Sunday, August 07, 2005

Anwar al-Bunni: Interview with Syria's leading Human Right Lawyer, By Joe Pace

Interview with Anwar al-Bunni
By Joe Pace, Harvard University.
For Syria Comment
(Joe is spending the summer in Syria and, once again, does a terrific job in this interview. Bunni is very smart and has much to teach us about how Syria works.)
August 6, 2005

Anwar al-Bunni is the head of the "Free Political Prisoners Committee," and Syria's leading human rights lawyer. He estimates that the various members of his family have spent over 60 years in Syrian prisons. He defended Damascus Spring leaders in 2001 and continues to represent many prisoners of conscience in Syria.

Pace: Could you provide some background on the relationship between the Kurdish and Arab opposition? Why is the relationship so tenuous and is it improving or deteriorating?

Bunni: The Syrian authorities have always created barriers between the Kurdish and Arab oppositions. It planted the fear within the Arab opposition that the Kurds wanted to slice off a piece of Syria and forge a separate state. And it scared the Kurds into believing that the Arab opposition was incapable of delivering what the authorities could deliver, and it convinced them that direct negotiation with the regime would be more fruitful than coordination with the Arab opposition.

They also used the Kurds during Saddam’s rule to influence the internal situation in Iraq.

Some of the barriers between the two oppositions have come down and this is a frightening prospect for the regime. They began meeting and engaging in dialogue, so obviously they began to understand each other better. The Arab opposition began to realize that not all Kurds want a Kurdish state and the Kurdish opposition began to realize that the call for democracy could solve their problems—culturally, economically, and nationally.

They have begun to engage in serious dialogue, despite the fact that differences remain between them. They have participated in several demonstrations and sit-ins together. Still, there lingers some mutual fear that the parties’ official stances are not their true stances.

When did the dialogue begin?

I would say that the barriers began to break down and the dialogue began after 2000 or after Damascus Spring. That’s when the real interaction began. And since we were defending Kurds, we, as Arab lawyers, contributed to the dialogue and the breaking down of barriers.

What inspired the dialogue?

There were three basic factors. The first was the political opening that allowed the birth of political movements. The second factor was the pressure on Iraq and the Kurdish role there. It gave weight…a role…a new importance to Kurdish parties in Syria. So people began to address the Kurdish issue with newfound interest, especially the Arab opposition. The third factor was the new openness on the part of the Kurdish parties toward the Arab opposition, something which resulted from the loss of faith that the Syrian authorities would grant them their rights or relieve the economic and political pressure on the Kurdish communities. So they began looking for an alternative, in other words, better relations with the Arab opposition in Syria.

We hear a lot that the Iraq war empowered Syrian Kurds, but in what way? How did events in Iraq enhance their influence?

The Kurds began playing a larger political role in Iraq, something which led the Arab opposition and the Syrian authorities alike to pay closer attention to the desires of the Kurds.

Prior to the Iraq war, the Kurds did not play a political role in Syrian politics. Their role was limited to demands placed upon the authority—they didn’t engage in dialogue with the rest of Syrian political society. But after the events in Iraq, the Syrian Arabs began to feel that maybe the Kurds would assume a larger political role in Syria as they did in Iraq. So they had to pay attention to their demands in order to contain them.

But how does a larger role for the Kurds in Iraq translate into greater influence for Syria’s Kurds?

It was first and foremost a psychological effect because they began to feel as though there was protection; that they could depend at the very least on moral and emotional support from the Kurds in Iraq. This sort of support is of crucial importance, the mere face that someone is asking about them—what they’re suffering from, what they’re saying, etc. This is more important than military or financial support.

Now they have a shelter. Before, if a Kurd needed to flee there was nowhere to go. He certainly couldn’t go to Iraq or Turkey. Here they were attacking them, there they were attacking them…But now they have a shelter and it has emboldened them. If something happens to someone here they can flee to Iraq.

So what did the regime do in order to contain this new Kurdish problem?

