Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Is Syria Holding Fewer Political Prisoners than any other Major Middle Eastern Country?

The Syrian Government has been busy freeing additional political prisoners this week, which made me curious to know just how bad Syria is compared to other major Middle East countries. Could it be holding the fewest political prisoners?

The number of political prisoners in Syria has fallen precipitously over the last decade. In 1991 Hafez al-Asad amnestied some 3,500 detainees. In 1993, Amnesty International estimated that some 4,000 remain incarcerated. In 2001, Human rights organisations estimated there were 1,300 political prisoners and prisoners of conscience being held in Syria. Recent reports claim Bashar has released 800 of these since coming to power. Syrian lawyer and human rights activist Anwar al-Bunni Says 200 remain incarcerated. The Human Rights Association in Syria said the release of the remaining 200 political prisoners is not expected.

Al-Bunni said that the Syrian authorities have been dribbling out the 281 recently pardoned political prisoners (president's forth anniversary in power), most of whom were Muslim Brothers. 161 were released over the two past weeks. 55 detainees were released a week ago Tuesday, another 36 on Monday, and 70 more recently. Bunni said that some 120 amnestied detainees are still being held in prison. He hopes they will be released within the two coming days.

The human rights society in Syria said that on 5 August the Syrian authorities released an additional 35 political detainees, many of whom had spent 20 years or more in custody. One was Immad Sheiha who was a member in the Arab communist organization and spent 29 years in prison. Sheiha and his group were accused of planning and carrying out several explosions targeting trade projects and American establishments in the 1970s. He killed a Syrian guard in the process. Shiha said

prison life was hard, and he had moved at least four times. But the difficulties did not subdue his love for life or his sense of humor, which he said "helped me have hope in life." "I love life and women," he said.

Shiha said the thing he wanted to do most after his release was visit his 100-year-old grandmother. "But I didn't want to give her a deadly shock. So I changed my mind and I went to my aunt's instead," he said. Now that Shiha has his freedom back, he would like to find a job and get married. "Working represents human dignity and reveals the true meaning of freedom," he said. However, he said he would not give up his interest in public affairs. He called on the Syrian government to release all political detainees and help rehabilitate former prisoners.

Hard to know if Shiha, his name would suggest he is an Alawite, is a political prisoner or a murderer. In Oklahoma he would have been put to death by lethal injection long ago.

How many political prisoners is Syria holding?
Lebanese in Syria General Aoun's group claims that Syria is holding no less than 200 Lebanese citizens in Syria. "This is now an established fact that requires no further proof," says Aoun.

Syria released 50 Lebanese prisoners on Monday, Aug 9, 2004. A group named the Support of Lebanese in Detention and Exile said many of the prisoners were army officers who fought against Syria under Michel Aoun in 1991, a former prime minister whose ouster from power by Damascus heralded the end of the Lebanese civil war. It might be added that the United States gave Damascus a green light in 1991 to take out Aoun and his men. This was done because Aoun had no means of winning his war against the majority Muslim Lebanese population and Syria and Washington understood it could not hope that Aoun, who had made many blunders, would ever win. The Lebanese were tired of civil war and many accepted Syria as the price of stability and an end to 25 years of fighting. Finally, the US cut a deal with Asad: Asad would get Lebanon for help in combating Saddam Hussein and joining the US coalition which was preparing to eject Saddam from Kuwait.

By reasonable estimates, Syria would seem to be holding considerably less than 1,000 political prisoners today, though we don't really know. Bunni and Syria's human rights groups estimate 200 are in jail. But they are only counting Syrians and seem to be speaking specifically about prisoners arrested during the turbulent 1970s and early 1980s.

Many Kurds were rounded up following the riots in Qamishli this spring, although many of those were subsequently released. (Update: Aug: 31, 2004) "The Syrian authorities say that most of the Kurds who were detained on the background of the acts of violence which claimed the lives of 30 persons were released, but the Kurdish parties say that more than 180 [Kurdish]detainees are still held in the government' s jails."

Finally there are the 200 Lebanese prisoners from the 1980s that Aoun spoke of, many of whom are still unaccounted for, though some have been released. Surely there are other prisoners we don't know about, but the total would appear to be considerably less than 1000 and possibly half that. Syria also detained fleeing Iraqis during the last several years, some of whom it returned to Saddam Hussein in exchange for favors during his last years in power. Most of the Iraqi refugees, it permitted to remain in Syria or helped to gain asylum in the US, Australia, and Canada through the UNHCR offices in Damascus, where my sister-in-law was a case manager for thousands of their files. Many had been horribly tortured. Many did get refugee status outside the Middle East. The remaining are now free to return to their families.

Egypt is much worse than Syria in numbers of political prisoners:
Saad Eddin Ibrahim recently wrote that the number of political prisoners in Egypt has skyrocketed over the last decade. He writes: "The number of detainees and political prisoners jumped tenfold, from 1,850 under Sadat in September 1981, to over 18,000, according to the 2003 report of the Egyptian Organization of Human Rights." Amnesty International claims: "Torture is systematically practised in detention centres throughout Egypt, and victims of torture and their relatives continued to report harassment by security agents. The death penalty continued to be used extensively by criminal courts.

Turkey is not much better than Egypt, despite EU pressure.
Over 10,000 political prisoners were being held in Turkey in 2001. I can't find more recent estimates, but recent Islamist and Kurdish bombings means the jails must be filling up again after a brief respite as Turkey sought to improve its human rights record.

Iraq: We won't talk about it: I don't know how many thousands of Iraqis the Americans are holding. In theory the Iraqi interim government should be in charge of prisons now, but the interim government has neither the man power nor trained personnel to oversee them. Not that the US had enough trained personnel either. 5,000 detainees were estimated held in the two biggest US-run prisons in the country, on August 2, 2004. I don't know about other prisons. The Allawi government has arrested many more.

Jim Lobe points out that US-Backed Tunisia is holding some 500 political prisoners, according to Human Rights Watch. Many of the top Islamist leaders are held in isolation. And this, Lobe points out, is the "country chosen by U.S. President George W. Bush as the base for his plan to democratize the Middle East."

