Monday, February 27, 2006

Happy Birthday, my sweet little girl..

Today is my daughter’s birthday.. She turned 24, but she is still my sweet little girl… (and what’s more, she still has me wound around her little finger!!..)
Hala was born while I was working / training / studying in Beirut.. We were living in a tiny flat near the French Embassy in the Ein Mreisseh district, not very far from the American University Hospital where I was working.. She was barely 3-month-old when we had to leave Beirut in the aftermath of the Israeli invasion..
Over the years, I watched her grow up and blossom.. always radiant with happiness, self-confidence and ambitions.. I watched her brighten my life with her first smile.. I watched her anxiously taking her first steps.. I was there to comfort her and help her back to her feet when she stumbled.. In July 2004, Hala graduated from University.. That was, without any doubt, the proudest day of my life.. The sense of pride and fulfilment that I had when I saw her, looking million dollars, in her graduation gown was, simply, beyond description.. She is now a graduate student, doing a PhD in Genetics, and has already published a few papers.. (Did I tell you that I am very proud of her?..)
Since she was born, Hala has managed to fill my whole existence with love and laughter.. She is the most delightful and most beautiful little girl any father would have the good fortune to have.. (If you think there is a possibility that I just might be a little biased, well.. you’re damn right I am!!.. and I think I am entitled to be..)..
To my most delightful and most beautiful little girl I say ‘Happy Birthday, my sweet little girl.. May your life be filled with as much happiness as you have given us over the years.. May your steps be assured and confident, and may your path be bright and clear.. and most of all, may your days be happy and your dreams fulfilled’

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Of Humility and False Pride

My friends, I want to share with you a rather humbling experience that I had today..
Those of you who have taken the trouble to check my profile will know that I work in a Teaching Hospital in the North West of England, and that I am involved in medical education and training. One of my main areas of interest is the planning for, and the management of, major incidents and disasters.
A few weeks ago, a colleague of mine, who works for Lancashire Ambulance Service, asked me if I would speak in a conference on Major Incident Planning and Management, which I gladly did. It was a well-attended affair, with delegates from all over the World. The positive feedback that my talk received made all my hard work completely worthwhile.
Last week, the same colleague rang me, saying that a delegation from Japan were at that conference, and they have contacted him to see if he could put them in touch with me. They wanted to ask some detailed questions that, clearly, I could not have answered at the time…
I was more than happy to oblige. I invited them to spend the whole afternoon in our Department, went through an extended version of my original presentation, and answered their questions. I took them round the Hospital, explaining the various components of our Hospital’s ‘Major Incident Plan’ (which, incidentally, I recently had the dubious pleasure of re writing). I was delighted to see that they enjoyed the afternoon, and that I managed satisfy their curiosity and their legendary Japanese attention to details.
The delegates were, in fact, three eminent Professors in Emergency Medicine and Critical Care. Each has a list of publications as long as my arm. Nevertheless, they felt that they still lacked some knowledge in the specific field of ‘Emergency Planning’, and were perfectly happy to seek that knowledge from a mere mortal like me. They came all the way from Japan, chasing one thing.. knowledge… They possessed the humility to enquire about what they did not know.. They never closed their minds to further knowledge. They never tried to hide behind their unquestionable status. On the contrary, they were actively seeking to widen their horizons and enhance their (already quite formidable) experiences..
Compare that to the attitudes of some fellow-countrymen!!.. A couple of years ago, I was approached by an old mate, who now is a prominent and well-connected surgeon in Damascus. He asked me if I would organize some courses, similar to what I regularly teach on in the UK, for doctors and other Health Care Professionals. I jumped at the opportunity.., I put at his disposal, and that of the authorities, my skills and experiences as a trainer, educator, and clinician. I offered to help train Emergency Care personnel in various aspects of emergency planning, trauma resuscitation, and other similar essential skills, free of charge, of course. I explained that with my connections in the UK, I could easily obtain permission to adapt existing courses, or develop new ones, to address the specific needs of my ‘target audience’.. My friend took up my proposals, and promised to put them to the ‘powers that be’.. He never came back to me!.. I later learned that this was done on his own initiative without ‘checking’ with the Big Wigs first.. and when he went to seek their approval and support, their reply was something on the lines of ‘Who the hell does he (yours truly, that is!..) think he is to come and teach US!!.. What does he know of the ‘systems’ (!!!) that we have here???... ‘
That, my friends, illustrates one of the fundamental problems with the Arab psyche. We are so insecure that we consider advice a threat. We are so unconfident that we view offers for help as attempts to patronise and undermine…
To my newly-found friends from Yokohama I say: ‘I am grateful to you beyond what my words can express.. You have taught me today a most valuable lesson. Humility is a sign of greatness. The ability to recognise one’s weaknesses, and to seek to address them, is the ultimate proof of strength.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Forgotten in the mayhem - the Red Sea ferry disaster

