ليست سورية هي المسألة، المسألة هي العالم

 
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بقلم بوستيان فيدمشك

في لقاء موسع، يتحدث الكاتب والناشط البارز ياسين الحاج صالح هنا عن سوريا الماضي، الحاضر المأساوي والمستقبل المجهول.

صوري 1

الأربعاء 27 يناير 2016

ياسين الحاج صالح، من مواليد 1961، كاتب سوري يعيش في تركيا منذ خريف 2013. كان سجينا سياسيا شيوعيا أيام حافظ الأسد لمدة 16 عاما. زوجته سميرة الخليل مخطوفة منذ الشهر الأخير في عام 2013 من دوما في غوطة دمشق، وأخوه فراس مخطوف من قبل داعش في الرقة منذ تموز 2013. وله كتب منشورة عن الشأن السوري، وعن الإسلام المعاصر، وعن تجربة السجن.

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كيف حالك؟ وأين تعيش اليوم؟
أنا بخير، شكراً على السؤال. حين كنت في سوريا اعتدت على القول: ليس لدي أسباب شخصية للشكوى، ولا أسباب عامة للرضا. لكن بعد الثورة، واختطاف زوجتي سميرة وشقيقي فراس، ثم عيشي خارج البلد، في اسطنبول، صار ما هو شخصي عاماً وسياسياً أكثر من أي وقت مضى، وما هو عام وسياسي صار شخصياً جدا. إنها حياة صراع.

بماذا تشعر عندما ترى الكثير من أبناء بلدك ينزحون من النزاع الأسوأ في وقتنا الحالي؟ هل توقعت هذه الهجرة الجماعية؟
قبل أسابيع، ساعدت شخصيا بتهريب زوجة أخي وابنهما من تركيا إلى اليونان. وكمبتدئ في هذه الصنعة، استشرت أصدقاء، والتقيت بمهربين، واخترت أحدهم في النهاية. كنت قلقاً على سلامتهم، واسترخيت طبعا لدى وصولهم إلى بلد أوروبي، وإن لم يكن البلد الذي أرادوا الوصول إليه في البداية. يبقى الآن تدبير أمر النصف الآخر من العائلة، أخي وابنيه الأصغرين، ليلتحق بالنصف الأول. وبمساعدة أصدقاء، نعمل الآن على تأمين شقيقي الآخر وعائلته في بلد آخر، هذا بعد أن تم اغتيال صديق مشترك لنا، الصحفي والمخرج الوثائقئ ناجي الجرف في 27 كانون الأول 2015 في تركيا.
كما ترى، ندعو أنفسنا إلى عالم لم يكن كريما معنا ولم يساعدنا على التحرر في وطننا.

لا، لم أتصور يوماً إمكانية حصول نزوح واسع كهذا. لم أتوقع أن يتمكن النظام من قتل مئات الآلاف من السوريين، وأن ترتفع حظوظه بالبقاء بالسلطة كلما ازداد عدد ضحاياه. لم أتوقع نشوء كيان متوحش مثل داعش. ولم أعتقد بإمكانية مشاركة حوالي 70 دولة في قصف بلدي، قصف لا يستهدف المجرم الذي يحكم البلد، بل قوة إجرام جانبية.

كيف ترى التعاطي الأوروبي مع أزمة اللاجئين؟

كلي إعجاب بكثير من الأشخاص من البلدان الأوروبية، متطوعات ومتطوعين أفرادا. معجب بكرمهم وشجاعتهم، وأراهم يشرفون الجنس البشري. تأثرت كثيراً برسالة وصلتني من امرأة نرويجية قبل حين، جاءت من بلدها لتساعد اللاجئين في جزيرة ليسبوس اليونانية. أما بالنسبة للحكومات فليس من العدل أن تشمل بمجموعة واحدة، ألمانيا ليست كهنغاريا، والسويد ليست كالدنمارك، لكن أظن بأن الدول كلها تعمل على بناء أسواء عالية حولها لمنع تدفق اللاجئين إليها، وبشكل خاص الفقراء والضعفاء منهم.
تقوم الحكومات الأوروبية منذ شهور بالضغط على أنقرة لعدم السماح لللاجئين بمغادرة تركيا. في تشرين الثاني 2015 دفعوا للحكومة التركية مبلغ 3 مليار يورو مقابل حماية الحدود الأوروبية من خطر اللاجئين.
مع كل هذا الدم الذي أريق تحت أنظار العالم خلال الأعوام الخمسة الماضية قادت البشري نفسها نحو الفقدان الكامل للشعور الأخلاقي. أعتقد بأن عدم الاكتراث الذي أظهره العالم بخصوص المحنة السورية سيؤدي بالمؤسسات السياسية كلها إلى إحساس أدنى بالمعاناة الإنسانية في كل أنحاء العالم.

في وضعٍ غارق بالفوضى كهذا، أين ترى يمكن الحل أو الحلول؟
يمكن للمرء أن يفكر بتسوية تاريخية تنهي الحرب، وتضمن انسحاباً شاملاً للقوات الأجنبية، وتؤسس لبيئة سياسية مختلفة كليا في البلد. يمكن لحل سياسي مستدام أن يبنى حصراً على أساس أكثرية سياسية جديدة في سورية. ولا يمكن تحقيق هذا الأمر عن طريق مواجهة داعش لوحدها، أو النظام لوحده. يتطلب وجود أكثرية سورية جديدة حدوث تغيير سياسي جوهري، وهو الأمر الذي لا يمكن تصوره بدون وضع حد نهائي لحكم سلالة الأسد، وهي في السلطة منذ أكثر من 45 سنة،وتتحمل المسؤولية عن حربين كبيرتين في البلد: حرب 1979-1982 وحرب 2011 الجارية الآن.
هذا التغيير هو الشرط السياسي والأخلاقي المسبق للوصول إلى حرب على داعش بمشاركة واسعة من قبل السوريين. ما زالت القوى العالمية حتى الآن تحاول وضع العربة أمام الحصان عن طريق استهداف داعش وحدها، متجاهلة جذورالعسكرة والتطرف والطائفية خلال السنوات الخمس الماضية، أعني نظام الأسد. هذه سياسة قصيرة النظر ومحكومة بالفشل، بصرف النظر عن أنها لا أخلاقية. إنها وصفة مثالية لحربٍ لا تنتهي.
يمكن أن يتم بناء سوريا الجديدة على عدد من الأسس الجوهرية: اللامركزية، اعتبار الجماعات الإثنية والدينية والمذهبية المختلفة جماعات متساوية تأسيسيا، مساواة حقوقية وسياسية بين المواطنين الأفراد (عرب وكرد وآخرون، مسلمون ومسيحيون وآخرون، سنيون وعلويون وآخرون: متدينون وعلمانيون وآخرون). من غير المقبول الحديث عن سوريا كدولة علمانية، كما تنص وثيقة فيينا الموضوعة في 30 تشرين الأول 2015، حين لا تتطرق الوثيقة نفسها لأي شيء عن العدالة والمحاسبة، وتتجنب كلمة الديمقراطية. هذا الضرب من إعطائنا محاضرات عن العلمانية يذكر بأسوأ خصائص الخطاب الاستعماري.

ماذا يجدر بما يسمى “المجتمع الدولي” فعله؟ وماذا عن الأمم المتحدة؟
السنوات الخمسة الماضية كانت فرصة ممتازة لمتابعة آلية عمل المؤسسات الدولية والقوى العالمية. بالنسبة لي لم تعد القضية قضية سورية وحدها، إنها قضية العالم. ليس الأمر أنني لا أتابع ما يجري في بلدي، لكن العالم حالياً موجود في سوريا (70 دولة دخلت بالحرب هناك).
أرى أن عالم اليوم يفتقر إلى كوامن العدالة والحرية أكثر من أي وقت مضى منذ نحو قرن. في كانون الأول من 2015 ألمح فلاديمير بوتين إلى إمكانية استخدام الأسلحة النووية ضد “الإرهابيين”، هذا تصريح استثنائي وغير مسؤول، وقد قوبل بصمت مطبق من المجتمع الدولي. بعده بأيام قال الرجل نفسه بأن العملية العسكرية الروسية في سوريا “لا تشكل عبئا على الميزانية… بل إن من الصعب تخيل تدريب أفضل منها للقوات الروسية. يمكن أن نتدرب هناك لمدة طويلة من دون أن نلحق أي ضرر بخزينتنا”. تصريح مليء بالغطرسة الاستعمارية، لكنه لم يستثر أي ردة فعل على الإطلاق من الأمم المتحدة أو القادة الغربيين، ولا من مجموعات حقوق الإنسان أو المنظمات اليسارية في العالم.
تطور الوضع في سوريا من ثورة ضد الطغيان الى مسألة عالمية، المسألة السورية. أرى أن صنع المسائل هو النهج السياسي للأقوياء في صنع التاريخ. المسائل أوضاع معقدة تبث اليأس في النفوس، وهي تدوم عقوداً أو أجيالاً بأكملها أو “إلى لأبد”، كما يقول أحد شعارات موالي الأسد، وخلال هذا الوقت الطويل ينشبك الفقراء والضعفاء في أوضاع معقدة لا مخرج منها. وعلى النقيض، فإن نهج الضعفاء السياسي هو الثورات التي تخلق الوضوح والأمل. إن سحق الثورات في سوريا والمنطقة عموماً هو المهمة المتشكرة التي تجمع الأقوياء في سوريا والمنطقة والعالم عموماً. هذه العُقدة الغوردية التي يعقدونها ستبقى معنا لوقت طويل للغاية.
تاريخياً، سارت المسائل والحروب الكبيرة سارت معاً على قدم وساق. المسألة الشرقية انتهت مع الحرب العالمية الأولى، والمسألة اليهودية وجدت “حلين نهائيين” في الحرب العالمية الثانية وما تبعها، الثاني منهما كان على حساب الشعب الفلسطيني. ويمكن للمرء أن يضيف المسألة الكردية: منع الأكراد من تشكيل دولتهم، وهو أيضاً منبع للكراهية واليأس والحرب. سوريا مساحة تقاطع لهذه المسائل الثلاث معا.
لهذا السبب فإن سوريا هي تمثل عالماً مصغراً ومثالاً عالمياً. لا حاجة للقول بأن الأمم المتحدة والمجتمع الدولي هما صانعو مسائل، بل هم قوى ثورة مضادة. لا ينتظر المرء منهم أن يكونوا قوى ثورية، لكن دورهم كان إجرامياً بحق.

هل الانقسام السني-الشيعي أعمق اليوم من أن يحل سياسياً؟
إنه كذلك. ولكن لا يوجد حل سياسي للانقسامات الطائفية. وعلى كل حال، ليس الانقسام بحد ذاته هو المشكلة، المشكلة هي الصراع العنيف بين الجماعات الاعتقادية. وعلى العكس من الاعتقاد السائد في الغرب، فإن هذا الصراع ليس شيئا يترتب تلقائيا على وجود سنة وشيعة. في الحقيقة وعلى النقيض من ذلك، الصراعات الاجتماعية والسياسية هي التي تحرك هذه الانتماءات الخاملة وتشحنها بكهرباء سياسية خطرة. فتحولها عمليا إلى أحزاب سياسية، بل عسكرية. وهذا أيضاً من مناهج الأقوياء في إضعاف الشعوب المتمردة لتحويل الصراع من النطاق السياسي الاجتماعي الذي يتمثل بالمواجهة بين النخبة والفئات الأضعف إلى النطاق الثقافي الاجتماعي المتمثل بالمواجهة بين الضعفاء على جانبي خطوط الانقسام الدينية والاعتقادية. ما أريد قوله هو أنه يلزم أن تدرك بصورة أفضل ديناميكيات وعمليات النزاع السياسي الاجتماعي في بلدان مثل سوريا، العراق، البحرين، إيران والسعودية، وكذلك والنزاعات الاقليمية من أجل فهم الانقسام السني الشيعي نفسه. هذا الانقسام يتعمق اليوم بالتأكيد، ويجري استخدامه كأداة للسيطرة على الجموع وتعميق الهيمنة على المنطقة. الطائفية عموما هي استراتيجية للسيطرة السياسية. والمسألة في النهاية مسألة سياسة، ليست مسألة دين أو ثقافة.

هل بإمكاننا القول بأن سوريا لا تزال قائمة كبلد، كدولة؟
مجدداً، سوريا اليوم هي العالم. هناك أكثر من 70 دولة مشتركة بالحرب بشكل رسمي، ويوجد أيضاً جهاديون من أكثر من 70 دولة موجودون أيضاً هناك. سوريا مسألة عالمية، رمز فريد للظلم واللامبالاة والنسيان. لدينا سوريا هذه على الأقل، سوريا الرمز.