They tried to contain the Kurds by manipulating some of the Kurdish parties, and by promising them nationality in order to keep the parties in a relationship with the regime. They created the problems in Qamashli in 2004 to weaken the Kurdish-Arab relationship and foster divisions between them. They tried to get the two sides to distance themselves from each other; of course, it didn’t work because people realized that the government was playing them.

So has this newfound influence emboldened the Kurds to issue more demands for an independent or federalized state?

The world was previously oblivious to the Kurdish issue. And the government was contending that the Kurds wanted an independent state. But recently, people have begun to speak out and they are starting to realize that the Kurds have a legitimate complain. But at the same time, Kurdish extremism is unacceptable. They aren’t going to overcome these old suspicions with ease. There is this ingrained suspicion that the Kurds want an independent state and what happened in Iraq scared the Arabs even more.

The authorities have relied on qawmiya (here: Arab nationalism) and its grandiose slogans to legitimate its existence. And they have endeavored to conceal Kurdish features from sight. They tried to Arabize them; they took Kurdish land, Arabized the names of Kurdish villages, deprived them of their citizenship, denied them access to government jobs. Of course, there are Kurds in places like Damascus who lead normal lives without any of those problems. The problem is primarily in the northern regions.

These tactics caused a backlash: people began to cling to their culture more, staking out more extremist positions. This is to be expected—if you close the door of participation in front of someone, they’ll find another partner to cooperate and communicate with. But among all of the Kurdish parties, not one advocates seceding from Syria.

There is also the issue of ethnic nationalism—it is finished. It failed. People now realize that they are never going to establish countries on the basis of a single ethnicity, whether that be Arab, Kurdish, or Armenian. Even in Europe, no one proposes that Germany be only for the ethnic Germans or France for the ethnic French. The concept of an ethnically-based nation state is no longer valid. Of course, an independent nation-state remains a dream among the Kurds, but it remains just that—a dream. No one expects that it will ever be realized. They realize that that state is impossible so the advocacy of such has begun to recede from their party platforms.

There are still a few extremists who maintain the dream or try to realize it, and this is natural. But the rest see that the solution resides in democracy, in a system that respects the dignity of every human being and not under the flag of a country based on qawmiya. People see that qawmiya brings them nothing but poverty, theft, pillaging, and oppression. It hasn’t achieved economic growth, dignity, or glory—it hasn’t brought them anything.

Hundreds of thousands of Kurds in Europe and elsewhere live with citizenship and full rights and none of them are clamoring to leave their country and move to Kurdistan. The idea of a Kurdish state is a dream—nothing more, nothing less. But reality will not permit its realization.

What about federalism in lieu of a separate state?

Federalism or state unity is something to be determined after we reach democracy. But federalism is a just another political arrangement; it doesn’t mean fundamentally changing the state entity. Switzerland has 32 cantons. How has that impacted on the strength of Switzerland. It’s still one of the stronger powers in the world. America has 52 states, each with its own legislature, its own laws, and its own constitution. How has that lessened the power of America? On the contrary, this structure has enhanced its power. My thinking isn’t, let’s create a federated state even if it means that the state will be weak. My dream is to make my country stronger.

What sort of reaction to this revival have you seen among the Arabs?

Extremism from one side always results in extremism from the other. With the exception of the events in Qamashli there haven’t been very many explicit manifestations of the extremism. Some serious tensions have developed among the Arab tribes who reject this Kurdish revival—some understand the issue, but others have responded with their own brand of extremism. Even some of the cultured elite had a negative reaction to the events in Qamashli.

The problem is the absence of a natural environment. If the environment is diseased, it is going to produce more social diseases in all circumstances. An environment characterized by oppression and domination is not going to produce healthy thought—its going to produce extremism.

That’s what we’ve been saying: a democratic environment will push people to be more proper and more rational and it will stunt extremism.

So what are the major differences between the Kurdish and Arab oppositions?

The most fundamental difference is that the Kurds think—and this is their right—that there is a uniquely Kurdish problem. The Syrian opposition views it as an issue of just another group deprived of its rights, but not a Kurdish problem in the sense that the Kurds constitute a nation. And this basic difference ramifies into multiple points of disagreement about the details of their predicament. But the fundamental point of contention is whether the Kurds are a separate nation or just normal Syrian individuals deprived of some of their rights.