Roger Clark, head of Amnesty International's delegation to Algeria who carried out his first fact-finding mission there for over two years in 2003 say the following:

The situation on the ground is very worrying and hasn't really improved. Amnesty
International has always considered impunity a central issue, and it's still there, as serious and urgent as ever. Until justice is done, that's how it will stay. The problem is that crimes committed by the security forces, the GLD militia [anti-Islamist militia armed by the state] and armed groups go unpunished. We're talking about abductions, murders and other rights violations.

The relatives of the missing people we talked to are still grieving. They don't know whether their loved-ones are dead or in prison. How many people have disappeared? Some say 4,000, others 7,000. There are seldom investigations and the few there have been have never resulted in anything.

What about torture?It's still practised widely against people being held in detention, especially if they're thought to have links with terrorism. We talked to torture victims and lawyers who told us electricity was used.

Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia seems to be in Syria's league. Historically it has been quite a bit better than Syria in terms of political prisoners, though probably not today. Amnesty International states that: "Today, (2003) there are probably between 100 and 200 political prisoners, including possible prisoners of conscience, in Saudi Arabia's jails.' Surely, there are two or three times that number today in 2004, now that Saudi Arabia is getting serious about cracking down on radical Islamists. This, of course, is to say nothing about the more subtle and internalized repression of women and Shi'a.

At least 79 people were executed in Saudi Arabia in 2002, and over 5000 Iraqi refugees continue to live in Rafha camp (they were collected in 1991) as virtual prisoners as of 2002. They are now finally free.

The Hashemite Kingdom, bless its heart, would seem to be the winner among the major states of the Mashriq with the fewest number of political prisoners. Amnesty International does not estimate the number of political prisoners in Jordanian jails, but the 2002 report claims "that hundreds of people, were arrested for political reasons" in 2001, and there were reports of torture or ill-treatment of detainees by members of the security services. This year dozens of political prisoners were arrested during the year, some of whom may have been prisoners of conscience. There were reports of torture and ill-treatment of detainees. Political trials continued before the State Security Court (SSC) whose procedures failed to meet international fair trial standards. At least 15 women were reported to have been victims of family killings. By the end of 2003 more than 1,500 people fleeing US-led military action on Iraq remained in refugee camps. All the same, it seems that Jordan pardons or releases the majority of its political detainees after relatively short stints in jail, rather than holding them for years as Syria did with the Muslim Brothers and Communists.

Does Jordan hold less political prisoners than Syria on a per-capita basis? It must be very close considering it has a third Syria's population at 5,500,000.

Syria has a much better human rights record today than most countries of the Middle East, if not the best. Hama is now almost 25 years in the past, though it is still being invoked by opponents of the Syrian government to insist that it has one of the most brutal regimes in the Arab World. The lack of any separation between the judicial and executive branches of government is bad, there is no getting around it. Torture is still common as it is in most Middle Eastern countries.

All the same, there is no reason for Washington to vilify Syria while it holds up countries like Tunisia, Egypt, and Turkey as good allies and gives them a pass on human rights violations. They are all worse than Syria when it comes to detaining prisoners for political reasons and reasons of conscience. Some are a lot worse.

Bashar should be given credit for an important achievement in emptying Syria's prisons of its long held political prisoners and for trying to heal the wounds of his country's mini civil war. He has reached out to the banned Islamic groups, even as he has conceded very little political ground to them. Syria has managed the complex ethic and religious diversity of its population with surprising success. Where Lebanon's state was too weak to keep its uncivil society from coming to blows and killing over 150,000 of its tiny population, Syria has been a paragon of stability. Where the Iraqi state grew so tyrannical and muscular that it massacred 100s of thousands of its own in the name of Arabism and truth, Syria has been a comparative island of tolerance and shown the ability to use force sparingly. Even compared to Turkey (15,000 killed [It is actually closer to 30,000 as one of my commentors corrected me.] in the last 15 years) or Israel (3,131 Palestinians and 972 Israelis have been killed and 26,934 Palestinians and 6,506 Israelis have been injured since September 29, 2000.) Syria does well in terms of body counts.

If you are interested in lectures on American hypocrisy see:
Leave Syria Alone by Glen Chancy (A Christian fundamentalist who swims against the tide) or

"The Appeal of the Ba'athist State - Why Iraqi Christians are Fleeing to Syria" by Gary Leupp (who makes a good point even though he soft peddles Baathism.) Paul Berman does a great diservice in his book Terror and Liberalism by lumping Islamic fundamentalism and Baathism together under the rubric of totalitarianism. Iraqi Baathism may have been totalitarian, but Syrian Baathism is very different from its Iraqi counterpart, largely because Alawites sit at the top of the state. Now that Assyrians are in the news because they are being harrassed again in Iraq, it is worth noting that the Alawites are Syria's Assyrians.

Sulayman al-Asad, Hafiz al-Asad's father compared the Alawites to the Assyrians following the Assyrian massacre of 1933 in Iraq. He wrote to the French mandate authorities shortly after the event, pleading with them not unite the Alawite Territory with the rest of Syria. These are his words recorded in the French archives:

The Alawites refuse to be annexed to Muslim Syria because, in Syria, the official religion of the state is Islam, and according to Islam, the Alawites are considered

The spirit of hatred and fanaticism imbedded in the hearts of the Arab Muslims against everything that is non‑Muslim has been perpetually nurtured by the Islamic religion. There is no hope that the situation will ever change. Therefore, the abolition of the mandate will expose the minorities in Syria to the dangers of death and annihilation, irrespective of the fact that such abolition will annihilate the freedom of thought and belief.

...The condition of the Jews in Palestine is the strongest and most explicit evidence of the militancy of the Islamic issue vis‑a‑vis those who do not belong to Islam...

...We assure you that treaties have no value in relation to the Islamic mentality in Syria. We have previously seen this situation in the Anglo‑Iraqi treaty, which did not prevent the Iraqis from slaughtering the Assyrians and the Yezidis.

Sulayman al-Asad's sons made sure that Syria would not become another Iraq - a land where the majority was able to tyrannize the minority.


At 8/11/2004 09:59:00 PM, Blogger Robert Lindsay said...

