Syria embraces terrorism and rejects modernity - as Assad takes up where Hussein left off
Caves vs. cyberspace: Syrian president Assad declares modernity has to be met with 'responsibility and defiance'
MIM: Assad's pronouncement proves that the rejection of the West and by extension modernity, is both an Islamist and Arab mindset. The demagougery of Arab leaders is not just a result of religion, since both Syria and Iraq are ruled by the Stalinist/ facist Baath party which promotes secularism. The terrorism which comes from Jihad is often a mixture of anti Western feelings which are then translated into a religous/nationalistic imperative. An example of this can be seen in Iraq where voters recently opted to replace the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein with an Iranian backed Islamist Da'wa party advocating shar'ia law, led by Al Jaffari instead of opting for the American backed 'democratic' party led by Iyad Allawi. See :http://jreynalds.mensnewsdaily.com/blog/reynalds/2005/04/islamic-republic-of-iraq.html
It is a widely held belief in the West that technological advancement would be the key to improving the standard of living and education in the Arab world, and lead to democracy. Assad's warning against the dangers of technological advancement are indicative of a regressive mentality which makes the West's hopes of bringing the Middle East from the Middle Ages seem dangerously remote . That a Syrian leaders who is Western educated proclaims that progress is the greatest enemy of the Arab world because it 'endangers Arab identity' shows that Jihad is not caused by disenfranchisement and poverty. (On the contrary, most of the world's terrorist leaders are highly educated individuals, often from wealthy backgrounds, who have lived for long periods of time in the West.). Both Syrian president Assad and his brother were Western educated. Bryan Whittaker examines the workings behind what he calls "a control freak mentality" in his incisive article about the inner workings the Syrian dicatorship below in an article aptly entitled "Afraid to let go" . His account of a meeting in which Assad gives his cronies permission to laugh is reminiscent of the Stalinist era in the former Soviet Union. Basher Assad is the Syrian Saddam Hussein and the idea that the WMD's which were not found in Iraq might be in his country raises the spectre of the necessity of military intervention, given the vast network of terror groups which operate with impunity in the country. http://184.108.40.206/search?q=cache:KV-lLJdT81QJ:strategypage.com/dls/articles/200452.asp+bashir+assad+brother&hl=en
The 'us against the world' and 'Arab identity under siege' mentality, reiterated by Assad in his speech is a prime example of the paranoic/ conspiracy theory weltaanschauung prevalent in the Arab and Muslim world, and is has helped to make Syria into one of the most attractive and accomodating havens for international terrorism.
One of the country's most active terrorist groups is the Islamic Jihad which is headed by Ramadan Abdallah Shallah, a former professor at the University of Southern Florida who was brought to work in work in a 'think tank' terror front set up by professor Sami Al Arian .whose indictment includes 100 counts of murder.After the assassination of the IJ leader by the Mossad Shallah simply left Florida one day in 1995 and was next photographed standing next to Shikaki's coffin at the funeral. Shallah's group has been responsible for scores of attacks and killings. At the beginning of the Iraq war in 2002, Shallah was quoted on the front page of the New York Post urging Arabs and Muslims to carry out suicide attacks against American and coalition forces. Islamic Jihad is continuing it's terrorist atrocities in Iraq to this day and has contributed to the destablisation of the region. The Hizbollah party which has just gained inroads into neighboring Lebanon's political life, is funded by Iran, and promotes a fundamentalist form of Islam.
Assad has been under pressure by Washington and the West for its former presence in Lebanon.
Assad: Media, tech crushing Arabs
DAMASCUS, Syria (CNN) -- Syrian President Bashar Assad has said the media and technological revolution sweeping the region and the world is helping his country's foes to undermine and crush the Arab identity.
Assad told the congress of Syria's ruling Baath Party on Monday that a media influx had left Arabs "swamped by disinformation" about themselves.
"These many inputs, especially with the evolution of communication and information technology, made the society open, and this opened the door for some confusion and suspicion in the minds of Arab youth.
"The ultimate objective of all this is the destruction of Arab identity; for the enemies of the Arab nation are opposed to our possessing any identity or upholding any creed that could protect our existence and cohesion, guide our vision and direction, or on which we can rely in our steadfastness," Assad said Monday.