يؤسفني القول بأنني لست واثقاً من بقاء سوريا كبلد قابل للحياة. الاحتمال الوحيد لنجاة سوريا هو تغير سياسي جوهري. سوريا كما هي الآن بلا تغير تموت، عاجلاً أم آجلاً. فقط سوريا المتغيرة ستكون قابلة للحياة.

إن الأسباب الأولية لنشوء الحرب ووحشية النظام هي أمور قد تم بشكلٍ أو بآخر نسيانها في الرواية الغربية عن الحرب. لماذا؟

بشكل رئيسي بسبب علاقة تماه بين النظام والقوى العالمية العظمى على المستويات البنيوية والرمزية. ان عقيدة الحداثة هي مسألة مشتركة بين الفاشي بربطة عنق، بشار الأسد، وهؤلاء القادة ذوي ربطة العنق في الغرب الذين ينقصهم بعد النظر والإحساس بالمسؤولية العالمية. للأمر صلة بشكل ما مع تكون النخبة السياسية في الغرب، وهي مكونة من أشخاص ذوي دخل عال، منعزلين تماماً عن المعاناة الشعبية الناجمة عن السياسة. وهذا أحد مصادر أزمة الديمقراطية في الغرب ذاته. فالديمقراطية تموت حين تنفصل عن الصراع من أجل العدالة. نحن نشاهد بأعيننا كيف أن الديمقراطية تتقلص الى مجرد تكنولوجيا سياسية لإدارة الأزمات. منهج إدارة الأزمة، بانفصاله التكويني عن القيم وقضايا العدالة هو اليوم المنهج السائد في السياسة خلال السنوات ال25 الماضية، حتى في الغرب. هذا المنهج ليس نافعاً في شيء سوى خلق المسائل، والشرق الأوسط هو التجسيد الفعلي لهذه السياسات اللاأخلاقية.
وترجع بعض جذور ضعف الذاكرة الى تكوين الوسائل الاعلامية الكبرى في الغرب، حيث يتجه التفضيل إلى ما هو مثير على حساب ما هو هام إنسانياً وسياسياً. على سبيل المثال، قطع رأس رجل ما أكثر إثارة من قتل 100 آخرين ببرميل متفجر، وأكثر نيلا للاهتمام والتغطية الإعلامية. نتماهى مع من يقتلون بطريقتنا، جرائمهم مثل جرائمنا ليست أخبارا ولا تغطيها أقنية الأخبار التي نتحكم بها. لكن يصيبنا الهلع من هؤلاء الذين يقومون بالقتل بطريقة مختلفة، هنا الجريمة خبر جدير بالاهتمام، إلى درجة قيام وسائل الإعلام الغربية بشن حملات دعائية لداعش على مدار سنتين.
على فكرة، أعتقد بأن هذا الافتتان بداعش، وقد بدأ في صيف 2013، مرتبط بصورة وثيقة بالصفقة الكيماوية المشينة بين الولايات المتحدة وروسيا. فهم منها نظام الأسد ضمنياً أنه من المقبول أن يقتل الناس بأسلحة أخرى، ليس تلك التي قمنا نحن بتحريمها. كانت وسائل الإعلام الرئيسية مطيعة للغاية بتغطية كل ما تقوم به داعش وتهميش كل جرائم النظام، هادفةً لإضافة الشرعية على تلك الصفقة الخسيسة بين حاميي السلام  العالمي المفترضين.
الهوس بداعش هو وسيلة متبعة لغسيل عار تلك الصفقة. ترغب وسائل الإعلام والنخب القوية أن تبقى الشعوب متسمرة أمام العجيب المعروض، وتظل أذهانهم معلقة بقاطعي الرؤوس الوحشيين، المختلفين تماماً عنا وعن شعوبنا العزيزة. أريد أيضا أن أضيف شيئاً فيما يتعلق بمسألة الهوس بداعش. يخيل لي أن هذا المستوى المجنون من القتل والسيطرة الذي تمارسه داعش في المناطق التي تحتلها هو المستوى الذي تطمح النخب القوية في “العالم المتحضر” لتقليده. هذا العنف له وظيفة رئيسية: إنه يرفع سقف ما يمكن فعله بالشعوب في بلاد أخرى، معطياً نخب السلطة في كل مكان إحساساً بالسيطرة والحرية. فاذا كان من الممكن القيام بهذا الفعل هناك اليوم، فلعله سيكون ممكناً هنا أيضاً يومأ ما. داعش تمثل التجارب المخبرية التي يراود مخيلة نخب غربية محاكاة ما تفعله يوماً ما. طوباهم هذه هي كابوسنا. ولهذا بالضبط ينبغي أن تشعر الشعوب في الغرب بالقلق مما يجري في سوريا في السنوات الخمس الماضية. لا تدافعوا عنا، بل دافعوا عن أنفسكم!

هل هنالك أي جهة على الاطلاق تقوم بلعب دورٍ ايجابي؟
جهة خارجية؟ ربما لا. لكنه سيكون خطأً كبيراً ان استنتجنا من هذا الكلام أن كل الأطراف متساوون بالسوء. السجل التركي معقد، لقد قامت باستقبال حوالي مليوني ونصف لاجئ، وضعنا هنا مقبول، وحتى الآن أخذت تركيا موقفاً متسقا من نظام الشبيحة في سوريا، لكنها سببت العديد من المتاعب بسبب مخاوفها غير المنصفة وغير العقلانية حيال الكرد على جانبي الحدود. موقف فرنسا كان غالباً ثابتا أيضاً. كلا البلدين كانا واضحين طوال الوقت وحددا أن المجرم هو نظام الأسد، وأنه يجب أن يتم التخلص منه وحاولا التصرف على هذا الأساس، ولكن تم كبحهما عن طريق الولايات المتحدة. مثلت واشنطن العدو الأسوأ للثورة السورية، أسوأ حتى من روسيا، التي كانت عدواً صريحاً منذ اللحظة الأولى، بالاضافة لايران وتوابعها العراقية واللبنانية. لست مناهضا أصوليا للامبريالية على طريقة من يعتقدون أنها جوهر سري مكنون في مكان ما في الولايات المتحدة، ربما في البيت الأبيض أو البنتاغون أو السي آي إيه، ولكني حاولت جاهداً أن أجد أي عوامل إيجابية في السياسة التي انتهجتها إدارة أوباما حيال سوريا، ولم أفلح. العالم بأكمله أصبح مكاناً أسوأ من ذي قبل، وخاصةً بعد الصفقة الكيميائية والتي كانت بمثابة هدية كبيرة لداعش وجبهة النصرة، وبالتأكيد للأسد.

أما بالنسبة للأطراف الداخلية، فأعتقد أنه يمكن تعريف الظلامية بأنها القول بعدم وجود جيدين في الصراع السوري، وأن الكل سيئون. أرى بأن هذه نظرة أصولية، تشبه أسلوب داعش في التعامل مع قضيتنا. أنا لا أقول بأنه لا يوجد سيئون، هنالك كثير منهم، ولا أريد القول أيضا بأن هناك الكثير من الأشخاص الجيدين، وهو صحيح طبعا، ما لم يكن الواحد منا روبرت فيسك أو باتريك كوكبيرن أو فلاديمير بوتين. عوضاً عن كل ذلك، أريد إحداث تحول في الباراديغم من التوزيع الرجعي لتصنيفات جيد وسيء إلى النظر في الديناميكيات الفعلية للصراع. سبق وألمحت الى المجزرة الكيماوية والتي قضى بها 1466 سورياً على يد النظام الأسدي في آب 2013، والصفقة الكيماوية بين الأميريكيين والروس والنظام. دعني أتوقف هنا قليلا: ما كانت تلك الصفقة؟ كان هنالك أربع أطراف، وليس ثلاثة، في ذلك الوقت: النظام، الأميركيون، الروس، ثم ملايين السوريين الذين كانوا يقاومون نظام الطغمة الأسدية لأكثر من سنتين وخمسة أشهر حينها، سلميا في البداية وبالسلاح لاحقاً. لم يكسب النظام من تلك الصفقة المخزية نجاته فحسب، بل أيضاً الحصانة والإفلات من العقاب. تمكن الروس من إنقاذ نظام عميل لهم وكسب دور أعظم في المنطقة والعالم بشكل ملحوظ، في حين نجحت الولايات المتحدة (ومن خلف الكواليس، اسرائيل) في تجريد النظام من أسلحته الخطيرة والتي كان يفترض بأنها رادعة لاسرائيل.
الطرف الذي تم التضحية به بشكل كامل هو الطرف الذي كان قد فقد لتوه 1466 شخصاً في ظرف ساعة واحدة: السوريون الثائرون. لهذا السبب كانت هذه الصفقة خسيسة، وكذلك كان “أبطالها”، وعلى الأخص من اسمه باراك أوباما.
وبسبب وحشية النظام، وخسة أنوات العالم الكبار، انطلقت موجةٌ من التطرف والأسلمة والعسكرة والاستماتة، وغيرت كل شخصٍ في البلد، ومن بينهم أنا. في أيلول 2015، تواجدت في أوسلو لعدة أيام، وهناك ظهرت في برنامج تلفزيوني. قبل البرنامج، سألتني المقدمة إن كنت معتدلا؟ أجبتها: لا، لست معتدلاً. ارتاعت لبرهة، فأرادت أن تطمئن: لكنك علماني، أليس كذلك؟
تقرر العادات الخطابية في الغرب أن كلمة “معتدل” تعني بأنه يقف معنا (نحن كمركز للعالم)، وهي مرادفة أيضا لكلمة “جيد”. وتكون “متطرفا” و”سيئا” إذا وقفت الى جانب شعبك.
من جهتي، أنا سيء.

كيف ترى التورط التركي في الشأن السوري؟ وما هو مستقبل المسألة الكردية؟
هذا هو المنبع الرئيس لأهم أخطاء الحكومة التركية في سوريا. لم تتمكن تركيا من التعامل مع المشكلة الكردية في أراضيها على أساس من المساواة والحرية والأخوة. الآن هنالك حرب حقيقية في المناطق الكردية في تركيا، يجري فيها إذلال للناس الفقراء وتشريدهم وقتلهم. وقد صدَّرت الحكومة التركية إلى سوريا تجربتها السيئة بالتعاطي مع الأكراد. وكي تصير الأمور أسوأ، قام حزب الاتحاد الديمقراطي الكردي السوري باستيراد تجربته في تركيا إلى سوريا، واستورد معها مطبقيها، ومعها الرمزيات الخارجية للإيديولوجية الحداثية الرثة، المصمم خصيصاً لسحر المُعنّسين (الذكور غالبا) من يساريي للطبقة الوسطى في الغرب. سبب هذا الكثير من المعاناة حتى الآن، وأخشى أنه في سبيله إلى تسبيب المزيد. ما نشهده الآن برأيي هو عملية بناء نظامٍ حزب واحد مغالٍ في النزعة القومية الكردية، وله علاقاتٍ خفية مع نظام الأسد وإيران، وأخرى أقل سريةٍ مع الولايات المتحدة وروسيا.

كيف يمكن قتال داعش بصورة فعال؟ شخصياً، أنا لا أرى أي إرادة سياسية حقيقية لمحاربتهم بالقوة المطلقة.
أنت محق. لا ترى إرادة سياسية لقتال داعش لأنها غير موجودة ببساطة. هنالك إرادة سياسية لاستمرار الحرب طويلاً. وبقاء داعش جيد للحرب كي تستمر. زوالها هو الشيء السيء من وجهة النظر هذه. ولهذا يبدو العالم موحداً في وجه هذا التنظيم الفاشي ضعيف التسليح، بدون تحقيق أي تقدم في سبيل هزيمته.
أعتقد بأن المنطق الأميركي لتحليل المشكلة هو كالتالي: داعش قوية برجالها، لذلك علينا أن نحاصرهم في منطقة محددة، كي لا ينتشروا في كل مكان كما حدث بعد غزونا (الهستيري) لأفغانستان في 2001. ثم أنه يجب أن يبقى بشار نظراً للدرس الذي تعلمناه من غزونا (الإجرامي) للعراق وتفكيك الدولة فيه. أما بالنسبة لهؤلاء الذين هم ضد داعش ويحاربون الأسد، يعني… يعني هم غالباً “سيئون”. وربما يسير التفكير الروسي هكذا: نريد لبشار أن يبقى بالسلطة. ولتحقيق هذا علينا أن ندمر أولئك الذين يحاربونه حقاً. طبعا سنتكلم علناً عن حرب على الإرهاب فقط، وعن وقتال داعش. أليس هذا ما كان الأميركيون يطنطنون به طوال الوقت؟ عندما نسحق كل هؤلاء الذين هم ضد داعش وبشار، فإن التفاهم الضمني بيننا وبين الأميريكيين سيصبح علنياً، وسنقرر مصير سوريا والشرق الأوسط سويةً. اسرائيل ستقف معنا. نحن نستطيع أن نعطيها أكثر من ما يمكن أن يعطيها الأميركيون.

