A Heretic in the Wind!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheerio.

***

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

21 thoughts on “A Heretic in the Wind!

  1. If the article was meant to be well-researched, don’t you think they would have contacted you? I interpreted this as sabotage in a domestic power game. The ease with which such sabotage can occur, and the drastic consequences it can have for people who are affected by it but have no say in it, is one of the reasons I cannot trust foreign patronage for any opposition movement. Both the patron and the patronized have distinct agendas, and both think they can outsmart the other, but ultimately there is a power dynamic here that puts the position of patron above his beneficiary, and leaves the success of the beneficiary as a function of variables that are outside of his control. This is not a stable path, Ammar. There will never be a democratic government in Syria coming to power with the help of America, and Khaddam has just a great a chance of becoming the next President as does Farid Ghadry. The question is not about the idiocy of this regime (and I think everybody serious agrees, it is quite idiotic), but of the perceived alternatives: and I am skeptical of the National Salvation Front considering the ex-figureheads who have found themselves in charge. The street jokes about Khaddam, and is afraid of Rifa’at. The predominant idea nowadays is that everything sucks, but it’s not Bashar’s fault. As long as this is the case, these other shady ones have no future.

  2. Yaman, the problem is that I was contacted, but none of the things discussed had anything to do with what was published. This is probably why I was not quoted. As for the NSF, this is not about Khaddam becoming president, even if he wants to, this is about putting pressure on the regime. For long we had no opposition group that made the regime worry, now we do. It may not be popular, but the Saudi king had never met any opposition figure until Khaddam came out. Such a move puts some pressure on the regime. This is good. Such meetings and moves are the best we can achieve without grassroots support. No, this won’t change the regime by itself, but it causes it grief, and allows people time to contemplate more realistic alternatives than what they have now. So, this is not about democracy yet, that is a long and drawn out struggle, this is about shaking the system.

  3. Yaman – I think your comments should have been directed at the American media not the American gov’t. They are two different things…

  4. وتضمنت رسالة الأسد إلى أولمرت النقاط الأساسية التالية:*الدعوة إلى مفاوضات بين سورية وإسرائيل، بدون شروط مسبقة!!*الموافقة على المحكمة الدولية بشأن اغتيال الرئيس الشهيد رفيق الحريري، بشرط أن لا تستدعي المحكمة شخصيات بارزة سياسية وعسكرية من النظام السوري.* التباحث في مصير الجولان، بدون شروط مسبقة، أي بدون الالتزام الإسرائيلي سلفاً بإعادة كل الجولان. إلى الوطن الأم سورية.*سورية ستعمل على ضبط الحدود السورية-العراقية والمحافظة على الأمن، كما هي الحال على الحدود بين إسرائيل وسورية!*العمل مع قيادة “حماس” في الخارج للحدِّ من تأثيرها على الحركة في الداخل.* منع وصول الأسلحة عبر الحدود السورية إلى حزب الله في لبنان.على الرغم من هذا الانبطاح (الذي لو لم يقم به رئيس بعثي لسميناه انبطاحاً ذليلاً!) فإن إهود أولمرت رفض دعوة بشار الأسد. وقالت الدوائر الرسمية الإسرائيلية إن على الأسد “أن يبرهن بشكل قاطع” أنه فعلاً يريد السلام ولا يناور، فقط

  5. …. the perils of becoming a minor celebrity (very minor even)….. you become an object of myriad (mis)interpretations of exactly who and what you are….i like your post. its funny, and the clarification about Tharwa activity and non-activity is helpful.

  6. الى الاخ عماران ما تقوم به هو عمل يفتخر به كل سوري يحترم نفسه ويحب بلده وعروبته انك رجل شجاع ومفكر حتى تكون بهذه الجراة لمحاربة الفساد والفسق في بلدنا الحبيبة سورياوانا ادعو لك ولامثالك الذين لا يقبلون ويعارضون هذا الرئيس بافعاله التي دمرت اسمه واسم سوريا ادعو لكم بالتوفيق وانصر الاكيد في مهمتكم الجبارة

  7. Thank Anonemous.شكراً شامي.ـIndeed Zenobia, but I hope I am not having my fifteen minutes just yet. It’s too damn early.

