Wednesday, September 07, 2005

More on Ghadry and His New Blog

Personal matters:
I received two letters today:

1. The first wondering if I was "Jewish," a "Zionist spokesman," a "neocon," and "trying to stir up trouble between Christians and Muslims in Syria."

Here is the note, which is actually put as gracefully as possible:

One of my confused Leftist colleagues, who has been drifting into anti-Semitism, insists that you are Jewish. I Googled you and found no evidence. Furthermore, the name is Swiss and German and you look awfully "Aryan" to me. Your family comes from a moneyed New England background, apparently Protestant, and you went to Yale.

Nevertheless, this woman insists that I ask you if you are Jewish. It's pretty embarrassing of me to ask you such a thing, and I hope you don't take offense. Anyway, I don't care if you are, though I would say 95% odds you are not. She insists that you must be Jewish because of the way you write, that you are Zionized, a Zionist spokesman, a liberal Jew, a neocon, trying to stir up trouble between Christians and Muslims in Syria, on and on. You get the picture. None of which is true, anyway, if you ask me.

Anyway, she insists that I ask you this miserable question, so here I am, Josh, at your service.
Anyone wishing to know about my background, religious or otherwise, can find it here on Syria Comment. I would be proud to claim Jewish decent, but cannot. I wasn't educated at Yale, alas, and don’t come from money.

2. The second was posted on Farid Ghadry's blog suggesting I am "an American Ba’athists in Damascus," whose "prose and rhetoric smack of allegiances more to Syria’s Assad because of inter-marriages than to their native country." I guess it is only fair that he should call me a traitor and un-American because I criticized him in yesterday's post. But to assume that to criticize the SRP is to be anti-American is a bit rich. When did the SRP become an "American" organization? It would be useful to have something besides an attack against my Syrian wife.

The most useful thing the Syrian Reform Party could do to reassure people in Syria about how they would rule the country would be to lay out their conception of how a democratic government would actually work. Would they have guarantees for minorities by dividing parliament up between sects and national groups, as Lebanon does? Would they choose federalism, as Iraq did? I wonder how much thought they have given this crucial question. Perhaps, like the Americans in Iraq, they will just shoot from the hip and make it up as they go on the presumption that "democracy is messy?"

A party which claims it will be back in Syria in six months surely has given these questions some thought. How deep will their purges of Ba`thists go? Will they allow the army to remain as it is and only change the top officers? What criteria will they use in trying Ba`thists in the courts? Syrians would like to know these things before signing on.

Here is another note I received from a Turkish friend about yesterday's post.
Dear Dr. LANDIS,

The remarks you made about Farid Ghadry in today's "Syria Comment" reminds me of an interview published in the Turkish daily Aksham (Evening: 20 June 2005).

F. Ghadry was in Turkey at that time to attend an international conference held by a leading Turkish liberal political initiative called Ari Grubu (Bee Group: A branch of Anavatan Partisi or the Motherland Party).

In this interview Ghadry talked so pompously that one could easily see he had some "evaluation problems about his own country". He named the would-be-revolution in Syria as "Freedom" and its color as "White". And he claimed that this revolution would bring Syria a "secular regime" as Turkey has. The revolution would take place in 6 to 8 months, he insisted.

To a question about whether he and his party were ready for revolution and its aftermath, he replied: "The people of Syria are ready for revolution. We will organize a meeting in September and we are going to establish a council for a care-taker government".
Of course Turkey required decades of stern dictatorship under Atatürk and another several decades of quasi-military rule to instill and stabilize traditions of Ataturkism and secularism into government. How does Ghadry propose instilling the same values and traditions in Syria? I guess he believes that Syrian society is as prepared for democracy as Turkey's?

This is indicative of his willful ignorance, which is on a par with his frequent statements that Syria does not have to fear Islamic fundamentalism because most Muslims in Syria are Sufis. Anyone who has lived in Syria knows this is way off the mark. There are Sufis in Syria, but they have been an embattled minority since the second half of the 19th century. There is no Sufi revival going on in Syria, which might merit such a statement, even as an exaggeration.

On the contrary, Syrians have become ever more scriptural and literalist since the beginning of the Salafist movement, much like the rest of the Islamic world. Syria does indeed have a long and proud tradition of suffering heterodox groups and accepting Sufi tariqas. This past, which had real periods of tolerance, will make it easier for Syria to rise above the religious rigidity of countries such as Saudi Arabia, but it is not something that has captured the imagination of most Imams or Sunnis today.