It’s not a problem if the Syrian Arabs say “we are Syrian Arabs who are part of the Arab nation.” But it’s not permitted for the Syrian Kurds to say “we are Syrian Kurds who are part of the Kurdish nation.” So there’s a contradiction.

Most of the Kurds support America’s project of remaking the Middle East. They call Bush “father of freedom,” which I cannot imagine goes over too well with a lot Arabs. How does the Arab opposition react to this?

No, in Syria you’ll find Arabs who say let Bush come here as well.

But it’s a rarer sentiment among the Arabs than the Kurds.

No, it’s not rare among the Arabs. That’s what happens when you block all other avenues for change. The Kurds may get the most publicity because in some of their demonstrators they were praising Bush. But even in Qadmus, where the ethnic conflicts erupted, some of the Isma’lis were calling for Bush to come. The same thing happened in Misyaf three months ago. So you shouldn’t think of it as a Kurdish predilection—it’s the natural result of closing the doors in front of the citizenry. I heard an old man saying the other day, “let Israel come and rescue us from this state.” Israel! And he was speaking in a loud voice in the middle of the street. These sentiments are the byproduct of oppression.

But if there is a Kurdish party that openly supports the American project, does that create tensions between it and an Arab party who may share the same ideals but rejects American intervention?

Maybe in the beginning it was a problem. But now that many of the Arabs have begun to speak more openly in their endorsement of the American project, it’s become less of a dividing line exclusively between the Kurds and Arabs.

Ok, then what about oppositional parties in general that differ on the role of American intervention?

Of course, it’s a point of contention. But, in general, its one of many points of contention. It’s a primary point that the nationalist Arab opposition clings to. There is a segment that cannot comprehend the concept of external powers playing a role in internal reform.

We used to lambaste America for supporting those dictators. But now America is saying that it supports democratic leadership. And they still criticize. What do they want? What do they want America to do? When America supported despots they criticized her. Now America has admitted to making mistakes and says it supports freedom and democracy. So what do they want the Americans to do? What do they want the position of the largest country in the world to be? Should America be silent on everything?

Then why do you think they continue to stand against America?

For two reasons. First, they have been raised to dislike America, and especially because of its past mistakes, it has no credibility. No one believes that America has the people in its interests. The second reason is its position on the Israeli-Arab conflict. It has yet to usher a solution to the conflict and that’s an extremely sensitive point for Arabs. Then there is the Iraq war which left some 400,000 people dead. And then what? They expect that America will then withdraw and leave the people to die.

The only thing they are certain of is that America is looking to protect its own interests. Defending human rights and democracy consists of pressuring the regimes in order to secure their own interests—it is not done in the defense of the people. So no one has faith that they can rely on America.

I won’t rely on America but I am going to exploit American pressure to realize my goals. Don’t be part of the American project, but you should still position yourself to benefit from it. Allow America to put pressure on the regime and reap the benefits. Don’t participate in America’s project, but don’t fight it. They don’t understand this equation.

You say that the opposition benefits from foreign pressure. How? Hypothetically, what would happen if foreign pressure came to a halt?

We’d all be imprisoned. It’s that simple.

The European Union has more credibility in the region and it’s taken a more reasonable stance towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So people are willing to rely on them more than America. And I made this point to Ambassador Scobey before she returned to Washington: America is in dire need of credibility in the realm of democracy and human rights. How am I supposed to believe that America supports democracy and human rights when they are supporting Husni Mubarak for his fifth term or Zaid Eddin Ibn Ali for his third term when he is oppressing people in his country? There’s no balance in the policy. They need to be promoting human rights everywhere, not just in Syria but then disregarding human rights violations elsewhere.

It has lost its credibility. But the more credibility the US gains, the larger its potential role becomes.

The opposition is clearly divided over the role of American influence. But to what extent does that constitute a major cleavage that interferes with cooperation and unity?