  8. Ammar,It seems that the regime in Syria has more than the ambassador represantive in USA, and they know how to use their money. It is also, seems that the same old trick of calling apponents traitors and conspirators is the best way used and still being used by the Syrian govenment agaist oppones. Off course do not forget if you go and meet an official from Israil also you will be a traitor but not the ambassador.One more thought, the guy who is going to plot a conspiracy and succed, he will be the next Syrian Hero, and may be the real one not like the prisedent’s father this time around.

  9. Ammar, I hope you can see now the benefit of refraining from engaging drum beaters in farcical talks. You seem to have the audience seeking similar objectives as yours. There is no more need for hypocritical nonsensical propositions. Beware however of sneaky contributors such as the so-called Zenobia blah blah blah. I could sense jealusy in her comments. She is always on the side of drum beaters. I’d classify her as fifth colomn.

  10. Actually, I know Zen personally and I know she is definitely not a fifth columnist, she is like many Syrian-Americans trying to figure out where they should stand on the issues within the complex context of both American and Syrian politics. I appreciate her contributions, they make things less monotonous and encourage free discussion of the issues. In fact, things get more interesting when we disagree. Many people have related to me that the reason why they like this blog is exactly because they see this willingness to engage in serious debate of the issues. They can see my point of view, but they understand it more and can contextualize it more when there is a debate around it touching upon the other perspectives and points of view out there. So, let’s keep the debate alive, and let’s suspect each other too much, this will be doing the Assads a major service. Also, let’s not worry too much about fifth columnists, our insistence on debating the issues rather than vilifying each other will eventually isolate them or drive them off.

  11. actually the word is envy not jealousy….but nonetheless…it is a funny idea. On the contrary…’so called Zenobia’ will be very happy if Ammar becomes a major celebrity. No wait, forget celebrity. how about Hero. seriously, i will welcome it. As well…. i should be happy myself to bask in the sun by a desert oasispoolside drinking lemon mixed with beer (i love that drink!)sort of like…. my namesake did in her retirement in Italy. BTW, she was Paraded through Rome as aprize dressed in golden chains, not a ‘slave’…. the history books claim (if one bothers to read them) that the rebellious queen is said to have married a Roman, did as the romans do, and lived out her days in a villa in Tivoli. Today, a family called Zeno – outside Rome- makes claims of their decendence.Alas, it must be rough being a revolutionary or a hero. But is it worse to be anonymous….

  12. i was wondering how do someone with your background (Heretic) affiliate himself with NSF which was established partially by “Muslim brothers”?!!

  13. Ammar said:It may not be popular, but the Saudi king had never met any opposition figure until Khaddam came out. Such a move puts some pressure on the regime. This is good…so do u think that the best way to do it? allying with former regime figure, who stole the country, and terrified all the thinkers for almost 30 years? How do you justify your association with a hypocrite? second, how would you justify your allaying with fundamentalists group like MBH? and what if they really come to power? would you call this an improvement to the Syrian’s political system. Third, is asking the United States is the best way to pressure the Assadians? P.S. I criticized your move on my blog….