فلندع جانبا هذا التخطيط الاستراتيجي الافتراضي، أعتقد أنه ليس من الصعب أبداً قتال داعش، لكن لا يمكنك أن تفعل ذلك وأنت تتجاهل بشكل ممنهج القوات المحلية التي واجهت هذا الكيان في الماضي، وبينما أنت تعتمد على تنظيمٍ فاشيٍ آخر، نظام الأسد.

هناك ثلاث مستويات لصراع مثمر مع داعش. أولاً، يجب أن يتم تحديد قضية عادلة لهذه الحرب، ولا يمكن لهذه القضية أن تكون سوى العدالة والحرية لهؤلاء الذين تقمعهم داعش، وهو ما لا يمكن تحقيقه مع تجاهل المصدر الرئيسي للقمع والظلم، نظام الأسد. كيف تريدني أن أحارب داعش وأنت تتعامل من وراء ظهري مع نظام طغموي قتل أو تسبب بقتل 300000 من أبناء بلدي؟
ثانياً، يجب أن تكون هناك رؤية سياسية واضحة لدعم انتقال ديمقراطي للسلطة في سوريا والعراق. ستكون أوضاع الانتقال فوضوية في كلا البلدين لسنوات قادمة أو حتى أكثر، لكن هذا سيكون أفضل بكثير من حرب تستمر لأجيال طويلة ضد داعش، كما قال كل من جولي بيشوب وزير الخارجية الأسترالي ومارتن ديمبسي رئيس هيئة الأركان المشتركة الأميركية السابق، في كلمات مماثلة منذ عدة شهور.
ثالثاً، نحتاج استراتيجية عسكرية واضحة ومن الممكن تطبيقها خلال شهور أو سنة أو سنتين. ما أراه الآن هو حرب من دون هدف معلن بوضوح، بدون جدول زمني، وبدون حلفاء محليين (حزب الاتحاد الديمقراطي ليس حليفاً حقيقياً، فهو مرتبط بعلاقات مع النظام الفاشي، وهو غير ديمقراطي في تعامله مع السكان المحليين، دعك عن أن الاعتماد المنفرد عليه سيؤدي الى التسبب بمشكلة إثنية كبيرة في سوريا).

التعبئة الدولية اليوم ضد داعش تحفزها نزعة إبادة، وليس تحقيق العدالة. وهذا بالضبط ما يميز التعبئة التي تقوم بها داعش ضد العالم. هل من المستغرب حقاً أن نعترف بأن داعش هي انعكاس لصورة عالمنا الحالي على المرآة؟ كيف يمكن أن نفسر هذا الانجذاب المرضي للكتابة والحديث عن داعش في وسائل الاعلام الغربية بغير ذلك؟ بغير هذا النزع لنزع السحر عن وجه العالم؟
ربما هذا هو السبب الحقيقي لانعدام الرغبة في قتال هذا العدو العالمي المفترض.

ما سيكون دور داعش المستقبلي في سوريا والعراق؟
لا شيء على الإطلاق.
داعش هي مزيج من استعمار استيطاني ونظام فاشي وإرهاب عدمي. وهي بذلك مضخة للشر والموت يجب أن يتم تفكيكها بالكامل.
لكن من الضروري أن يكون هناك تغيير كبير بالتعبئة الحالية النازعة لإنسانية المسلمين، التي قد تتسبب بمجزرة كبيرة. أفضل نقطة للانطلاق هي فهم حقيقة داعش كقوة في العالم وتفسيرها بأدوات تحليل علمانية. ليست داعش شيئا دينيا، ولا هي نمو لبذرة في صلب الإسلام عابرة للزمن.

ومن المؤسف أن المرء لا يرى فرصة لتغيير، عندما نرى أشخاصاً مثل سلافوي جيجك يتبرع بالمشاركة في هذه الحملة الهستيرية، مزوداً إياها بمنطق تصنيفي حربي من قبيل “نحن” و”هم”، وتعميمات جاهلة عن الصراع السوري (صراع زائف حسب رأيه) وعن سوريا التي لا يعرف إطلاقاً شيئاً عنها، لا عن مجتمعها ولا عن تاريخها ونظامها السياسي واقتصادها السياسي وبيئتها الإقليمية. هذا النجم ما بعد الحديث كتب مؤخراً مقالةً ذات نزعة أكثر حربية بعد عن العلاقة بين تركيا وداعش، مقالة مبنية بالكامل على معلومات مغلوطة وعلى شغف بالكراهية. إذا أخذنا هذه الوقائع بعين الاعتبار، أخشى بأن الآمال بتغيير في مسارات التفكير أصبحت أضعف بشكل ملحوظ.

يخيل للمرء بأن داعش على قدر ما هي سيئة للسوريين والعراقيين، هي شيءٌ جيد للغرب ولروسيا. لذلك فالسؤال عن مستقبل داعش يجب أن يكون: هل سيقومون يوماً ما بفعل شيءٍ حقيقي لتفكيك هذا الكيان؟ هل هم حقاً معادون لهذا المزيج من استعمار استيطاني ونظام فاشي وتنظيم إرهابي؟ لعلهم يتعرفون في داعش على أشياءً يتعرفونها جيدا في أنفسهم.

هل ما يجري هو إعادة ترسيم للحدود في المنطقة؟
من المحتمل أننا داخلون في عملية كهذا. رسم حدود الشرق الأوسط كان نتيجة ما انتهت إليه الحربان العالميتان الأولى والثانية، والتغيرات التاريخية في مسألتين رئيسيتين، المسألة الشرقية والمسألة اليهودية، وجرى بإشراف القوى الاستعمارية التي شكلت النظام العالمي الحالي. سوابق حربي العراق ولبنان تفيد أن إعادة رسم الحدود ليس بالموضوع السهل. لكي يقع شيء من هذا القبيل يجب أن يحدث واحدٌ من شيئين بالضرورة: نظام عالمي جديد، و/أو تطهير عرقي على مستوى هائل، يتسبب بضحايا أكثر مما وقع في رواندا.

ولا أرى كيف من الممكن أن رسم حدود جديدة للمنطقة سيؤدي لحل أي مشاكل معلقة فيها. منذ الآن تبلغ أعمار الدول الموجودة في منطقتنا مئة عام تقريبا، وهي أقبل للإصلاح من دول جديدة ستكون إما صافية عرقيا أو طائفيا، وبالتالي أقل قابلية للترقي السياسي والأخلاقي لسكانها، أو مختلطة، لكن بدون ضمانات لعدم تصاعد الأوضاع لحلقة جديدة من الحروب العرقية أو الطائفية. وفي كلا الحالتين ستسعى كل من هذه الدول الجديدة الصغيرة لحماية نفسها من نظيراتها عن طريق اللجوء إلى القوى الاستعمارية القديمة نفسها التي رسمت الخرائط القديمة، ورعت الصراعات الحالية نفسها.
أنا مع (1) إصلاح دولنا (لامركزية، استقلالية محلية واسعة وحكم ذاتي، إلخ…).
(2) دولة فلسطينية سيدة.
(3) دولة كردية سيدة.
أتطلع أيضا إلى قيام كومونويلث شرق أوسطي حيث يعيش سوية العرب، الاسرائيليون اليهود، الأتراك، الأكراد والايرانيون، على أسس من المساواة والاحترام والرخاء المشترك.

سوريا تدمرت، يوجد الآن أكثر من 4.5 مليون لاجئ وأكثر من 11 مليون نازح داخل وطنهم. الدولة انهارت، جيلان على الأقل أصيبوا برضوض نفسية شديدةوتحطمت حياتهم بشكل غير قابل للعكس. ما الذي يمكن فعله للمساعدة؟ كيف يمكننا الانطلاق من الصفر؟ كيف نعيد بناء المجتمع؟
أولاً، علينا أن نسحب السكين من الخاصرة. نظام الأسد هو سكين، سكين مسمومة، لن تتعافى سوريا أبداً قبل إزالتها. ثانياً، سوريا ستحتاج الكثير من الوقت لتتماثل للشفاء. انه أمر مؤسف للغاية أنه لا يمكننا أن نتوقع المساعدة من المجتمع الدولي الذي ساعد بالأحرى في غرز السكين في مكانها منذ البداية. التعافي الوطني أصبح مهمةً غاية في الصعوبة، لكن ما تحتاجه سوريا بشدة هو إطلاق دينامية معاكسة لما سبق من دينامية عسكرة وتطرف وطائفية، دينامية مصالحة واعتدال واستيعاب للجميع. الناس الآن ناقمون ونزاعون إلى الثأر ببساطة لأنهم لا يزالون تحت القتل. من شأن دينامية مختلفة أن تقوي الاستعداد للتعاون والتفاهم المشتركين.

أعتقد أن عددا متزايدا من الناس سيعملون من أجل سوريا جديدة وأكثر استيعابا في اللحظة التي تنزع فيها السكين الأسدية من الجسد السوري. هم الآن متناثرون في كل أنحاء العالم، لكن حدوث تغير حقيقي في البلد وبناء سوريا جديدة سيكون قضية  جامعة لأكثرهم.

معظم المتعلمين غادروا البلد. كيف ترى المستقبل في وطنك؟
سؤالك مؤلم. إن لم تمت سوريا، فالعديد من هؤلاء الذين غادروا البلد سيعودون. وسأكون واحداً منهم بالتأكيد. أنا بانتظار أصغر فرصة للعودة. علي أن أقتفي أثر زوجتي وشقيقي الذين خُطفا في 2013.
أعتقد بأن إبداعية الناس يمكنها أن تفعل الكثير. اتحاد الضعفاء والمحرومين هو أمر ممكن، وهو ما سينقذ سوريا. أرغب بالعيش في سوريا جديدة أو سوريا تتغير، وسط الناس الذين يصارعون من أجل الحياة. لقد عشت هناك حياتي كلها.

كيف تؤثر مأساة شعبك على طريقتك بالكتابة؟
أنا بالأساس كاتب مقالات. أجد متعة في ذلك وأعيش منه.
ولما كنت الناجي بعد أن اختطفت زوجتي وشقيقي والعديد من أصدقائي بدون أي معلومات عنهم، فأنا أحاول أن أروي قصصهم، كي لا تضيع وتنسى. هذا أحد أهم المواضيع التي أكتب عنها.

وككاتب، أعتقد بأن مساهمتنا النوعية ككتاب في الثورة المخذولة تتمثل في إحداث ثورة في مجالنا الخاص، مجال الكتابة، والثقافة عموما.
الثورة ثقافية هي أمر ضروري جداً في سوريا والعالم العربي، وهي المشروع الوحيد الذي من الممكن يصون كرامة المخطوفين والمعذبين والمقتولين. أعرف أن عملي مشرب اليوم بحس مأساوي جاء مما أصاب سورية، وأصاب أحبابي، وأصابني شخصيا. في اللغة العربية هناك علاقة اشتقاقية بين كلمتي المعاناة والمعنى، وأعتقد بأنه يجب إعادة بناء ثقافتنا على أساس من معاناتنا وتجاربنا المريعة.
إلى ذلك، أرى أن الثقافة ميدان استراتيجي لصراعنا في هذا الوضع الاستثنائي. لقد قلت فوق شيئاً عن الأعداء وميادين الصراع. يمكن أن تكون الحرب أداةً في الصراع عندما يكون لك عدو واحد (طغيان السلالة الأسدية)، لكن السياسة هي الوسيلة عندما يكون لديك عدوين (لنقل الأسديين والجماعات الدينية المتطرفة)، أما الثقافة في الميدان الأنسب عندما تكون بمواجهة ثلاث أعداء: سلالة الأسد، المجموعات الإسلامية العدمية وقوى الامبريالية العالمية، روسيا والولايات المتحدة أساسا. بالطبع يجب أن تتشكل الثقافة بالطريقة الأنسب للرد على التحدي المتمثل بهذه القوى الثلاثة اللاانسانية. ما يوحد هذه الميادين الثلاثة من الصراع هو الذاتية والإبداع.
إنها مسألة انعتاق.

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Israel’s six-state reality

 
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By Khaled Diab

Netanyahu must dismantle the six states within a state Israel has created and grant every Arab and Jew full equality.

Thursday 21 January 2016

Tragedies are a time for soul-searching and deep reflection for some. For others, it is an opportunity to make political capital and to fan the flames of hatred.

Binyamin Netanyahu tends to fall squarely into the latter category. At a Tel Aviv bar where what authorities believe to be a terror attack took place leaving two dead and seven wounded, the Israeli prime minister took aim at the 21% of Israel’s citizens who identify as Palestinian or Arab.

He demanded “loyalty to the state’s laws from everyone”, claiming that Arab areas of Israel were crime-riddled, lawless and radicalised enclaves. While crime is a greater problem in Arab towns and villages than in Jewish ones, this is partly due to decades of neglect from the state, which has been more interested in the security threat Palestinians in Israel potentially pose than to the threats posed to them.