This is an ostensible source of problems, but it’s not the fundamental reason for lack of unity within the opposition. The real reason for disagreements is that the opposition hasn’t managed to reach the people. It speaks for its own interests and the interests of opposition personalities rather than speaking for the interests of the people. The people are absence from this opposition.

No opposition element has a complete program for action. I disagree with someone because my platform doesn’t comport with his—but here, no one has a real platform. And the people can’t evaluate the platforms and decide which one is better. So where is there room for disagreement? They disagree on personal issues.

There are some substantive manifestations of these disagreements: the issue of Arab nationalism, the role of America, the role of Europe, the position towards the regime. Is the regime capable of reform, can we dialogue with it or not? Those are the apparent differences, but the real reason is that there is no carrier for the message. They don’t represent people, they represent themselves.

So how do you solve this problem? Is this opposition salvageable?

In my opinion, this opposition exists only to oppose the regime. It will collapse with the collapse of the regime. There are small gatherings—and this hasn’t yet been widely noticed—of normal people who didn’t previously have any relation to politics. And these new groups have begun to organize their thoughts and produce a new leadership. We have to rely on those people, not the current opposition figures.

The current opposition figures dream that one day they will have the power. But it’s a dream—it will never be realized. At best, they may be part of a transition stage while the people determine their stances and goals and the desired leadership.

People are becoming more aware. Because of the satellite and the internet, they are beginning to realize how politics affects them. We can’t determine how much power they will have right now, but I imagine that in the near future their power will begin to manifest itself. And they will not march to the tune of the current opposition.

Do you think that coordination could begin to solve the problem?

No, I don’t think so. Like I said, there is no popular support for the opposition. The Kurds are well organized and they can bring people to the streets. Regarding the Arabs, there are no parties that have the support of the street.

If the opposition doesn’t represent anyone, does the regime consider even a united opposition a threat?

Of course, a united opposition would be a threat. Sheikh Khaznawi [a prominent Kurdish Sheikh who was recently assassinated, most likely by the regime] became a threat because of his good relations with the Muslim Brotherhood. It’s not so much the Muslim Brotherhood that has weight in society as much as the new Islamist trends which have been gaining steam as a result of repression. I don’t think they’re worried that the Muslim Brotherhood has a large, organized, explicit base in Syria. But the meeting between a Kurd and the Muslim Brotherhood sends a signal to the Islamists more than it entails the formation of an organized alliance.

But right now, the regime does not have anything to fear from inside of Syria. The only time the regime fears the internal opposition is when it coordinates or receives support from foreign powers. In short, the regime fears foreign—not internal—pressure because the internal opposition cannot influence the regime.

Is the opposition directing its energies toward direct confrontation with the regime or are they beginning to exploit foreign pressure to implement their agenda?

They are pressuring the regime directly and that is the problem. They need to make use of the more intensive foreign pressures.

What about the claim among many opposition figures that endorsing foreign pressure or accepting foreign support would cost them credibility on the street?

There has not been a revolution in ages that was purely internal—they are always influenced by other powers. So that kind of talk is a lie. There is no such thing as purely internal change.

Yes, but you don’t think there’s any legitimacy to the claim that giving the degree of anti-American sentiment, receiving money from America would be the kiss of death for their credibility?

Of course, there are risks. But we’re not talking about money or material support. That is the lowest level of politics—we need to understand the political game to consolidate our positions. They don’t have to loose credibility because they don’t have to be part of the American project. But they need to take advantage of American pressures. We need to utilize the West to pressure for the release of political prisoners and so on and so forth. They forget that human rights is an international issue—it is grounded in international treaties and relies on international enforcement.

The regime accuses opposition figures of treason. Does this tactic work?

No, not any more. It used to before satellite TV and the internet. On the front page of the newspaper Ath-thawra they accused me of agitating for human rights while ignoring national rights. But that hasn’t made a dent in my credibility. In fact the exact opposite happened—ten articles appeared on the internet in support of me.

You spoke earlier about a new group of people that you think will become the new opposition. What are the conditions for this inchoate, popular opposition to succeed?

