Friday, August 26, 2011

Gratitude II

I thought to repost this from August 6, 2011 as we approach the American Thanksgiving holiday and as the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians escalates. These journalists are amazing. I'm thankful for what they're doing and praying for their safety.


My 9-year-old daughter asked me the other day if I miss Beirut, my home for the first 13 years of my life.  I explained that I miss my family, friends and the unparalleled beauty of the city, but I'm very happy I live and raise my kids in the United States now.  Then I told her that if I didn't have a family here, I'd be somewhere in the Arab world right now reporting on the uprisings.  She gasped and said, "But wouldn't you be scared?  You can get killed."  I acknowledged the fear and the danger but told her, if given the opportunity, I would love to be part of the change sweeping the region and I'd figure out how to stay safe. 

On second thought, would I really have the courage to be in Libya, Syria or Yemen right now?  Would I tolerate at age 40 the sound of bombs and the constant possibility of death that I and so many others tolerated as children during Lebanon's civil war?  Can I run as fast?  Would snipers spare me now as they did then?  And, what would cheer me up amid the chaos as my father's gifts of candy did every time we took shelter? 

I don't have the answers to those questions.  Perhaps courage and adventure are for the young, and I'm squarely in my middle years now.  But as I follow the news every day, I'm amazed at the journalists who are risking their lives to shine the light on daily acts of injustice and brutality.  I worry about their safety and their mental health.  I worry about them being kidnapped and tortured.  I just worry. 

But more than worry, I feel an enormous sense of gratitude that they are there.  Oppression all over the Arab world is nothing new.  What is new is that it's no longer hidden behind the facade of the oppressors.  Thanks to the Internet, the world knows to pay attention.  Thanks to courageous journalists, the world can have eyes and ears on the ground to make sense of the events.  Hopefully, this translates into international determination and action to stop and prevent atrocities.  My hat is off to these amazingly brave men and women who are truly helping to shape a better future for millions of people.



Sunday, August 21, 2011


A Libyan child with the rebel flag. (AP)
At this moment, I am glued to my laptop and television watching events unfold in the Libyan capital as Gaddafi's tyranny comes to an end.  As people rightfully celebrate, I can't help but think of what the next 40 years hold for the Libyan people.  I will write more about this very quickly, but for now, I wanted to repost A Note to the Arab People from a few months back, which is about building nations after the fall of dictators. 

I sincerely hope the people of Libya will show the world how to build a nation on a rock solid foundation. 

Here the post:

A Note to the Arab People

As an immigrant to the United States from your part of the world, I am so thrilled that your sacrifices, courage and persistence are bearing fruit. I am following your efforts and cheering you on every day. I should also tell you that every American I know is cheering you on.

We are filled joy and hope for your future, and we are determined to help you and stand with you. You see our country was born out of a revolution too. The early Americans fought, organized and struggled against tyranny. They started with nothing and from nothing. They, like you, took huge risks and suffered countless casualties to reach that day of unlikely victory. But, while our independence from Great Britain was a major turning point in our history, it was only the beginning of a lot of work that shaped this country.

What followed independence was simply awesome! The land’s best minds came together to create the pillars upon which this great nation stands today. It was a messy process with a number of false starts and much disagreement and debate, but what resulted has sustained this great country for more than 223 years. Those pillars didn’t eliminate all injustice and free the enslaved; they didn’t immediately produce peace and prosperity; and they sure didn’t solve every social ill. But they have guided us toward a more perfect nation with every passing year. They are solid, strong and unshakable pillars that have withstood a bloody civil war, much strife, economic devastation, and many social and political movements of both the violent and nonviolent kind.

So, as you risk everything and turn your world upside down in the quest for freedom and democracy, I hope you deliberately choose strong foundations that will last for hundreds of years as ours have. Our founding fathers were far from perfect, but they were intent on creating a country in which its people are its epicenter. I pray that this is only the beginning of your progress and that you, the people, are the epicenter of your new systems of government.

