The Heretical Advocate!

In this post, I will respond to some points raised by Alex here. In my next post, I promise to deal with some issues raised by Golaniyah.

Alex, I think the misunderstandings between us are the result in part from:

  • you, projecting your own attitudes and/or fears onto me,
  • me, because I treated this blog as mixture of a personal space where I sometimes mouth off and vent my own frustration (and when people do that, as you know, they end up, no matter how momentarily, being snobbish and arrogant, – perhaps this what made you think that I am trying to “lead them out”), and at times, I analyze, opinionate and advocate with regard to the Syrian situation, and because this is a personal issue for me, after all, I am a Syrian, anger gets mixed with tactics, and with attempts at objective analysis.

Now that I am slowly getting back to blogging, I will try to separate more carefully the personal from the professional. I don’t think I have the luxury of waxing personal anymore, if I ever had it that is 🙂

As for you Alex, I think that in your eagerness to advice you came off a bit too patronizing and condescending at many occasions. You always had this mixture of “he’ll soon learn better not to do this,” or “oh my, I really should warn him about those bad people he is hanging around with.” And when, at occasions, I tried to point out to you, and others, not necessarily that I know what I am doing, but that I am aware of the concerns you have and that I have my eyes wide open, and all my senses on full-alert, and that I have my reasons (which I often tried to explain) for wanting to explore some of these controversial avenues, I ended up being branded more or less as a conspirator.

But, the simpler truth is that I am an advocate for a cause, and advocacy is in part about meeting public officials and decision makers, the people who happen to be in office at this stage happen to be Republican and many of them are neocons, so what am I supposed to do, boycott them, because I happen to be at the far end of the liberal spectrum (which by the way I am)? Is that how advocacy works these days?

Would an activist from Greenpeace miss an opportunity to argue his case with the President of the Unites States if he was invited to do so?

Well, come to think of it, I think if the opportunity ever arose, an organization might as well be divided between those who would and those who wouldn’t, for a variety of reasons, ranging from the narcissistic to the ideological and everything in between.

On the other hand, I am quite aware that public officials would agree or would invite an advocate to meet with them both on account of his/her visibility, and for whatever particular interests and calculations they happen to have. That will always be the case. There are no public officials without agendas.

So the choices in front of me Alex are these: meet with the existing officials openly and publicly, not meet with them, or meet with them privately. I have done all three.

In fact, I usually prefer the third alternative. But once I agreed to accept this particular invitation, I knew that there is no way we can keep a lid on this, not for long anyway. Also, there was really no reason for it, on the contrary, it is really very important to put the human rights agenda back on the table, seeing how many people are interested in talking to the regime at this stage. The issue should not be allowed to be forgotten.

Now I know that you would say that this strategy would backfire, and that it is indeed backfiring, but I would like to remind of three things here:

1) the current arrests are clearly not related to the meeting that took place in DC, but the one that took place in Damascus,

2) you are looking at the immediate aftermath of an effort, while I am hoping for a more consistent campaign in this regard,

3) you are conveniently neglecting the nature and history of the regime: the Damascus Spring was fueled by purely internal dynamics, and still the regime saw it as a threat and brought it to a swift end. It is not our activities are putting these people and the cause of reform in danger, it is their activities and the nature of the regime.

I know that “reformers” working from inside the regime claim that we, that is, those who think the regime is irreformable and acting accordingly, are sabotaging their efforts. But I believe that, on the contrary, these elements have only managed to make some little progress and carve a little space for themselves within the regime in the last 2 years, mainly as a result of the regime’s increasing troubles and its attempt to shore up its tattered image in the country and abroad, at a time when opposition groups were getting more organized and more inter-connected and more capable of reaching out to the international community. Once all these pressures are removed though, the “reformers” will face the stark choice of:

* playing within the good old rules,

* leaving the game (and perhaps the country), or

* getting jailed alongside opposition elements on some trumped-up (or real) corruption charge.

A caveat: A lot of people say that 99% of all opposition members are untrustworthy opportunists, by the same token, this can be said of these so-called reformers as well. Sort that out, oh Syrian citizen, wherever you are!

Back to the issue of meeting with officials, two more points need to be made: 

1)      I meet with Democratic and liberal officials all the time, and if I were in the business of promoting myself rather than laying the foundation for a, hopefully, lasting institution, I would be talking about all these meetings continuously.