The international community needs to continue pressuring the regime in order to protect civil society and human rights activists so that they can take their message to the people. People began to speak out, but the arrests resumed and people were intimidated and stop discussing politics. The most important thing is the protection of activists from arrest and murder. That would enable people to agitate more for change. We need pressure for the government to pass laws that protect civil society. That would create the conditions under which a new opposition could emerge.

I hear a lot from average Syrians that there are two evils: the greater evil which is the occupation of Palestine and Iraq, and the lesser evil which is the government—

That’s regime propaganda. When did the Syrian regime ever do anything to help solve the issue of Palestine and Iraq? Nothing. I can’t say that there is a big evil and a small evil because the two are interrelated.

Lets assume for a second that we have two enemies: the regime and America. If the two of them fight each other, I have one less enemy to worry about. Both of them aim to oppress me. Now they are fighting each other. Let them fight! If one of them is vanquished then I have one less enemy.

But there are people who are unwilling as a matter of principle to accept an American victory. How do you convince them that American pressure is in their interest?

Those people are one element of many. There is no entity that wants to see an end to American interference more than the Syrian regime itself. But like I said, we need exploit American pressure not for the sake of American interests, but for the sake of achieving our own goals. And this is what the current opposition doesn’t understand. It doesn’t understand how to play the game. Even regarding people like Farid Ghadry—we have an expression in Syria: “better the dog bark with you than at you.” Let Farid bark with you. Don’t degrade him. The opposition has no conception of how it is going to bring about these grand political changes.

This is why I say they will collapse with the regime. They have no program; they have no role outside of opposing the regime’s existence. Who are they going to oppose after the regime’s collapse?

The regime’s political strategy depends on planting landmines throughout society. But the mine doesn’t explode if you place your leg on it—it explodes when you remove your leg from it. The regime planted the land mines then placed their legs on them so that if the regime goes, the society will explode. We can expect the same thing that happened in Lebanon to happen here. We suffer from the same problems of competing nationalisms, sectarianism, and extremism. So we are held hostage by a regime that says to us “if I leave, the world will end. You’ll suffer through civil war. Best leave me in place.”

We need to mobilize the people to build a new society and minimize the potential for this explosion. But nothing is free. No country can progress without paying a price, be it blood or civil war. Even America had to undergo civil war before it could become a great power—hundreds of people had to die. Europe had to suffer through the Second World War to become what it is today. Big changes require big prices. But we need to work to minimize the price we will have to pay for progress.

This is the role for foreign pressures—to enable people to mobilize and build a new society that will not explode as soon as the totalitarian boot is lifted. To allow people to build a society that will neutralize that landmine.


At 8/07/2005 10:09:00 AM, Anonymous the Soul Of Syria said...

I totally agree with Akram Al Buni.

The regime has played its "American Card" to the detriment of the opposition factions. They all fell into te regime trap, and most of them attacked America much more than the regime itself so the regime could distribute to them the Certificate Of Patriotism which they some how felt they had lacked. When America sees that changing a dictatorial regime that is only Verbally is against it, would bring an even worse enemy to power (even if this enemy is only anti-US verbally), naturally, America becomes discouraged of putting the necessary pressure to influence this regime. America influenced the change in Ex Soviet Union, and succeeded in defending Human Rights there, and finally brought it down without the use of force, and the Syrians, especially the regime think that America is incapable of changing the regime except by invasion and destruction? They give the regime much more power than it really has, and in my opinion, if the Oppositions Parties exploited the Foreign Pressures carefully and smartly, (and stopped living in the 60's) they would have succeeded in making the change they desired. The regime succeeded in making them afraid of losing that "certificate" it was giving to such traitors like Haithem Mannaa who came to visit Syria on the promise to say that "I would not come back to Syria on an American Tank". He was given a propaganda warm reception by the regime. I think the oppositions lost their chance of changing the regime without a fight or blood shed when they stupidly rejected American interference and influence. There is no need for a military attack, and if the regime knew that the US would really intervene militarily with the welcome of the opposition, it would have packed and left Syria to where its money is hidden. The Assads are not that adventurists to fight a super power. They were coward fighting Turkey, or Israel in the past, and they gave in at any threat of using force. Now, the regime felt it had no real external threat to face, so it went back to the internal oppression, and it is packing the prisons with new Syrians every day, unafraid of anything.

