How it started

Cartoon by Ali Ferzat

One of Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat cartoons. Others may have been more appropriate, but when online, one feels much like the person depicted in the cartoon. The real question is, is there a reality behind the mask, if so, what is it?

By Friday, August 21, 2009,  two years and 10 days ago, I had been blogging on Syria Comment for more than a year during which I typified the secular, progressive, leftist, “resistance” supporter. I was, and still am, a pro Palestinian, anti-neo-con blogger, but in fact, many of my posts where either in support of peace as seen from the resistance camp point of view, or, being fiercely secular, repetitive haggling with those whose opposition to the resistance camp had a slight hint of sectarianism, true or perceived. I was willing to overlook, against my better judgment, the fact that Syria still lived under a dictatorship, and had decided, despite of my personal disgust at the way Bashar Al-Asad inherited Syria from his father; to accept the notion that with Bush’s armies around the corner in Iraq and Israel attacking Lebanon and Gaza, to side with the so-called resistance camp, and by that, continue to tolerate the excesses of the Syrian regime, with the hope that what Syria Comment most influential poster, Alex, has been saying publicly and privately is true and that his confidence that reforms were just around the corner and it was only the series of attacks on Syria, and the neocons’ devilish plans that were the only reasons for their halt, and for the regression against those who early on presented the Damascus Declaration after the assassination of Rafiq Hariri of Lebanon.

Worst yet, and out of desire for stability, a rejection for the neocons vision,  and to a lesser extent, perhaps a desire that  my middle and upper middle class family in Syria continue to  enjoy some  of the scraps of modernity after years of Baathist deprivation,  I became  a reliable doubter of any potential involvement of the Syrian regime in the assassination of Hariri, perhaps out of the naive conviction that Hezbollah, the only resistance group that managed to really resist, was that this mythical good, always correct, hero. Needless to say, striving for just peaceful settlement of conflict, yearning for economic prosperity for my place of birth, made me a dependable advocate of the Syrian regime’s foreign policy.  Speaking of realism and critical thinking…..

Off course, I would criticize the Syrian regime without calling it a regime, but a government, thus making any criticism purely procedural. Like most in that group, I would easily distance my self from the so-called traditional opposition, accepting the notion that it is ineffectual and corrupt opposition, and focusing on the useless Asma Al-Asad’s civil society fraud. In reality, however, it was fear. Fear that only Syrians know. That fear of ears in the walls, which follows Syrians even after years of self-imposed or forced exile.

Then on that day, Syria Comment most respected writer EHSANI wrote a  main post titled The Syrian Public Sector, Corruption, Taxation, and Government Services” by Ehsani.  Somehow, a little crack appeared in the wall, and all before that moment is now history. Post # 2 in that thread will always live in my memory. Below are a few excerpts (as quotes), with my nowadays, liberated thoughts about that point of departure:

2. OFF THE WALL said:
Dear Ehsani:
……After a short discussion of Ehsani’s thoughtful post, I started the rant about economic reforms and their chances of success given what is better called the security state and how that security states does not trust its citizens and controls information, even to an embarrassing level:

Whether the reform target is privatization, value assessment/taxation, education, or public sector and official integrity rehabilitation, the disconnect between the rulers and the ruled will at best hinder any implementation of reform plans, and at worst, and most likely, sabotage these plans and widen the gap between the poor and the rich/powerful. At heart of this disconnect, and it would be dishonest on my side to claim otherwise, is placing security mentality above the fundamental notion of service and accountability. Take for example, the Syrian minister of information who recently banned the airing of an interview with the chair of a parliamentary committee because of red lines and taboos. This is but a demonstration of the ubiquitous and cancerous spread of such hyper sensitive security mentality that has reached comic new heights with the Syrian press censoring even the president himself by refusing to accurately portray the comments he made during his recent visit to Iran. The entire Struthio-Camelus* specie would stand awed at the ability of the Syrian official press to censor the president himself and deny his own citizens the chance to read the comments he made in public.