Although Netanyahu praised the swift Arab condemnation of the attack, he swiftly returned to his comfort zone when he said: “We all know that there is wild incitement of radical Islam against the state of Israel within the Muslim sector.”

While incitement does occur, what Netanyahu is wilfully ignoring is that the vast majority of Palestinians in Israel are peaceful and obey the laws of a state which increasingly discriminates against them and this despite being citizens of a country which erased their homeland and occupies their compatriots in the West Bank and Gaza.

More insidiously, while condemning incitement when committed by Palestinians, Netanyahu, in contrast to the moral courage displayed by President Reuven Rivlin, is silent about, excuses or even defends the Jewish inciters in Israel, many of whom are members of his party or coalition.

In some cases, he even promotes them. Take the firebrand of the far-right Jewish Home party, Ayelet Shaked. Despite her track record of incitement, including during the 2014 Gaza war, Netanyahu appointed her justice minister, without betraying a hint of irony. In this capacity, she has widened her net to include not only Palestinians, but also the Israeli supreme court and leftist NGOs.

Incitement also helped Netanyahu win the 2015 election, when he warned supporters that “the right-wing government is in danger” because “Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves” as part of a sinister leftist plot involving “left-wing NGOs [who] are bringing them in buses.”

In fact, the smooth-tongued Bibi, as his supporters affectionately call him, has a long track record of dangerous incitement. Leah Rabin, for one, had no doubts that Netanyahu, along with other members of the hard right, was responsible for creating the toxic atmosphere of hate which facilitated the assassination of her husband, Yitzhak Rabin.

Despite his two decades at the wheel of the juggernaut driving Israel off a cliff, Netanyahu had the audacity to tell Arabs at the weekend: “Whoever wants to be Israeli must be Israeli all the way.”

Like far-right rhetoric elsewhere, his comments imply that citizenship for the majority is an inalienable birth right, no matter how much they undermine the state, while for marginalised minorities it is a favour which must be earned and for which they must constantly express gratitude.

“I will not accept two states within Israel,” Netanyahu insisted, suggesting that Palestinian-Israelis are a state within a state.

What Netanyahu’s self-righteous rhetoric overlooks is that Israel, when you include all the territory it controls, is composed, according to my count, of at least half a dozen unequal states. At the top of the pyramid sit Israeli Jews, though they are also subdivided according to ethnicity and class.

Then there are the Palestinian and Arab citizens of Israel who theoretically have equality with their Jewish compatriots and enjoy it in the more enlightened corners of society. However, this is undermined by the legal system – which contains at least 50 laws which discriminate against Arabs, according to the legal centre Adalah – as well as other forms of racism and discrimination.

Although Jerusalem was annexed by Israel, its Palestinian inhabitants live under the precarious status of “permanent residents”, thereby turning natives into immigrants, and allowing the state to strip them of that status on the flimsiest of pretexts.

However, Jerusalemites do enjoy social security coverage, freedom of movement and the right to work in Israel. Their compatriots in the West Bank, on the other hand, face severe restrictions, live under martial law (except in Area A, where the PA possesses notional authority), reside behind walls, barriers and fences, and eek out an existence under the shadow of settlements.

In contrast, settlers occupy a legal grey zone, where they live on Palestinian land but enjoy the protection of Israeli law and the military. Ideological settlements are more akin to the lawlessness Netanyahu attributed to Arab towns in Israel, because of the Israeli authorities reluctance to bring violent settlers to justice which, in the words of Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, “creates impunity for hate crimes, and encourages assailants to continue”.

At the bottom of the pile lies Gaza, which is almost hermetically sealed by Israel and Egypt, and forgotten except in times of war. Israel controls Gaza’s territory militarily, but without any boots on the ground, and takes no responsibility for this occupation.

If Netanyahu really wants everyone to be “Israeli all the way”, he needs to move beyond self-righteous posturing to a rights-based posture. He must dismantle the six states within a state that his country has created and grant every Israeli and Palestinian, every Arab and Jew, full equality before the law and full citizenship.

____

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This article first appeared on Al Jazeera on 6 January 2016.

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Yassin al-Haj Saleh: “Syria is a unique symbol of injustice, apathy and amnesia”

 
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By Boštjan Videmšek/DELO

In an exclusive interview, prominent Syrian writer and dissident Yassin al-Haj Saleh talks about Syria’s past, tragic present and uncertain future.

صوري 1

Wednesday 20 January 2016

Yassin al-Haj Saleh is a leading Syrian writer, a former political prisoner and one of Syria’s foremost intellectuals. Ever since his student days, Saleh has been a vocal critic of the Assad regimes. He was arrested in 1980 during the presidency of Hafez al-Assad and spent the next 16 years as a prisoner of conscience.

During the early days of the Syrian uprising, his voice became louder than ever. In 2012, he was given the Prince Claus Award (supported by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs) but was unable to collect it, as he was living in hiding in Damascus. In 2013, he fled to Turkey. His wife and brother were abducted the same year. He is the author of several books,  including Deliverance or Destruction? Syria at a Crossroads (2014).

Here, he speaks to Boštjan Videmšek about Syria’s past, tragic present and uncertain future.

How and where are you right now?

I am fine, thank you. When I was in Syria, I used to say: I have no personal reasons to complain of, and no public reasons to be contented. After the revolution, with the abduction of my wife Samira and my brother Firas and my living in exile in Istanbul, the personal has become public and political much more than before. The public and political has become personal. It is a life of a struggle.

How do you feel when you see so many of your fellow citizens on the run from the most horrible conflict of our time? Did you expect an exodus like that?

Weeks ago, I helped smuggle my sister-in-law and my nephew from Turkey to Greece. As a beginner, I consulted friends, met smugglers, and chose one.

I was anxious about their safety, and was relieved when they arrived in a European country, even if it was not the one they wanted to go to. The other half of my brother’s family, he and his two younger sons, are to join the first half someday. With the help of friends, we are trying to arrange things for another brother and his family to take refuge in another European country, after a mutual friend of ours, the journalist and film maker Naji Jerf, was assassinated in Turkey on 27 December 2015.

We are helping ourselves to a world that did not help to liberate us at home. Never had I contemplated the possibility of such an exodus. I did not expect that the regime would kill hundreds of thousands of people and that its chances of staying in power would grow bigger as the numbers of its victims soared. I did not expect the emergence of a monstrous creature like Da’esh [ISIS]. I did not expect that around 70 countries would be partners in bombing my country: not against the ruling criminal, but against an offshoot of his monstrosity.

How do you see the European handling of the refugee crisis?

I am impressed by many people from many European countries, mostly individual volunteers. Their generosity, courage and humanity dignify the human race. I was touched by a message from a Norwegian woman who was in Lesbos helping refugees. As for governments, while it is not fair to include all of them in one category – Germany is not like Hungary, Sweden is not Denmark – I think they are unified in building higher walls in the face of the influx of refugees, specifically the poorest and most vulnerable ones.

For months now, European governments have been pressuring Ankara not to allow refugees to depart from Turkey. In November, they promised to pay €3 billion to the Turkish governments to guard European borders.

With all this blood that has been spilt over the past five years right under the world’s nose, humanity has led itself down the path to full ethical numbness. I suppose the indifference the world showed towards the Syrian ordeal will lead to even less sensitivity to human suffering in political institutions everywhere.

Where do you – in this chaotic situation – see the solution(s)?

One could think of a historical compromise that ends the war, guarantees full withdrawal of foreign forces, and is the basis of a wholly different political landscape in the country. A sustainable solution can only be built on a new political majority. This cannot be achieved through facing Da’esh alone or the regime alone. A new Syrian majority requires a substantial political change that is impossible to envisage without putting a full-stop to the rule of the Assad dynasty that has been in power for 45 years, a dynasty responsible for two big wars in the country: 1979-1982 and 2011-…

This change is the political and ethical precondition for a war against Da’esh with the broad participation of Syrians. The global powers have so far been putting the cart before the horse by targeting Da’esh only, ignoring the root cause of the militarisation, radicalisation, and sectarianisation that has occurred over the past five years, namely the Assad regime. This is a short-sighted and failing policy, not to mention unethical. It is a prescription for an endless war.

The new Syria could be built on a number of essential principles: decentralisation; thinking of different ethnic, religious and confessional communities as equal constituent communities; full equality among individual citizens (Arabs, Kurds and others; Muslims, Christians and others; Sunnis, Alawites and others; religious, secular and others). It is not acceptable to talk about Syria as a secular state, as the Vienna document of 30 October 2015 states, when the same document says nothing about justice and accountability, and avoids the word democracy. Lecturing about secularism reminds one of the worst traits of the colonial discourse.

What should the so-called international community do? What about the UN?

The past five years were a great chance to follow the international institutions and the world powers. For me, it is no longer Syria, it is the world, which is in a deep crisis. It is not that I do not follow what is happening in my country, but the world is in Syria (around 70 states are at war there).

I tend to think that the world lacks the potential for freedom and justice more than at any time over the past a century. In December, Vladimir Putin raised the possibility of using nuclear weapons against “terrorists”, an extraordinarily irresponsible statement that was met with utter silence form the international community. A few days later, the same man said that the Russian offensive in Syria “is not a serious burden for the budget … It’s hard to imagine a better exercise [for the Russian forces]. So we can train there [in Syria] for a long time without any serious harm to our budget.” Full of colonial arrogance, this statement stirred no reaction at all from the UN or Western leaders, not even a word from human rights groups, or any leftist organisations in the world.

The situation in Syria has developed from a revolution against tyranny to a global question, the Syrian question. Creating questions is, in my opinion, the political method of the powerful in shaping history. They create complicated, despair-inducing situations that last decades or generations (or forever, as an Assadist slogan says), during which the poor and weak are entangled in ineffectual struggles. By contrast, the method of the vulnerable is to create clarity and hope through revolutions. Crushing the revolutions in Syria and in the region has been the common job of the powerful local, regional and global powers. The Gordian knots they create will be with us for a long time.

In history, questions and big wars walked hand in hand. The Eastern Question ended in the First World War, and the Jewish Question found two “Final Solutions” in the Second World War and its aftermath (the second at the expense of the Palestinian people). One might add the Kurdish question: denying the Kurds statehood, which is also a source of hatred, despair, and war. Syria is an active field for this question now.

That is why Syria is a microcosm and a global metaphor.  Needless to say – the UN and the international community are creators of questions, or are, indeed, counterrevolutionary powers. I do not expect them to be revolutionary, but their role was criminal indeed.

Is the Sunni-Shia divide now too deep to overcome it politically?

It is. But there are no political solutions to confessional divisions. However, division in itself is not a problem; the problem is the violent struggle between the confessional groups. Contrary to the common wisdom in the West, this struggle is not something primordial that emanates from the very fact that there are Sunnis and Shia. Actually, it is the opposite: social and political struggles mobilise these idle belongings of ours and electrify them, or charge them politically. They transform into political, indeed military, parties. This is also the method of the powerful in order to weaken rebellious people and transfer the struggle from the socio-political field (the underprivileged v the elite) to the socio-cultural field (our underprivileged against theirs). What I want to say is that we need to know better the dynamics and processes of the social and political struggle in countries like Syria, Iraq, Bahrain, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the regional struggles to understand the ‘Sunni- Shia divide’. This is deepening indeed. It is being used as a tool to rule the masses and to exercise regional influence. Sectarianism, in general, is a strategy for political control. So it is politics, not religion or “culture”.

Can we say that Syria still exists as a country, as a state?

Again, Syria is the world. More than 70 countries are formally at war in the country, and jihadists from more than 70 countries are also there. Syria is a global question, a unique symbol of injustice, apathy, and amnesia. We have this Syria, at least – the symbol.

I am sorry to say that I am less sure about Syria as a viable country. The only chance, however, for Syria to survive is substantial political change. Unchanged, Syria is a dying land, sooner or later. Only changed will Syria become viable.

The reasons for the war and the brutality of the regime have been more or less forgotten in the Western narrative of the war. Why?

Primarily due to the identification between the regime and the major powers on the structural and symbolic levels. The modernist ideology is a common issue between the fascist with a necktie, Bashar al-Assad, and those neck-tied leaders in the world who lack vision and global responsibility. This issue is, in a way, related to the formation of the political elite in the West: high-income people who are fully isolated from politically inflicted human suffering. One source of the crisis is democracy in the West. If separated from the struggle and human aspiration for justice, democracy dies. In front of our eyes, we are witnessing democracy being reduced to political technology for dealing with crises. Crisis management, with its innate divorce from values and issues of justice, is the dominant method of politics over the past 25 years, even in the West. This method is good for nothing but creating questions, and the Middle East is the incarnation of these extremely unethical policies.

