Saturday, December 22, 2007

In Pursuit of Knowledge?..

What would I give to be young again!...
You may have met my little girl (well.. she is 21, and a graduate student, but she is still my little girl, OK?..).. Some of you have been so kind as to offer her help in the past..
As you may know, she studied World and Popular Music, and did her dissertation on Fairuz.. She is now doing a Masters in Music on the role of female performers in the Levantine (and particularly Syrian) music..
So, as part of her course work, she was asked to do some 'field work'.. She was tasked by her Tutor to go and spend a few weeks in Syria, researching the topic of her Masters project..
Kicking and screaming (yeah, right!..), she 'agreed' to go and spend the Christmas break in Damascus.. The declared aims of the visit: Firstly, to interview a number of music academics, and some performers, both professionals and amateurs, particularly female ones. Secondly, to get some feel, on the ground, of the role of female performers in the current and past musical scene in Syria..
(In actual fact, she was so excited about her trip, she was on 'Cloud 9' way before she boarded the plane ten days ago!..)
She is staying with my parents (and is getting spoiled rotten by them!..). My Mum, and my Dad, as well as several relatives, friends and contacts, have helped her arrange appointments with several eminent music academics, and key musical personalities in the Country.. Even in this short time, she managed to meet the Director of the Opera House in Damascus, as well as two or three musical historians and authors on the topic she is researching.. They have all been extremely helpful and supportive, and have provided her with masses of material, and many, many promises of more help.. She is awaiting some tentative attempts to get her in touch with some of the best-known quality female performers in Syria.. (So tentative are these promises, that I am not going to mention any names, until she does meet them.. then I can brag!..)..
Through sheer persistence and dogged single-mindedness, she managed to defeat the legendary bureaucracy and obtain a Library Card (to access the archives at the Assad Library) in less than an hour.. She was not going to be dissuaded by silly dismissal from some lazy, disinterested minion, who kept saying: 'Come back on the 26th!..'!!.. She just refused to accept 'no' for an answer.. The result: She got the Card, and accessed the Library... She obtained enough material to keep her busy during the Eid Holidays, and she will be back on the trail, once life returns to normality..
I have no doubt that her infectious youthful enthusiasm and endless radiant energy have been instrumental in making people want to help her.. After all, how can anyone refuse a request that has been put forward with such eagerness and zest?.. In fact, one of the academics whom she met was so excited about her project.. He said that, despite his prolific writings, he has never broached the topic she is studying with such depth and breadth.. He, not surprisingly, promised to do all he can to help her, and said that her work has inspired him to write a detailed piece on the subject...
Dana is working very hard to gather the material she needs, documenting everything on a voice recorder and a video camera. She is spending hours transcribing the recordings, referencing the video recordings, and wading through material from library archives, as well as the stuff she had been given by the people she met and interviewed.. Despite all that, she manages to make it sound like so much fun!... With her passion, verve and abundant vigor, she seems to be enjoying every minute of her time, despite all the endless hours of hard work and toil..
I guess that is the gift of youth..
Oh, what would I give to be young again!...

(Photo by SB: Ingleton, Cumbria)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Eid Mubarak

I wish all my cyber-friends and cyber-family members a very Happy Eid Al-Adha..
I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous New Year...

(Photo: Flower in my garden..)
P.s. I know it has nothing to do with Eid, Christmas, or the New Year.. I just thought it might add some colour to brighten up your day..

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

To Rear the Tender Thought...

'Delightful task!
To rear the tender thought..
To teach the young..'