I then a brief  talk about the need to ensure that political reforms go in tandem with economic reforms.  Hopeful I was like many that someone was listening

While I will not argue for one way or the other now, I do believe that the two must go lock and step because progress towards economic freedoms and prosperity such as those you have proposed can only be accomplished if a wide margin of transparency is guaranteed, which in turn, can only happen under a level of political, civil, and press freedoms the Syrian government demonstrate both unwillingness and inability to accomplish or even attempt or contemplate.

Now  comes the shy declaration of dissent. However, the absence of the word regime, the continuing use of the word government, and the implicit agreement with the regime’s foreign policy are noteworthy, despite of the early cracks in the wall of fear:

Some on this blog may be shocked at my apparent lack of self censorship. No, I have not gone opposition, nor do I intend to. But I am saddened and abhorred by the continuing decline of my country of origin.Syria’s relative position continues to decline on any subjective or objective index, and any absolute improvement seems to be simple inertia that is unrelated to any plan or action by the government. In fact, through both actions and inactions, the successive governments have arguably contributed to this decline. Syrians have learned over the years, whether justified or unjustified, to exercise an incredible level of self censorship. For me, I have reached a point where I have recognized that such censorship is inconsistent with my whole life story. I applaud the ability of the Syrian government to withstand the George Bush hurricane, but the hurricane is gone, and excuses for continuing oppression and childish self-interest motivated control are gone with it. A free Syrian citizenry stand much better chance of confronting external and internal challenges and tangible steps toward delivering on promises we have been hearing for nine years must now be taken boldly.

Then comes the appeal, cajoling, begging, and even patronizing in hope that Bashar Al-Asad would hear yet one more Syrian telling him that real reforms are urgently needed. There is even a hint of accepting a gradual reforms. I was very angry at the continuing and increasing arrests of human right advocates in Syria, and that perhaps was what has been charging me for months by August 21, 2009.

From what I hear, the president continues to enjoy a sizeable political and good will capitals, it is about time for him to use them. A first step would be a new government unencumbered by regressive status quo advocates or by alliances to power centers, a second step could be reforms where the legislative and judicial branches are rehabilitated as the two equal partners in governance, and where mayors are elected and not appointed (as Norman has argued for a while ago). Free press, and well protected and unmolested civil society institutions will go light years in getting such reforms accomplished, leading to the establishment of a truly plural political environment in 5, 10, or 15 years. I think that, and as usual I may be way off the mark, if a plan of conjunctive political and economic reforms is presented to the Syrian people not by the Baath party, but by the president himself, many would be willing to brave the temporary economic hardships that may ensue as they become partners and enablers of the greatest experiment in Syria’s modern history. Heck, it could be his next election campaign platform. I must indicate that I will not accuse individuals, tribes, and/or sects, and I outright reject any attempt to make a sectarian argument out of my comment for such will be intellectually bankrupt and dishonest. I point my accusing fingers at the massive inertia of a 1960 mentality and its shackles, its ability to put the breaks even on its own creativity and potentials, and at the obsession with control that seems to characterize many of us Syrians, be us rulers or ruled. There is no stronger demonstration of this neo-Syrian psych than all4syria.info getting overworked because few teenagers were having too much fun in a concert inAleppo. When freedom advocating Syrians learn to live and let live, then I would have hopes.

And finally, an acknowledgment of Ehsnai’s call, and affirmation of where I stand on social justice and economy.

Again, kudos as usual to you, I agree more than 80% with your proposals. And for me to agree 80% with such a strong capitalistic proposal is a huge thing.

——

* Struthio-Camelus: Ostrich

Further explanation of the issue of civil society came in a subsequent post # 4,

Rant-continued

A better demonstration of the neo-syrian psych is the lawyers guild kowtowing the security apparatus by dragging in shackles one of their colleagues, who is being jailed for leading a human right organization, legally established, into a hearing in an attempt to strip him of his license and to make a lesson out of him to other conscientious lawyers. When a lawyers guild go after one of their own for defending human rights and for adhering to one of the most fundamental tenets of his profession, one can say, you live and you see. How dare they?