2)      I am burning in anticipation of hitting the European track soon as well, and over there, I am bound to meet with officials from all stripes, depending on the country and what sort officials its people chose to put in office, and I will lobby for the cause and I will deal with all sorts of criticisms then too. I can count on that I know.

So, why have not traveled to Europe so far? Well, it’s not the lack of contacts there, that’s for sure. But, as some of you might know, despite the fact that I spent 9 years in the US, I had a student visa at the time, I never really got a residency, not to mention a US citizenship. So when I returned to Syria in ’94 I returned as Syrian citizen. And when I was told to leave Syria in 2005, I had to seek political asylum here.

Now my passport has expired, yet I cannot get travel documents from the US until my application for asylum is approved. But with a name like Ammar Abdulhamid, and history with dabbling in Islamic extremism, the background security checks are taking forever. So yes, I can meet with the President of the US, but, I have to wait like everyone else until I am cleared for approval to get my asylum. This is at once what is so great, and awkward, about the system here.

I mean, here I am the head of an American non-profit organization, employing Americans and non-Americans, working with a Board of Director made up of Americans, and I am still in this grey area as far as my legal status is concerned.

Anyway, I hope the situation will come to a resolution this year, no, not on account of my meeting with the President, the system does not work that way, but because enough time has hopefully elapsed since the application was filed. But then, there is always the possibility that this thing could last for years. There is nothing I can do in this regard, it seems, but wait and conspire not to have an ulcer and keep my hemorrhoids in check. Well, here I go discussing personal stuff again J.

As for your following statement Alex:

“Let the people get angry when they feel angry .. let them revolt when they want to take that risk … let time take care of what is bad in Syria today … it will… naturally, without leadership and without politics.”

I agree with the first part of this statement, this was the essence of my last interview on al-Hurra, which I unfortunately cannot fid a link to on their site. But I totally disagree about the second part concerning leadership and politics. No change can ever take place without leadership and politics, but I trust that you made your statement in a moment of frustration and with specific people in mind, which is OK. You can disagree with my politics and leadership, and Khaddam’s and Bayanouni’s and Homsi’s and Ghardri’s etc. But change cannot take place without leaders.

Still, and as I said on al-Hurra, people of Syria should not think of change as a choice between the regime and the opposition, they can hate and reject both, and agitate against both. Their very agitation will end up producing the leaders which better represent their aspirations. But there will also be plenty of opportunists, like in all transitional movements.

It is not my hope to be one of those leaders necessarily, what I hope to do is help identify those leaders, or those people with leadership potential, who better represent the values that I believe in, and support them. For they will need it. They will need it. 

16 thoughts on “The Heretical Advocate!

  1. (reposted form the previous article)
    “اليكس مو بس غليظ كذاب كمان.”
    “اقول لك يا اليكس انه بالفعل لا يوجد اغلظ منك”
    “مشان الله حدن يقول من هو اليكس”
    “بنصحك يا جولانية تروحي تناضلي بالجولان”
    “the young generations of Syrians are all with Ammar”
    “اليكس فعلا مثل ام زكي في باب الحارة”
    Well, the intellectual level of Ammar’s proponents is really impressive. Such a sweeping statements like “all young Syrians are with Ammar” makes me think whether the idolized Ammar is on his way to becoming megalomaniac, or whether he’ll manage to retract before it’s too late. I really hope so, we’ve got enough megalomaniacs in the Arab world already.
    It is assumed (by those who wrote the statements above) that if I don’t agree with Ammar’s association with the American administration’s hardliners, then I must be a Syrian regime supporter.
    It couldn’t get more stupid, and more judgmental than this. …
    What should happen to me (as a young Syrian) if I don’t support Ammar views? Somebody may run after me with a stick and smack my back into it? it wouldn’t be strange though, after all, Ammar vouches for the necessity of violence….
    Ammar: did you by any chance talk to Bush about the occupied Syrian territories? (that is called Golan by the way)…

  2. Offended
    اقول باي وارجع لارد على الاجدب الكبير اوفندد
    واقول له بانني لا اعتقد بان عمارتحدث عن موضووع الاحتلال لانه يعلم وانت تعلم الا ذا كنت اجدب والظاهرانك اجدب ان الجولان هو موضوع يساوم عليه النظام فيا اجدب يعني اسرائيل راح ترجع الجولان اذا عمار حكى مع بوش عليها. بالفعل لم ارى اجدب منك .