Some additional roots of this amnesia are related to the constitution of the powerful mass media in the West: the exciting is always more preferable to feed the masses on than what is humanly and politically important. For instance, beheading a man is more exciting than killing 100 with a barrel bomb. We identify with these who kill the way we do (their crimes, like ours, are not news), but we are enchanted with those who kill in a different way to the degree that we have offered Da’esh free propaganda for two years.

By the way, I think this enchantment with Da’esh that began in the summer of 2013 has deep connections with the sordid chemical deal between the US and Russia, which practically informed the Assad regime that it was okay to kill people with other tools, not with the one we had forbidden. The mainstream media was obedient in highlighting whatever Da’esh did and sidelining the crimes of the regime in order to legitimise that despicable deal between the two big global keepers of the peace (read: war). Da’eshmania is a way of suppressing the shame of that deal. Media and power elites want the masses to remain mesmerised, with their minds fixated on those exotic decapitators, who are absolutely different from us and our dear masses.

I want to add one additional thing concerning this fascination with Da’esh. I suspect that the mad extent of killing and control that Da’esh is practising in the regions it occupies is the level the power elites in the “civilized world” aspire to imitate. That violence has an essential virtue: it pushes past the limits of what can be done to the population at home, giving the power elites everywhere a sense of mastery and freedom. If this can be done there, it will be possible here someday. Da’esh is the laboratory test the elites like to peep at and hope to imitate someday. It is their utopia and our dystopia. That is why the population in the West should be anxious of what has been happening in Syria for the past five years. Do not defend us, defend yourselves!

Is there any player at all who has  a positive role?

External players? Maybe not. However, it would be a big mistake to conclude from that that all the players are equally bad. Turkey’s record is mixed: it welcomed around 2.5 million refugees. Our situation here is acceptable and, so far, Tukey has had a consistent position towards the Shabeeha regime in Syria, but it caused a lot of trouble because of it is irrational and unjust concerns about the Kurds on both sides of the border. France’s position was mostly a consistent one, too. Both countries were clear all the time that the culprit is the regime and it should be overthrown and they tried to act accordingly, but were kept back by the United States. Washington has been the worst enemy of the Syrian revolution, worse even than Russia, which was a clear enemy from the first moment, along with Iran and the latter’s satellites in Lebanon and Iraq. I am not an essentialist anti-imperialist who thinks that imperialism is an essence hidden somewhere in the US, maybe at the White House, the Pentagon, or the CIA, but I tried hard to locate any positive elements in the Syrian policy of Obama’s administration in Syria. The world at large has become a worse place, especially after the chemical deal which was a big gift to Da’esh and al-Nusra Front (and, of course, to Assad), than it was before.

As for internal players: I think one can identify obscurantism as the position of saying that there are no “good guys” in the Syrian conflict; they are all bad. I see this as an essentialist, Da’esh-like way of approaching our cause. I do not imply that there are no bad guys, there are many; neither do I want to say that there are many good guys, which is of course true, unless one is Robert Fisk, Patrick Cockburn, or Vladimir Putin. Rather, I want to make a paradigm shift from that reactionary distribution of labels of good and bad, to the actual dynamics of the struggle. I alluded before to the chemical massacre in which 1,466 Syrians were killed at the hand of the Assad regime, and to the chemical deal between the Americans, Russians and the regime. What was that deal? There were four actors, not three, at the time: the regime, the Americans, the Russians and millions of Syrians who had been resisting the thuggish regime for more than two years and four months, peacefully at the beginning then with arms. The regime gained not only its survival from that sordid deal but also impunity; the Russians managed to save a client regime and won a greater recognised role in the region and the world, while America (and from behind the scenes, Israel) succeeded in disarming the regime of the dangerous weapons that were thought of being deterrent to Israel. The party that was completely sacrificed is the one who had just lost 1,466 people in one hour: the rebellious Syrians. That is why that deal was despicable and its “heroes”, especially the one named Barak Obama, were extremely villainous.

Due the regime’s brutality and the baseness of the big egos of the globe, a dynamic of radicalisation, Islamisation and militarisation, was triggered and changed everybody in the country, myself included. In September 2015, I was in Oslo for a few days, where I appeared on a TV programme. Before this show, the presenter asked me, if I was “moderate”. No, I am not, I replied. She was alarmed, but she wanted to be sure: “But you are secular, aren’t you?” For the discursive habits in the West, ‘moderate’ implies that siding with us (“We are the centre of the world.”) and “good” are synonyms. You are “extremist” and “bad” whenever you side with your own people.

Of course, I am bad.

How do you see Turkey’s involvement and the future of the Kurdish question?

This is the main cause of the Turkish government’s biggest mistakes in Syria. Turkey has not been able to deal with its own Kurdish problem on a basis of equality, freedom and fraternity. Just now, there is a real war in the Kurdish regions in Turkey, with poor people being humiliated, displaced and killed. To Syria, the Turkish government exported its bad experience in dealing with the Kurds. And to make things worse, the Syrian PYD imported from Turkey its experience there, people to apply this experience, and with spades of the modernist ideological rubbish, designed specifically to enchant middle class left-wing spinsters (mostly males) in the West. This has already caused a lot of suffering, and I am afraid it will only cause more. What we are witnessing is, in my view, the building of an ultranationalist, one-party system, with hidden connections to the Assad regime and Iran, and less hidden ones with the US and Russia.

How can we effectively fight Da’esh? Personally, I don’t see any substantial political will to fight them with full force.

You do not see political will to fight Da’esh because there is none. There is political will for the war to go on. Da’esh is good for the war to continue. Its demise is the bad thing from this perspective. That is why the world seems unified against this ill-equipped (in military terms) fascist organisation, without making progress toward defeating it.

I think the American reasoning goes this way: Da’esh is strongest in its men. We have to besiege them in a certain area, so they will not spread everywhere the way they did after we (hysterically) invaded Afghanistan in 2001. Bashar should stay according to the lesson we learnt from our (unjustifiable) invasion of Iraq and dismantling the state there. As for those who are against Da’esh and fighting Bashar, well, er… they are mostly bad. The Russian monologue maybe goes like this: we want Bashar to stay in power. To achieve this we have to destroy those who are really fighting him. Of course, we will talk only about a war against terror and fighting Dae’sh, is it not that what the Americans have been droning on about the whole time? When we crush all those who are against Bashar and Da’esh, the clandestine understanding between us and the Americans will become public, and we will decide the fate of Syria and the Middle East together. Israel will side with us. We can give it more than the Americans are able to do.

Imaginary strategising aside, I think it is not at all difficult to fight Dae’sh, but you cannot do so while systematically ignoring the local forces that did face this entity in the past, and relying on another fascist organisation, namely the Assad regime.

There are three levels of a fruitful struggle against Da’esh. First, to honestly build a just cause for this war, and this cannot be but justice and freedom for those oppressed by it, which in turn cannot be achieved while ignoring the main source of oppression and injustices, the Assad regime. How do you want me to fight Da’esh while you are dealing from behind my back with a cliquish regime that killed 300,000 of my fellow citizens? Second, there should be a clear political vision of supporting a democratic transition in Syria and Iraq. Things will be messy in the two countries for years to come or even more, but this is still far better than a war that goes on for generations as both Jolly Bishop, the Australian foreign affairs minister, and Martin Dempsey, the former American head of staff, said in similar words few months ago.

Third, you need a clear military strategy that can be achieved in months or a year or two. What I see now is that we have a war without a clearly expressed aim, with no timeframe, with no local allies (The PYD is not that ally: they have relation with the fascist regime, and they are not democratic, let alone that relying solely on them will creating a very big ethnic problem in Syria). The international mobilisation against Da’esh is annihilation-oriented (not geared towards justice). But this is also the essential feature of Da’esh’s mobilisation against the world. Is it that far-fetched to say that Da’esh is a mirror reflection of the present world? How else can we explain this morbid attraction to talking and writing about Da’esh in the media of the West? This dis-disenchantment of the world?

Maybe this is the reason for this reluctance to fight this supposed global enemy.

What will be their role in the future of Syria and Iraq?

Absolutely nothing.

Da’esh is a mixture of settler colonialism, a fascist regime, and a nihilist terrorist organisation. As such, it is a pump of evil and death that should be completely dismantled.

But there should be a big shift in the current dehumanising mobilisation that affects all Muslims and promises us only a huge massacre. For effecting such a shift, the best starting point is to understand Dae’sh as a worldly power and explain it through secular tools of analysis. It is not a religious thing, not a flourishing of a primordial seed within Islam.

It is a sorry fact that one does not see any prospect for such a shift, when even people like Slavoj Žižek volunteer in this hysterical campaign, providing it with a warring classificatory logic of us and them, and stupid generalisations about the Syrian struggle (a pseudo struggle according to him) and Syria that he knows absolutely nothing about – its society, history, political system, political economy, regional environment. That postmodernist superstar wrote recently an even more combative article about the relationship between Turkey and Da’esh – one based on false information and a passion for hatred. With this in mind, I am afraid hopes for a change of course become considerably slimmer. One may even think that Da’esh, as bad as it is for Syrians and Iraqis, is something good for the West and Russia. So the question of Da’esh’s future is: will they ever do anything real to dismantle this entity? Are they really antagonistic to this combination of settler colonialism, fascist regime, and terrorist organization? Maybe they are identifying in it things that they know very well in themselves.

Are the old borders in the region being redrawn?

It is possible that we are in the process. Drawing borders in the Middle East was an outcome of two world wars and historical shifts in two questions (the Eastern and the Jewish one), under the supervision of the colonial powers as they shaped the present world system. The precedents of Iraq’s and Lebanon’s wars denoted that creating new states and redrawing borders is not as easy as we may think. For such a thing to happen, one of the following two is a pre-requirement: a new world system and/or a massive ethnic cleansing; one that surpasses Rwanda.

I do not see how redrawing new maps in the region will solve any older problems. Our present states are already a century old at least, and they are reformable far more than new states that will be either pure, and consequently less capable of ethical and political promotion, or mixed, with no guarantees of not spiraling into a new circle of ethnic or sectarian wars. And in both cases these new smaller states will seek protection from each other by resorting to the same old colonial powers that drew the old maps, and that patronised their very present struggle.

I am for (1) reforming our states (decentralisation, autonomous regions, etc.); (2) a sovereign Palestinian state; (3) a sovereign Kurdish state. I look forward to a Middle Eastern commonwealth, where Arabs, Israeli Jews, Turks, Kurds, and Iranians live together on a basis of equality, respect, and shared prosperity.

Syria has been destroyed, with 4.5 million refugees and more than 11 million people displaced inside their own country. The state has collapsed, at least two generations have been deeply traumatised, their lives irreversibly shattered. What can be done to help? How do we start from “ground zero”? How do we rebuild society?

First of all, you have to remove the knife from the loin.The  Assad regime is a knife, a poisoned one, that Syria will never recover from without it first being removed. Second, Syria will need a long time to convalesce. It is regrettable that one cannot expect help from “the international community” that helped plunge the knife in the first place. National recovery has become a formidable task, but what Syria needs most is to launch an opposite dynamic to that of militarisation, radicalisation, and sectarianisation – one of reconciliation, moderation and inclusivity. People are vengeful now just because they are still being killed. A different dynamic will encourage a predisposition towards co-operation and mutual understanding.

I believe that an increasing number of people will work for a new, more inclusive Syria, the moment the Assadic knife will be plucked out of the Syrian body. They are now scattered all over the world, but real change in the country and building a new Syria will be a collective cause for the majority of them.

Most of the educated people fled. How do you see the future of your country?

Your questions are painful. If Syria does not die, many of those who fled would come back. I will be one, definitely. I just want a minimal chance to go back home. I have to track down a loving wife and a brother, both abducted in 2013.

I believe that the creativity of people can do a lot. The alliance of the vulnerable, the underprivileged, is possible, and they will save Syria. I only want to live in a changing/changed Syria, among the people who are struggling for life. I lived there all my life.

How does the tragedy of your people affect the way you write?

I am essentially an essayist. I enjoy doing this and I am living off it.

Having survived after my wife, my brother and many of my friends were abducted with no information about them, I am trying to tell their stories, to prevent them from lapsing into oblivion. This is one of the main topics of my work.
As a writer, I think our specific participation as writers in the let-down revolution is to achieve revolution in our own sphere: writing and culture in general. A cultural revolution is extremely vital in Syria and the Arab World, and it is the only project that radically dignifies those abducted, tortured and killed. I know that my work is now imbued with a tragic sense, derived from what befell Syria, my beloved and me personally. In Arabic, there is a telling etymological relation between suffering and meaning, and I think that our culture should be rebuilt around our horrible experiences of suffering.

