Sunday, July 08, 2007

If you had the choice, what would you change in Syria?

If is a very big word. Posed as part of a question where the limit is the human imagination and the difficulty is in distinguishing which of the flood of desires and wants bubbling within you should be the one you wish to satisfy. "If you could have just one thing, what would it be?" A ferrari? Fame? Looks? Women? Men?? Make a wish. Many years ago I watched an American film, the title of which I can't remember, about an evil genie who asks people that very question. However, what you think is what you want turns out to be your ultimate nightmare or even undoing. Whatever desire is requested of him, his evil nature twists the outcome in such a way that to answer him would be to your eternal doom. However, his power only lay over those who would respond to him but, since it would be too boring otherwise, none of the protagonists can resist the urge to do so. Indeed, when it comes to desire, it was easy for me to sit back as a teenager and scream out "Don't answer him!!". However, would I have done any differently in a similar situation?

The Creative Forum is hopefuly nowhere near as evil as our crafty genie, one would hope, but the question they have recently posted elicits the same feelings that I think many of his victims would have recognised. Indeed, many have responded to the articles with a variety of responses no doubt coloured by their own interests and addressing a range of ills. Bridget Palmer wished that fast food restaurants and change would stop and preserve Syria in a pristine, non-commercial state allowing her to enjoy the 'authentic' Syrian culture, unpolluted by nefarious Western fast food outlets. George Ajjan brings a live and let live attitude which advocates a compromise of sorts with the country's political and economic elite. Others such as Abu Kareem and Mohanad Attassi have addressed specific issues and laws which need to be repealed, abolished or amended and that they argue would be best for Syria. All are very valid responses and indeed, very much needed. However is this really what Syria needs? Will these changes, in a miraculous "If" scenario, bring about what is best for the country and the people? Or will they, like the Genie's hapless victims, lead to all sorts of gruesome and grim outcomes. Here I will attempt to answer the Genie's question at the risk of an uncertain fate.

I make no pretensions to know what ails the average Syrian, I haven't been there for a very long time and in fact, have lived only a part of my life there. This however, does not make me any less a Syrian, since my upbringing has proven the fertile soil from which sprouts my profound love and longing for this homeland. Perhaps this makes answering such a question particularly dangerous since all sorts of thoughts enter my mind, all of which I brusquely push aside as I think through the end result. There is something missing in Syria and which has been so for a very long time - justice. Now one is probably wondering why on earth I would insist on answering with such a vague term, but is it so vague? What is justice? What do we mean by it and is this really what Syrians want? Let's have a closer look..

The Oxford English dictionary defines justice as follows:

justice: n. 1 just behaviour or treatment. 2 the quality of being fair and reasonable. 3 the administration of law in a fair and reasonable way 4 a judge or magistrate

One of the biggest problems I faced with my own If dilemma was how to arrange for a successful marriage between what I wished to happen and what could actually happen. Did I want revolution? Compromise with common criminals and thieves? A repeal of archaic and damaging laws? I felt all these dealt with the problem too superficially and did not address the root causes of what I saw as Syria's justice deficit. Like I said I know little of what is happening on the street, but I hear enough to know it is not good. Where is the justice in some families not tasting meat except once a year if that. The justice in money which is intended for the public good used for private purposes, corruption. Where is the justice in being locked up for speaking the truth, criticising that injustice or being born as part of an ethnic or religious minority and on that basis, marginalised and persecuted. Some in the past have criticised Syria as an Alawite regime, yet few recall the status, treatment and poverty of many Alawites in Syria prior to the seventies and in some cases this has still not improved. Where is the justice in not being able to even work your way out of poverty because there are no jobs and no opportunities that you have to go live amongst strangers in distant lands to make a decent living. I can go on and on about the Palestinians, the plight of Iraqi refugees within Syria and about military service. The end result is, where is the justice, the "quality of being fair and reasonable" in our country? What has happened to the legendary Arab hospitality that we proudly parade on endless television series, yet Iraqi girls are having to work in cheap brothels for Saudi sex tourists on the road to Saidnaya just to make a living? The problem with Syria is everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die. Instead they just emigrate.

I am not an advocate of liberalism or democracy and couldn't give two hoots about whether democracy ever takes root in our countries. If anything I hope it never does. Plato and Socrates used to consider democracy the worst form of government where the nation is ruled by its peoples base desires. Aristotle argued it was the least worst form of government after tyranny and oligarchy and in that I do agree with him should there be no other alternative. Principled Islamic thinkers, along with their own Islamic principles, inherited Plato's aversion to rulers and kings since they rightly believed that such power was a source of great corruption and heavy responsibility, best taken by somebody else. Entrusting legislation to the desires of an uninterested and self absorbed mass of people leads to all sorts of ills which I will not go into here. Ultimately though, it is justice which was required from the ruler. Syria's foreign policy has charted it skilfully through many treacherous waters and continues to do so, without jeapordising the ultimate justice which can be denied at the highest level to a nation, such as has happened with Palestine. However, not pursuing justice in all avenues has also led to many of the problems Syria suffers. Syrian troops overstaying their welcome in Lebanon, heavy handedness and corruption all tarnished Syria's image in what is, I continue to firmly believe, another part of the same country, call it what you may. Heavy handedness, torture, corruption to the highest levels all taking place domestically have stripped Syria of justice within and now, like a raped woman whose clothes are in tatters, she is trying to cover her shame. Each time she moves the cloth up, something else is exposed. Prying eyes feast on her futile attempts at modesty, aroused at the prospect of finishing the job. Where is the justice? Most importantly, if the government no longer cared about this, who will seek it and how will it be obtained?