"We must face this situation with great awareness, responsibility and defiance."
Focusing on the swirl of modern information and the huge influx of ideas to the region, Assad said that development was being exploited by what he said were the region's enemies.
Delivering the opening address of his party's congress, the first in five years, Assad also urged its members to make reform of the economy and fighting corruption their priorities. (Full story)
"We have to reorder our priorities and tackle the most important and go from there. The economic situation is a priority for all of us," he told the gathering.
"We need mechanisms to fight corruption that are more effective," he added.
The Syrian leader -- who has been under immense pressure by Washington and the West for its former presence in Lebanon and for its suspected role in helping the insurgency in Iraq -- used rhetoric that is customarily used to describe the United States and Israel.
He referred to "forces behind" the modern trends that would exploit and generate societal upheaval in the Arab world, leading "to the cultural, political and moral collapse of the Arab individual and his ultimate defeat without a fight."
"They simply aim at transforming us into a negative, reactive mass, which absorbs everything that is thrown at it without the will or even the possibility of thinking or rejecting or accepting it."
The information revolution has had a wide-ranging effect on the Arab world, with the Internet and Arabic-language TV transforming attitudes from Mauritania to Iraq.
Beirut Bureau Chief Brent Sadler contributed to this report
Afraid to let go
In the words of one government minister, it will be an occasion for "unfettered frankness and freedom" and "constructive self-criticism".
After decades of authoritarian rule, the meeting is unprecedented - but persuading loyal Ba'athists to loosen up, chill out and say what they think, rather than what they think the party wants to hear, will be a formidable task in itself.
In March, President Assad made a long speech to the Syrian parliament in which he announced the withdrawal of troops from Lebanon. It was mostly stony-faced stuff, reminiscent of the Soviet Union, but every now and then he made a joke.
At the end of each joke, the audience remained silent for a split second until the president made a little chuckling noise and waggled his shoulders up and down, indicating that nobody would get into trouble if they laughed.
Outside the newly free and unfettered realms of the Ba'ath party, though, it is business as usual in Syria. Dissidents and human rights activists have been in and out of jail, and one is still detained on the bizarre charge of "spreading false news and belonging to an international organisation".
There is also the odd case of Sheikh Mohammed al-Khaznawi, a moderate but outspoken cleric from Syria's Kurdish minority, who disappeared on May 10 and was found dead three weeks later.
The Syrian authorities say his murder was "purely criminal", and have broadcast the confessions of two men said to have killed him. His family and Amnesty International, however, believe he was abducted by the authorities and tortured to death.
"Sheikh Mohammed is at least the sixth Syrian Kurd to have died as a result of torture and ill-treatment in custody since March 2004," Amnesty said last week.
Among the "reforms" the Ba'ath party plans to discuss over the next few days is the "licensing" of human rights organisations. Why anyone should need a licence to talk about human rights - or to publish a newspaper, for that matter - has never been rationally explained, but it is an idea that persists in most Arab countries.
It boils down to a control-freak mentality in which governments have to feel they are in control of everything, even if, in reality, they are not. This is one of the major differences between western and Arab countries, and one of the reasons why Arab governments get in such a mess when they embark on reform.
In the west, you can do more or less what you like unless the law says you can't, but in Arab countries you need permission, or at least good connections.
A prime example of this control-freakery is Egypt. On the one hand, the regime is trying to open up, but on the other it is too nervous to loosen its grip - with the result that a succession of reform initiatives have turned into public relations disasters.
In April last year, the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, delivered a speech on the need to "modernise, develop and keep up with the spirit of the age". He invoked all the usual buzzwords - freedom of opinion, political participation - and added: "Our democratic endeavours cannot be completed without enhancing respect for human rights."
Ever since, he has been tying himself in knots. By the time of the party conference last autumn, the grand ideas in his speech had been narrowed down to a programme of economic reforms without a word about political reform.
In themselves, the economic reforms were sensible enough, but they became unnecessarily controversial because the president's son, Gamal, and his chums were put in charge of them. Competent though they may have been for the job, many suspected this was a way of grooming Gamal to succeed his father as president.