Besides, I feel that culture is a strategic field of our struggle in this exceptional situation. I said something before about enemies and fields of struggle: war could be a tool of struggle when you have one enemy (Assad dynasty tyranny), politics is the method when you have two enemies (say tyranny and religious extremism), but culture is the right field when you have three enemies, as we have: the Assad dynasty, the nihilistic Islamic groups and global imperialist powers, principally the US and Russia. Of course, culture should be formed in a way that responds best to the challenge of these three inhumane powers. What unifies these three fields of struggle is autonomy and creativity.

It is a matter of emancipation.

 

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An ode to minorities

 
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By Khaled Diab

Rather than distrusted, marginalised or persecuted, minorities must be celebrated for the role they play in strengthening society and bridging chasms.

A Syrian refugee performs 'Ode to Joy' Photo: © Jure Eržen

A Syrian refugee performs Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’. Photo: © Jure Eržen

Monday 28 December 2015

Globalisation was meant to move us beyond our narrow tribalism and make us all members of one big happy human family. While at its best, globalisation has succeeded in making people thrive on diversity, at its worst, our globalised world has led to a rising fear of difference and a huge surge in identity politics.

And as a growing number of states falter or collapse, economic inequality widens and poverty deepens, minorities are regaining their traditional status as targets of hatred and scapegoats. The active persecution in places like Syria, Iraq and Myanmar, as well as the mainstreaming of a neo-fascist discourse among the no-longer-far right in America and Europe, compels me to dedicate this ode to minorities.

As an Egyptian who has divided his life between the Middle East and Europe, I have been part of one minority or another for the greater part of my life. Unlike many Arab intellectuals who lament their “estrangement” or “exile”, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

As a member of a minority, one can interact with and belong to more than one culture simultaneously. We have our home culture, which is mundane to us but exotic to our surrounding society. And just beyond our doorsteps lie the exoticness, for us, of the everyday of mainstream society.

I still remember the day I moved to live in England. I looked out of the window at a rain-speckled London playground where a group of strangely coloured children were playing in ways that were eerily familiar to me.

That sense of familiar foreignness would accompany me on my first day at school, during my entire education and when I visited friends. The fact that we spoke different languages at home, often ate different food, had parents with very different cultural reference points and celebrated different religious festivals – even though my parents also allowed us occasionally to mark Christmas – made us mutually exotic.

But I evolved to slip relatively effortlessly between both cultural spaces, to belong, at least in my mind and heart, to both societies and traditions. And the bafflement my otherness sometimes caused was offset by genuine curiosity and interest, while the racism of strangers was counterbalanced by the love and sympathy of friends.

After many years, moving back to Egypt didn’t remove the foreignness. If anything, it accentuated it. Although I’d been led to believe that this was a homecoming, it felt to my teenage self like a move to a foreign and exotic land.

And society felt my foreignness too. Although I was accepted as essentially an Egyptian, I was also “el-Inglezi” (the English guy) or even a “khawaga” (foreigner, usually Western). Though I’d spoken Arabic at home with my parents, it was woefully inadequate for dealing with Egyptian society and the English with which I communicated with my siblings became the new exotic.

With time, my Arabic became convincingly natural, but some of my lifestyle choices elicited curiosity and sometimes raised eyebrows. Likewise, no matter how acclimatised I became to Egypt, certain elements remained foreign, especially the culture of profuse flattery and the verbosity of interpersonal exchanges.

Of course, belonging to more than one society is not always complementary, especially when significant cultural and political differences exist. Squaring the circle of contradicting cultural demands is, admittedly, a challenge. It leads some in pursuit of an elusive and usually false “authenticity,” while others go to the other extreme and attempt to assimilate so completely into the mainstream that they adopt not only its ways, but also its prejudices towards and misconceptions of their minority.

Personally, I’ve chosen the path of individualism, to hold the stick where I feel comfortable, to mix and match a blend that suits my tastes – and to hell with those who don’t accept me on my terms.

With my Arabist-Belgian wife, we have taken this potpourri approach to assemble a domestic cultural collage. Our six-year-old son has two religious heritages, and the secular convictions of his parents, can already speak four languages fluently and embraces the unfamiliar, the exotic. He feels comfortable everywhere, but I fear this may change as he gets older.

Even though Iskander is blond and looks totally European, if Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump represent an enduring trend in the West, he may come under immense pressure to jettison his Arab side. Similarly, the fact that he has not been raised as a Muslim and instead has grown up in a religiously sceptical household may cause him trouble in the Arab world, if its conservatism is not overcome.

History is replete with examples of how minorities make a society stronger and more humane, and getting rid of them costs everyone dearly. As outsider-insiders, minorities bring creative energy, ambition, drive to achieve, and often hold up a mirror to the excesses and transgressions of mainstream society.

This makes defending minorities in everyone’s interest, if only because societies that persecute or eliminate a minority don’t stop there – they exhibit an ugly tendency to identify sub-groups of the majority to scapegoat and target.

Being a well-fitting misfit everywhere has facilitated my evolution toward a more inclusive and embracing humanism – a mash, not a clash, of civilisations. In these troubled times of widening chasms, the world needs the bridging role of minorities more than ever.

____

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This article first appeared in Haaretz on 15 December 2015.

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Egypt’s borderline paranoia

 
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By Khaled Diab

My interrogation at the Egyptian border about my journalism and opinions is not about state security, but the insecurity of a paranoid state,

Wednesday 18 November 2015

Following the crash of a Russian airliner over the Sinai, concerns have been raised about lax security at Egypt’s airports. Although the jury is out on what actually happened, I can report that there is one area of border security in which Egypt excels: policing the minds of its own citizens.

I got a taste of this during a recent trip to Sinai. Given my Arab and journalistic background, entering and leaving Israel is sometimes akin to playing the lottery, with the winning ticket being a simple, straightforward, untroubled passage.

As we approached the Eilat-Taba crossing between Israel and Egypt, I felt a sense of trepidation, like a gambler watching the roulette wheel spin.

Although we were travelling for leisure, the mutual distrust and cold peace between my native and host countries meant there was a pretty high chance that my passage would be far from leisurely.

On the Israeli side, everything went so smoothly — with the women working in the small terminal so charmed by our son that they tried to tempt him behind the counter — that I allowed myself the luxury of hoping the same would happen on the Egyptian side.

Alas, it was not to prove so. Fortunately, after a while, they stamped the passports of my wife and son and let them leave – though my prolonged absence got my wife very worried.

Alone in the dusty, rundown terminal, I watched the Israeli and other tourists — many of whom were heading for Taba’s casinos — swan through the terminal with barely a cursory glance at their travel documents. In fact, with the passport control booth regularly unmanned, confused tourists actually had to search around for an official to check their documents.

Security is a well-documented concern at smaller Egyptian airports and crossings, though it is pretty tight in Cairo’s main international airport.

This was symbolically driven home to me on the way back. At the point where the Egyptian and Israeli crossings meet, two bored and unfit-looking Egyptian guards sat chewing the fat. On the Israeli side, a mean-looking body-builder type with an automatic weapon marched regimentally up and down, eyes camouflaged by his mirror sunglasses.

This hit-or-miss attitude to citizen security made me feel all the more offended by the long wait that was being forced upon me by the guardians of the security of the regime. I reflected to myself that being an Egyptian is not worth much, even in Egypt.

That partly explains why I haven’t renewed my Egyptian passport since it expired a number of years ago. I now enter the country on my European passport, which ironically provides greater protection, though less so than before, as illustrated by the Al Jazeera English trials.

With time on my hands, I began to wonder what was going on and my mind began to wander, in light of the increasingly arbitrary exercising of emergency powers in Egypt, between likely and more fanciful possibilities.

After a couple of hours, I was finally taken upstairs and led into the office of a senior officer. The air-conditioning in the spartan room was set to Arctic and the AC unit, as if mimicking some ancient form of torture, was dripping loudly into a bucket at the back.

Unlike my recent interrogation at Ben Gurion airport, my interrogator was far friendlier and exceedingly polite, regularly remarking on how “talking to you is really enjoyable” in an ambiguous tone of voice. In a way, I felt like I was the special guest on a surreal, Kafkaesque talk show, with the host exhibiting what might have been, under other circumstances, a flattering interest in my career and ideas.

The idealist in me was screaming to tell my interrogator that he was intruding on my privacy, while the realist counselled patience. Fearful of escalating the situation at a time when Egypt is undergoing one of the largest crackdowns in its modern history, with hundreds literally vanishing into thin air and thousands behind bars, I listened to the voice of caution.

After satisfying the officer’s curiosity about what I was doing living in Jerusalem, he wanted to know what I’d produced recently about the Israeli-Palestinian context.

Our exchange got even more philosophical when he switched his line of questioning to my beliefs. When he asked me whether I was still a Muslim, I tried to deflect his question by arguing that it was an issue of private conviction. When he persisted, we got into an exchange about the difference between being a-religious, agnostic and atheistic, and where I stood on that spectrum.

But all this turned out to be the appetizer. What most concerned the state security officer seemed to be my journalism about Egypt and my views on the situation there, including in the troubled Sinai.

As I expressed my honest views of Egypt’s president Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi and the absence of democracy in Egypt, I wondered what my interrogator was making of what he was hearing. However, he was giving nothing away. Showing the kind of balanced interviewing style absent from the pro-regime media, he simply probed my opinions, without passing judgement.

I don’t know how much of my interrogation was based on information the authorities already had and how much was a fishing expedition. Though I’m certainly on state security’s radar — as demonstrated by the fact that they knew I was a journalist at Cairo airport when I passed through there last summer, without me have declared myself as such — a lot of it was fishing, since the officer confiscated my computer and phone, and called me back for a number of rounds of questioning. However, I’m unlikely to find out, short of another revolution throwing up my file, as the previous one had done with my father’s.

However, as I sat waiting, I realised that the information I had already volunteered could be used to concoct a “compelling” case against me, especially with all the show trials that have occurred over the past couple of years.

Based in Israel/Palestine, I am highly critical of the regime, write for the Israeli media and, even worse from the regime’s perspective, Al Jazeera, and have photos of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Raba’a al-Adawiya protest camp on my computer. In addition, though many Egyptians have become more open and tolerant towards atheists in recent times, the regime has a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde approach to non-believers, which has depended largely on the personal convictions and whims of individual judges and officials.

I could not resist a wry smile at the dizzying array of charges or suspicions that could be directed my way: “Zionist agent,” “Muslim Brotherhood sympathiser,” “insulting the president,”  “defaming religion,” to mention but a few.

After nearly eight hours in custody, I was released and was not bothered again during my stay, except for one brief visit to my hotel. Having a foreign passport, writing in English, living abroad and perhaps encountering a relatively open-minded officer meant that I am far more fortunate than the thousands of courageous prisoners of conscience filling Egypt’s prisons.

I fear that the crash of the Russian airplane, if it proves to be terrorism, will result in another, severe round of repression in which the regime will use the so-called “war on terror” to muzzle and imprison its critics.

An early sign of this is the shocking summons and detention by military intelligence of one of Egypt’s foremost journalists and human rights defenders, Hossam Bahgat, who, on the back of an enormous campaign for his release, has been let go for now but charges against him are still being investigated.

In Egypt, it would seem, critical journalists too often wind up behind bars, while hypocritical ones tend to get their own TV shows.

Of course, Egypt is not alone. To varying degrees, most of the Middle East treats journalists and freethinkers with an enormous dose of suspicion and paranoia. But they are fighting a losing battle, especially in the information age, as ideas cannot be silenced, arrested or detained at the border. Indeed, Bahgat’s articles are now enjoying an online renaissance with a global wave of readers triggered by concern about his arrest.

Egypt needs to stop searching people’s political and intellectual baggage and focus its attentions on the actual luggage moving through its airports. It’s the insecurity of the state that has to be shed before there can be true state security in Egypt.

____

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This is the extended version of an article which first appeared in Haaretz on 10 November 2015.

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Syrian refugees: The civil rights movement of our time

 
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By Boštjan Videmšek

Rather than threatening Europe’s way of life, refugees are, through their struggle, helping to preserve the most precious of European values.

Photo: Jure Erzen/DELO

Photo: Jure Erzen/DELO

Monday 16 September 2015

Numerous segments of the mainstream and social media portray the Syrian refugees on their way to Europe as public enemy number one. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Among them, one can easily find highly educated young people, most of them from the urban middle class, their cultural and historical references startlingly close to those of their European counterparts.

If Europe could whip up an iota of empathy or historical recall, these are the sort of people it should be thoroughly identifying with.

It has to be said: during the past few months, these brave and industrious souls have shamed an anaemic, drowsy continent with their courage and their dignity. They have demonstrated the importance and the immense potential of fighting for one’s human rights. With the help of little else than their wits and civil disobedience, they have managed to rattle the Schengen area’s complacency, to thoroughly shake up the Dublin II agreement and to spark a wide-scale public debate. All this, after mustering the gumption to leave their war-torn lands and risk the torturous march to freedom. For all these reasons and plenty more besides, I like to call the men, women and children heading for Fortress Europe the civil rights movement of our time.