I heard the criticisms when I went back home some years ago, especially this one: “The U.S. is only 200+ years old but we have thousands of years of history and culture. What can you possibly teach us?” I also heard much about U.S. foreign policy not being true to the ideals we hold sacred inside our country and that the U.S. exploits the rest of the world for its own gain. There's more than one kernel of truth in those and many other criticisms, and our nation is not yet perfect. But our founding fathers were principled and honorable as you are, and the results of their work speak for themselves. So for the sake of your nations' next 200 years, I hope you take a look at what has worked here, liberally copy from our founding principles and consider embracing any or all of our ideals. I'm fairly confident today's Americans won't mind one bit.

Lastly, in the coming months and years, please don’t forget that you are our brothers and sisters in struggle—no matter your religion, skin color or political convictions. We share your hopes and dreams and we stand with you with open hearts and minds.


 A Lebanese-American

p.s.: The documents outlining the pillars of our great democracy make for inspiring reading material. The links are below, but I have to warn you that you may very well get emotional reading. I know I do.
  1. The Declaration of Independence--The document that started it all.
  2. The Constitution--Solid but flexible enough to remain at the core of our nation.
  3. The Bill of Rights--This is central to many of the freedoms we enjoy. It is truly an amazing document.
Images of all three original documents are available in case you want a little extra magic and inspiraton. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Tom Friedman on Hama

For those following the appalling developments in Syria, I wanted to share a recent column by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman whose work I've referenced in two previous posts, the Syrians' Turn and Still Angry.  Of all people who write about the Middle East, he gets it best.  Here's his column from August 2.


The New Hama Rules

What a difference three decades make. In April 1982, I was assigned to be the Beirut correspondent for The Times. Before I arrived, word had filtered back to Lebanon about an uprising in February in the Syrian town of Hama — famed for its water wheels on the Orontes River. Rumor had it that then President Hafez al-Assad had put down a Sunni Muslim rebellion in Hama by shelling the neighborhoods where the revolt was centered, then dynamiting buildings, some with residents still inside, and then steamrolling them flat, like a parking lot. It was hard to believe and even harder to check. No one had cellphones back then, and foreign media were not allowed access.

That May I got a visa to Syria, just as Hama had been reopened. It was said that the Syrian regime was “encouraging” Syrians to drive through the town, see the crushed neighborhoods and contemplate the silence. So I just hired a cab in Damascus and went. It was, and remains, one of the most chilling things I’ve ever seen: Whole neighborhoods, the size of four football fields, looked as though a tornado had swept back and forth over them for a week — but this was not the work of Mother Nature.

This was an act of unprecedented brutality, a settling of scores between Assad’s minority Alawite regime and Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority that had dared to challenge him. If you kicked the ground in some areas that had been flattened, a tattered book, a shred of clothing, the tip of a steel reinforcing rod were easily exposed. It was a killing field. According to Amnesty International, up to 20,000 people were buried there. I contemplated the silence and gave it a name: “Hama Rules.”

Hama Rules were the prevailing leadership rules in the Arab world. They said: Rule by fear — strike fear in the heart of your people by letting them know that you play by no rules at all, so they won’t ever, ever, ever think about rebelling against you.

It worked for a long time in Syria, Iraq, Tunisia, etc., until it didn’t. Today, Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, Hafez’s son, is now repeating his father’s mass murdering tactics to quash the new Syrian uprising, again centered in Hama. But, this time, the Syrian people are answering with their own Hama Rules, which are quite remarkable. They say: “We know that every time we walk out the door to protest, you will gun us down, without mercy. But we are not afraid anymore, and we will not be powerless anymore. Now, you leaders will be afraid of us. Those are our Hama Rules.”

This is the struggle today across the Arab world — the new Hama Rules versus the old Hama Rules — “I will make you afraid” versus “We are not afraid anymore.”

Good for the people. It is hard to exaggerate how much these Arab regimes wasted the lives of an entire Arab generation, with their foolish wars with Israel and each other and their fraudulent ideologies that masked their naked power grabs and predatory behavior. Nothing good was possible with these leaders. The big question today, though, is this: Is progress possible without them?