No wonder the guild was silent during the personal status law fiasco. What a shame

The Replies were mixed, but the one memorable reply was from another long-time  member of SC’s community. A Syrian who  blogs infrequently and critically of the regime under the name TRUSTQUEST. We had an argument in the past about a comment i made regarding Buthaina Shaaban,  and having exposed my self as an academic, TRUSTQUEST then made an argument about not trusting his daughter’s education in my hand. However, after this comment, here is  what he said.

10. TRUSTQUEST said:

OTW, Amen to all what you said, but tell you the truth I liked the joke about censoring the president himself; that was great one? Did he get upset? Did he complain or he does not know what is happening or is it a harmonious thing that been going on for decades? Anyway, you cover many aspects and thank you.

But, I liked your idea of brining the relation between political freedom and income, that is mean if no political reform is implemented it will be like a planned hold on income, isn’t? Notice also this call is against the system itself that can not progress this way because they have a lot to hide? You are putting them in difficult situation.

Preventing civil society from starting is one of the main obstacles in planning new direction, I would like to say where have you been all this time? You did not go opposition, sir you always has been, opposition mean any intelligent fellow who criticize the system and can be put in jail for doing so, example made before of Michele Kilo, even if he is smooth one like you when criticize each Ramadan.

You said: “I have reached a point where I have recognized that such censorship is inconsistent with my whole life story.” That is true for you and for most honest citizens, half a century is too long time, right?

Do you have now better understanding of your Syrian brothers who keep hammering the system: thank you for your wonderful comment because life is short to live it as a lie.
BTW, does the president know about that human right advocate or not, I think he does but you may think different.

Why you were hiding all this for long time? Thank you again and now I may send my daughter to your college, because I will be honored to have an honest supervisory person like you.

So now, I  hope I was able to tell TRUSTQUEST why I was hiding.  He was correct.  I was a member of the opposition and I did not know it. And now after more than 2500 Syrians lost their lives,  thousands  languishing in jails and  torture dungeons, and  Syrians breaking the fear barrier and telling the Assad’s family that they need to go. Now am content that on August 21, 2009, I finally made it  to the right side of history. What made my stance become more rigid over the past two years  is a long story, one that I will tell on this blog pages.  For now it suffices to say, welcome to the blog of OFF THE WALL, a lucky witness of the Arab Spring.
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Posted on August 31, 2011, in Arab Spring, Bashar Al-Assad, Corruption, Democracy, Rants, Regime, Syria and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. I like it already. Joshua

  2. Dear OFF THE WALL,
    Congratulations. I am honored. You have always been one of my favorite writers on Syria Comment. Starting your own blog is a brilliant idea. I am glad that I was the first to comment.
    Best,
    EHSANI2

  3. Thanks Ehsani and Joshua. You both have given me much to think about.

  4. Beautifully articulated description of your own awakening. So- much I could relate to in the first part… and inspiring in the second part. The structural violence imbedded in the Syrian system – has kept its ‘citizenry’ silent and compliant and without a social political consciousness that can challenge the power structure, but the cracks are where that consciousness begins for so many- and the falling of the facade in the recent months – where open violence appears in the light of day- has jolted many people awake- SEEING and comprehending the violence and stifling and oppression that was always there, and forcing recognition that its power will not just melt away by economic reforms. It is too deep and too much a part of the structure of the entire society and power system. Nobody can be passive anymore if they want to end this violence and see Syrians and Syria survive into modernity and post modernity. Our current world- and the earth is DEMANDING – that we reach out for LIFE and use our creative minds to survive. And Syrians cannot sit by and be slaves to a dead system and at the same time expect their society, country, and culture to survive this challenge. But I think – we have seen now- the people are not dead but have only been in a deep sleep. There is now stirring and awakening – and direction and momentum is moving inexorably towards a brave struggle against the soul killing death grip of the authoritarian structure and those who continue to uphold it.