  3. شعوري ان اوفندد هو اليكس ل ك مبينة يا اليكس طلاع من هالبواب مو علينا مش معقول شو انك ولد

  4. Offended, I think it is too early in the “game” for me to develop any megalomania tendencies, and should this ever happen, I can assure my wife will the first to disown me. So, you can look to my marriage as a measure of my mental and psychological stability.

  5. (reposted from previous)
    Qoute: “…the most eloquent writers from “the opposition” to contribute to my blogs and forums…”
    I don’t know what to feel, finding my self listed among “The opposition!” still I want to make one thing clear, the logic behind G. W. Bush statement: “With us or against us” is the same one behind the Syrian regime exactly-the-same statement, i.e.: “pro-regime, or opposition”
    For me, to be on the side of civil society, basic human rights, the rule of law, fighting corruption, achieving development and prosperity; is a noble stand and should not be regarded as “opposition” to Syrian “regime!” on the contrary, it should be regarded as support for the goals the regime had declared through it’s head, President Bashar! Labeling me –or finding me to be- as an opposition means one thing, THE REGIME ITSELF IS ANTI ALL THE GOALS IT DECLARED!! So who is shouting slogans after all!!?
    Another Qoute: “If you see a friend of yours at school hanging around with criminals and drug dealers all the time … wouldn’t you ask him to clarify what is going on? .. wouldn’t you ask him if he is working with them? wouldn’t you worry that they are using him to do bad things?”
    I add to the above, and when you see this friend, beating people to death in the streets, delivering corpses of kidnapped-then-tortured people to their families, suffocating peoples freedoms of speech and extorting the nations wealth, shaking hands with their own declared enemy and having secret deals with it… I can go on for a while and you know I can. And,Yes… I more than agree with you, But wait!!…. all the above applies exactly on the Syrian regime too now, doesn’t it!?
    So tell me Alex, what excuse you have now for the regime?
    I say again, the Syrian regime is not my main problem, you are making it this way and probably the regime is making it’s own enemies too.
    My question to you (and lets throw it to Imad Mustafa too) again: If you were invited to meet the US administration, in it’s current shape, what would you do?
    Another one since I am at it, how come the Syrian regime accepted to attend Annapolis summit, knowing that they won’t be able to put Golan Heights on the agenda?
    The criminals in “Qasr el Sha3b” are not better that the criminals in “The White House”

  6. “he’ll, soon he know better not to do this”
    Ammar, you do not have to explain yourself to others. And others have to wise up and stop thinking like they are the custodian over you and over the whole nation, exactly like the regime in Syria who categorize people as good people and bad people, and of course considering themselves as the protectors and the clan who think for us all.
    And this story with the Golan, like if they talk about it and we talk about it, it will be returned tomorrow. For how long people will get fooled and keep silenced regarding other important issues in our lives in the name of working on something lost by the same people who are silencing us. What a trick.
    Have mercy on our people under occupation, who did not see their relatives for ages and after that, the government in Syria prohibit facebook and Skype, so they can not see or communicate with their relatives.

  7. Thanks Ammar. Thanks for taking the time to explain.
    I know I sounded patronizing. I am few months older than you : )
    Let me start by posting the first part of my first comment yesterday:

    I can not blame you for meeting President Bush… everyone, even Syrian officials would love to meet President Bush.
    And I have no problem with your asking the president to raise human rights issues with the Syrian officials that the American administration officials will be meeting with in the future. I even talked to you about exactly the same thing last year.
    But … your visit was promoted by the National Security Advisor Steven Hadley, and Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams
    Nothing good can come out of the efforts promoted by these two … These are the two of the main reasons why we have chaos in the Middle East and hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis

    So I was not as critical as most of the other Syrian bloggers. Was I? … I made a distinction between meeting President Bush and … working with Hadley and Abrams.
    This should also answer Hammam’s repeated question … I already answered it in my first comment Hammam. And I will get back to your other points later.
    Back to Ammar.
    While it is understandable that you HAVE TO “work with” whoever is in power in Washington, there is no easy way to explain the degree to which you are attached to them. Everything around you is neocon …Washington has lots of reasonable officials … why pick the worst war criminals to work with? .. because they say they claim they care about democracy in Syria?
    By the way, at this point, I have less “fears” … the mood in Washington changed enough to make me not worry much about war scenarios. Hadley and Abrams are weaker now.
    I do not fear American pressure on Syria to improve its human rights position. I support it. Because it is a positive thing and your efforts, if they are limited to this level, would be great.
    But I object to “DON’T talk t Syria and DON’T promote a Syrian/Israeli peace process”.
    Back to Hammam … I think you need some help with Math my friend.
    You are rightly furious at what is happening here … but to compare it unfavorably to the numbers and severity and frequency of these would be a bit too much.
    And finally … did you get upset at me for a technicality? .. because I called you “opposition” to the regime? .. I was only trying to say that you are one of the more eloquent critics of the regime. I’m sorry you found it to be very offensive.