James Thomson, Scottish Poet, 1700-1748

I have, on a number of occasions, talked about my work.. You may remember my recounting the various stories of everyday-life that I encounter.. the momentous event, the tiny unexpected arrival, the chaotic day, or the controlled performance... I would hope that, through these posts, I have managed to convey to the reader how much I really enjoy what I do, and how passionate I am about it..
Mind you, I have not spoken yet about one of the most rewarding activities that I am involved in.. one of the most satisfying, most fulfilling aspects of my varied and diverse work.. the part of my work that I draw a lot of satisfaction from.. and that is teaching and training...
Don't get me wrong.. I do not aim to belittle any of the other activities I am involved in.. Saving a patient's life, reducing someone's suffering, or even simply imparting a few reassuring words to an anxious person, are all immensely rewarding and very worthwhile actions.. If I do any of those on any given day, I would feel fully satisfied and content.. but, somehow, teaching still gives me a sense of fulfillment that is hard to beat.. I guess it is the sense that I am helping shape the careers of these eager young minds, that gives me this feeling of profound contentment.. it is the hope that, by passing on my experiences, I am helping save the life of some future patient, who might need the skills of these young (and not-so-young) doctors, doctors-to-be, nurses, or paramedics..
Teaching in my field can take any of many varied forms.. from didactic classroom teaching, to informal 'shop-floor' teaching and supervision, to practical workshops and simulated scenarios..
Last week, I was teaching on an Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS®) Course, which encompasses most of those teaching modalities.. The Course was conceived back in the mid-seventies by an American orthopaedic surgeon who lamented the quality of care he and his family had received at a small hospital in the back of beyond, after his light aircraft crashed in a field in Nebraska. The Course has since developed into a global phenomenon, and is taught in more than 45 countries worldwide.. (However, the Royal College of Surgeons of England is the only institution outside the US, entrusted to run Instructor Courses.. Not a mean achievement, I assure you..)..
Trauma is often called 'the hidden epidemic'.. it kills the young and the active.. the 'typical' victims of trauma are usually the most productive elements in society.. Road crashes alone kill around 3,500 people, mostly young, every year in England and Wales alone.. Considering that 286 were killed in Lockerbie, the above figure represents more than a Lockerbie disaster every single month!... Can you imagine the headlines if a 747 falls out of the skies every month?!... But I digress...
So, back to the Course.. Its aim: to improve the care of trauma victims, and improve their chances of survival, and of returning to a meaningful, productive life.. what the Americans somewhat crudely refer to as 'tax-paying status'!..
It is run over a period of 2½ days.. These are long and tiring days.. tiring for both candidates and instructors alike.. We start at 8am each day, and finish anytime between 7 and 8pm, although we do finish at about 3pm on Day 3..
A series of lectures, punctuated by demonstrations, workshops, skill stations, and simulated patient scenarios, are delivered by a group of dedicated and experienced Instructors, who have been selected for their outstanding performance when they themselves attended the Course as candidates.

Instructors are not only selected for their knowledge and mastery of the subject matter, but also for their ability to communicate, support their fellow-candidates, and demonstrate that elusive ingredient that completes what is instinctively, but rather vaguely, perceived as a 'good teacher'...
A candidate being put through his paces..
(The 'casualty' is actually a Medical Student, made up to look the part!..)

I say 'dedicated', because most of us often end up doing these courses in our own time, and free of charge.. Can you imagine someone from Industry agreeing to give up three days of their own time for less than £2,000 and a five-star treatment?.. I think not!.. So, really, for 'dedicated Instructors', read 'bunch of mugs'!.. but hey, we love it!..
In the short time we spend on these courses, a kind of bond develops amongst the Instructors, as well as between them and the candidates.. We feel that our success as a faculty is reflected in the success of the candidates.. we only feel fulfilled and content if we accomplish our task: the imparting of knowledge.. the transfer of experiences.. and seeing that, come test time on Day 3, our 'trainees' are coping confidently and ably with anything that we throw at them, is worth to each of us a lot more than any payment..
Didn't I tell you we're a bunch of mugs?..

Friday, November 16, 2007

A Little Bite off the Apple...

Finally, I did it..

I have been considering the move to the enigmatic Mac for a year or two.. and, at last, I did it.. A life-long Windows aficionado (and an MS-DOS enthusiast before that..), a few weeks ago, I plucked up the courage to abandon the comfort zone of the all-familiar PC and the relative convenience of Windows, in search of that elusive charm and flare that the Mac promised so persistently...

My first impression was 'Wow!..'.. my second, 'Wow, wee..'.. This is simply so cool.. so intuitive.. so user-friendly.. and so blooming fantastic.. visually as well as functionally... You might say it's a case of 'simple things fascinate simple folks'.. and, boy, am I fascinated!..

I cannot claim that I am already familiar with OS X.. I was just starting to scratch the surface of Tiger (OS X 10.4), when Leopard (OS X 10.5) was launched. I upgraded to it, and I was amazed all over again... It is going to take me a while before I can navigate my way through the maze of OS X before it becomes anywhere near as familiar as Windows has become for me.. but I am in no hurry, and I am enjoying the adventure already...