In the mayhem that followed the publication of the now-famous cartoons, the World has (almost) completely ignored the awful tragedy of the Egyptian ferry, that sunk with the loss of 1,000 lives..
A thousand lives lost.. Tens of thousands of bereaved masses are left without any help or support.. Hundreds of families lost their bread-winners.. and the Arab World has erupted over some images, awful and horrid as they are...
This is a tragedy of enormous proportions.. Not only in terms of the tragic loss of human life (which, if news reports were to be believed, could have been easily averted), but also in what it demonstrates in lack of any concern on the part of the authorities to the value of human life, or the suffering of the survivors and the bereaved.
I dare say this official stance, and lack of any support for those who desperately need it would be typical of the attitude of Arab regimes.. Back in the 60’s, when Amin El-Hafez was President of Syria, a commentator dared confront him saying that a large number of civilians have been killed in Hama as a result of the Army’s response to an alleged insurgence in the City, his infamous reply was ‘So what?.. women can still bear many children…'( ...ﱟﺍﺮﻴﺜﻜ ﻦﺪﻠﻳ ﺀﺎﺴﻨﻠﺍ )
A response not dissimilar to that of the Egyptian authorities was dished out by the Syrian authorities in the aftermath of the Zeyzoun Dam disaster in June 2002. The Authorities, by and large, stood by, watching the misery of the helpless victims, and ‘bestowing’ on them $200 for those who lost a home (!!!) and a $1,000 for those who lost a loved one!... It was only after aid (mostly from Italy, through the UNDP) started arriving some 12 months later, that the victims of the disaster got some relief.. (Although, to be fair, a number of Arab businessmen, mostly from the Gulf states, have donated significant sums.. God only knows how much of that aid went into secret bank accounts...)
The Arab regimes are too busy feathering their nests, to worry about a few thousands distressed amongst their people...

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Not in my name

I despair…

What the hell is wrong with our People??...

What on Earth do they think they achieve when they burn flags and torch embassies??... What do they think this uncontrollable demonstration of venom and hatred says about Islam and Muslims?..

I tell you what they have achieved.. they have confirmed, in a most convincing fashion, to the whole world that WE ARE the terrorists.. that WE ARE the blood-thirsty thugs.. that WE ARE everything our enemies describe us as.. and worse..

Some have been blaming tis on the acts of the Americans Iraq and the Israelis in Palestine.. Let's not kid ourselves.. anyone who saw those pictures (many Arabs and Muslims included) did not say: 'Aah, the poor people are enraged by what happens in Iraq and Palestine.. That's ok, let them vent off their anger!!..'.. In fact, most sensible people would say 'what a bunch of idiots and hooligans...'..

I am enraged!.. Far beyond my words can say.. These acts will only serve to destroy any semblance of a favourable image Muslims and Arabs might have left.. These mobs totally undermine all the good work that many of us have toiled and sweated blood and tears over years to achieve, in our attempts to raise the profile of our distinguished civilization, and show the true meaning of Arabism and Islam.. and then, you get hoodlums like those mobs in Damascus yesterday, and Beirut today.. They did not only vandalize the Danish and Norwegian embassies, they destroyed the image of a Nation..

How can any of us now say ‘Islam is the religion of peace and tolerance’??..

It might be said that these hideous acts were carried out by ‘agents provocateurs’, It might be said that those who did it are regime puppets.. it might even be said that they are foreign agents with a different agenda.. Nevertheless, these acts were carried out in the name of Islam, under the guise of defending it.. What a sickening farce.. I say to all those bastards who attacked the Embassies and burnt flags and vandalised properties.. ‘Not in my name.. Never..

Yes, I am enraged.. and I am ashamed... I have never in my life felt ashamed to be Syrian.. I do now… yesterday was a dark day in Syria’s modern history..

I just despair…