Very nice article and makes a very interesting point. However, the number of people killed in Turkey's Civil War in the last 20 years since the PKK declared war on the Turkish state is actually ~37,000, not 15,000. I also think the population of Tunisia - 9 million - should have been noted. To me, Tunisia and Jordan and worse than Syria because Tunisia and Jordan pursue policies that are contrary to the interests of the vast majority of their citizens. At least Syria allows anti-US and anti-Israeli demonstrations for Chrissake! And Yemen, with a population about the size of Syria's, should have been listed to make the analysis more complete. All in all though, good show!

At 8/11/2004 11:04:00 PM, Blogger Anton Efendi said...

"Sulayman al-Asad's sons made sure that Syria would not become another Iraq - a land where the majority was able to tyrannize the minority."

No, they achieved the opposite! Actually, in one aspect they followed suite. The Iraqi Baath ended being the rule of the Tikritis. The Syrian Baath ended being the rule of the Asads. Plus ca change...

I think the best part of the post is the quote from Hafez' father. You once quoted his letter voicing his desire to be annexed to Lebanon. I guess the idea of Lebanon as "refuge of minorities" is not a "colonial invention" after all!

Lastly, I wasn't sure if Mr. Lindsay's comment on the Syrians allowing protests against Israel and the US was supposed to be a joke or not. In McEnroe's eternal words: "you cannot be serious!"

Here's a thought. Those are the only protests that are allowed. And speaking of 1933, the Assyrians in Syria were planning to commemorate the massacres this year, and the government prevented it, banning any event. I guess it wasn't anti-Israel or anti-US, so no cigar.

At 8/11/2004 11:13:00 PM, Blogger Anton Efendi said...

Here's a riddle. Would these statements by Sulayman Hafez have landed him in prison (to be released of course!) in his son's and grandson's Syria!?

"the abolition of the mandate will expose the minorities in Syria to the dangers of death and annihilation, irrespective of the fact that such abolition will annihilate the freedom of thought and belief.

...The condition of the Jews in Palestine is the strongest and most explicit evidence of the militancy of the Islamic issue vis‑a‑vis those who do not belong to Islam...

...We assure you that treaties have no value in relation to the Islamic mentality in Syria.

The first kills the basic premise of the Syrian Baath's antipathy towards colonialsm, shattering its central myth and raison d'être. He sounds more like Elie Kedourie than anyone else!

The second makes Bashar's comments to the Pope look even dumber than they were. He sounds like Bat Ye'or in this one!

The third puts a dent in the negotiations on the Golan on one hand, and in the promises of leaving Lebanon on the other! He sounds like Abu Arz in this last one!

At 8/12/2004 07:29:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your latest post might have made sense if it did not come at the heal of this article:
Maybe it is time to halt your crusade to exonerate the murderous Assad legacy and look at the facts objectively.

But I am a simpleton so I will not complicate my rebuttal, because in all honesty I can’t; I’m an engineer by profession. Let’s look at the countries you referenced:

Egypt: That country has had a problem with the Muslim brotherhood for years, not that I’m defending Egypt but its actions against Islamism have never been as vicious and as decisive as that of Syria. If I understand your point correctly, it would imply that murder of the political opposition is better than its imprisonment. In fact in your words “Hama is now almost 25 years in the past”; How long should we wait for the holocaust? And if my caricature is extreme, is there an alternative way of seeing this comparison.

Tunisia: 500 prisoners so it matches YOUR estimate of prisoners in Syria. It is convenient that you mention the US crackdown on Syria in this context. As I see it, in fact as everyone sees it the recent shift in the US stand was never motivated by human rights violations. In fact if recent history has taught us anything, is that it would take a Darfur like genocide to motivate the US or the UN to act based on human rights violations alone. As I understood the US sanctions were motivated by Syria’s support of terrorist organizations and the Iraqi insurgency, its sheltering of Iraqi Baathist, its permeable borders and its occupation of Lebanon.

Algeria: what you referenced is an Amnesty International official saying “Some say 4,000, others 7,000”. So if we were to rely on such hearsay how many prisoners do you think some people would say Syria is holding? I heard some people say that there is as many as 20,000. Mazze holds a lot of people.

Saudi Arabia: 100 to 200 prisoners but somehow you tripled that number because of recent unrest. So following that model if we take the number of prisoners held in Syrian prisons in 2001 and double or triple it because of recent unrest (Kamishli, Reform Party of Syria, and Islamist activities) what would we end up with?

Jordan: By your own admission it is better than Syria.

Iraq: That country is at war with itself, what do you expect? Do you have any estimates of human rights violations during the Assad “bloodless” coup in 1970? But let me guess, that is sooo 30 years ago!

Seriously, you seem to be lunging at conclusions and relying on dubious “reports”. If we were to rely on such “reports” regarding Syria we would definitely come across scarier numbers. To be fair Syria is probably not the worst country in the Middle East when it comes to human rights violations (although you should read “Syria Unmasked”). But human rights have never been the premise for action against Syria.


At 8/12/2004 09:35:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Although your post is interesting in that it highlight the far worse situation of countries that rarely figure in US news for human rights abuse, I don't think you can judge a country's record solely by the number of political prisoners it has. I am glad you mentioned the enormous of number of political prisoners in Egypt, where I live, and which people rarely know about or don't care about because they are alleged Islamists. However, looking at the sheer level of kleptocracy in Syria, the police surveillance culture (i.e. mukhabarats plus informants plus electronic surveillance of citizens), the quality (or lack thereof) of the press there, and myriad other factors it's hard to say that Syria is actually doing better than most of its neighbors. These things should also be factored in to determine a country's human rights rating.

At 8/12/2004 04:06:00 PM, Blogger Robert Lindsay said...

To respond to Mr. Badran, an Arab who routinely takes positions that are opposed by 70-99% of the Arabs in the Arab World, sir, I am well aware that those are the only demos that are allowed. However, to me Syria gets a big plus for being a state that follows a foreign policy - standing up to US-Anglo-Zionist imperialism and neo-colonialism in the Arab World - that is enthusiastically supported by the vast majority of Syrians. And no, Badran, Syria's colonial experiment in Lebanon is in no way comparable to the evil and menace of US and Israeli imperialism, neo-colonialism and expanisionism. Nothing is more repulsive to me, Badran, than Arab states that shamelessly ally themselves with US imperialism to the contempt, hatred, frustration and rage of the vast majority of their citizens.

