How the Rushdie affair has inspired some fine Arab writing

A mention in the Daily Telegraph:

As it happens, it was the Rushdie affair that inspired the book in the first place. The essay writing contest was the idea of the Ammar Abdulhamid, a US-educated Syrian who became disillusioned with radical Islam after the fatwa issued against Rushdie by Iran. He pointed out to the American Islamic Congress that while the Muslim world had vast, well-organised networks of people pushing extremist visions, nobody was doing the same thing for liberal ideas. “What we need is an essay contest on liberty with significant cash prizes,” he said.

Their Audacity to Hope

Brave individuals who challenge the status quo in authoritarian societies—and expect our support

Mention in the Wall Street Journal

Mr. Muravchik might have said more about why Western states should support liberals, in all their vulnerability. Take the Syrian dissident Ammar Abdulhamid. Audacious and articulate, Mr. Abdulhamid abandoned a life of privilege in Syria (he is the son of a famous actress) and chose exile in the U.S. so that he could give full force to his criticism of the Assad regime. Yet like many of those described by Mr. Muravchik, he has committed himself to a liberal ideal, and sacrificed a great deal, in return for very little so far. When Western governments revert to so-called reasons of state — where “realism” and supposed self-interest often triumphs — Middle Eastern liberals become a vanguard easily discarded.

Defiant Messages!

Crackdown against western-oriented activists in Syria is proceeding apace and has been for quite a few weeks now, as we all know. The latest installments were the March 24 arrest of Samir Nashar, the founder of a liberal party based in Aleppo and one of the internal opposition figures who took part in breaking the barrier separating the “inside” and the “outside” when he attended the opposition conference organized by the Syrian National Council in Washington, DC at the end of February 2005. Samir was released a week later and put under a travel ban. Continue reading

A Liberal in Damascus


The New York Times Magazine – Encounter

When I first met Ammar Abdulhamid in Washington in the fall, the 38-year-old Syrian novelist, poet and liberal dissident had Damascus on his mind. He had received word from his wife back in Syria that the political situation at home was becoming more precarious for rights activists like himself. As a fellow at the Brookings Institution, he’d been meeting with leading figures in the Bush administration and writing articles in the Arab and Western presses that were sharply critical of the Syrian government; he simply didn’t know what to expect on his return. Now, sitting here in a Damascus coffeehouse in late January a week after his return, he is telling me that he had found reason for optimism about the country’s future in the least likely of places. Continue reading

A political arabesque in Iraq

New York Times

…Yes, the US invasion of Iraq made America some new enemies, but it also has triggered a huge debate about reform in the Arab world, said Ammar Abdulhamid, who helps run DarEmar, a pro-reform NGO in Syria. ‘‘For some people it forced the reform issue, because they said, ‘Let’s change ourselves before the Americans change us’,’’ noted Abdulhamid. Some Arab liberals want to use the US presence to pressure their governments. Some regimes are feeling very vulnerable and believe the only way to stave off the Americans is to be seen as working on reforms. But one way or another, ‘‘the Iraqi issue is forcing the issue of reform on everyone,’’ Abdulhamid said.