“It was the most beautiful, the most civilized city in the world . . . “

I spent a restless night last night, and every time I fell asleep I dreamed of Syria. I suppose it was because every time I turned on the radio yesterday, they were talking about Syria, much in the vein of this Onion article. And over and over in my head, I keep hearing the opening line of a sci fi story set in the Balkans that I read when I was a teenager:  “It was the most beautiful, the most civilized city in the world . . . ”

Damascus is neither, really. Except at certain times, and in certain lights. But maybe I wouldn’t even know it anymore now, as it slowly grinds itself into rubble and blood. As gut-wrenching as it is to watch Syria tearing itself apart from the inside, imagining missile strikes and escalation, regime change and a sectarian bloodbath is hardly more palatable.

read more

Looks Like There’s Still Room in Tunisia for One Last Dictator

Can I tell you again how awesome Tunisia is? At the Friends of Syria meeting on Monday, Moncef Marzouki, Tunisia’s interim president (chosen just recently in December by the Constituent Assembly, the interim parliament) played an active role. He suggested only half ironically that Russia back up its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by offering him asylum should he choose to abdicate. And today Marzouki put his money where his mouth is, and offered President Assad and his family political asylum in Tunisia itself.

read more

Pieces of Syria

This time last year I was in Tunisia, breathing the heady air of revolution, and observing curfew every night to stay out of gunfights between the army and the rogue police still loyal to ousted president Ben Ali. Egypt had followed close on Tunisia’s heels, and Qaddafi’s Libya was teetering. But as of yet, despite widespread unrest across the Middle East, Syria was still as silent as the grave.

Today in Tunisia, representatives of over seventy nations, (including the United States, but conspicuously missing China, Russia and Iran) are meeting to consider once again what can be done for the people of Syria. The party (known as “Friends of Syria”) was briefly crashed by several hundred Assad supporters who had been bussed to the hotel where the talks were being held. The infiltrators gained access to the hotel, but were eventually stopped at a security cordon.

read more

Mormons and Muslims

I blogged today over at Times & Seasons about what Mormons and Muslims have in common. Pop on over and have a read:  http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2011/10/mormons-and-muslims/

photo credit

Institutionalized Sadism

The Assad regime specializes in torture. After every demonstration, security forces round up hundreds of protesters, suspects, and random passers-by. In some areas, they go from house to house, dragging out every young man they find. Once detained, these people can look forward to savage beatings, restraint in stress positions, filth, humiliation, rape, mutilation, or worse. Although they brave bullets every time they go out on the streets to protest, many are more afraid of being detained than shot.

read more

Liberty and Justice for All

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Thirty-six short words, but what an idea! As Americans, I think all of us have our special reasons for not taking those words for granted. Some serve in the armed forces, defending those very liberties. Others are first-generation immigrants from countries where such civil liberties do not exist. Here is one of my reasons:

read more

The Dangerous Art of Diplomacy

The Water-wheels in Hama, Syria

The foreign service usually seems like a somewhat safer place than the military. But U.S. pilots flying NATO missions in Libya might be safer than Ambassador Robert Ford in Syria at the moment. Last Thursday, he and his French counterpart, Eric Chevallier, made a symbolic visit to Hama, site of the infamous 1982 Syrian massacre, and recent target of a crackdown by the Syrian government. They stayed into Friday, traditionally the most active day for protests. Demonstrators greeted them with smiles and roses, and they spent the day shaking hands and visiting hospitals in an expression of solidarity with the Syrian uprising.

read more

Propaganda, Pathos and Power

Yesterday the Syrian ambassador to France defected in protest of the government’s violence against civilians. Oh, wait, actually she didn’t. The truth is, nobody really knows what did or did not happen. Yesterday France 24, a French television network, broadcast a telephone interview in which Lamia Shakkour, the ambassador in question, announced her resignation. Little more than an hour later, Syria state television broadcast a different telephone interview in which Ms. Shakkour denied resigning. She later actually appeared on television (not by telephone this time) in front of the Paris Syrian Embassy, confirming that she had not resigned, and threatening to sue France 24.

read more

Tears for Syria

Yesterday Tony and I went on a really lovely date. It was one of those beautiful, still, early-summer nights, where sunset fades gently into a blue velvet canopy of stars spread out brightly over a calm sea. We were sitting beside a fountain just outside the walls of the 15th-century Hammamet Medina. The antique streetlights cast a warm glow over the walls and falling water. It felt like a picture out of the Arabian Nights. I couldn’t help but think back to Syria, and my first experiences in the magical world of mosques, minarets, and medinas. It’s a world rocked now by the winds of change, punctuated sharply by the iron-clad pounding fists of despots.

read more

Tragedy in Syria

It has been a month since I last wrote about Syria, but I have thought about my favorite Middle Eastern country every single day, and watched the news anxiously, hoping for some miraculous happy-ever-after. Since then, any illusions that President Bashar al-Assad might not be quite as bad as his infamous father have been washed away in rivers of blood. Over 500 civilians have died at the hands of the Syrian military during the past six weeks, with 62 killed just yesterday in protests that brought 15,000 Syrians to the streets of Damascus alone. The southern city of Daraa, where the protests began, is surrounded by a tank blockade that has cut off its citizens from water, electricity, medical support, and even milk for children. For Syrians, this  blockade recalls dark memories of the city of Hama, which in 1982 was surrounded and besieged by the Syrian army before being completely wiped out in a massacre that killed tens of thousands of people. Many Syrians have fled to neighboring Lebanon and Jordan, although the Syrian government sealed the Jordanian border last week.

read more