When Tunisians, Egyptians, Mauritanians and Jordanians took to the streets in anti-Israel and anti-US protests before the Iraq War, the cops bashed heads and filled the torture cells with demonstrators. These Occupied States, occupied by US imperialism (as Badran's fellow Maronite George Habash noted) are the some of the most disgusting states in the Arab World. One of the worst things on Earth is a government that rules in utter defiance of what 99% of its people want. At least the Syrian regime is somewhat "popular" on the foreign policy front. Furthermore, anyone with 1/2 a brain can figure out that the combination of US-allied US-puppet dictatorships in the Arab World combined with virulently anti-US populations has done more to fuel anti-US terrorism than anything else.

The individual who lets Egypt off the hook due to its Muslim Brotherhood problem is sadly mistaken. Syria also has or had an MB problem just as bad as Egypt's or probably worse. It festers to this day. Most of the MB in Egypt now have abandoned arms and almost all of the prisoners are prisoners of conscience. On Tunisia, Josh's Syria numbers seem pretty good. Furthermore, the poster is incorrect that political prisoners or human rights abuses are not part of the US-Zionist propaganda war against Syria the Badrans of the world are so enamored of. As one who has been following this debate for a long time, trust me, human rights problems by Syria are up there in the phony US-Zionist rap sheet against the proud Syrian state. In fact, most of the neocons pushing war with Syria say "Syria has the worst human rights record in the ME".

It is well-known the Algeria's human rights record is utterly abysmal, and Josh's estimates for the disappeared are right on, or low if anything. Surely the number of the political prisoners in Arabia has tripled in the past year, or even maybe much more than that. The notion of taking 2001 Syrian figures, adding in recent Syrian unrest, and trashing Josh's numbers makes no sense. An insurgency in Iraq, caused and created by the illegal invasion cheered on by "Arabs" like Tony Badran, is no excuse for a pile of political prisoners. Once again, my point about despised US puppet Arab regimes and the rage they create in a defiant, proud Arab population stands. Reaching back 34, or 22, or however many years in history is a worthless exercize and an intellectual dodge. The world moves on and Josh wisely chose to look at CURRENT reality, not old hat stuff.

Responding to the gentleman from Egypt, I have talked to both Syrians and Egyptians and Egyptians are far more terrified of talking about political issues or even the state than the Syrians I have met. My Egyptian friends are mortified of the regime. An Egyptian friend was going to start a noble project to boycott US products in Egypt but he told me he was terrified and would have to do it underground because the Egyptian state throws people in prison for advocating the boycott of US products! Further, my friend tells me the Egyptian state is quite the kleptocracy itself. The Egyptian press can criticize anything in the world except the Egyptian government! And this is better than the Syrian press how?

At 8/13/2004 08:24:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I’m glad you didn’t venture and level the fabricated Arab moniker at me because that would have definitely shifted our discussion. Not to worry though I think your education on Middle Eastern identities and ethnic claims is forthcoming.

When did I let Egypt off the hook? I specifically and directly said “not that I’m defending Egypt”. But if we were to consider government action against the Muslim brotherhood in both countries, which would YOU say is the most brutal, most vicious and most inconsistent with human rights? And by the way it is not only Hama that we should consider the Assad regime had a long history of harassment against the brotherhood BEFORE 82, in fact it began a few years after Assad’s ascension and usurpation of power when Syria invaded Lebanon and this continues until today.

Your precarious position about the Syrian Accountability Act vis a vis human rights which rest on stellar logic such as “trust me” and “human rights problems by Syria are up there” is quite laughable. Up there? Are you serious? Allow me not to trust you on this one. One of the biggest challenges was to include the statement regarding the Lebanese occupation in the act which is the ONLY provision that does not directly influence American security. In fact lobbyists encountered the same problem with the SSA before it and that was one of the main reasons why the Freedom for Lebanon act of 1999 stalled. So reviewing the track record it is clear that when citing Syrian violations of international law and human rights (which Lebanese lobbyist always wanted to bring to the forefront) no US action was taken however when citing national security and international interests decisive action was taken. The same logic can be used to explain why your maligned big bad imperial USA supported Assad and his regime in 1990 in his invasion of the last free enclave in Lebanon. Statements denouncing human rights violations are part of an expected PR campaign to galvanize support for such actions. It is a practice that all nations engage in most notorious of which is France. The Iraq war and its justification is another example.

For the record I said nothing of Dr. Landis’ estimate for Tunisia. I’m not sure why you chose to comment on that.

Why don’t you explain why is it that “The notion of taking 2001 Syrian figures, adding in recent Syrian unrest, and trashing Josh's numbers makes no sense.” Why does this magical rule work in one country and not the other?

My statement still stands about Iraq. During civil unrest political prisoners are a reality. Even in the American Revolutionary war (not to cite the civil war) American political prisoners were arbitrarily held. And to label Iraqi dissidents, criminals and terrorist as “political” prisoners is unjust. These people (the individuals captured) DO NOT fit your preconceived notions of pacifist political activists! It is the right and duty of every government to halt criminal activities on its territories. What’s the alternative allow these people to murder and plunder freely? Consider how I did not touch Turkish “violations of human rights” since the PKK is a recognized terrorist organizations that’s known for violence but we’ll leave that one alone.

Unfortunately sir, the “current reality” looks as dismal as the past if not worse. You can simply enquire about the Syrian opposition headquartered in the US. It is true that there has been a recent surge in the release of prisoners held in Syrian prisons but this is only done when Syria guarantees the halting of these prisoners’s future involvement in political activities. In fact Syria goes as far as making them sign contracts promising not to be involved in politics after their release. Also these people are threatened if they reengage in such activities after their release. Combine that with the fact that Syria is still arresting people arbitrarily for political reasons and the fact that Syria is still carrying out assassinations of opponents (in Syria and Lebanon as recently as this year) and you can see that this is a self sustaining, deliberate and effective process. Governmental authority and power is so well established in Syria and Lebanon that the opposition has no chance to influence change and compel the government to reform and THIS is the REAL measure of human rights violations not how many people are in prison here or there. That was the whole point of my response. It is ludicrous to play this numbers game because these numbers are very subjective. We’re not talking about a Calculus problem here. But if we were Syria does not bode too well either.