That in turn focused attention on the way Egyptians have chosen their presidents up to now - in a yes/no referendum with a single candidate nominated by parliament. Realising this was no longer a tenable system, and in the face of public demonstrations, President Mubarak then agreed that in future presidential elections (the next one is in September) there could be more than one candidate.
This might have been hailed as a great step forward, but instead it has only cast doubt on whether Mr Mubarak is serious about reform. Several people who announced they wanted to be run for the presidency (with almost no chance of success) were duly smeared and harassed. Parliament also set about devising rules for presidential candidates that meant, in essence, anyone wanting to stand would need Mr Mubarak's approval.
The only way to explain this behaviour is as part of the control-freak mentality. It was not only counterproductive but also completely unnecessary: almost everyone agrees that, in an open presidential contest with none of the customary ballot box fraud, Mr Mubarak would still win by a comfortable majority.
Changing the rules for presidential elections required a constitutional referendum. As with all Egyptian referendums - and despite the weird new rules proposed - a huge "yes" vote was almost a foregone conclusion.
Of course, there were people who objected, and some of them demonstrated in the streets on the referendum day. The sensible approach for the authorities to take at that point would have been to let the protests happen, point out that not many people took part and claim it was all a natural part of the democratic process.
Instead, the plainclothes government thugs who often turn up in Egypt on these occasions attacked the demonstrators and sexually molested some of the women taking part.
More stupidity was to follow. Distribution of last week's issue of Cairo Magazine, reporting on the referendum, was blocked by the ministry of information. Cairo Magazine is a relatively new publication, and its journalism is highly professional.
As the name suggests, it is written entirely in English, and therefore cannot be read by the vast majority of Egyptians. What the ministry hoped to achieve by banning it is a complete mystery, since the only possible effect was to further discredit the government. In any case, the entire content of the magazine can be freely read on the internet.
None of these antics serves any practical purpose and, in the eyes of the world, they hamper moves towards reform.
It is much the same with Syria's behaviour in Lebanon. Having decided, under international pressure, to pull its troops out, Syria's best course was to get on with it and make a clean break.
On the whole, that is what it did. The troops left more quickly than many had expected - but old habits die hard, and there were other elements who could not resist sniping as they went: a series of bombs targeted shopping centres and other places in predominantly Christian areas.
Naturally, Syria denied it had anything to do with this, but when a senior UN official had a quiet word with President Assad and explained that the bombings were harming Syria's interests, they suddenly stopped - at least for a few weeks.
Another bomb went off in Lebanon last month, apparently to greet the return from exile of Michel Aoun, the controversial ex-general who is a long-standing critic of Syria. Last Thursday, a booby-trapped car bomb in Beirut killed Samir Qaseer, a journalist who was also a long-standing critic of Syria.
Whether Syria was directly involved in these attacks, or whether they were the work of its Lebanese allies, is unclear - but there are no obvious alternative suspects.
The attacks certainly have the hallmarks of an old-style security apparatus trying to intimidate the public and silence its opponents, but that sort of tactic doesn't work any more and its only real effect is to cause more problems for Syria.
As one of the regimes targeted by Washington for radical change or perhaps overthrow, Syria needs all the friends it can get. This is not the way to get them.
The Ba'ath party can talk as freely and frankly as it likes about reform, but there will not be much progress while the security apparatus continues blithely as before, unreformed and off-message.
Syria halts cooperation with U.S.
U.S. criticisms provoke angry reaction
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Syrian government has halted all cooperation with the United States in sharing information about the war on terror, Syria's ambassador said Tuesday.
Imad Moustapha told CNN that Syria's decision came in the wake of recent "unfair and inaccurate" statements by U.S. officials that Damascus was allowing foreign fighters to cross Syria's border to aid in the insurgency in Iraq.
"This is actually the state of the affairs. Today, we are not cooperating with the United States," Moustapha told CNN's Wolf Blitzer.
At the same time, Syria is still willing to work with the United States on security issues, he said.
"We're not saying we will not do this anymore," Moustapha said. "We are saying that this is not happening today because of this state of affairs between us and the United States."
He added, "We are trying to tell the United States we are willing to engage with you constructively. We want a good relationship with you, but you have to stop this unfair media campaign against Syria, because we think it is unfair and it is unconstructive."
