Across the Bay

Sunday, May 09, 2004

The Levant Revisited

The Kuwaiti daily As-Siyasa published this interview with Farid Ghadry, leader of the recently-formed, US-based Reform Party of Syria (RPS).

While the translation published by MEMRI doesn't contain anything about Lebanon, everything else in the interview is quite refreshing. Three points of major importance are worth quoting here:

"Since we are a democratic political organization open to the world, we utilize the experience of the developing peoples in the field of democracy, as the experience [of following Michel ] 'Aflaq was a decided failure, from the hero of Al-Qadisiyya [Saddam Hussein] to the Syrian dictator [president Hafez Al-Assad]. Where is the problem in our cooperating with the U.S. and Europe?"

"We see this problem [the Kurdish problem] as we would want others to see us, if we were in the Kurds' place, and this is no reason to accuse us of treason. We are talking of the problem of a people that was expelled from its land, not about the rights of Syrians at the North Pole or in the Nevada desert, but on our rights and our home. I think that the Kurdish people in Syria deserve to live on their land, with all their rights and obligations. It's impossible to deny the culture, language, and customs of the Kurdish people in an attempt to melt them into the Arab melting pot.

You cannot ensure your own happiness at the expense of the misery of another. I think that the Syrian people, including the Arabs and the Kurds, and all the national and religious minorities, constitute a national tapestry common to all Syrians.

"We are sick and tired of this broken record that reiterates the crimes of the 'reactionaries, Zionism, and imperialism' and the good [Ba'athist] pastures of 'nationalism, socialism, and pan-Arabism.' We have become accustomed to seeking the mistakes of the Syrian Ba'ath and its crimes far from Syria."

These statements reflect three crucial points for a new order in the ME:

a) A political ideology that is not isolationist or bogged down by the weight of "nativism." It has no problem opening up to the world (namely the West) and honestly learning from modern political and social experiences. I.e., it is not a reactionary post-colonial nationalist movement, as reflected in the empty rhetoric of Arabists, which I have discussed in my "Arabists, Arab Nationalism, and Iraq" post. I will add to that Ghassan Tueini's lamentations upon the removal of Aflaq's statue in Baghdad!

b) It is a pluralist ideology that understands the rights of minorities and how they should be part of the citizenry, and how their culture and heritage should not be repressed or melted away into a dominant Arabist narrative. Therefore, its greatest difference from its failed predecessor is that its view of the citizenry is not based on a narrow exclusivist nationalism.

c) The basis of the former two points is a critique of the ideology of Arabism and the Baath (Michel Aflaq), in socio-economic terms (Arabism and Socialism). This is not a random bid for power. This seems to be a thought-out program, similar to (if less articulate than) Kanan Makiya's. I wouldn't be surprised if indeed it is based on it. It will be very interesting to watch this unfold, as it is in essence a re-enactment in reverse of what happened over a century ago in the same region (the Levant: Iraq and Syria), under somewhat similar circumstances: breakdown of the old order and an encounter with the West. This program however is the opposite of what emerged a century ago, and thankfully so.

Let's wait and see.