’t care to shy away from discussing this option just because most Lebanese TODAY are not in that mood at all. Poland and Austria changed borders a million times … The Lebanon/Syria border was not designed by God, and like eveything in life, it is not forever … I believe that it will “expire” in 5-10 years from now (for many reasons). It is not right to ignore that possibility just because it is not politically correct today.Few good things about a Canada-like union between the two countries:1) You can have Democratic elections in Syria with much less fear of the MB type of forces taking power in Syria.2) You can have Democracy (real one-man-one-vote) in Lebanon without fearing Hizbollah domination.3) Lebanon can escape having to spend yearly billions on an effective national (non-Hizbollah) army.4) Lebanon’s 4 million population can get much needed help in paying back the 45 Billion debt, that the 18 Million Syrians can help in absorbing. (again, when Syria is much stronger economically)5) Syria benefits from Lebanon’s experience in Banking, Media, Marketing, services industry…6) Lebanon benefits from Syria’s size, geography, and bigger market, and bigger potential in agriculture, manufacturing, etc.7) Israel benefits from more clarity and accountability on its northern borders. There will be no more guessing if Syria, or “Lebanon” or Hizbollah or … whoever is responsible for security.So please tell me why in such a win/win situation it has to be considered as politically incorrect to discuss such a possibility.As for the Syrian regime … again, there are much better ways to motivate them to accelerate the change process … I hate to continue to sound like I am shifting the blame to others, but knowing that all politicians (or thugs) try their best to stay in power (even in democracies) we should not continue to put all the emphasis on proving that the Syrian regime is basically the same like other similar regimes… instead we should, and can, find better ways to motivate them to be a much more positive force. The change process would be much more peaceful if they were part of it.Flint (who changed his opinion later) got it right at the beggining. It is the only viable option. But it needs support from everyone. I can explain in detail … but I’ll do that elsewhere. But I know and appreciate your frustrations with them …

  17. EHSANI2,I don’t believe that there can be a popularly supported Islamist government in Syria. I do think that their can be a popular government in which Islamists have a degree of representation, and I do believe there can be popular support of a transition or revolution involving Islamist elements, but I think that support will be lost if “Islamism” begins to actually manifest itself in the workings of the government.In any case, even if Islamists somehow do get power, it will be oppressive by nature and will be out in a matter of years. It certainly won’t have the endurance that the Assads have had, especially considering that an anachronistic Islamist government will not be respected by the international powers.Alex, let the Lebanese be. At a time when the powers that be around the Middle East are not represantative of the people, we need a breakdown of power, not a consolidation of it. Separation of Lebanon from Syria politically in the meantime is good for internal developments in both areas. I really think this proposition kind of throws aside the popular resentment of Syria in Lebanon today.

  18. Yaman,I was talking about the future, few years from now.And I don’t care what the Lebanese politicians think of the concept today. Take what Noam Chomsky said in Annahar yesterday … this will quite possibly be the way out for both countries and we can not ignore itوعن أوهام الشرق الأوسط وصراعاته، يقول: “هناك صراع قديم ومستحكم يتعلق بمصير فلسطين، يعود إلى أكثر من مئة سنة. الآن أعتقد كما قلت سابقاً، منذ طفولتي، إن شعوري هو أن الحل يجب أن ينتهي إلى نوع من تسوية بين أمتين. إن كل شريك في هذا الصراع لديه إدعاءات وحقوق وسوى ذلك، وأعتقد أنه يمكن أن يرضى بشكل ما من الفيديرالية بين أمتين، تقترب من حال تكامل، ثم تتحول عموماً جزءاً من شرق أوسط فيديرالي متكامل، ربما من دون أي حدود للدول. هذا يجب أن يحصل على مراحل. إن هذا لا يمكن فرضه البتة على أحد في خطوة واحدة. هناك في الحقيقة مراحل معقولة للغاية

  19. Alex,Isn’t this what the Baath party has tried and failed to deliver on for the past 43 years? A Midlle East without borders?How about expiremting with only two countries first before you move on to the entire region? I suppose that it is okay to opine about a long term hypothesis on this form or others. But if immediate and practical solutions is what we are after, I am afraid that we are way off the mark here. I am aware that our good friend George Ajjan may share some or all of your convictions on this matter. As for me, I respectfully dissagree. Yaman,Good comment. I think that we are in agreement. The only problem is that once religious figures reach power, it is very hard to take it back from them regardless of their performance . Iran is a good example.

  20. Ehsani2But I think I was saying exactly the same thing Noam Chomsky was saying:- eventually more countries in the middle east (not the whole thing)-starting at some point in the future with a couple of countries where it really makes sense … he did not specify Syria and Lebanon but from the beginning of his interview I know that’s what he meant.One of the reasons I am insisting on this thing is that it is one easy way out for all who want one man one vote in both countries but do not want Hizbollah or the MB to gain power as a result. Otherwise, you will either accept those two groups, or accept something less than one man one vote democracy.And if the Abdel Naser or the Baath failed in something in the past, does that mean we assume that no one else can do better in the future when the time is right?Ehsani2 … if this Syria + Lebanon option is too much of a fantasy in your opinion, please tell me your opinion of Ammar’s bicameral assembly option instead, I like that one too… can you find any arrangement that GUARANTEES that no one can change the constitution after they are elected to hold power.Nice words about democracy are in fashion these days. All new Syrian opposition parties, in addition to the MB, are making sure they mention “democratic” in their websites (in addition to coming up with a the vital new design for the Syrian eagle). That does not tell me anything. If there is no clear plan ahead that they all approve of, then all this talk is not going anywhere.

  21. The only guarantee that one will not change the constitution once in power is to include an injunction in the constitution against amending it for a period of, say, 25 years. Another idea to make sure that the military will not be controlled by Islamist elements will be to create a military council made up of secular-minded generals and put it in charge of the military appointment, promotions and recruiting practices. Special instructional courses to the military outlining their powers and the military role in society should also be instituted. I can go and on here, but I will not for now. The main point here is that if we want to create an effective system of checks-and-balances that will prevent the Islamization of the state and that will curb the powers of the executive branch, preventing the establishment of a new dictatorial regime, we can actually do it. We only need the political will. The Assads have amply demonstrated that they don’t have it.

  22. Ammar – I enjoy your wisdom on this subject, keep up the good work. There is some strange brewing attempts to discredit Islam by the US religious right, which I find scary.Erikhttp://www.notesfromtheroad.com

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