U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said U.S. officials had met with Syrians on an array of issues -- from cutting off suspected terror financing to stopping Iraqi border infiltration -- but Damascus "didn't carry through in any consistent way."
"We look for them to take real action," Boucher said. "We look for them to cooperate in practical terms with us and especially with neighbors like Iraq."
He said Syria is "out of step with the region," and said Damascus has been trying to undermine efforts in Iraq and Lebanon as well as "the progress the Palestinian people are trying to make."
Relations between Washington and Damascus have been strained for years.
Moustapha said that in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Syrian government provided the United States with a "wealth of information on al Qaeda," including "actionable information" that Moustapha said helped prevent two terrorist attacks.
He said Syria has worked hard on securing its borders to try to prevent fighters from entering Iraq.
"When the United States publicly expressed that they were unsatisfied with our efforts, we said to them, 'This is what we are doing, and we are very transparent and clear on this. However, we invite you to engage with us. Let us work together on securing these borders.'"
Moustapha said Syria has also fully withdrawn from Lebanon -- pulling out both its military personnel and intelligence apparatus. A U.N. report released on Monday said it could not conclude with certainty that the Syrian intelligence agents have fully withdrawn as called for in U.N. resolution 1559. (Full story)
Moustapha said the U.N. report was made under pressure from the United States.
"Categorically and clearly we have withdrawn every single Syrian official from Lebanon," Moustapha said. "Whether he's in the army, in the intelligence, or with any other relation to those two organizations, there are no Syrians in Lebanon today that represent the army or the intelligence.
"This is absolute."
MIM: Letter to John Ashcroft from Ileana Ros -Lehtinen and and Eliot Engel demanding that the US seek the extradition of Ramadan Shallah from Syria. The goverment indictment of him together with Sami Al Arian, hold Shallah responsible for the deaths of 100 people including two American citizens. Note that this letter was written in 2003, since then Shallah and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad have murdered scores of others and are continuing to orchestrate suicide bombings and attacks in Iraq.
Washington, D.C. - Reps. Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), both senior members of the House International Relations Committee, sent a letter to US Attorney General John Ashcroft demanding that he seek the extradition of Mr. Ramadan Abdallah Shallah, the General Secretary of the terrorist group, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), from Syria. Mr. Shallah was one of eight men indicted by the United States for operating an international terror ring that is responsible for the deaths of 100 people in and around Israel -- including the two American citizens Alisa Flatow, 20, and Shoshana Ben-Yishai, 16.
"Ramadan Abdallah Shallah is an indicted terrorist responsible for the deaths of 100 people, including two young Americans, and Attorney General Ashcroft should seek his extradition from Syria immediately," said Rep. Engel. "I have contacted the Justice Department before about extraditing Ramadan Abdallah Shallah, and they claimed not to know where he is, but we know he is in Syria now. If the Administration is serious about fighting a global war on terror, it would be a travesty of justice not to go after Mr. Shallah."
Rep. Ros-Lehtinen said, "Mr. Ramadan Abdallah Shallah must be brought to justice in an American court to hold him accountable for the murder of our fellow Americans. We must extradite this criminal from Syria where he has been given refuge by the regime in Damascus -- a regime with a long-standing policy of providing support for terrorist groups. The time to bring this criminal to justice is NOW."
In the letter to Ashcroft, Reps. Engel and Ros-Lehtinen wrote: "Over the past several weeks Mr. Shallah has been repeatedly cited during interviews as being in his office in Damascus, Syria. Furthermore, this past month Mr. Shallah led meetings in Damascus between Palestinian groups to contrive the cease fire agreement between Israel and Palestinian militant groups. It is now clear that Mr. Shallah has found a harbor in Syria and from there is free to continue his terrorist activities as well as evade justice."
Rep. Engel concluded, "The US Justice Department needs to do the right thing and vigorously go after Mr. Shallah in Syria. His extradition to the US to face criminal charges would make the world a safer place and would honor the memory of two slain American youngsters."
Reps. Engel and Ros-Lehtinen are the lead sponsors of the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act, a bipartisan bill with more than 240 cosponsors. This legislation imposes sanctions on Syria if it does not stop supporting terrorism, end its occupation of Lebanon, and halt development of weapons of mass destruction.
A Copy of the letter is attached.
Attorney General John Ashcroft