The Heretical Advocate!

In this post, I will respond to some points raised by Alex here. In my next post, I promise to deal with some issues raised by Golaniyah.

Alex, I think the misunderstandings between us are the result in part from:

  • you, projecting your own attitudes and/or fears onto me,
  • me, because I treated this blog as mixture of a personal space where I sometimes mouth off and vent my own frustration (and when people do that, as you know, they end up, no matter how momentarily, being snobbish and arrogant, – perhaps this what made you think that I am trying to “lead them out”), and at times, I analyze, opinionate and advocate with regard to the Syrian situation, and because this is a personal issue for me, after all, I am a Syrian, anger gets mixed with tactics, and with attempts at objective analysis.

Now that I am slowly getting back to blogging, I will try to separate more carefully the personal from the professional. I don’t think I have the luxury of waxing personal anymore, if I ever had it that is 🙂

As for you Alex, I think that in your eagerness to advice you came off a bit too patronizing and condescending at many occasions. You always had this mixture of “he’ll soon learn better not to do this,” or “oh my, I really should warn him about those bad people he is hanging around with.” And when, at occasions, I tried to point out to you, and others, not necessarily that I know what I am doing, but that I am aware of the concerns you have and that I have my eyes wide open, and all my senses on full-alert, and that I have my reasons (which I often tried to explain) for wanting to explore some of these controversial avenues, I ended up being branded more or less as a conspirator.

But, the simpler truth is that I am an advocate for a cause, and advocacy is in part about meeting public officials and decision makers, the people who happen to be in office at this stage happen to be Republican and many of them are neocons, so what am I supposed to do, boycott them, because I happen to be at the far end of the liberal spectrum (which by the way I am)? Is that how advocacy works these days?

Would an activist from Greenpeace miss an opportunity to argue his case with the President of the Unites States if he was invited to do so?

Well, come to think of it, I think if the opportunity ever arose, an organization might as well be divided between those who would and those who wouldn’t, for a variety of reasons, ranging from the narcissistic to the ideological and everything in between.

On the other hand, I am quite aware that public officials would agree or would invite an advocate to meet with them both on account of his/her visibility, and for whatever particular interests and calculations they happen to have. That will always be the case. There are no public officials without agendas.

So the choices in front of me Alex are these: meet with the existing officials openly and publicly, not meet with them, or meet with them privately. I have done all three.

In fact, I usually prefer the third alternative. But once I agreed to accept this particular invitation, I knew that there is no way we can keep a lid on this, not for long anyway. Also, there was really no reason for it, on the contrary, it is really very important to put the human rights agenda back on the table, seeing how many people are interested in talking to the regime at this stage. The issue should not be allowed to be forgotten.

Now I know that you would say that this strategy would backfire, and that it is indeed backfiring, but I would like to remind of three things here:

1) the current arrests are clearly not related to the meeting that took place in DC, but the one that took place in Damascus,

2) you are looking at the immediate aftermath of an effort, while I am hoping for a more consistent campaign in this regard,

3) you are conveniently neglecting the nature and history of the regime: the Damascus Spring was fueled by purely internal dynamics, and still the regime saw it as a threat and brought it to a swift end. It is not our activities are putting these people and the cause of reform in danger, it is their activities and the nature of the regime.

I know that “reformers” working from inside the regime claim that we, that is, those who think the regime is irreformable and acting accordingly, are sabotaging their efforts. But I believe that, on the contrary, these elements have only managed to make some little progress and carve a little space for themselves within the regime in the last 2 years, mainly as a result of the regime’s increasing troubles and its attempt to shore up its tattered image in the country and abroad, at a time when opposition groups were getting more organized and more inter-connected and more capable of reaching out to the international community. Once all these pressures are removed though, the “reformers” will face the stark choice of:

* playing within the good old rules,

* leaving the game (and perhaps the country), or

* getting jailed alongside opposition elements on some trumped-up (or real) corruption charge.

A caveat: A lot of people say that 99% of all opposition members are untrustworthy opportunists, by the same token, this can be said of these so-called reformers as well. Sort that out, oh Syrian citizen, wherever you are!

Back to the issue of meeting with officials, two more points need to be made: 

1)      I meet with Democratic and liberal officials all the time, and if I were in the business of promoting myself rather than laying the foundation for a, hopefully, lasting institution, I would be talking about all these meetings continuously.

2)      I am burning in anticipation of hitting the European track soon as well, and over there, I am bound to meet with officials from all stripes, depending on the country and what sort officials its people chose to put in office, and I will lobby for the cause and I will deal with all sorts of criticisms then too. I can count on that I know.

So, why have not traveled to Europe so far? Well, it’s not the lack of contacts there, that’s for sure. But, as some of you might know, despite the fact that I spent 9 years in the US, I had a student visa at the time, I never really got a residency, not to mention a US citizenship. So when I returned to Syria in ’94 I returned as Syrian citizen. And when I was told to leave Syria in 2005, I had to seek political asylum here.

Now my passport has expired, yet I cannot get travel documents from the US until my application for asylum is approved. But with a name like Ammar Abdulhamid, and history with dabbling in Islamic extremism, the background security checks are taking forever. So yes, I can meet with the President of the US, but, I have to wait like everyone else until I am cleared for approval to get my asylum. This is at once what is so great, and awkward, about the system here.

I mean, here I am the head of an American non-profit organization, employing Americans and non-Americans, working with a Board of Director made up of Americans, and I am still in this grey area as far as my legal status is concerned.

Anyway, I hope the situation will come to a resolution this year, no, not on account of my meeting with the President, the system does not work that way, but because enough time has hopefully elapsed since the application was filed. But then, there is always the possibility that this thing could last for years. There is nothing I can do in this regard, it seems, but wait and conspire not to have an ulcer and keep my hemorrhoids in check. Well, here I go discussing personal stuff again J.

As for your following statement Alex:

“Let the people get angry when they feel angry .. let them revolt when they want to take that risk … let time take care of what is bad in Syria today … it will… naturally, without leadership and without politics.”

I agree with the first part of this statement, this was the essence of my last interview on al-Hurra, which I unfortunately cannot fid a link to on their site. But I totally disagree about the second part concerning leadership and politics. No change can ever take place without leadership and politics, but I trust that you made your statement in a moment of frustration and with specific people in mind, which is OK. You can disagree with my politics and leadership, and Khaddam’s and Bayanouni’s and Homsi’s and Ghardri’s etc. But change cannot take place without leaders.

Still, and as I said on al-Hurra, people of Syria should not think of change as a choice between the regime and the opposition, they can hate and reject both, and agitate against both. Their very agitation will end up producing the leaders which better represent their aspirations. But there will also be plenty of opportunists, like in all transitional movements.

It is not my hope to be one of those leaders necessarily, what I hope to do is help identify those leaders, or those people with leadership potential, who better represent the values that I believe in, and support them. For they will need it. They will need it.