Sunday, June 17, 2007

Syrian conference on the Golan -SOAS

Yesterday I went to a conference organised by the Syrian Media Centre in London concerned with reviving attention on the Golan (Jolan) heights. I simply haven't the energy and will to write a critique of this thing right now, however I must say that several things struck me. Not just about the conference but about a number who attended.

Firstly, let me come out to say that I had never seen a bigger concentration of self important and pompous, arrogant "bourgeoisie" sponging off of an atmosphere to which they contributed little to nothing. Some of the speakers were quite good and I hear the Syrian Ambassador is particularly eloquent and forceful. Unfortunately I had to leave to see someone and couldn't stay the whole period.

Sasa, it appears was also there and we seemed to have completely missed each other! He has written much more on this than I am willing or interested to do. Overall an uninspired and uninteresting event which might as well have been funded by the Ministry of Information.

One thing I have to comment on is how terrible the so called "economic" lecture was. It was absolutely laughable, focusing on the apple trees of the region, the flaura and fauna such as the "bashful gazelle" and the "timid rock rabbits" and the man was insistent on reparations for forty years of occupation. The extreme cost of resisting the occupation, he argued, could have been used to boost Syria's infrastructure. How? Based on what figures? How much was it? How did this really affect Syria? He gave not a clue. Oh and by the way, Syria needs to move to something called "emerging market status" so companies can come and invest there once there is peace. Regurgitated and stale liberal economic slogans with not an inkling of their actual meaning - the man's lights were on but nobody was home.

His lecture was also a diatribe on the under utilised tourist resouces and the value of being able to go from watersports to a snowball fight, within twenty minutes. Again, no figures, no backing up of the argument and no depth. Highly valuable from an economic viewpoint! He also attempted to argue that Israel was under utilising the region economically (which it is not), something which he assured us Syria would do when it regains it. OK - I'll stop right there, I hope you get the picture.

If you want to increase awareness of the cause, you have to engage people, winning over their opinion through force of arguments and debate. A debate on the legality of the Jolan occupations would have been highly refreshing and thought provoking. Highly charged lectures on the 1967 conflict and what happened subsequently to give an increased insight; More information on what the Israelis were doing now on the heights and how they were exploiting it, -something, anything rather than the single tracked arguments we were presented. Overall, while the aim of the conference was to increase awareness about the Jolan heights, I feel this aim was too vague and non-specific, which was its downfall. As far as I knew, nobody there was Israeli who had come to criticise or denounce the conference. When your opposition can't be bothered to show up to your event and try to fight your argument, you know you are not doing something right.

I am afraid I can't find anything positive about this event, sorry to rain on your parade.



sasa said...

Oh no! Terrible!!

I admit, it wasn't inspiring. There was nothing new. And there were far too many men in suits.

But I disagree about the Ministry of Info comment. There was a huge variety of speakers: Ian Black from the Guardian and Sharif Nashashibi from Arab Media Watch are two people I have a lot of respect for. At one point, Black and the Ambassador almost had an argument - with the Ambassador trying to claim there was a conspiracy by pro-Israeli groups to control the media. Black laughed at the suggestion.

Of course, Patrick Seale was there too.

It could've been a lot worse: just imagine if dozens of government speakers were shipped over.

But it also could've been a lot better - and that's the great tragedy. Why wasn't there any opposition, for example...exactly as you say.

It was an important start - and a very important symbolic start. And for that I am happy.

Maysaloon said...

Maybe my Ministry of Information comment was a bit over the top, but I agree that any attention and organisation is better than a painful silence.