The Regime is also playing the Muslim Brotherhood card to the maximum, and the Muslim Borthers could not understand that to Save Syria from this wild regime, this should be done even by disolving themselves and getting out completly of Politics so their card would not be a reason for this regime to be supported in fear of them. They continued to claim the wish to establish a so called Islamic State, and to scare people and the US away. This is another curse the Syrian people have had to live with.

The Soul Of Syria.

At 8/07/2005 07:33:00 PM, Blogger Tolerant Damascene said...

I've always read local and foreign articles about Anwar Al-Bunni. They were rather confusing and contradicting. I can't really have an opinion about him. One article makes him sound as an angel, the other would show him as a devil.
However, he sounded like he's a very inteligent person in this interview.

If you have good intentions toward your people and country, then you can do no harm. Unfortunatily, politicians' and activsits' intentions are hard to decipher, especially with the information that national and international media provide us with.

At 8/07/2005 09:18:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

after this intervew i do not know how anybody could say that syria does not have freedom of speach,in the US when somebody talks like this about our goverment ,our gov will call him (freind to terrorism),about the kurds they should not have more rights than the blacks or the mexican or the american indians in the US equal rights abelity to teach their childrens their langueg and their culture in private schools like the us english is the langueg of schools and goverment he compared what the kurds want to the US just remember sepratism is not permitted in the us we actualy went to war during the civel war to save the union many people died at that time and the fifty states in the us have no majority of any american minority which could call for syria if people register where they live and discremination against anybody from living anywhere he wants is made illegal then there will be no allawat area kurdish areas christian areas i forgot the asserians the sharkas and all the others they all will be syrians living in syria and have equal rights and equal OBLIGATION toward syria.

At 8/08/2005 08:02:00 AM, Blogger Joshua Landis said...

In response to those who have asked me to moderate the comment section, I really don't know what to do about abusive comments other than to shut down the entire comment section, which I have been tempted to do.

There is no way to moderate the comments except if I go through them and erase each comment that is abusive or offensive. That would take a tremendous amount considering I have a telephone connection and not high spead. Also, it would not stop people from posting new comments.

The only option is to turn off the comment section completely. I hessitate to do that because some people add value to the blog and teach us things we don't know or give arguemnts that are pursuasive. My hope is that the angry people will exhaust themselves at some point, but that may not be the happen.

I am sorry to lose many smart commentators, such as Kingcrane, who I have become fond of. I only hope that people will be patient and try to wait out those who are abusive. I know that the ranters degrade the seriousness of the effort and time of many, or have chased others away completely. It is a shame.

Best, Joshua

At 8/08/2005 09:12:00 AM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...

It’s a conspiracy I tell you… and I blame the nations Suriname and Gabon for attempting to degrade this website.

Seriously though Josh, how about allowing only registered bloggers to post? It would remove all the Anonymous abusers.


At 8/08/2005 10:19:00 AM, Blogger Nafdik said...

I agree with limiting the comments to registered bloggers given the amount of noise.

At 8/08/2005 12:46:00 PM, Anonymous Joseph said...

Tarek, who is himself the Anonymous ranter when he wants to do so is asking for Registration. Well, the game is too new for Prof. Josh. Let me give an example here: I tried to register the name under which I am posting and discovered that is was taken. So, some body decided to reserve the name for later posting undwer it to attack and reverse the opinion that you have been hearing from me.
Regsitration is not going to limit guys like so called Tarek, because these people will do anything to defend their beloved regime.

