Friday, June 10, 2011

Famous Ray's Original Defense of Syria

This is an extremely disappointing post by Ray Hanania, a Christian Arab writer whom I've written favorably about due to his important work combating Arab extremism and working towards Israeli and Palestinian peace.

In this piece, though, Hanania takes on criticism faced by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) for canceling a performance by a Syrian singer which was seen as referencing the ongoing protests by Syrians against President Bashar al-Assad. Hanania is on the board of the ADC, and some of the ADC's top leadership are known to be very close with Assad's inner circle. But many in the American Arab committee are furious that the ADC seems to be taking the side of Syria's tyrannical regime rather than that of the protesters fighting their own rendition of the broader "Arab Spring".

Hanania's contribution is so garbled as to be almost incoherent -- it reads as a sort of mutated mad libs combining his own general stock in trade (attacking Arab extremists) and the classic "Israel is at the root of it all" conspiracy theories that are typically more characteristic of those very extremists. He strongly insinuates that the protesters are working against Assad at the behest of Israel, and accuses the protesters of acting only "tearing things down" -- despite the fact that across the Arab world their actions have given many states their first true glimpse of a democratic future in decades. Take a taste:
I’m conflicted over the controversy involving Syria. On the one hand, the government of Bashar al-Assad has been brutal towards the protestors. On the other hand, I don’t know who these protestors really are. Most American Arabs feel the way I do about Syria. They are conflicted. Why fan the flames of one side over the other, just to make Israel and the rightwing U.S. Congress happy?
Whether Jandali does or doesn’t perform at the ADC conference means nothing to me and probably the majority of American Arabs who are silenced in fear by the activism of a small group of fanatics who brow beat and threaten anyone who challenges their extremist agenda.

But it does raise an issue about the disturbing trend in the American Arab community where it is easier to bash other Arabs than it is to standup to Israel. Maybe that’s what happens to victims, because Arabs and especially Palestinians are victims of more than a century of oppression. Victims find it is easier to beat up on themselves rather than to stand up to the real oppressors.

So if I had to chose between destroying Syria to make the Israelis happy, or bringing Democracy to Syria, I have to ask, having lived in the corrupted form of Democracy practiced in the United States, why would we want American-controlled Democracy to takeover Syria?

This is just riddled with crazy. I'm dubious to the extreme that the American Arab community is all that ambivalent about whether or not Syria should remain under the thumb of Assad, whose brutality has hardly restricted itself merely to the current batch of protesters. And I know of many of the people who have been at the forefront in pressing for democratic reform -- Hanania disgraces himself to label them as "fanatics" and "extremists". They are liberals with unimpeachable credentials and, unlike the actual extremists Hanania normally opposes, they know better than to make the sine qua non of their political life "standing up to Israel". As bizarre as it is to suggest that the Arab world's problem is that it is insufficiently attentive to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, one of the things that most impresses me about the figures I have in mind who have been pressing for democracy in Syria (and Egypt and Tunisia and Yemen), people like Hussein Ibish and Rebecca Abou-Chedid, is that their commitment to liberalism and justice is not so provisional, neither providing a blank check to Israel (or Palestine), nor cynically deploying them as a distraction from internal conflicts elsewhere in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, the dark insinuation of an Israeli or American conspiracy at the root of this controversy is utterly unfounded and perhaps the signature move of the true extremists in the Arab community that Hanania is so obviously echoing. Congress has been mostly silent about Syria (possibly due to fatigue over Libya). The Israeli government is certainly no friend of Syria, and has publicly voiced support for democratic reform their (as they did in Egypt). But Israel's foreign policy also tends to prefer the devil it knows to the devil it doesn't -- the last thing it desires out of its neighbors is rampant instability and strife. That gets you Lebanon. So they've mostly stayed out of the revolt as well, except for when Assad starts sending off protesters to storm the Israeli border and draw media attention away. Which, of course, is what Hanania is doing in media form: Folks drawing attention to an Arab regime's oppression? Look, Israel! American imperialism! If you don't jump to the tune, you're just another lap-dog of the oppressor. Yeah, that's not reminiscent of extremist movements at all.

I mean, read that last sentence: "So if I had to chose between destroying Syria to make the Israelis happy, or bringing Democracy to Syria, I have to ask, having lived in the corrupted form of Democracy practiced in the United States, why would we want American-controlled Democracy to takeover Syria?" That sentence is just a classic example of someone whose mind has been ripped apart by conspiracy. First, I hardly think those are the two options on the table. Second, doesn't it imply heavily that Hanania prefers "destroying Syria to make the Israelis happy"? The alternative is "bringing Democracy to Syria", but apparently Hanania isn't wild about democracy in the first place. So door #1 it is! I can't imagine that's actually what Hanania means, given the bulk of the column as a wild-eyed rant against Israeli depravity and the benefits Assad provides to Syrian Christians -- but this is what happens when you just let the id take over.

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