At 8/14/2004 12:29:00 AM, Blogger Robert Lindsay said...

I will deal with 8:21 AM's comments here. Sir, Tony Badran is apparently a Lebanese Maronite who has his own blog. Go check it out sometime. I couldn't disagree more with him but he is brilliant indeed. No fabricated Arab moniker as Maronites are of course Arabs. Looking at government action against th MB, frankly, I do not care because I hate the MB but it looks like Egypt is a lot worse than Syria at the moment. I don't do ancient history - that is for historians. My calendar says 2004 - what does yours say? My comments about human rights considerations had nothing to do with the idiotic Zionist joke SSA passed by the Israeli-controlled US Congress. My comment was that having listened to and read 100's of neocon Zionists slavering to attack Syria in the past couple of years, they consistently talk about Syria's human rights record and the fact that it is a dictatorship in working up their beloved invasion, which I am certain you support.

Just because the US is imperialist, does not mean they are always bad or evil. Of course imperialist nations make correct decisions at times, including the Bush Sr./Kissingerian decision to support Syria's occupation of Lebanon, which I regrettably support (with modifications) at the moment. On Tunisia, you said that Tunisia's 500 prisoners matched Josh's "estimate" of Syrian prisoners. Sir, there comes a time to put up or shut up. The classic propaganda game, which the Zionists above all excell at, is a game called EVIDENCE. Anything that goes against the Zionist line, the Zionist screams EVIDENCE EVIDENCE EVIDENCE!!!! Then all evidence produced is consequently rejected on spurious, ad hominem or attack the messenger grounds, without providing altertive evidence other than Zionist propaganda, which is wrong about 95% of the time. This is a classic logical fallacy - ask any philosophy professor. So! If you think Josh's numbers are bad, PROVE HIM WRONG OR BE QUIET.

Clearly, Iraq is a human rights nightmare, much worse than Syria at the moment. For one thing, the wildly popular insurgency just shows how hated this Arab government really is. I would suggest that Syria's regime is much more popular with its citizens than Iraq's. And THAT is a human rights variable right there, sir! Surely the Iraqi guerilla are mostly neither criminals nor terrorists. These are just slurs coming from imperialist propaganda. It is a fact of colonial history that all anti-colonial rebellions were done by "criminals, thugs, barbarians, rabble, savages, terrorists" etc. Well of course the Iraqi regime has a right to fight the insurgents....did I say otherwise? The current reality in Syria is surely not as bad as the past, which included Hama, etc. For your last paragraph, you changed the subject. Josh's talks about prisoners and you say prisoners don't matter. Isn't that a whole nuther post or thread altogether?

This statement: "Governmental authority and power is so well established in Syria and Lebanon that the opposition has no chance to influence change and compel the government to reform and THIS is the REAL measure of human rights violations not how many people are in prison here or there" is interesting and frankly, false. But anyway, can you show me how the reality in this statement is any different in Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Mauritania, Sudan, Iran, Arabia, Oman, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan or for the Kurds in Turkey?

At 8/14/2004 09:36:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, at this point I feel obliged to take ownership of this conversation. For one Tony has not commented yet, secondly I doubt he is a Maronite and thirdly I am a Maronite and since you leveled the Arab fallacious identifier on all Maronites then I’m going to set a few things straight.

Not to even comment on the validity of “Arabs” calling themselves “Arab”. (For examples what do Syrians, Mauritanians, Djiboutians and Algerians have in common?) Or the schizophrenia (to steal a term from Tony) associated with reasserting an abstract and elusive identity by harking back thousands of years.

Nothing in the Makeup of Maronites renders them “Arab”. No matter which definition, classification or criteria you choose (And I hope you choose one or more) Maronites cannot be classified as Arabs. Whether your refer to their identity, their ethnicity, their nationality, their history, their race (that one is if you are a neo nazi or an overzealous Arabist) or any other. That label is arbitrary and reactionary and politically and ideologically motivated and has hegemonic implications that include historical effacement and revisionism.

“Israeli-controlled US Congress”? This is just too funny. Check out this article I am willing to bet that you subscribe to at least half of those theories.

And then your ONLY reference of a good effect of imperialism is SYRIA’S ENVASION of Lebanon? Again this is tragically funny. Your idea of good foreign intervention is one where a country was transformed from a beacon of democracy, pluralism, prosperity and tolerance to present day Lebanon. And you might make that statement to someone from Northern Yemen, Afghanistan, Tibet or Ethipia. No colonialism in those country and we know how great they have been doing.

And as far as Syria and human rights, we are going in circles and points are being lost. But to put things in perspective no one can state (with a straight fact) that Syria is best when it comes to civil liberties and rights. This is just lunacy. Now if you were to somehow rank ME countries by their human rights violations, which is an irrelevant exercise that I’m not sure can be objectively conducted, you cannot do it by counting how many political prisoners are being held, especially when it is impossible to reach definitive numbers in that regard. Even if we did that Syria does not bode well. Sure we might be able to prove that 1 or 2 (not more) ME nations have more political prisoners but that has little impact given the fact that there are circumstances influencing prisoner, given the fact that Syria still engages in arbitrary arrests, given the fact that you are comparing Syria to the worst of nations, given the fact that the opposition is non existent in Syria and Lebanon and given the fact that the number of prisoners does not directly correlate to human rights violations. In other words I as a Lebanese citizen WILL NEVER say to myself “hmm, maybe I shouldn’t complain too much about my plight look at the situation in Algeria and look how few prisoners we have compared to Algeria”. This is idiotic logic. The same logic that Islamic apologists utilize when defending present day Islam by comparing it to medieval Christianity.

By the way I was looking at “Syria Unmasked” which was published in the mid 90’s and they listed 30 prisons containing political prisoners. They also make it a point to state that this is only a partial list of prisons. Now if there are 35 political prisoners in every prison that would make the total number above 1000. In fact their estimated number is at 7,500 (page 69).

At 8/14/2004 02:23:00 PM, Blogger Anton Efendi said...