Here is something I must tell:

On several media on the Internet like the SharqAlwsat, or even here, I posted my 2-3 email addresses. To my surprise, the regime pursued these emails. It sent massive emails with Trojans or Viruses to Arabs across the globe stating my email address as the sender. Obviously some of these emails went back to the "Sender" because they were undeliverable with a compalint that they contained Trojans. In each Email I am getting back, on any of the email addresses that I psoted with in different places, the Trace Anyalysis of the returned Email showed the origin to be from some people in Syria with the address SCS-Net.Org as originating these faked emails. So, this Mukhabarat of the Syrian regime will do what ever is necessary to harm those who criticise it, by imprisonning them or sending them men to beat them up if they are inisde Syria, or in my case, to discredit my email by trying to stick the Spamming and Hacking on me. This regime is totally a criminal one. Their crimes go every where. Here they come and use the most disgusting words to insult, under annonymous names, or by taking the names of posters who bother them and insulting them using their own names. Are you sure, Mr. Josh that Kingcrane is not one of them?

I volunteer to oversee and erase bad words from this site if you wish. I can monitor it and clean it up only from bad words.

Have a great day.

At 8/08/2005 12:54:00 PM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 8/08/2005 12:56:00 PM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...

Joe my man,

do you think you're the only one with that name? could it be possible that someone else in this world took that name before you did?

don’t think too highly of yourself drama queen. you are a nobody so I doubt people are gonna trace you. but if you are being traced you should feel flattered.

And if you think i am anon ranter then you should not mind the comment section becoming registered only now would you?


At 8/08/2005 02:20:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

my name is naim i am of syrian origin i have been living in the US for the last 25 years,sensership always starts with good intention but ends up as a dictatership ,people with bad words only indicate the kind of people they are so Joshua please keep your post free of sensership ,that is what makes great, Naim /USA

At 8/08/2005 02:26:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you would expect someone who lived in the US for 25 years to spell better. Nevertheless you make a good point but you have not seen the amount of junk we have been dealing with. people cursing each others religions etc. That’s why sometimes I don’t think we deserve democracy because when we do get it, we screw it up.


At 8/08/2005 02:46:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tarek please do not pick on my speling my handwriting even worse but i am medical doctor and i do not need to be reminded how bad my speling is as long as you understood the idea i am trying to present ,still censership leades to tyrany naim

At 8/08/2005 04:08:00 PM, Anonymous Ysrael said...

All the Baattttthists are showing up!

Your Regime's time is near.


Angel Ysrael

At 8/08/2005 04:45:00 PM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

Josh, you can close the comment sections to anonymous(es). Most of the insults are done under fake nicks or anonymous identities. It's better than nothing.

People will be forced to use the same nick since creating a new nick each time is annoying. This will probably diminish abusive comments.

At 8/08/2005 04:46:00 PM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

In case you don't know how to do it, you need to go to settings, than comment section to control this.

At 8/08/2005 04:51:00 PM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...

Hallelujah praise the lord. Vox and I agree on something

At 8/08/2005 08:48:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joshua please keep it open remmber our first ammendment in the state let the people with bad languege burn themselves.

At 8/09/2005 01:12:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its not possible to control abusive comments, the registration will not prevent anything; Creating a few accounts is a matter of minutes and some bloggers on this site seem to have plenty of free time.

At 8/09/2005 01:21:00 AM, Blogger raf* said...


i agree with anon 1:12 am ...

but then, "clearing" offensive posts shouldn't be that much of a problem -- don't you have research assistants? or even better - students who "really, really, REALLY have to get an 'A' in this course" ... ?

don't worry too much about it - kingcrane is still reading your posts & if he wants to get in touch with you or even debate issues - he has your e-mail address...

in a sense, this comment section is almost as valuable as your blog - while not "exactly" representative, it does show quite a spectrum of opinions & attitudes.

plus, it never hurts to refresh one's knowldedge of the old testament...


At 8/09/2005 08:28:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

--raf* must be Syrian. His bribing mentality is apparent.

There is no need to bribe any one. Many people would want to do a good job without expecting anything in return. Well, that is, if not all of Joshua's students are Syrians. ( I hope they are not all Syrians).

Ex Arab insider

At 8/09/2005 10:49:00 AM, Blogger Nicolas92200 said...