On their brave desperate dash for Europe, the refugees are still headed for the Europe of tolerance, dignity and freedom of movement. In reality, this rather threadbare illusion of the Promised Land is increasingly ruled by a scourge of nationalism, xenophobia and open racism. For a long while now, these three blights of the modern and, indeed, any age have remained hidden behind the dangerous mask of political correctness. Now, fuelled by the ruthless opportunism of the paranoid and narcissistic European political elites, they are having one hell of a coming-out party.

While men, women and children are still dying in the Mediterranean – this year alone, the flight to Europe has already claimed 2600 lives, while the decade’s tally is now set at some 23,000 souls – the old continent is visibly caving in to fear. What we are witnessing is an epidemic of terror slowly gearing up for a collective panic attack. So many of the still quite comfortable citizens from Krakow to Newcastle seem positively elated in their dread of all the modern-day barbarian hordes, terrorists, Islamic extremists and generic monsters surging up from the South and the East.

The prevailing discourse – both in public and in private – grows uglier by the hour. It seems these latest developments have finally allowed the far-right to break free of its fetters. The views that, even two years ago, would have seemed batty and deranged are steadily creeping into the dominant narratives of the day. The distance between Europe’s ivory towers and its gutters has never been so small. While every soul still clinging to a shred of decency should be howling with alarm, the heart of Europe is polishing off its jackboots.

Men, women and children who have lost everything in the bloodiest conflict of our time are now being greeted as aggressors. Yet why would Europe, having done nothing to prevent or mitigate the war in Syria, start caring now? After all, the continent – Germany and Sweden serving as commendable exceptions – has already turned its back on the refugees in the early stages of the war, forcing some 4.5 million people to run for the neighbouring countries.

Now that the problem has become too huge to deny, Europe has opted to tackle it with a system of quotas. From the look of things, the individual countries will even be able to choose the refugees they want, evoking the image of a modern-day slave market. The profoundly cynical EU beaureaucrats must have known in advance of the Raft-of-the-Medusa effect this was sure to have on the migrants and refugees on the Greek islands.

In the coming weeks and months, the onrush is only likely to intensify. We are acting as if these men, women and children neither have nor deserve names, faces or any sort of a tolerable future. Even worse: Europe has chosen to treat these individuals pretty much as it does its nuclear waste. It seems as if, for us, collective memory is a luxury well out of reach.

Things are clearly out of control. The refugees who are crossing borders with their babes in their arms, swimming the Mediterranean straits, climbing walls, surviving police violence, protesting Hungary’s cruel and boorish policies to ultimately force the far-right supremo Viktor Orban to start transporting them to the border by bus… Right now, all that makes these brave and resolute men and women the only genuine mass freedom movement of our time. Just as, in the second half of the 1950s, African-Americans fought racial segregation with civil disobedience, protest marches, exemplary internal organisation and solidarity, the Syrian refugees have now taken on the inhuman anti-immigrant and anti-refugee policies of the EU. To put it in plainly, they have taken a stand against the racial segregation of our time.

The incomers from Syria are waging one of the most important battles of them all. It is the battle for the survival of the open and humanitarian Europe, indeed its very humanistic foundations. They are persisting in this conflict – which is also being waged for every freedom-loving European’s sake – armed only with their own courage, wits and steely resolution. At root, this is a profoundly revolutionary struggle, and one that actually carries the potential to change the continent for the better.

In 1964, Martin Luther King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. This year, my personal favourite by far is the unbroken caravan of Syrian refugees on its freedom-loving march to peace and dignity.

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One year on: Gaza, life with hard labour

 
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By Khaled Diab

With rubble Gaza’s only growth industry, people are unable to pick up the pieces of their broken lives, face psychological ruin and dream of escape.

Gaza's rubble rousers. Photo: ©Khaled Diab

Gaza’s rubble rousers. Photo: ©Khaled Diab

Friday 10 July 2015

You can call them rubble rousers. Unlike the iconic image of Palestinians throwing rocks at Israeli tanks, these destitute men have found a new calling: navigating the many ruins of Gaza created by last summer’s war. With heavy hammers and pick axes, they smash away the concrete from around the steel rods, which are too valuable for the owners to allow these rummagers to take.

A train of horse- and donkey-drawn carriages makes its way to an industrial crusher that recycles Gaza’s rubble into gravel which can be used in repair and reconstruction work. Although a small cartload of concrete fetches only $2 and a collector can expect to net $5-6 for an 11-hour day after deducting food for his animal, there is no shortage of people “willing” to undertake this backbreaking labour.

A destroyed mosque in Beit Hanoun. Photo: ©Khaled Diab

A destroyed mosque in Beit Hanoun. Photo: ©Khaled Diab

With the World Bank reporting that Gaza has the highest unemployment rate in the world, reaching a whopping 60% among youth, not to mention all the people in work who are not being paid, rubble is one of the few growth sectors in Gaza’s besieged and battered economy, which is still largely sealed off from the outside world.

“What I make isn’t enough for anything,” admits Rushdie, a man who says he is 30 but looks about 45. “But this work gets me out of the house.”

Since the war, many young people have dropped out of school or college to help support their homeless and destitute families. “Before the war, I was studying mathematics at al-Quds Open University,” explains Mo’tasim, perched casually against his cart wearing a baseball cap, his cheery demeanor and smiley visage contrasting sharply with the ruins of Beit Hanoun which were pummeled heavily during the war.

“I’ve discontinued my studies for now because we need money,” he adds, explaining that his family had lost their home and were being housed in an UNRWA school until his brother got burnt in an accident. Now 15 of his family members are living together in a single room in a damaged building.

But you don’t need to be a mathematician like Mo’tasim to figure out that the situation in Gaza has become completely hopeless. When asked whether he had lost hope for the future, Mo’tasim laughed: “What hope? We had no hope to lose in the first place.”

Still, the young man has not abandoned his modest dreams of finishing his education and landing himself a dignified job. But like other youth in Gaza, the war has prompted him to do the maths and conclude that the only way is out. “If I got the chance, I’d leave Gaza and never return to Beit Hanoun,” Mo’tasim maintains.

Young Gazans dream of escape across the sea to Europe. Photo: ©Khaled Diab

Young Gazans dream of escape across the sea to Europe. Photo: ©Khaled Diab

And Mo’tasim is no lone wolf, this urge to take flight affects young people of all walks of life. “I swear to you, if they open up the crossing and give us opportunities to emigrate, not a single young person would remain in Gaza, not even those with jobs,” claimed one unemployed graduate who had borrowed money to pay smugglers to get him to Italy but was caught in Egypt and deported back to Gaza.

“To sit home and wait for death, that is the definition of injustice,” he emphasised.

And this sense of hopelessness and powerlessness is common. While the post-traumatic stress epidemic among Gaza’s children following the 2014 offensive has received wide attention, less visible is the impact of the conflict on grown-ups. “When you have an adult in the situation we have in Gaza,” says Hasan Zeyada, a veteran psychologist at the pioneering Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (GCMHP),  “this creates a feeling of impotence.”

“Gaza has endured multiple losses, what we call multi-traumatic losses,” elaborates Zeyada, who suffered just such a series of misfortunes when he lost his mother and five other close family members during an Israeli airstrike. “People in other places usually endure a single loss: the loss of a home, or a family member, or a job. Many Gazans have lost them all.”

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

Talk of post- or pre-trauma is futile, as trauma is constant and ongoing, not to mention multiple, some experts point out. This long-term, continuous stress has resulted in a growing plethora of psychological difficulties. These include low self-esteem, self-blame, displacement of anger, anxiety, panic attacks, obsessive compulsive disorders, mood swings and full blown depression.

The unending, prolonged psychological strain, along with reluctance to consult mental health specialists, also lead to somatoform disorders, which are phantom physical ailments caused by underlying psychological conditions, which cause the sufferer additional psychological distress.

Thanks to the work of the GCMHP and other programs, awareness is rising of mental health issues and the stigma is much less than before, says Zeyada.

But Zeyada warns that there is little he and his colleagues can do beyond providing the psychological equivalent of a band aid, as long as the underlying causes are not addressed. “Without an enhanced socio-economic and political reality, you can’t talk about mental health,” he notes. “Mental health in Gaza is connected to human rights.”

And if nothing happens? Not only will Gaza turn into a completely uninhabitable space, Zeyada argues, a lost generation of traumatised and terrified children will reach adulthood: “How are you going to convince this generation tomorrow that there can be something called peace?”

____

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This is the extended version of an article which first appeared in Haaretz on 1 July 2015.

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One year on: Gaza’s hidden psychological ruins

 
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By Khaled Diab

It is not just the landscape that is scarred and devastated, Gaza is an emotional and mental wreck teetering on the verge of psychological ruin.

Gaza is on the verge of psychological ruin. Photo: ©Khaled Diab

Gaza is on the verge of psychological ruin. Photo: ©Khaled Diab

Wednesday 8 July 2015

At the Erez crossing.  Photo: ©Khaled Diab

At the Erez crossing. Photo: ©Khaled Diab

Entering Gaza feels a little like infiltrating the world’s largest maximum security facility, home to 1.8 million inmates, living on 360 km² of land.

On the Israeli side of the high wall surrounding the imposing Erez crossing, there is a large field of magnificent sunflowers, which looks out of place in these bleak surroundings.

Small, impoverished, overcrowded and trapped between the deep blue sea and the Israeli-Egyptian blockade, Gaza is a stifling and suffocating place. Already confronted with a severe housing shortage before the Israeli military offensive in 2014, the displaced live in whatever available spaces there are: UNRWA schools, tents, heat-intensifying tinplate or zinc containers, with extended family and even in damaged buildings.

With reconstruction work stalled for lack of materials and funds, the deep scars left on the landscape by last summer’s brutal war have not even begun to heal. Almost everywhere you go, the remains and ruins of war are visible, even in Gaza city’s only upmarket neighbourhood, al-Rimal.

Posing in Shuja’iyya. Photo: ©Khaled Diab

Shuja’iyya, which was flattened by Israeli forces and became an icon of the war, is still largely a rubble-strewn crater, where the skeleton of the odd building still stands drunkenly like a fallen house of cards. Bulldozers slowly remove the traces of destruction and young children play in the newly vacated spaces, asking us to take their photos.

Given the many rounds of destruction Gaza has endured, there is a sort of geology of devastation. The oldest artefact is the short-lived but once-gleaming Yasser Arafat International Airport. But like Palestinian dreams of freedom and independence, its Andalusian arches lie in ruins. Now a grazing ground for camels, this locked gateway to the world is a poignant symbol of Gaza’s current siege.

However, it is not just the landscape and architecture that are scarred and devastated, psychologically, Gaza is an emotional and mental wreck. “There is a high level of psychological pressure in the Gaza strip,” Hasan Zeyada, a veteran psychologist at the pioneering Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (GCMHP), told me.

Gaza airport, a grazing ground for camels. Photo: ©Khaled Diab

Gaza airport, a grazing ground for camels. Photo: ©Khaled Diab

On the surface, Gazans exhibit remarkable fortitude. But scratch a little deeper beneath the smiling, welcoming facades and you quickly find bubbling despair and overwhelming distress afflicting every segment of society.  “This is no life. No-one cares about us,” confessed Samer, a teenager forced to collect and sell rubble to help his now-homeless family.

With large families the norm, people seek whatever escape they can. Gaza’s teeming beaches are popular day and night, even in areas where raw sewage flows straight into the sea. “We go to sleep, we wake up, we take walks on the beach – we fill the time,” says unemployed graduate Saleh Ashour, 24, describing a typical day.

Everywhere you turn, there are many, many children, but few genuine childhoods are visible. With the exception of flashy, brightly lit toy cars on the beach promenade and a few makeshift football pitches, there is little in the way of child’s play, but a rising amount of child labour. And these poor young souls, who make up the majority of Gaza’s population, are the most vulnerable psychologically. “Children are the most sensitive group and they are the most likely to be affected by the socio-political reality,” explains Zeyada.

Photo: ©Khaled Diab

Photo: ©Khaled Diab

And the trauma some have endured could buckle the toughest adult’s shoulders. Take Reda, 15, who lost her mother, a number of siblings and members of her extended family during an Israeli airstrike. Now she must care for her father and surviving siblings, while clinging desperately on to the memory of her mother. “My mum was my friend… I feel that she is talking to me,” the girl, who has shed 8kg since then, her appetite drained by dreams of eating the pizza her mother was preparing when disaster struck, told al-Mizan, a Gaza-based human rights organisation.

The trauma of loss has been tough on the adult population too. “I lost Arwa, the apple of my heart,” confesses Hamida, whose favourite niece perished with 18 other members of her family. “When I used to visit her, her smile would precede her and she would open her arms wide to hug me… Her drawings were so beautiful. I wish one had survived.”