My apologies to Josh for a discussion that has veered well off course thanks to Mr. Lindsay's rantings. Perhaps this should have continued on my blog, since Mr. Lindsay is concerned in getting it on with me than saying anything of use. I must sasy however that his comments have been quite entertaining, and have repeatedly put a wide smile on my face. For that I thank you sir!

So now that I have apologized to Josh, let me just take a minute or two to respond to some of Mr. Lindsay's cuteness.

It was interesting to see that Mr. Lindsay has already figured out my identity for me! Thanks for your help on that. It's so funny because by so doing, he's joined the line of repressive Arab regimes in denying people their own narratives, and telling them what their identity should be! It's a great continuation of that German volkish spirit on which Sati' al-Husri's Arabism drew, even when his reading of Fichte was as dubious as anything the idiotic Arabists ever produced. To quote H. A. R. Gibb's response to his brilliant student, the late Hume Horan who was fed up reading that garbage for his Arabic class: "That's as good as it gets!"

What's hypocritical about this position of course is that it's clear that Mr. Lindsay is hot on Third Worldism. I thought that a basic tenet of Third Worldism is to allow the subjects to define themselves, as opposed to imposing definitions on them. I guess it doesn't apply in this case. We're Arab whether we like it or not. Or as al-Husri would say, "whether we know it or not." Did I hear someone say "cultural imperialism"? You see, one of the most tragico-comical paradoxes of the doyen of ME Third-Worldism, Edward Said, was that in his critique of Western reductionism, he in turn reduced the ME to being merely "the Arab world." Lindsay's merely regurgitating that same fundamental hypocrisy. Let me elaborate a little more on that point, for it leads to yet another tragic paradox in Said's system. The identity that he ended up choosing and imposing on the region as "authentic" -- i.e. Arabism -- was itself the project of an elite, supported by the European colonial forces that Said loathed! I.e., Said, and here in a much less spectacular fashion, Lindsay, ended up endorsing exactly what they critiqued! Not only that, Arabism was always linked to the power structures that Said in his Foucauldian and Gramscian manner eternally abhorred. The European powers themselves pushed Arabism to power at the expense of all other nationalisms and narratives! So in the end, both in terms of ideas and in terms of praxis, Arabism is a (bad) European idea, one that gave birth to Europe's ugliest episodes, and surely to the ME's nightmare for the last 100 years.

But it's clear that Lindsay knows squat about Arabism, ethnicity and identity. He thinks that if he flashes Third-Worldist, post-colonial cliches, he's made it to the big leagues. Throw in your standard "zionist, neo-imperialist" mumbo jumbo and you're sure to impress. Here's a good place to start if you want to move beyond that cheap drivel.

Before moving on, I can't help but comment on the interesting stat that Lindsay threw at me. I routinely take positions "opposed by 70-99% of the Arabs"! That's just lovely! Are you sure it's not 73-94%!? What kind of nonsense is this!? But let's assume you're right (and if you're someone who bases his information on Arab nationalist and Islamist discourse in the homogenous ME media, you are right). But what bothers me is this attitude endorsed by Third-Worldists that "the Arabs" are expected to have the same opinion, and whoever disagrees is somehow suspect! And this, yet again, is another piece of condescending hypocrisy of the anti-Orientalists. While attacking the West for supposedly lumping all Muslims or what have you into a homogenous box, Lindsay has no problem endorsing that same attitude when it's in reverse! If the Arab nationalists and Islamists say it, it must be "authentic" and representative, but more importantly, it must be true, because that's the "Arab" view. What you're doing here is what Juan Cole does on a regular basis. You're embracing dominant ideologies just because you think they constitute what it means to be "Arab"! If you were a student of mine, you'd get a C for uncritical analysis and for being derivative. But I digress.

I'm not sure what on earth you're talking about when you said: "And no, Badran, Syria's colonial experiment in Lebanon is in no way comparable to the evil and menace of US and Israeli imperialism, neo-colonialism and expanisionism." When did I say anything related to this!? You want to tell me what my identity is, and tell me what my argument is as well!? It seems Third-Worldism has grown bolder since I last checked. What on earth was that supposed to mean!? If it's an Arab country screwing another Arab country it's ok!? Is that why people started making excuses when Hussein invaded Kuwait? is that why Said denied that Hussein gassed the Kurds? Is that why the entire Arab world and their Third-Worldist cronies are silent as the Sudanese government annihilates the Fur? I guess that's not as "shameful" to someone like you as "allying with US imperialism to the contempt, hatred, frustration and rage of the vast majority of their citizens." Right... but to hell with those citizens if it's done in the name of Arabism right? That would be "authentic"! Yes, Mr. Lindsay, you've certainly got the moral high ground on that one!!! What was I thinking? But then again, I never even said what you put in my mouth! Nevermind, carry on with your monologue!

Actually, If you don't mind me barging in on your monologue, I'd like, if that wouldn't be too Orientalist of me, to actually correct two of your many errors. First, George Habash is not Maronite. Habash is a Palestinian Greek Orthodox. Ooops, didn't mean to pollute his identity with the word Greek. Let's stay in the spirit of Arab nationalism and call him an "Arab Christian" shall we!? Secondly, how did you decide that I was Maronite myself!? Is this part of the Third-Worldist handbook!? So basically, so far you've informed me that I am an Arab and a Maronite! Who knew!? I'm so sorry to disappoint you on both counts! But does it really make a difference!? In your world you tell us "minorities" who we are and what we are, "liberating" us from the false identities that we assumed after being brainwashed by our European colonial masters. The romanticism of it is very cute however. I'll give you that.

But I really must stop the nonsense and start addressing some of your more sober remarks. At one point you write: "anyone with 1/2 a brain can figure out that the combination of US-allied US-puppet dictatorships in the Arab World combined with virulently anti-US populations has done more to fuel anti-US terrorism than anything else."

OK. Then why be opposed to the removal of Saddam Hussein!? If indeed 99% of the people want those "US-backed" dictatorships off their back, you and they should have been very happy at the removal and trial of Saddam Hussein, just like I and most Iraqis are! Oh wait I forgot. You tell Iraqis what they should think... My bad...

I'm browsing over the crock of nonsense that you keep repeating over and over, and I'm not sure what to pick. Going back to identity issues, this one takes the cake: "No fabricated Arab moniker as Maronites are of course Arabs."