To go back to the real subject. I think Mr. Bunni has a point in that the opposition do not have a program to present to the people. Wouldn’t it be a smart move on the part of the “opposition” to present a program. If the opposition present a shadow 5-year development plan; with concrete suggestions, wouldn’t this have an effect on the public? Let’s face it, as much as the people yearn for political freedom, as much as they need economic comfort. Why doesn’t the opposition play both cords? Parallel programs; it’s ongoing manifestations for political change coupled with an economic development program. Let them present their vision of the future of the country. It would be a very interesting challenge to the regime. How would it react?

At 8/09/2005 11:16:00 AM, Anonymous Joseph said...

Re: Nicholas

The evident thing in this puzzle is that when talking about "The" Opposition, we don't know what opposition! The opposition is really 99.99 % of the people of Syria in term of those who want a Change. However, what are we talking about in terms of political parties or groups? Hundreds. The regime has crushed all organized oppositions, and the only thing it has left are the Mosques and what they entail. Now, many of those who supported the regime and were being fed with the stolen goods of the Syrian economy because they sold themselves to the regime are claiming being oppositions, and are trying to infiltrate all political parties as I am sue they have done that for a long time.

We have 2 major opposition groups, however: 1- The Left with the Tajamou'h Al Dimocraty, and the second is the Right represented by the Muslim Brotherhood. All other parties, I believe are the creation of the regime itself. Both groups that I mentioned have a plan, and a program to govern Syria with, and both do recognize each other's right to participate in a democratic system.

The Regime is still playing the card it had deviously implanted and continues to say the Opposition has no plan. It tries to forget on purpose of course, that it is the way the Assads wanted to have full and complete control of Syria, and the Syrian people. This will back fire, and they, te Assads will be remembered as the ones who destroyed Syria for their own selfish enrichment and treason.


At 8/10/2005 06:45:00 AM, Anonymous OrDoesIt said...

Fascinating interview with Al-Bouni. We need to hear more from the region's human rights activists. We just linked to this piece, juxtaposing it with a recent interview with underground Iranian student leader Ahmed Batebi.

At 8/10/2005 08:39:00 AM, Blogger Nicolas92200 said...

Re: Joseph
Thanks for your comment. I agree with you that there is no real organized opposition (unfortunately). But on the other hand, the two groups you have mentioned have not presented a full program yet apart their “aspiration for political freedom”. I would assume (and I could be mistaken) that the MBs would like to apply the Sharia law in all fields (economic, social, etc). I personally (a practicing sunni muslim) would not welcome that, and actually I would prefer the current system (at least at the social level). But I have not yet had a chance to read a statement by the MB describing what their vision is for everyday life in Syria (once they hypothetically reach power). The same applies to the left wing “Tajamou'h Al Dimocraty”. Have they issued a program/vision for governing the country? It may be that they did but I am not aware of this, I don’t know.
On the other hand, there was talk about the revival of the old Hizb el-Sha’ab in Aleppo and the Hizb el-Watani in Damascus. Where are we on this front? I would assume that such groups would be more “economic oriented”, would they have a program to present?
My whole (naive) idea is that to put more pressure on the government and make a point that an alternative is possible, an opposition body or civil society grouping (anyone, even us here on this forum for example) should present a credible plan that challenges the regimes activity and presents an alternative. For example, when the government issues a decree, this “opposition body” could issue a statement either saying it agrees with it and this goes in the right direction (as per their view) or they can say that they believe there is an alternative and this present what their view is. I know that this might never see the day and that reaching power involves more than just an socio-economic statements; but by having these ideas circulate and common people commenting and comparing with what their government is doing, then this would be an extra means of pressure for change (regardless how small). This my understanding of the functioning of a civil society. again I may be mistaken.

At 8/14/2005 11:56:00 AM, Blogger Kirk H. Sowell said...

The analogy between the Kurds in Syria and Spanish-speakers in the U.S. doesn't work: Kurds are natives of Syria, but when people are allowed to immigrate into a country, that country has the right to demand that they learn the host nation's common language.

As to the censoring of comments, I agree with the suggestion of registration, perhaps requiring a link to that person's blog or website.

Good post Josh. I excerpted part of it on my blog, linked back to you (of course), and added some comments of my own.

Arab World


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