Family Affairs!

I never knew my father-in-law, for he disappeared long before I even met Khawla. This happened way back in the 1981, less than a year after his arrest on March 31, 1980. That was the second time that my father-in-law, one Abdulwadood Yusuf, was arrested.

The first time was back in 1964, shortly after the arrival of the Baath party to power in Syria and the onset of its troubles with the Islamists, represented mostly by the Muslims Brotherhood and its outer circles of sympathizers, and it is indeed to one of these circles that Abdulwadood belonged. For he was never at peace, so to speak, with the ideology of the Brotherhood.

Although this first arrest lasted for a few months only, it was still enough time for much torture to take place. But he was released at the end, with a broken rib. He was not so lucky the second time around, as news from him ceased to reach his family soon after his transfer to the Citadel Prison in Old Damascus (which has since been returned to being just another local tourist attraction and is occasionally used to host cultural events). Ever since, Abdulwadood was reported to have died under torture on numerous occasions, but, and in the absence of any official confirmation, his immediate family members still have doubts, hopes and even fears in this regard to this very day.

Indeed, his brother, who left Syria aroud the same time, continues to raise awareness with regard to Abdulwadood’s fate every so often, as he does in the following recent article. For Abdulwadood was also a mentor to many young people at the time, including his brothers and sisters, being an Islamist scholar and activist who wrote many important books and novels in which he tried to flesh out his own particular brand of Islamism.

From my own particular point of view, and having read some of Abdulwadood’s works, his Islamism was not the kind that I would feel comfortable with or consider enlightened. Still, and despite his commitment to the concept of Jihad as an incumbent duty on every young male Muslims, he did, nonetheless, oppose the Muslim Brotherhood’s embrace of violent rebellion at the time.

As such, his arrest, despite his efforts to dissuade the local leadership of the Brotherhood in Damascus, Homs and elsewhere to come out and take a firm stand against the breakaway Talee’ah faction that espoused violence, made absolutely no sense at the time, and justified the belief that many activists, Islamists, Nasserists and communists, had at the time that the Assad regime was intentionally targeting the moderates in an orchestrated effort to bring about the kind of showdown that we eventually witnessed in Hama, knowing fully well that, at the end of the day, it can win it, seeing that the number of the radicals was limited to a mere few hundreds.

Well, the strategy, which many believes to have been the brainchild of Hafiz al-Assad himself, worked well, but at what price? The wounds of it all are still bleeding. And the Islamists are coming back with a vengeance onto the Syrian scene, and here it is the very regime that had, at one point, tried to stamp them out, now trying to strike a Faustian deal with the worst of them, for the sole reason that they don’t seem to be politically ambitious at this stage.

What the Assads don’t know, however, what they don’t want to know perhaps, or, what they think they can control again when the time comes, is that these groups of politically quietist Islamists are a very calculating bunch, and have far more political ambitions that any would give them credit.

How can I be sure of that? Well, in my heydays as a fundamentalist preacher, I happened to come very close to some of these groups, and I knew what sort of Machiavellianism lies at the heart of their religious ethos.

People like Abdulwadood were much more straightforward and honest, as they told the entire world who they were and what they wanted to achieve. But they were willing, nonetheless, to commit to an approach that relied mostly on preaching rather than violence. Their commitment to jihadism was of that traditional variety aimed at imperialist occupiers, not at their neighbors and countrymen. For this reason, some kind of a modus operandi can indeed be struck with them, or their remnants, unless, of course, one wants them on board for mere decorative purposes, without any real commitment to power sharing, transparency, accountability and the rule of law.

Striking workable partnerships with these Islamists will not be easy by any means, but it is not all together impossible, as we all need to temper down our expectations. Moreover, these partnerships may just serve to counterbalance the rising influence of the more Machiavellian and radical varieties out there.

In the final analysis, we really have to ask ourselves: do we really think that we can just go on living and progressing while avoiding this issue? Personally, I doubt it, because, for most of us, Islamists are family, and often they are right there in our face, not rotting away in some jail, or buried in some anonymous mass grave. Indeed, my father-in-law may no longer be with us, but my cousins are.