  14. YoungSyria,This is an excellent question indeed. But try to look at it from MB point of view, do you think it as easy for them to accept working with a heretic like me? In reality, the politics opposition in Syria is as diverse as Syrian society itself, there are people from all different walks of life, all different sectarian and ethnic backgrounds, and all different political and ideological orientations, if we don’t learn how to work with each other, we will end up fighting with and killing each other.Jean, Excellent points as well. I understand how tempting it is to take the moral high-ground in this regard – neither of us was involved in the Assad regime so we are definitely not involved in their corruption or oppression and, as such, we have no reason to want to sully ourselves now. But, even if we can create an opposition made up of saints, we still at one point have to deal with the likes of Khaddam and Bayanouni, as both represent important segments in Syrian society that we cannot afford to ignore if we want a peaceful transition in power. We cannot exclude everyone in the regime just because they have a past, this will deliver a message to the regime officials that we want them all out. This will deprive us of the possibility of playing on the existing cracks and fissures and disagreements within the regime. Not smart politics on our behalf. We also cannot ignore the Islamists for the obvious reason that they are major presence on the grounds. I cannot speak for democratization and work to exclude a large swath of the population from the decision-making process. The best we can do here is to choose the “right” Islamists that we can talk with. Now, if we had the luxury of choice, I would have opted for people with a less tricky past, but we don’t. Khaddam imposed himself on the scene by his break with the regime, and Bayanouni and the brotherhood by adopting a new charter for their movements that no longer advocates Sharia rule. There are indeed Islamist figures and movements that are much more moderate out there, and we do communicate with them in the NSF, but the Brotherhood still represent an important movement out there, and the ability to bring them from the folds to radicalism into mainstream politics is not minor feat. Peace in Ireland could not have been achieved without talking to Sinn Fein, and without a change of outlook among the leaders of Sinn Fein. The Brotherhood has changed their rhetoric considerably, much still needs to be done, but, in order to achieve that, we need to engage them. Had the Assads shown a real willingness to change and adopt a clear and transparent strategy for reform, as the opposition demanded back when Bashar came to power, we would have been very willing to accept tem a legitimate leaders for the transitional period towards democracy, and they would emerged as national heroes. Instead, they opted for a return to the usual politics of crackdown and mayhem and nationalist rhetoric of mobilization and grandstanding on the basis of the national causes, etc. etc. There is nothing that can be done now then but to try to work on isolating them and keeping them under constant pressure. For this, we have to work with everyone, the US, the French, he Europeans in general, the Saudis, everybody. Albeit, on the long run, of course, nothing can be achieved without finding a way to work with our people directly. This is where enlightened Syrians in the expatriate communities have to come together to create major media initiatives aimed at the Syria population inside, one that tries to empower and encourage the Syrian people to rise up and produce better alternatives than the regime and even the NSF. So long as the people are quiet, our options are limited to this kind of politicking. Or, we can surrender the whole thing completely, and just complain as to how bad everybody is in the regime, the opposition, the US, Israel, the world, and go about the business of making ends meet. This is a legitimate option, I think, one that is endorsed by the majority of Syrians everywhere, but it is not the kind of option I feel comfortable with, even though it is much easier on the mind, the soul, and the body.

  15. YoungSyria,This is an excellent question indeed. But try to look at it from MB point of view, do you think it as easy for them to accept working with a heretic like me? In reality, the politics opposition in Syria is as diverse as Syrian society itself, there are people from all different walks of life, all different sectarian and ethnic backgrounds, and all different political and ideological orientations, if we don’t learn how to work with each other, we will end up fighting with and killing each other.Jean, Excellent points as well. I understand how tempting it is to take the moral high-ground in this regard – neither of us was involved in the Assad regime so we are definitely not involved in their corruption or oppression and, as such, we have no reason to want to sully ourselves now. But, even if we can create an opposition made up of saints, we still at one point have to deal with the likes of Khaddam and Bayanouni, as both represent important segments in Syrian society that we cannot afford to ignore if we want a peaceful transition in power. We cannot exclude everyone in the regime just because they have a past, this will deliver a message to the regime officials that we want them all out. This will deprive us of the possibility of playing on the existing cracks and fissures and disagreements within the regime. Not smart politics on our behalf. We also cannot ignore the Islamists for the obvious reason that they are major presence on the grounds. I cannot speak for democratization and work to exclude a large swath of the population from the decision-making process. The best we can do here is to choose the “right” Islamists that we can talk with. Now, if we had the luxury of choice, I would have opted for people with a less tricky past, but we don’t. Khaddam imposed himself on the scene by his break with the regime, and Bayanouni and the brotherhood by adopting a new charter for their movements that no longer advocates Sharia rule. There are indeed Islamist figures and movements that are much more moderate out there, and we do communicate with them in the NSF, but the Brotherhood still represent an important movement out there, and the ability to bring them from the folds to radicalism into mainstream politics is not minor feat. Peace in Ireland could not have been achieved without talking to Sinn Fein, and without a change of outlook among the leaders of Sinn Fein. The Brotherhood has changed their rhetoric considerably, much still needs to be done, but, in order to achieve that, we need to engage them. Had the Assads shown a real willingness to change and adopt a clear and transparent strategy for reform, as the opposition demanded back when Bashar came to power, we would have been very willing to accept tem a legitimate leaders for the transitional period towards democracy, and they would emerged as national heroes. Instead, they opted for a return to the usual politics of crackdown and mayhem and nationalist rhetoric of mobilization and grandstanding on the basis of the national causes, etc. etc. There is nothing that can be done now then but to try to work on isolating them and keeping them under constant pressure. For this, we have to work with everyone, the US, the French, he Europeans in general, the Saudis, everybody. Albeit, on the long run, of course, nothing can be achieved without finding a way to work with our people directly. This is where enlightened Syrians in the expatriate communities have to come together to create major media initiatives aimed at the Syria population inside, one that tries to empower and encourage the Syrian people to rise up and produce better alternatives than the regime and even the NSF. So long as the people are quiet, our options are limited to this kind of politicking. Or, we can surrender the whole thing completely, and just complain as to how bad everybody is in the regime, the opposition, the US, Israel, the world, and go about the business of making ends meet. This is a legitimate option, I think, one that is endorsed by the majority of Syrians everywhere, but it is not the kind of option I feel comfortable with, even though it is much easier on the mind, the soul, and the body.

