A Modernizer Challenges Syria’s Old Order

By Nora Boustany

Going out on a limb almost comes naturally for Ammar Abdulhamid. He grew up in an artsy milieu in Damascus, the only child of a celebrity couple whose daily existence depended on living on the edge of what was acceptable within a rigid political system. His father, Mohammed Shaheen, was a movie director, and his mother, Mona Wasef, is a top Syrian actress. To succeed in their field meant breaking barriers. Continue reading “A Modernizer Challenges Syria’s Old Order”

The Siege!

I just saw The Siege on TV, the movie with Denzel Washington. Things may not have happened exactly as indirectly predicted by the movie: a major terrorist attack in New York did not exactly lead to declaring martial law, but it did lead to the Patriot Act, Preemptive War, Guantanamo Bay and an invasion of a country on the basis of false pretexts, and consequently to Abu Ghraib and other human rights abuses. The movie was based on common sense deductions. It is amazing what little common sense can do, and equally amazing how very few people are willing to listen to it.

The Internal Dynamics of Syrian Politics

Lecture at the Brookings Institution

Syria has developed a reputation as an esoteric state because of the actions of its late President, Hafez el Asad.  Asad’s rural beginnings, military education, and limited exposure to the West contributed to his deep familiarity with Syrian social and political culture. But, it also limited his understanding of ever-changing global realities, especially in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the West, Asad was, nonetheless, perceived as a political genius because Western knowledge of Syria was extremely limited. Continue reading “The Internal Dynamics of Syrian Politics”

Idolatry & Heresy!

One’s relationship with the Unknown should always be dialectic in nature. For once it is formalized or ritualized in any way, it instantly becomes “idolatry.” The problem with idolatry is that it sets arbitrary “metaphysical ” limits on the definition of right and wrong, not only in the theological sphere, but in the political, social and even economic ones as well. Indeed, it sets limits on free thought and free speech on both the individual and communal levels. So, while individuals are free to be idolaters, their existence, their idolatry, is bound to “taint” us all. But since, they, perhaps unfortunately, tend to represent the preponderant majority of humankind, “our” relationship with “them” has to be dialectical as well. Of course, at point or another in “our” lives, we might have easily been “them.” In life, everything is dialectical.