Bless your heart Mr. Lindsay! You're hilarious! "Of course"!? Based on what? "No fabricated moniker"? Then why did the pioneers of Arab nationalism, all elite, embarked on a monumental effort of reshaping the education system and publishing endlessly trying to "convince" the population to adopt Arabism as an identity?! If it is as self-evident as you make it seem, they basically wasted years preaching to the converted! They re-wrote history books for naught! Mr. Lindsay, before you make assertive categorical statements like the one quoted above, take time to actually read and learn. Or else, someone like the Tonys of the world will nail it and make fun of you in front of thousands of cyber eyes. Thankfully you weren't one of them, as you would have clamped down, in a manner consistent with your attitude here, on all the Christian schools that refused to teach their version of Lebanese history as it denied their own identity and narrative.

But I'm going to stop here as you clearly are ignorant of matters of ethnicity and identity and their workings, just as you're ignorant of the history of Arab nationalism. You're just an apologist who thinks he's smart. I've taken too much time and space on Josh's site, and perhaps testing his patience. There are things called books, I suggest you pick them up, and then after a while we can pick this conversation up again, when you begin to know what you're talking about.

At 8/14/2004 11:00:00 PM, Blogger Robert Lindsay said...

Ah yes finally a response from the duplicitous Mr. Badran. Note how the perenially vicious Badran pretends to be a member of Landis' civil society, then accuses me of "being mean", which is sadly what Badran spends most of the time on his very nasty blog doing himself. You know Tony, you are more brutal in your attacks against the ideological other than 10 Juan Coles or 1000 Landises. I read your blog and furrow my brow and shake my head. I think, if Tony wants to throw rocks at people, people ought to be able to toss stones right back at him? But no....all dish and no take. It has been obvious to me that you were Tony Badran because you have a unique style and this blog has few commenters. Detectives make inferences all the time and so does any wise person. So I found you out, so? What now, prison?

No, Tony, I am not hot on 3rd worldism, only to the extent that I really try hard to be a principled anti-imperialist, which is clearly something you and your Maronite echo here are clearly not. If being anti-imperialist means being "3rd worldist" than so be it. As Lebanon is 3rd world, am I not pro-Lebanon? Once again we see Tony's endless gripe about the brilliant Said, that Ed "reduced the [Arab-speaking] states to "the Arab World". Well so f-g what, Tony? Said and 95% of the world call it just that. You "Phoenicians" really need to get over yourselves already and toughen up. You seem to get your feelings hurt sooo easily. What else should we call it for Chrissake?! It's only a name, my god.

The notion that the colonial masters "supported Arab nationalism" seems dubious indeed. Is that why they split Iraq's harbor off into a separate state? Is that why they supported Zionist violent colonial-settler invaders to steal Arabs' lands? Is that why the British sided with the Assyrians in Iraq, split off Lebanon to give the Christians their own state, lied to the Arabs about Palestine, continue to occupy Arab lands off Morocco, ripped off Iraq's oil and supported Zionist invaders in order to divide and conquer the Arabs, separate Asia from Africa, and insert an alien culture in the Arabs' midst? Is that why the Brits fought vicious wars with....drum roll....Arab nationalist patriots in Palestine, Iraq (1920, 1941), Algeria and Egypt? Why would imperialism support an outwardly anti-colonialist movement (Arab natioanlism)?! In fact, the real Arab nationalists like Nasser, Saddam, the Assads, Arafat, the Palestinian factions, the Algerian patriots, Ghaddafi and Qassim were despised by imperialism, to the extent that much blood was shed and coups were hatched.

Only when Arab nationalists could serve some Machievellian machination of imperialism were they supported, and often then as lesser of 2 evils. The fact that early Arab nationalist theorists were less than steller (Jefferson owned slaves) or were "elitists" (movements are always spearheaded by intellectual elites) is not important. Are we living in a post-colonial era now Tony? What do you call the vassal state called Iraq? What exactly is your beef against Syria, except that they engage in colonialism? What exactly is Zionism anyway, other than unreconstructed 19th century settler-colonialism? News flash for Tony: Zionism exists. Imperialism (especially US imperialism) exists. These are real words to describe real things, like the nose on your face. They are not some fantasy.

I have been around enough Arabs, Tony, to know that what you are is what Dr. Faysal Al-Qassem calls an "Arab neoliberal".
See here for a link stolen from Badran's blog that, in the first paragraph, describes Tony and his ilk to the T. Tony, the song you sing is the song that is sung by those residents of the Arab states that in recent polls say they love the US, as opposed to hating the US. That number is about 1-30% of the population, or average about ~10%. Their opinions, and yours, are those that Al-Qassem describes in his piece. Your views are not common in the Arab World; are widely despised and considered treasonous and worse. Your views are widely held amongst Lebanese Christians, especially the Maronite exiles, but not amongst other groups.

Tony, your endless song is the perfidy of the Syrian colonial occupiers of Lebanon. I have never heard one peep out of you about the Israelis or the imperialism of the Anglo-Americans and their satellite states. Although Syria is in Lebanon at the behest of the entire rest of the Arab World (Arab League) because you Lebanese kids cannot seem to stop killing each other without adult (Syrian) supervision. Syria's baby imperialism and baby colonialism has nowhere near the menace, power, and downright destructiveness and evil of the more traditional variety of Britain, the US and Israel. Syria's colonialism is one of the most benign I've seen in ages, and THAT is why it does not rate with the others. I assumed you would go into your standard reflexive cant about the hypocrisy of Arab nationalists vis a vis imperialism, colonialism, ethnic cleansing, etc, and tie me in with them.

No cigar, kiddo. Much to your dismay, I agree with you! Of course Darfur, Saddam vs. Shias, Kurds, Kuwaitis, Iranians, etc. is worse! I would even toss in the Polisario and the Algerian genocidal maniacs while we are it. So, no, kiddo, I don't buy the whole "it's not genocide, crime, torture, murder, ethnic cleansing, colonialism, etc. if an Arab does it" party line. Of course it is! Habash, one of the men I most admire, is variously described in different places as a Maronite Lebanese or a Palestinian Greek Orthodox. God knows why, as if it matters anyway! I have a hunch you are correct though. While you are at it, take a look at "Palestine between Dreams and Reality" by Habash (2000) on the net. There is more wisdom, sense, rationality and genius in one page of Habash than in 20 pages of By the Bay. Yes, I do support the PFLP if you have not guessed. Are they on your S-t list too, Tony? Elaborate....Habash another one of your Arab nationalist hobgoblins keeping you awake at night?