  16. Thanks Ammar for the clarification of the situation, but I still have some to remark some points.First, I always hated the philosophy that says “the end justify the mean” because the right end need a right start and right epistemology. Second, we as secular civil (not religious) people do not isolate or neglect any person based on their beliefs or political stand, because it is part of our beliefs to open-mind and accept the others as they are. on the other hand, fundamentalists, radical religious groups and party have an Obliterative and Dismissive ideology. Therefore, no matter how moderate we think they are, at the end when they are in power, they will neglect us for sure. so we have to make the right system that fit them, because any system that done by them will not work for us. I am not asking to ignore them, but we cannot relies on them in making constitution that fulfill our needs, because they will not. Third, I think you mentioned not to exclude everyone in the regime, I agree. Also, we have to exclude the “badest”, and Khadam is one of the worst, because of his Outrageous history in both Syria and Lebanon. I know you said he is not a potential Candidate to presidency, but he is giving people as yourself a bad name, and prevent many well-known, good, and hight educated Syrian figures to join the mix. and that is bad. Fourth, I agree that we need to enlighten our Syrian people, but with a movement build by own power, by own ideas, by own money, from the inside, with no foreign interference, I know that sound dreamy but I think it is not. I think it is the right way to regain our freedom. we should create the formula, and not imported from some other country, we could develop and adapt an existing system, but we have to make sure that it fits our country. Thanks for the replay again…

  17. Ammar, I understand the reasons for your support of NSF. I can tolerate this: it is, as you say, smart opposition politics. What I cannot reconcile at this point is the relationship between NSF and the Bush administration, if indeed such a relationship exists at this point as the article seems to indicate.I support the work Tharwa does in Syria and Lebanon. I genuinely do, and I would not be averse to working with it if I were there, as you know. But I am skeptical of the public face this work can take in the U.S. given the sensitive context within which it would be operating and the threads of American politics that it would lend support to, even unintentionally. I think this is a serious issue with all genuinely progressive people concerned with the Middle East. When I reviewed some of the essays that won the HAMSA contest earlier this week, I was horrified. I will write about this later.

  18. ammar..what is MB vision of syria? officially you would say anything but behind closed doors its something else.. and I cant see how would a religious party contribute positively to syria.. don’t you think we need educated secular open-minded people in this country..don’t you think we need people to leave this religious backwardness..I think no matter how much the MB change there vision and mission .. when they reach the power (la kadara allah) they will promote there Islamic state of syria (la kadara allah again)

  19. I share your skepticism vis-à-vis the MB, and all other Islamist groups, and I do of course agree that we should all leave this backwardness and dedicate ourselves to secular values. But, if we also believe in democracy and in peaceful transitions, there is no way we can ignore the large constituency that the Islamists have. So, we have no choice but to find ways to work with each other, even while suspecting each other, otherwise we will end up tearing each other apart. It’s going to take a lot of time and effort before we ca get our point of view across to the majority of the Syrian people.

Comments are closed.