That is, once these regimes are shucked off, can the different Arab communities come together as citizens and write social contracts for how to live together without iron-fisted dictators — can they write a positive set of Hama Rules based not on anyone fearing anyone else, but rather on mutual respect, protection of minority and women’s rights and consensual government?

It is not easy. These dictators built no civil society, no institutions and no democratic experience for their people to work with. Iraq demonstrates that it is theoretically possible to go from an old Hama Rules tyranny to consensual politics — but it required $1 trillion, thousands of casualties, a herculean mediation effort by the U.S. and courageous Iraqi political will to live together — and even now the final outcome is uncertain. Iraqis know how vital we were in this transition, which is why many don’t want us to leave.
Now Yemen, Libya, Syria, Egypt and Tunisia are all going to attempt similar transitions — at once — but without a neutral arbiter to referee. It is unprecedented in this region, and we can already see just how hard this will be. I still believe that the democratic impulse by all these Arab peoples to throw off their dictators is heroic and hugely positive. They will oust all of them in the end. But the new dawn will take time to appear.

I think the former foreign minister of Jordan, Marwan Muasher, has the right attitude. “One cannot expect this to be a linear process or to be done overnight,” he said to me. “There were no real political parties, no civil society institutions ready to take over in any of these countries. I do not like to call this the ‘Arab Spring.’ I prefer to call it the ‘Arab Awakening,’ and it is going to play out over the next 10 to 15 years before it settles down. We are going to see all four seasons multiple times. These people are experiencing democracy for the first time. They are going to make mistakes on the political and economic fronts. But I remain optimistic in the long run, because people have stopped feeling powerless.”

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Anders Behring Breivik
In the last few days, I've accumulated some rage and writing this post may be my only outlet.  

Here's one of the reasons:

My 9-year-old son walked into the dining room the other day waving a newspaper and screaming.  Alarmed, I asked what the matter was.  He was almost breathless. For the first time, he had just seen the headline about the Norway tragedy.  "Mom, can you believe this? This guy actually shot at kids," he said in a panic. "Yes, he did," I replied. "So, mom, kids my age had to run while this guy was shooting at them and some even drowned trying to escape," he said.  You see he follows the news fairly closely for his age, but I thought this particular event was so tragic that my husband and I kept it from him and his sister.  We thought explaining why and how such a tragedy could be possible can wait.  Now the secret is out and he's so angry.

As I see it, anger is the proper reaction to this horrible massacre, so let's get some things straight:
  1. Killing children is not a form of protest, no matter the cause. It's criminal--pure and simple.
  2. Not all Muslims are extremists by any stretch of the imagination, just like not all Jews are oppressors of Palestinians and not all Christians are crusaders.
  3. No one religious group holds the moral high ground. We're all guilty of something some time in our history.
  4. Human rights are universal. They're not reserved for any one ethnic or religious group.
  5. Hate and brutality do not advance a just cause. They're cowardly, pathetic and always destructive.
The second reason is a frequent theme on this blog:  The Syrian government's brutality and continued criminal existence.

Hafez Al Assad
Over the last several days, the regime has stepped up its crackdown on innocent civilians, especially in the city of Hama, the site of the infamous 1982 massacre.  In that first Hama massacre, rivers turned red from the blood of thousands killed by the regime, and that's not an exaggeration.  The elder Assad used tanks, artillery and air bombardment to level Hama after the Muslim Brotherhood revolted in the early 1980s.  (See Thomas Friedman’s 2005 reflection in the New York Times HERE.)  Now, the world is witnessing a second Hama massacre.  (See this NEWS report from Reuters and keep in mind events continue to unfold.)

Bashar Al Assad
I guess nearly 30 years later, some things haven’t changed.  The people of Hama are still oppressed, brave and demanding basic rights, and the young Assad is proving to be no less brutal than his father.  I fear the news reports aren’t telling the whole story as the number of victims climbs by the hour, but thanks to social media and reports by brave Syrians, the world is watching this time.  The only question is whether the outcome will be any different.

In case you’re wondering, writing this post didn’t help.  I’m still angry at hateful, brutal criminals, and I’m getting angrier at the world for continuing to watch them.