But then, for me the whole issue of ideological, national and religious diversity is a family affair. After all, the immediate family includes:

  1. Ideologically: liberals, Nasserists, Baathists, Communists and Islamists.
  2. Religiously: Sunnis, Shia, Druzes, Alawites, Maronites, Catholics, Greek Orthodox, and, surprise, Jews, and,
  3. Nationally: Arabs, Kurds, Cherkessians and Berber.

Now that’s the quintessence of being Syrian, don’t you think?

21 thoughts on “Family Affairs!

  1. ‘Now that’s the quintessence of being Syrian, don’t you think? ‘I couldn’t agree more..Very nicely put, Ammar.’..can we really imagine that we can just go on while avoiding the issue all together? I doubt this is possible really, because for the most of us, the Islamists are family..’I must say, in my humble experience, the problem has been getting the other party, particularly the fundamentalists, to engage in dialogue.. For them, I have always been a despicable heretic (and they can be particularly liberal in the use of that term!..) who is barely worthy of a second look!..As you rightly said, it is not going to be easy, but it is not impossible.. It will, undoubtedly, be worth the effort..

  2. Lovely, I wish all Syrians think the same way as you do. I sometimes think that you really have the quality to be the president, don’t you?

  3. anonymous (1),Ammar is good, but I hear someone by the name of George Ajjan is quietly preparing to take over that responsibility 🙂

  4. In all fairness, I think George has his eyes set on the presidency in a different country. More power to him. He might just have my vote.

  5. It is very timely for you to post something like this, as an individual by the name of Lee Kaplan has recently on the prowl to find relatives of mine that may be involved in religious movements. I’m under the impression that he is doing it in order to damage my reputation, despite the fact that the tactic is totally illogical.It’s interesting though! I now know I have a distant uncle by the name of Adil Salahi who is a writer for Ikhwan in London.

  6. I appreciate the confidence of “anonymous” and Ammar BUT…Ammar is not yet an American citizen who could vote for me here, and I have never been a Syrian citizen which would make it a bit difficult to become the President of Syria!Besides Ammar supports the Republicans because and only because of their mid-East policies, whereas I continue to support my party in spite of their flawed policies in the region.By the way, “anonymous”, I know who you are, and just yesterday someone told me you would become a Syrian minister and I would be your assistant. Wow, such confidence from the boss! 🙂

  7. Ammar,I always enjoy looking over the comments section here. Seems I’ve come across another interesting individual to follow on the internet… George Ajjan.

  8. hmm………ammar supports the republican party?maybe George can become a citizen of Syria, even I am a citizen technically.how is your arabic George?

  9. George, Zenobia, indeed, so long as you have Syrian blood in you on your father’s side (after all where a male chauvinist part of the world), you are by Syrian law a citizen. Which means, my dear George, that, if you have brothers, you will have to do your military service before you can run for president in Syria. Or you can pay the 15,000 USD Badal and save yourself the trouble.As for my politics, I am actually a Green Libertarian.

  10. my arabic is atrocious, but then again that didn’t stop “King” Abdallah.yes I could easily acquire citizenship in the Syrian Arab Republic if I so desired.as for the Presidency, remember my name is George Ajjan and it has been decades since one of “my kind” has been a head of state in Syria, and I don’t know if it could ever happen again.and by “my kind”, I mean HALABI, of course! What else were you thinking?!?! 🙂

  11. George,You are making it more complicated that it actually is.Look at Ammar’s the immediate family: Ideologically: liberals, Nasserists, Baathists, Communists and Islamists. Religiously: Sunnis, Shia, Druzes, Alawites, Maronites, Catholics, Greek Orthodox, and, surprise, Jews, and, Nationally: Arabs, Kurds, Cherkessians and Berber.