That is why the government has built up liberal imams such as the Grand Mufti Hassoun or Habash. Their task is to promote tolerance and fight Wahhabism. Promoting tolerance is why President Bashar personally interceded to get the deal signed between the UNDP and Ministry of Awqaf, under which the Ministry holds monthly workshops with hundreds of Imams to promote inter-religious understanding, knowledge about AIDs and to promote notions such as protection of the environment, etc. Few among the Syria elite, whether in the government or not, want to see the spread of intolerance. All fear it because it is real. Anyone who mistakes Syria for Turkey is blowing smoke at the rest of us and wishing away Syria's real challenges.

I have one further gripe with Farid Ghadry's Reform Party. They have established a new website, which is a good thing. It is actually an interesting site, usually hosted by Oubai Shahbandar, who seems smart and measured. They have named it "Syria Comment PLUS," which is not a good thing. I have frequently been told that plagiarism is the highest form of praise. Perhaps it is? All the same, it doesn't say much for the Party's imaginative powers or political savvy. I suppose they will pick up a few extra readers by acting as a pilot fish on "Syria Comment." I don't begrudge them this. We all try sneaky ways to boost our readership. All the same - really!

I was the first person to write a comment on their site, congratulating them. I got a nice note back from Oubai. But I did write to Oubai asking that he change the name so as not to have people confuse the two sites. I did not get a reply. I have spent considerable time and energy building up a readership and developing name recognition for "Syria Comment" as an independent source of news and commentary. To have my name taken by a party advocating the overthrow of the government will not add to my independence or reputation.

I would prefer not to be married to the Syrian Reform Party. Farid Ghadry has already explained that because of my "inter-marriage" to an Alawite, I am suspect. If my loyalties are going to become suspect because of whom I marry, I would prefer to fall in love first and choose who takes my name. To have Farid Ghadry appropriate my name is something I welcome. It will lead to confusion. It was a silly choice of name by Ghadry. He should have the decency to change it. One marriage is enough, al-hamdulillah.

Ghadry’s site has some interesting articles. Perhaps the most interesting is this one on the troubles which have recently led to the break-up of the nascent Syria National Council recently formed in Washington. It reads:

The Syrian National Council is Splitting

News from Washington is that the Syrian National Council formed as an opposition group is splitting. We are told that those who are leaving are doing so because they sensed a direction in the Council that did not please them. In fact, the main reasons, we are told, are:

The Executive Committee was stacked with Islamists loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood. Those individuals took control and used the Council as a form of dictatorship. It is not who you are but how you behave. The Syrian opposition still does not get that one unfortunately.

Inter-manipulations by some members created an atmosphere of mistrust amongst the different people involved. Some of the stories are too horrifying to even mention. Dr. Mohammad Aljbeili is one of the most patient democratic Syrians I have met.

This is too bad because the Council got off the right foot. In fact, many of the members went with me to the State Department and were well received. Now State is disenchanted with the direction of the Council and has expressed concerns about the Syrian opposition represented in the Council.

State is not interested in inter-fighting amongst opposition groups. Because it is the organization that meets with everyone, it has a pretty good sense who is capable and who is not. The moment you start attacking other oppositions, you are indicating that 1) You really do not have your priorities in the right order and 2) Your democratic values leave something to be desired.

One of the most harmful acts the Council did was to vote to forbid the Council Members to “speak” to another opposition figure. Officials in this administration interested in cultivating the Syrian dissident movement got wind of this and one can imagine the reaction. Forbiding people to speak to other people is the ultimate test of tolerance and co-existence. This Ba’athist mentality still prevails at the Executive Committee level. Wiser minds prevailed later and froze that decision but the damage was done.

The group that is splitting is discussing with us, the Syrian Democratic Coalition, ways to cooperate together in the future. We welcome dialogue with all the opposition groups.

But unlike the vision of other oppositions scrambling to call for unity, we believe this is an unreachable goal. Expanding energy on uniting opposition groups is a waste of time and resources. In fact, we believe it is undemocratic. The concept of pluralism in a society must exist at all levels and we believe it must also exist within the dissident community. It is a check and balance process in the beginning but more importantly, it is an evolutionary step to a democratic society. No one opposition group should lead the opposition. This is an early process in democratization and anything less should be viewed with skepticism and alarm.

Here is the text of an article published on “CNN Arabic” centered on an interview w/Dr. Mohammad Aljbeili. The link to the article can be found here.

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