How the Rushdie affair has inspired some fine Arab writing

A mention in the Daily Telegraph:

As it happens, it was the Rushdie affair that inspired the book in the first place. The essay writing contest was the idea of the Ammar Abdulhamid, a US-educated Syrian who became disillusioned with radical Islam after the fatwa issued against Rushdie by Iran. He pointed out to the American Islamic Congress that while the Muslim world had vast, well-organised networks of people pushing extremist visions, nobody was doing the same thing for liberal ideas. “What we need is an essay contest on liberty with significant cash prizes,” he said.

Ideas and Sterility

Comment 1: Indeed Arab attitudes towards America are far more complex than traditional media and scholars let on. The fact that foreign policy is not a priority for the Arabs though, should not come as a surprise to anyone; foreign policy is hardly a priority for any people. People’s immediate preoccupation is always with their specific living conditions. But as people understand more and more the intimate linkages between domestic and foreign policy, perhaps their attitudes will change. There is this myth among many Arabs that just because they can name the leaders of so many countries around the world, this, somehow, makes them more knowledgeable about the world, than, say, the American people, who often fail to name even their own leaders. But there is more to knowledge, especially knowledge of foreign policy and world affairs, than naming names. The reality is we are no less ignorant about the world than it is about us. But we are paying the price for our continued ignorance in this regard, because we are the weaker link. Continue reading “Ideas and Sterility”

Their Audacity to Hope

Brave individuals who challenge the status quo in authoritarian societies—and expect our support

Mention in the Wall Street Journal

Mr. Muravchik might have said more about why Western states should support liberals, in all their vulnerability. Take the Syrian dissident Ammar Abdulhamid. Audacious and articulate, Mr. Abdulhamid abandoned a life of privilege in Syria (he is the son of a famous actress) and chose exile in the U.S. so that he could give full force to his criticism of the Assad regime. Yet like many of those described by Mr. Muravchik, he has committed himself to a liberal ideal, and sacrificed a great deal, in return for very little so far. When Western governments revert to so-called reasons of state — where “realism” and supposed self-interest often triumphs — Middle Eastern liberals become a vanguard easily discarded.

Defiant Messages!

Crackdown against western-oriented activists in Syria is proceeding apace and has been for quite a few weeks now, as we all know. The latest installments were the March 24 arrest of Samir Nashar, the founder of a liberal party based in Aleppo and one of the internal opposition figures who took part in breaking the barrier separating the “inside” and the “outside” when he attended the opposition conference organized by the Syrian National Council in Washington, DC at the end of February 2005. Samir was released a week later and put under a travel ban. Continue reading “Defiant Messages!”