  12. Indeed Syria is for all Syrians and descendent of Syrians who are proud of their heritage.There are a lot of families who have mixed religions and ethnicities and even marriages with different backgrounds (ie parents come from different areas and cities). Syria has been historically and still is very diverse.To add my contribution to the presidential debate going on here, my personal view is that the Syrian constitution should be changed to allow a Syrian of any religion to be allowed to rule the country. Also there are a lot of people qualified to lead the country, I have few friends who would fit perfectly. Qualifications include education, honesty, personal skills, international and social ties, etc…I think coming from a good family is very important. Most importantly there should be election campaigns for the candidates to explain their programs and be accountable to the people.What was I dreaming about…the post is reserved for the Assads for a while judging by how every thing is turning out and the regional situation and how people are affraid of the unknown. Check out my new solidarity with Michel Kilo post For a better SyriaFares

  13. George,The constitution renders you and all other Christians unqualified to be the President of Syria. We can speak of Syria for all. The reality is that if you are not Muslim, and regardless of your qualities and qualifications, you have no chance of reaching the highest office in that land

  14. Ehsani2,It took the so-called ‘People’s Assembly’ all of 15 minutes to change the Constitution to suit a certain Dr. B. Assad.. Surely, they can do the same for George?…Joking aside, the Constitution is not sacred any more.. It has been violated at least once, and the clause stating that the President must be a Muslim appeared for the first time in the latest version.. The Ba’athists insisted on it to try and appease those who objected to an Alawite president back in the early seventies.

  15. George, I was going those ay you might make an excellent PM, then I remembered that the last two PMs we had (Miro and Otari) were Halabis, and I don’t believe they made their hometown proud. As for that other “handicap” that might prevent you from becoming president, just give us 25 minutes and a enough tanks to make people think twice before hitting the Streets and we’ll amend the constitution for you. We are good at doing hat as you know. But this little trick did not help the Alawite Assads, SB, even after Musa al-Sadr issued his famous fatwa around that time, making the Alawites an offshoot of the Twelvers, a minority that was recognized under the Ottoman Milli system as an Islamic community. Indeed, many Sunnis continued to object to the rise of the Assads. But the underlying theme was all about control of the country, coupled with some objections concerning the overtly secular message of the Baath, and their track record of oppression and corruption since their arrival to power in ’63, and last, but definitely not least, not by any means, the loss of the Golan during the Baath-controlled political system and an Alawite controlled army. I mean you expect that in the aftermath of such a humiliating defeat, which lead to the occupation of a vital part of the country, that the Minister of Defense will be among the first people to go. Instead, the said Minister leads a coup and becomes a president and blames everybody else for the loss of Golan.No, I don’t want to blame Assad Sr. for the loss of the Golan, well not entirely anyway, I just want to say that the troubles that brewed over in the 70s and 80s and that increasing gulf that separated the Sunni and Alawite communities at that time, were in many ways connected to a lack of any kind of serious accountability over the loss of the Golan. In a country that elected Christian PMs, and Kurdish presidents, the Alawite label, albeit admittedly much more problematic to the Sunni Arabs than the previous two, may not have been so necessarily galvanizing to the Sunnis had other issues not been involved as well.I know, in know, I keep on going back to the Sunni-Alawite divide in my analysis of things Syrian. But I just believe this to be the most sensitive issue around. If we want a real change in Syria, one that posits some hope for democratization, then the litmus test here lies in the ability to address and resolve this issue successfully.

  16. Ammar, you keep emphasizing the Alawi-Sunni divide, but I think it is a social and not a religious problem. ie if the Sunni were not mistreated since mainly Hafez Assad came to power (laws to destroy and demonize the respected bourgoisie and the land owners, crushing dissent, the brutality of the regime), and if the alawis did not rise to power out of nowhere, then there would not be any tension I don’t think. Clearly there is difference between the communities and the educated Sunnis resent the low manners and arrogance of some alawites in power but it is not because a religeous diffrence.So if the Sunnis and Alawis have their normal standing and true power then both communities should coexist in peace. The problem is that any president in the arab world is a dictator and rule like he is GOD. But if there is true democracy then it should not be important who is the president is as long as he puts Syrian interests first.Fares for president haha, but George and me can wait as long as we get a respected Sunni in power (with future options to include all religions and communities). I clearly think Syria would be better off with a liberal Sunni in power (a la lebanese way), the regime would be more open to its people and it will help defuse tensions and struggles to impose itself on the people. Also I just put a great article in my site about Syrian regime and democracy which should be good for the opposition to understand.http://freesyria.wordpress.com/2006/05/30/syrie-la-repression-apres-leprintemps-avorte/SalamatFares

  17. You an excellent point Fares. And the article you link to is quite interesting as well. You are doing a good job on your blog.