My tendencies are for a typical Chekovian style of justice where all would end up dead and justice served to its fullest, yet the weakness of the flesh and the wants of the individual sometimes render such solutions as impossible for all. Still, we can make changes individually and dare I say it on a government level without throwing the baby with the bathwater. As Muslims would say, "God does not change what is in a people until they change what is within themselves" a saying I am particularly fond of and which applies for many Syrians. When was the last time you actively enquired about somebody who was poor in Syria and needed something, did you help them? There are Iraqi refugees who haven't got enough food to eat, after the media hype died down did you ask about them, buy a bag of goceries and visit them every week. If you are a rich 'mas2ool' how much does it cost you to run a soup kitchen every week, or to buy domestic goods instead of spending your money on frivolous consumer items imported at great cost to Syria from the very countries which are trying to subjugate everything you are? Do you really need all those cars? Do you care what people think of you if you don't wear designer clothes? The point I am trying to make is that all the expatriates money in the world, returning doctors, lawyers and IT experts returning to Syria will not make an iota of difference if Syrians themselves to do not confidently assert their free and independent thought and actively seek justice for all, even at their own discomfort. Where is the justice in sleeping with a full stomach and your neighbours children are still hungry. That neighbour might even be about half an hours drive away. Before the body is made free, the mind must be freed and it is only when one actively seeks justice, even in the smallest way, that we have a chance for all the other measures and changes to succeed.

Many would argue that this is all impractical and utopian, but the point is precisely not to care if others are on the same path but to start walking yourself. Does it really cost a lot to ask somebody from your family back home to buy groceries for a poor family every week and pop buy for five minutes? Do the people who constitute our political and economic elite come from somewhere outside of Syria or are they not Syrians born and bred on the very same land. Jesus once said that you can judge a tree from its fruit, so what kind of tree are we if we think we are a part of and at the same time separate from the rest of society? I'm not trying to preach to anybody, nor do I believe in universalist ideologies, but surely treating the problem at its root and seeking the truth in our own assumptions as well as what is around us is the first step to fixing society? A society where it is the norm to be "fair and reasonable"? Perhaps rather than asking what we'd like to change in Syria, maybe we should be asking what we'd like changed in Syrians?

In case you were wondering, the Genie was finally defeated when the lady he forced to make a wish asked that the man who accidentally released him was not drunk on the day that happened. It negated all the Genies actions and justice was restored for all. If I had that Genie, I'd probably ask that Alfred Dreyfus was never treated unjustly.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wassim why don't you post the same on the Creative Forum? I am sure many more people will get the chance to read it.

Should I post it for you there?

All I will need is your occupation or educational background as well as the country you are currently living in.

Alex.

Wassim said...

Hi Alex,
Sure no problem at all. You can put down student and I'm living in the UK.

I didn't know I could contribute articles there!

Anonymous said...

I just realized that I do not have your email. Of course you can contribute there.

Please email me (at creative Syria, contact us) so that I can send you invitations for upcoming topics.

I will post it in 15 minutes after I set you as an author.

Cheers.

Alex.

Anonymous said...

Alex.....yes.....he needs to know all about us where and how and why....he gets his benefits...sure.

Blogger catching is the name of this game.

Wassim said...

Anything you'd like to get off your chest Anonymous?

Puppeteer said...

You know, I had the very same talk with Renegade Eye yesterday, but on a global scale. Only that things here are not so plainly black and white. For istance, some PLO leaders grew fat on the expense of others starving, and some Plaestinians would rather bite their tongue than speak with us Syrians. The same way you hear of many Iraqi girls sold into prostitution by their brothers, fathers, those very same persons supposed to protect them. Don't get me wrong, but overall, the refugees are getting a good treatment, free medical care, free schools and study.

Anyways, I think the two things that would make a big difference are:
1 organizing
2 civic responsability
I think all the rest derivate from here.

Anonymous said...

مجهول

"Wassim" could be a Somali pretending he is Syrian living in the UK ... I will accept whatever he tells me.

If you believe that the Syrian moukhabarat are paying for that kind of "information" then I am sure you believed those emails claiming that Microsoft is paying people $1000 who forward "his" test email to ten of their friends.

Alex

Anonymous said...

... that Microsoft is paying $1000 to people who forward Microsoft's "test email" to ten of their friends.

(I was on the phone while typing)

:)

Alex

Wassim said...

Hi Puppeteer,
I absolutely agree with you and you've made some very good points. On another note, it brought a smile to my face when you began your comment with "I had the very same talk with Renegade Eye yesterday". It just sounded very superhero-ish. It's a bit like if I began my comments with "my last meeting at Freedom Force HQ was highly productive and it was nice to catch up with Robo-man..." no pun intended of course!

Puppeteer said...

No really, he's a nice insightful guy with whom one can discuss any subject and expect really sesitive oppinions. I'm not kidding.
We usually talk socialism, that's why we're Lefties :)

Wassim said...

Hmm, you know what? A whole bunch of us should organise an online chat session one day. Something like an online discussion forum where we talk about a predefined topic. One person would chair and then at the end, we come up with agendas, conclusions and points. A bit like a grass roots working class think tank of sorts to counter the bourgoisie online thinktanks which are starting to sprout up about the region? Is this workable or am I talking rubbish?

Puppeteer said...

Kay, I'm with you!