  5. OFF THE WALL,

    I would like to make direct contact. If you are okay with that, please give me an email address that I can use.

  6. Dear Ehsani
    I will be honored to communicate with you. Please check my profile from the avatar. Avatars enabled until we establish connection

  7. OTW,

    I am honored to be invited to comment on your blog. I have been enjoying your contributions (as well as Ehsani’s) to SC for a while.

    The story above is very familiar. Many Syrians have stories similar to yours.

    My biggest problem with the regime (before the uprising) over the years is how it made The Syrians distrust each other.

    This gang needs to be removed and I prefer peaceful means to do so.

    My children in my adopted country have the right to be president while they are not even allowed to vote no in a fraudulent election back in their homeland. Dignity has to be restored to all of Syrians in order to succeed.

    Best of luck and looking forward to more from you..

  8. Great post OTW.

    And good luck with your blog :)

  9. Dear Zenobia
    That was very kind and nice. You are absolutely correct:

    Our current world- and the earth is DEMANDING – that we reach out for LIFE and use our creative minds to survive. And Syrians cannot sit by and be slaves to a dead system and at the same time expect their society, country, and culture to survive this challenge

    It is a dead system, and what we are seeing is merely the stench of its decaying corps.

    Dear Ziadsoury
    The honor is mine. Your posts have always been thoughtful and supportive. I look forward to reading your comments both here and on Syria Comment.

    Dear Nafdik
    Thank you, I hope also to read your posts.

    Dear All
    7ee6an will always welcome contributions as main posts. Let me know if you are interested. Send me an email at modotwblog@yahoo.com.

  10. OTW…I appreciate your thoughtfulnes that is quite evident in your piece. I am also appreciative of the level of discourse that you profer which is a nice respit from the usual the usual dribble of questionable youtube viseos in simplistic chants that seem to be the hallmark of the opositionn forces. If dissent is welcome, I look forward to being a part of your Blog community.

  11. Robin Yassin-Kassab

    well said. I recognise a great deal of this process myself.

  12. Wazup OTW? :)

    Cheers

    TRUE

  13. Mabrook on your blog 3am OTW.

    I am few months late but what can I do? No one told me about this if it wasn’t for twitter and seeing you there randomly. :)

    Love your first article which proves over and over my first impression of you as being an honest writer who writes from the heart.

    Best of luck and cheers for a new & free Syria.

  14. Akbar Palace

    I typified the secular, progressive, leftist, “resistance” supporter. I was, and still am, a pro Palestinian, anti-neo-con blogger, but in fact, many of my posts where either in support of peace as seen from the resistance camp point of view, or, being fiercely secular, repetitive haggling with those whose opposition to the resistance camp had a slight hint of sectarianism, true or perceived.

    OTW,

    Nice thread, good post.

    So you consider(ed) yourself as a “progressive, leftist, ‘resistance’ supporter”, eh?

    If only this group of people could critcize the Assad regime 1/10th as much as the “usual suspect”.

    BTW, if GWB invaded to conduct regime change in Syria, would you still be “anti-neocon”?

    What if Obama did the same? He’s not considered a neo-con.

    I think one can be pro-Palestinian and pro-”neo-con” at the same time. I would just call it “pro-freedom”.

  15. Akbar Palace

    “Resistance” Update

    Well OTW,

    While you contemplate your “anti-neo-con” stance, it looks like help has arrived in Syria.

    The Russians helping Besho.

    http://news.yahoo.com/russian-anti-terror-troops-arrive-syria-164035966–abc-news.html

  16. Hi Akbar
    Yes, the “communist” off-springs cavalry have just arrived in time as the noose got tighter.

  17. Akbar, Not all interventionists are Neo-Cons. There are liberal interventionists as well, and they tend to be more sane and sober when they evaluate the ability of the US military in achieving a long-term victory.

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