  18. While I largely agree with your comments and with those of Fares, I must beg to differ on the point ‘No, I don’t want to blame Assad Sr. for the loss of the Golan, well not entirely anyway’…Well, ok.. not ‘ENTIRELY’, but certainly ‘LARGELY’!.. The man was a traitor of the highest order. He was the Minister of Defense, for God’s sake!.. He SOLD the Golan Heights to Israel for sums unknown (but likely to be quite substantial!!..).. I know.. Hearsay and all that!!.. but even the ‘circumstantial evidence’ is compelling… The infamous ‘Communique No. 66’, signed by General Hafez Assad, Minister of Defense, declaring Qunaitra a fallen city was announced by Radio Damascus at least FOUR hours before the Israeli Army actually entered the city!!.. I know that for a fact. Without being too specific, a VERY close relative was a VERY high-ranking Officer/Physician in the Medical Services of the Syrian Army at the time of the 1967 War. He was on the phone to the Physician-in-Chief at Qunaitra Millitary Hospital when that fateful announcement was made. He then hung up and contacted the ‘Rear Command’ for clarification. He was told, in no uncertain terms, by Tlas (then the Chief of Staff) to mind his own business!.. The evacuation of the Millitary Hospital was completed four hours after that conversation, by which time the Israeli Army had not even reached the outskirts of the city, because the Commanders on the ground were not aware of the treason of their de-facto Commander-in-Chief!!.. There are volumes of accounts confirming Assad’s treason and complicity in this despicable act..My ever-lasting disappointment is that the bastard got away!.. He died and escaped punishment (at least on this Earth, for those who entertain the possibility of an ever-after!..)..At the risk of sounding vindictive, I don’t think the ‘pillars’ of the Regime should ever be offered safe passage, as one commentator suggested in a comment on a previous post.. They should be made to pay for their crimes against Syria and Her people..And Fares, I join Ammar in saluting you for the great work on your blog, although I am yet to leave a comment.. And ‘Fares for President’?.. Why the hell not??… whoever of you three(Ammar, George, or Fares) can convince me, through honest open campaigning, gets my vote!..

  19. p.s.I also salute all fellow insomniacs!.. It is 03:30 am on this side of the Pond!.. I’d better go and catch some ZZZZZZZZ.. Busy day ahead!..

  20. Thank you Syrian Brit and Ammar for your kind words about Free Michel Kilo now blog that I started to support Syrian human rights freedom for Michel Kilo and the other heroes. You got to leave a comment though and spread the word, otherwise it seems like I am a lonely voice in the desert.However I am very pleased to see more and more coverage about the issue in the press. The Guadian article and the Patrick Seale article (See Mosaics blog), etc…The interesting thing about all the blogs that discuss political and social event in Syria is that they offer debate which is lacking in Public. I hope that it makes an impact on journalists and future politicians and actual policy planner.For a better Syria

  21. SB, I just wanted to avoid beating on a dead horse. The internal squabbles and the lust for power of the Baath regime at the time, and that Sunni-Alawite thing are to blame for much more of Syria’s troubles than people like to admit. But, if we should fail to address these issues peacefully now, they will impose themselves on us with more violence than we like to imagine soon. The longer the Assads stay in power, the more frayed the fabric of our country will get. For if the current generations don’t have much recollection about certain facts, there is something that is being imprinted in their subconscious that is much more strong and dangerous than any fact: the ugly reality and the much uglier myth of the sectarian divide. The requirements of justice and peace for the 17-20 million Syrians in Syria require us to make certain difficult concessions and forgive certain things that might appear unforgivable, and bury a very old yet still quite sharp hatchet, in order to get a go at a new beginning. None of this is easy to achieve. But none of it is impossible either.

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