I made a detective-like inference (like Tony Shahad, my fave Lebanese actor on the US TV show "Monk") that you were Maronite, because the tone of your writing, which I have read many pages of, is Maronite (hard-line, exile) to a T. So you are some other Lebanese Christian? Well excuuuuuuuuuuse me! You folks have a tendency to read off a script after a while, like the Zionists. I am getting to where I can spot either one of you at 100 paces. Badran, you need read carefully. Read real slow now: My comment said "the combination of virulently anti-US, anti-Israeli populations (ex: Iraq) with pro-US, pro-imperialist, "Occupied", regimes, usually defeatist or openly allied with Israel (ex: NOT Iraq) is a spur of terrorism". Note that Iraq is NOT INCLUDED in my example! I am thinking of Egypt, Tunisia, (the new) Libya (sort of), Morocco, Bahrain, Mauritania, Saudis, Kuwait, Yemen, Oman, Algeria, UAE, Jordan and now Iraq. Syria, the PA and Lebanon do not count.

As far as whether you "Phoenicians" are actually really Arabs or not, I have no idea. I wager 90% of Arabs say you are Arab. I guess some of you say you are not (NOT my Lebanese Catholic ex-gf - a proudly self-identified Arab - she even called herself a "sand nigger"!). Here in the US, probably 1 (non-Middle Eastern, non-Muslim, non-Jewish) American out of 10,000 is aware of your um "identity disorder" or "identity issues" or whatever your problem is. I'm only gleaning recently gleaning the tiniest hints that some Lebanese don't "identify Arab" after 46 years on Earth and your whole "predicament" makes me chuckle. You mean to tell me that you um "Phoenician" (snicker) Lebanese (mostly Maronites) have ALWAYS not identified as Arab, or is this some new, kind of, 20th century adolescent rebellion type thang?

At 8/25/2004 08:05:00 AM, Blogger A Syrian In The Far East said...

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At 8/25/2004 10:18:00 AM, Blogger Anton Efendi said...

"Similarly is the question of Syrian presence in Lebanon; maybe it is time to start reaching out for normal Syrians and ask their opinions rather than keeping that subject—the presence of OUR troops in Lebanon—restricted to Lebanese and other interested non-Syrian individuals."

Well, I never engaged in the numbers debate as I found it useless. If you read back my first comments were very much related to the post and stayed away from the numbers issue. As for the issue of identity, it's very easy to call me a hardliner especially when you offer nothing in return!

But with regard to the quote above, I'm interested in knowing 1- who are the "normal" Syrians? Do they all live in "the far east" or the "far west"?! and 2- when will those normal Syrians actually start calling for the removal of their troops and intervention in Lebanon, so that we can start talking to them?

Unfortunately, as Samir Qasir pointed out (see the post on this blog), the opposition in Syria has consistently shied away from that topic. Perhaps, no normal Syrian wants to end up a prisoner of consciousness. Who can blame them? But that takes us right back to where we started now doesn't it?

At 8/25/2004 07:56:00 PM, Blogger A Syrian In The Far East said...

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At 8/25/2004 09:03:00 PM, Blogger Anton Efendi said...

Calm down my friend.

1- No one spares the Lebanese politicians, trust me. However, there's a bit of a paradox here, if not hypocrisy. In #3 you confirm my point that Syrians are afraid to voice anti-regime opinions. This also applies to politicians in Lebanon. I'm not drawing an exact parallel, as the pro-Syrian political class is personally benefitting from Syria, but they also don't kid themselves. They know that there's a good possibility that they could be eliminated, physically, one way or another if they raise too much problems. Do I really need to list whom Hafez has eliminated? If you think Bashar isn't capable, think again. When Hariri went slightly out of line earlier in the year, an anonymous group fired two rocket propelled grenades at his TV station. He got the message. Anyway, I have never disagreed with your point.

2- No one was making fun of anyone. Again, calm down. It was a reminder that all the talk about normal Syrians as partners in a dialogue must face the realities on the ground, and that is that most if not all dissenting voices are far far away, with little if any influence.

3- Who spoke about you in a condescending manner?! You should remove the chip from your shoulder, and learn the bitter art of dark humor that ME dissenters need to master.

Also, don't throw false accusations. When did I make fun of all Syrians? Read my site and see how many times Ammar Abdul Hamid has been praised. Nabil Fayyad will also get his in an upcoming post.

Moreover, don't overplay your cards. Yes we know that the "normal" Syrians (as if they are homogenous themselves) are potential allies in the Lebanese's quest for sovereignty. But for you to say that after confirming my point about dissenting Syrians being abroad, and the opposition being frightened of the regime and refusing to bring up the Lebanon issue, you exemplify why the Lebanese look for other options while they wait for you to be able to come to their side.

4- Read my early comments once more. I made a comment in response to Joshua's analogy with the Tikritis. Then I made a comment based on his quote of Sulayman Asad. Both were in his post, so my comments were quite appropriate. The last point was about freedom of speech which was related to the issue of political prisoners. So I beg to differ. Besides, your claim that I bring up the issue of Syrian intervention in Lebanon at every opportunity, that's simply demonstrably false.

Furthermore, the notion that we should hassle Syria on human rights because there are others that are just as bad is ridiculous. By that same logic, the US shouldn't have toppled Saddam because Kim Jong Il is also terrible! By that same logic, you should go tell those trying to prosecute Sharon for Sabra and Chatila (whether you agree with the move or not is irrelevant) to nock it off, because their own rulers are a million times worse.

Western media bias!? I don't think so. You have to come up with something better. Had it not been for the Western media Darfur would have remained a well-kept Arab secret.

At 8/26/2004 03:21:00 AM, Blogger A Syrian In The Far East said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 8/26/2004 09:31:00 AM, Blogger Anton Efendi said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.


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