But it is not just the trauma of war and the loss of loved ones which afflicts Gaza’s adult population. With unemployment at 44% (60% for youth), GDP at a quarter of what it would be without the blockade and real per-capita income a fifth of what it was two decades ago, according to the World Bank, the psychological impact of Gaza’s prolonged isolation is immense.

“The whole of life in Gaza is in a state of deterioration. There is no stability for anyone,” describes Hasan Zeyada.

“Gaza has endured multiple losses, what we call multi-traumatic losses,” elaborates Zeyada, who became the patient as well as the doctor when he lost his mother and five other close family members during an Israeli airstrike. “People in other places usually endure a single loss: the loss of a home, or a family member, or a job. Many Gazans have lost them all.”

This prolonged and continuing stress and trauma have resulted in a growing plethora of psychological difficulties. These include low self-esteem, self-blame, displacement of anger, anxiety, panic attacks, obsessive compulsive disorders, mood swings and full blown depression.

Displaced feelings of anger and frustration have also led to a growing level of domestic violence and more aggressive public behaviour, notes Zeyada.

“I’m sitting around, and this guy’s sitting around, and that guy. We’ve all had it up to here,” says Saleh Ashour. “If someone comes and cracks a joke with me, I find I get all serious with him.”

Faced with this economic, social and psychological wasteland, large swathes of Gazan society are possessed with the overwhelming urge to take flight and escape. “If they open up the crossing and give us opportunities to emigrate, not a single young person would remain in Gaza, not even those with jobs,” said unemployed graduate Amer Teemah, 24. And true enough, even successful Gazan academics and journalists I met want to leave, temporarily, they say, but they fear they may decide never to return.

Teeman and his lifelong friend, Ashour, paid $3,500 each to smugglers to get them to Europe, but failed.

“You are condemned to be a failure before you can even start,” says a crest-fallen Teemah, who has no clue what to do now that his outlandish plans to build a new life in another land have failed, and only landed him in debt.

Despite the immense emotional and psychological strain, Gazans are remarkably tough and resilient survivors. Thousands continue to work, despite not having received a salary in months, and there is an air of relative law and order, considering the dire circumstances.

But if the status quo continues, Gaza faces the prospect of total psychological ruin, with unforeseeable consequences. Ultimately, Gaza’s psychological and emotional malaise is of an entirely manmade nature. “Many of the psychological problems in Gaza are reactive. They are a reaction to the present situation,” observes Hasan Zeyada. “That means that mental health in Gaza is connected to the political reality.”

Gaza’s cure lies in Israel and Egypt’s hands, who need to urgently seek counselling regarding their irrational paranoia towards the Strip. Catastrophe can be averted if the blockade is lifted, which will provide the Gazan population with what it desperately misses the most: hope for the future.

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Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This is the extended version of an article which first appeared in The National on 13 June 2015.

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A ‘War on Error’ against radical anti-Islam

 
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By Khaled Diab

Given how many New Atheists, Christian fundamentalists and neo-cons share a distorted view of Islam and Muslims, it’s high time for a War on Error 

Tuesday 19 May 2015

What do the high priests of “New Atheism”, Christian fundamentalists and neo-conservatives have in common?

Though this may sound like the opening line to a joke, the punchline is actually not terribly funny, especially given its dire consequences. Even though New Atheists feel contempt for Christian fundamentalists, both parties share a deep distrust and a profound misunderstanding of Islam and the Muslim world.

This was amply illustrated in a recent e-mail exchange in which the well-known neuroscientist and New Atheist Sam Harris decided, uninvited, to pick an intellectual fight with America’s leading political dissident, the scholar Noam Chomsky. After reading the debate, I was left with the impression that Harris has a knack for speaking truth to the powerless, while Chomsky follows the true path of the dissident, of speaking truth to power.

Given how broad and, hence dangerous, these misperceptions are, I believe it is high time that we launch a “War on Error” to spread the values of sensibility and common sense.

Moral equivalence and moral relativism

One of the most popular methods used by some New Atheists – and which they paradoxically share with neo-cons and Christian fundamentalists – is to slam what they regard as the “moral (or ethical) relativism” of the presumably self-hating left and multiculturalists.

As someone with powerful humanist convictions, I would love nothing more than to live in a world in which the universal values of individual human rights, equality and tolerance of others are the norms.

However, my experience is that those who inveigh the loudest against “moral relativism” are the first to invoke it in the form of “moral equivalence”. When people like me try to use the same ethical yardstick for all, they explicitly or implicitly invoke American or Western exceptionalism.

Take Sam Harris, who employs both concepts in his exchange with Chomsky. He defends torture, which contravenes the universal values he claims to uphold, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as something that “may be an ethical necessity in our war on terror,” yet issues wholesale condemnations of the “cruelty,” “barbarity” and “approach to criminal justice” of Muslim society.

“Any honest witness to current events will realise that there is no moral equivalence between the kind of force civilised democracies project in the world, warts and all, and the internecine violence that is perpetrated by Muslim militants, or indeed by Muslim governments.,” Harris writes in his 2004 The End of Faith,” an excerpt he includes as part of the email debate with Chomsky .

In this, he sounds like prominent neo-cons and Cold War warriors. During the Reagan era, for instance, US ambassador to the UN Jeane Kirkpatrick penned a scathing article in which she attacked what she claimed was the “myth of moral equivalence” between America and the Soviet Union.

Though Harris, a supporter of the Iraq war, repeatedly ignored Chomsky’s question about what he made of George W Bush’s belief that God guided him to invade Iraq and his description of the war there as a “Crusade”, forutnately, not all the intellectual leaders of New Atheism are so disingenuous. To his credit, Richard Dawkins was an outspoken and staunch opponent of perhaps the largest and deadliest military folly of this young century. “George Bush is a catastrophe for the world. And a dream for Bin Laden,” he concluded in no uncertain terms, at the time.

Shackled minds and the liberation of thought

“The inhabitants of the earth are of two sorts: those with brains but no religion, and those with religion but no brains.”

The citation above may sound like it was uttered by Richard Dawkins but it is actually a quotation taken from Abu al-Ala’ al-Ma’arri (973-1057), the blind Syrian poet, philosopher, rationalist and hermit who was both a vegetarian and an early advocate of extreme birth control, i.e. not having children.

Despite his strident and uncompromising atheism, the Syrian was a highly respected scholar of his day, who is still admired in Syria, and lived to the ripe old age of 84. His life and ideas, as well as that of numerous other Arab and Muslim intellectuals throughout the ages, eloquently expresses how Islam and free thought are not necessarily incompatible, as many modern critics claim, and how this tradition continues into the modern day, despite the conservative backlash.

Equally eloquently, the posthumous beheading of statues and busts of al-Maari by the Nusra Front show how far modern-day jihadists and Islamists have strayed from this spirit of tolerance and acceptance, and how al-Maari was better off in the Syria of the 10th century than that of the 21st.

Islam, the root of all evil

Though he lived a millennium earlier, al-Ma’arri differed from New Atheism’s high priests in one significant respect – he regarded all religions, prophets and scriptures as being equally “fabrications” and “idle tales”. In contrast, some of his contemporary counterparts possess an inexplicable soft spot for their own religious heritage.

“I regard Islam as one of the great evils in the world,” self-described “secular Christian” Dawkins contends because “there is a belief that every word of the Quran is literally true.”

While I agree that this is highly problematic, Dawkins conveniently glosses over the fact that a quarter of the citizens of the world’s most powerful nation believes the Bible should be taken literally and another half believes it to be the word of God.

Sadly, Dawkins’ view of Islam as the greatest evil echoes that of the lunatic Christian right in America, and has an ancient pedigree in Christian thought. For instance, prominent evangelist Franklin Graham, shortly after 9/11, repeatedly described Islam as “wicked and evil”. “I don’t believe this is a wonderful, peaceful religion” and “It wasn’t Methodists flying into those buildings, it wasn’t Lutherans.” Among evangelical Christians, 52% believe that “Islam is essentially a violent religion,” according to a 2013 poll.

Both Dawkins and Franklin, despite their undoubted mutual contempt, seem to draw from the same ancient roots of mutual distrust and rivalry between Christianity and Islam, eloquently illustrated by Dante’s Divine Comedy, where Muhammad is so evil that he must occupy one of the lowest circle of hell, where he suffers unspeakable torture. Likewise, far too many Muslims are convinced that there is a Christian crusade against Islam, which is clearly untrue.

Though it would be wonderful if all Christians were like a good-natured and eccentric Vicar of Dibley, the truth is that away from the West, wide-scale death and destruction have been wrought in the name of Christianity, from the ISIS of Christendom, the Lord’s Resistance Army, to the carnage of the anti-condom movement in Africa.

Fortunately, the New Atheists’ distorted views of Islam do not accurately reflect the views of the people for whom they are presumed to speak, given that just 20% of people who claim no faith or are agnostic believe that Islam is violent, according to the same Barna Group poll cited above. Similarly, the poll found that 62% of evangelical Christians have an unfavourable perception of Islam, compared with just 7 percent of agnostics or people with no faith.

Dreams of Nirvana

As a further sign of Dawkins’s religious naivety and that of  many others, great geographical distance seems to have warped people’s view of “Eastern religions”. “Hinduism and Buddhism offer much more sophisticated worldviews (or philosophies) and I see nothing wrong with these religions,” Dawkins claims, apparently oblivious to the deadly effects of Hindu and Buddhist violent nationalist and fundamentalist movements.

If even Buddhism, widely perceived as the true “religion of peace”, can be exploited for the purposes of hate, intolerance and persecution, this reveals an important truth: religions are faulty and imperfect, but so is the human condition.

What this suggests is that if Islam (and religion as a whole) died out tomorrow, we would not necessarily reach a state of enlightened secular Nirvana. The godless utopia could easily turn into a dystopia as well, as the Soviet experiment taught us.

Any ideology, even rationalism and atheism, can be twisted for the political gain of the few and to inflict unbelievable pain and suffering on the many.

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Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This is the extended version of an article which first appeared in Haaretz on 14 May 2015.

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The EU is torn between criticising and cheering China

 
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By Ray O’Reilly

 At 40, EU-China relations are going through a midlife crisis. Is Europe living up to its human rights values or focusing on the value-added of trade?

EU-China 1

Friday 24 April 2015

European Union officials criticised the imprisonment of veteran Chinese journalist Gao Yu, describing it as “blatant political persecution”, reported The Guardian and other newspapers.

Gao was handed down a seven-year prison sentence on 17 April for leaking to a British newspaper ‘Document No 9’, which reveals the Communist party’s less than glowing view of human rights activities.

After the trial, officials from both the US and EU spoke out about the verdict. Raphael Droszewski from the EU Delegation to China told reporters that the sentence “heightened concerns over the situation of human rights defenders, including lawyers and journalists”. Dan Biers, first secretary at the US embassy, reportedly said rather mutedly that his country was disappointed by the verdict.

The statements were made as observers report a worrying intransigence in China towards the media, and a slew of detentions and convictions of activists, lawyers and journalists, such as the outspoken Gao who has already served jail time for similar “crimes” and her pro-democracy stance following the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989.

“Gao Yu’s sentence is a travesty of justice and yet another affront to free expression in China,” remarked Maya Wang, an Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The heavy sentence… reflects the worsening crackdown on civil society and its defenders since President Xi Jinping came to power. It is yet another unequivocal message to China’s remaining activists that the government does not tolerate dissent.”

“The document Gao Yu is accused of leaking can in no reasonable way be classified as a legitimate state secret,” commented William Nee, China researcher at Amnesty International. “To the authorities’ immense embarrassment, Gao Yu laid bare the Communist party’s outright hostility to human rights, and for that she is being severely punished.”

Hong Lei, China’s foreign ministry spokesman, responded to the criticism, saying that Gao’s case was handled in line with Chinese law: “Citizens have always enjoyed all forms of rights accorded to them under the constitution… At the same time, citizens must strictly abide by their obligations under the constitution,” he said.

Despite the criticism and concern expressed by officials on both sides of the Atlantic, it has continued to be “business as usual” for both the EU and the United States. This was reflected in the active preparation underway for celebrations marking the 40th anniversary of Euro-Chinese relations.

By unfortunate coincidence, on the same day as the EU was condemning Gao’s imprisonment, European diplomatic missions in China announced a string of “open days” to celebrate the four decades of Sino-European relations. The programme includes information sessions, lectures, debates, cultural events as well as fun and games over a three-month period from April to June.

At 40, the EU’s relationship with China seems to be going through a midlife crisis. I’ll leave it to you to make up your own mind who is telling fibs in this unfortunate state of affairs and whether the EU is living up to its own lofty Charter of Fundamental Rights as it negotiates important trade deals with China in troubled economic times like these.

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