Friday, October 21, 2005

what `Abdo had to say

Today was the release of the Mehlis report, the investigation into the death of Rafiq Hariri. At least one top Syrian official was implicated, and Condi and the rest of them are stepping up the threatening talk towards Damascus.

One place I’ve seen a reaction to this is on TV: I just bought a little TV (oh, Horrors!) for the purpose of practicing my listening and language. As it turns out, the Syrian TV shows are hilarious and quite good – especially during Ramadan. Today, though, it seems that their normal schedule was offset a bit to make room for non-stop news segments and discussions put out to counter the report. Remember, this is official Syrian TV – I don’t have satellite.

All these news bits have been very cleverly titled: “Bayn al-Tahqiq wal-Haqiqa” – “Between the Investigation and the Truth.” The one I was just watching a minute ago was a panel discussion – I didn’t understand completely enough to put an analysis here, but it was rather apparent that everyone – the panelists, the interviewer – was pretty much in agreement with each other, and against the report.

In terms of the reaction of people, I have not done any kind of survey of the street. The kids are still playing soccer and setting off fireworks outside my window; the souq is just as busy as it always is. On the surface, not much has changed.

This evening I was invited to break the fast with `Abdo – a friend of mine, the co-owner of a corner store near me. We broke bread together sitting on overturned buckets in front of the store, surrounded by the strange silence of iftaar-time. In the store the TV was showing satellite news, talk talk talking about this investigation.

`Abdo’s opinion about it all was pretty simple: “The issue doesn’t matter too much to me. But if someone wages war on me, I will fight back.” I’ve heard this line of thought a number of times, and often referring to Islam. It is a religion that calls for peace, yet if you are attacked, you must fight back. I expressed to him my sincerest hope that nothing of the sort happens.

The discussion moved on to other topics – it was not the most clear of conversations I’ve had. `Abdo speaks not a word of English, and like many people I’ve met, he does not have the ability explain a word I don’t know with simpler language. One thing he talked about was his hope to travel to the USA – maybe to become a chef, maybe a drink seller, maybe a teacher. I can imagine just how my conservative freshman-year roommate would react to this: “Look at this hypocrisy! First he is saying he will fight with our country, and then he wants to move here!” Well, there is in fact quite a difference between the two issues. One is the perception of prosperity and freedom in the US, the other is the perception of the US imperializing in this area. Not necessarily contradictory.

`Abdo pointed out that there we were, a Syrian and American, breaking bread together as brothers. This would all be different, however, if I were attacking him, or if he were attacking me, he said. I tried to get across to him that it seemed to me that everyone loses in a war – whether the attackers or the defenders, for so many reasons. We seemed to agree, though I don’t think my language was quite advanced enough to get the subtleties across.

So that’s what `Abdo thought. I sense that lots of folks here simply avoid talking politics and such – whether it actually matters to them or not. This might be because of fear of the secret police, or it might just be people caring more about their own lives – their own jobs, their own kids, and what’s for dinner tonight. We know all about that kind of attitude in the old USA…

In terms of my own reaction to this investigation, it’s also pretty simple. I have no personal insight into knowing who killed (or did not kill) Hariri or into the integrity of Mehlis, so I see no reason to comment about the report itself. I do see, however, that the American and French interest in this issue is not guided merely by the search for truth. I’m sure we can all remember some political assassinations that the US has just seemed not to notice. Their clear goal is to destabilize the Syrian government – a destabilization that would be seriously bad news for everyone’s interests. Check out this article ( for lots of information about the situation of U.S.-Syrian relations, and an argument calling for communication between the two.

And I can't deny it, the issue is personal: I fear that the US will do something stupid and violent to disrupt my time here. I am learning so much – in terms of both language and people – and put simply, I’m enjoying myself. It’s a rare opportunity I’ve got, being here now, and a premature return home would really put an onion in my rice. That’s an Arabic idiom I just learned – I bet you can guess the meaning. Thus, I’m hoping for the very best.


Blogger upyernoz said...

thanks for your perspective. i'm also afraid of what the u.s. might do. the mehlis report doesn't reach a definitive conclusion as to who killed hariri. the bush administration has been trying to isolate syria for a long time. this is just an excuse for them to do what they wanted to do anyway.

if it's any solace to you there--i don't think the u.s. has the man-power to actually invade another country right now. that doesn't rule out all violent reactions, but syria will not be another iraq.

2:44 AM  

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