  8. et oui chér ammar , cette rencontre avec le Président américain fait descendre beaucoup d encre
    Comme d’habitude ammar aller toujour plus haut

  9. Thank you, Ammar, for your courage, broadness of view and generosity of spirit. You know I speak for others as well as myself.

  10. Alex,
    I was not offended actually, I just wanted to point out how it is easy to classify people and put them on the opposite side, when you are convinced that all those who have different views/ Ideas than you are your enemies! And I don’t mean you dear Alex, although some times your slip in this way.
    Second, so you are telling us that you would meet with Bush, but only on one condition… the invitation should not come through Hadley nor Abrams, fine, but what if it did? And does it mean that you are working with these two if you were invited through them?
    As for the math help…. mmm…
    So you are suggesting that less number of victims means “better” criminal… mmm… and I have to like the one with less frequent mass murders!! mmm… Don’t you think this is a twisted thinking!
    Lets imagine that ASSad regime has the military power of the US… what do you expect them to do with their little neighbor Lebanon? especially if there were some uprisings!?
    I say, Hama example is not very far in history!
    What I want to say, my friend Alex, is: The mentality is the same, what matters is not the number of people you murder, it is the ability to commit the crimes. I hope it was not necessary to explain this to you, but I felt I have to.

  11. Ammar, keep doing what you are doing, you are the only one right now with courage to stand up oppression and hegemony in civil and smart way. I might not like anyone from the opposition, or from the dissents, or the opposition parties, but I like what you doing and to concentrate the fights on the right of Syrians to speak their minds who ever they are. It is not a struggle for ideas or positions; it is struggle for 101 freedom of being. It is a fight well overdue and delayed so far 50 years, but time changed and young people need someone like you and your work in Tharwa. Do not let some people with one ball discourage you.

  12. Hammam,
    I disagree … I do not have enemies 🙂
    Maybe I have enemies … very few… they have to insist to refuse to become my friends before I accept to call them my enemies.
    Can you please tell me of a couple of people that I disagreed with and that I called my enemies?
    Hadely and Abrams are Syria’s enemies, not mine.
    Let’s go back to your question:

    Second, so you are telling us that you would meet with Bush, but only on one condition… the invitation should not come through Hadley nor Abrams, fine, but what if it did? And does it mean that you are working with these two if you were invited through them?

    Hammam … we are not in lalaland here. If you don’t understand what is going on in Washington, ask Ammar.
    And finally … your conviction that “they would kill more if they were more powerful” is without solid foundation.
    In science, or in behavioral research, if someone comes up with a hypothesis, it is “accepted” after it passes many many tests. If it fails one test, then it needs to be modified. Let me show you how your hypothesis failed a test or two:
    1) When Syria was awarded full control of Lebanon after the first gulf war. when Syria had 40,000+ soldiers in that country … Gebran Toueini and Ghassan toueini were writing many pieces very critical of the Syrian regime… Did Syria harm them?
    Now please don’t rush to find me examples of Lebanese leaders that Syria (probably) killed (like Kamal Jumblatt) … the idea here is to find examples that your theory is not totally valid.
    Remember when the Lebanese people demonstrated in downtown Beirut … the Syrian army and it sallies int he Lebanese army allowed all those demonstrations.
    Hama can not be repeated today .. that was a different world… over 25 years ago … the world changes fast Hammam. It was not that recent, even if “the regime” is still there.

  13. Alex,
    very fast… Hadley and Abrams are not Syria’s enemies only, and I was not defending them in anyway my friend 🙂
    I am not keen on having the last word, so I won’t try to explain more how the syrian regime falls in the same catagory with the US current administration, at least for me. Hama may have happend 25 years ago, but for those who lost a dear one, it is still alive, any way this is not the point.
    my position is… I will not choose to side with the Syrian regime (in it’s current state) just because the neocons are really bad. there is no other country for us to go as Syrian citizins but Syria, we want our country/ leadership to try to please us first, to get OUR support, to hear US SYRINAS, to negociate with US SYRIANS. This is the real solution for the country’s stability problem. not any other way.
    Do those in the leadership know this, or they will continue on their path to hell!??

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