Oh, well.. I just thought I'd share that with you...

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Only Certainty

On a personal level, the past few weeks have not been particularly good…

Ramadan started with some bad news.. My mother-in-law was taken ill.. She has been struggling with ill health for some time, and, on that occasion, she had a bit of a relapse. After a few worrying days, she improved, and settled back into her usual routine..

Then another bit of bad news.. My uncle (well, he is not exactly my blood uncle, but he is married to my maternal aunt, and is like my Uncle, OK?..), is one of the sharpest minds of his generation.. Without going into too much detail, and without giving too much away, I will only say that he had an illustrious career in education and public service.. Widely loved and respected by everyone who knows him, he is one of the nicest people you can ever wish to meet… He earned national and international acclaim as one of the leading authorities of the Arabic Language, and received the King Faisal International Prize in Arabic Literature.. In other words, he is an intellectual of some standing, and at the ripe old age of 86, he still goes to the office daily, and still works full time… Then one day, he wakes up, and he cannot recognise the pictures of his children.. He can barely recognise his wife.. She asks him to go and shave, but he does not know the meaning of the word ‘shave’… Now, how can a mind so sharp and so alert be reduced to the mental capacity of a 3-year-old overnight?!.. As is the case for my parents, all his children live abroad.. Thankfully, he is already showing signs of improvement, although, sadly, a complete recovery is unlikely…

Then the hardest news of all.. My mother-in-law was taken ill again.. this time, far more severely than any previous occasion.. She fails to improve on home treatment, and is admitted to hospital, then to Intensive Care.. After a brief period of deliberation, my wife decides to go home to be with her mother, and my eldest daughter insists on going with her.. She and Grandma have always had a very special relationship… Most regrettably, I could not go with them, as I have already used up my annual ‘allowance’ to visit home… Two days after their arrival, my mother-in-law passed away this morning.. on the first day of Eid…

Living away from home means that you constantly worry about close family members as they grow more frail and vulnerable.. You feel immense guilt for not being with your parents when they need you most.. You feel helpless and impotent when you find out that they are not well.. You question your life-long convictions.. You wonder about the validity of that decision you made when decided to make a life abroad..

You might argue that the ‘decision’ is not always yours.. that the ‘decision’ is sometimes made for you, and more or less, forced upon you.. You can try and find mitigating circumstances.. You can try and justify your absence by telling yourself that you do it for your children.. or for peace of mind.. or for stability and security.. or for professional fulfilment.. Sound and legitimate as your argument might be, it does not make the pain any less intense, or the guilt any less profound...

No matter how expected, when death of a loved one comes, it strikes without mercy.. No matter how expected, it is always painful.. even when death means deliverance from pain or suffering, it is still very hard on those left behind.. because with life, there is hope.. one keeps hoping against all the odds, that something can be done to avert that inevitable fate.. but death is so final.. so absolute.. so irreversible…

Death, it seems, is the only certainty in Life...
(Picture: Painting by Asmaa Fayyoumi, Syrian Artist)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Welcome Back, Darling..

Just in case you're wondering why I am walking around with a big smile on my face.. well, it's because my wife has just returned from Damascus..

She and the twins stayed behind, and they returned yesterday...

Got to go.. so much to catch up on..

Friday, August 24, 2007

An Unstoppable Juggernaut.. or a Frightened Little Mouse?..

The juggernaut of tyranny continues its wretched march.. crushing everything that comes in its way..
In every part of the Middle East, freedom of thought, and freedom of expression, are being trampled upon by Regimes that seem to have developed a growing sense of invincibility..
Yazan, in his intelligent and very interesting blog, reminds us all, with dogged determination and unrelenting perseverance that puts us all to shame, of the plight of those brave souls, who are suffering the heavy tread of the oppressive, barbaric boot of these tyrannical regimes...
Here's what Yazan had to say...

Freedom of Speech, Massacred and dragged through the streets of the Middle East
What is happening in the Arab World is scary.
Reading this, made me go into real melancholy.
And the fact that there was absolutely no publicity about it makes it even more painful. Why do we have to be so selective in what we chose to fight for. Why was Kareem on almost every single blog, all through his trial, and sentence. While I struggled to find any mention of Mohamed Rashed al-Shohhi's case. And was it not for Amira slipping me a link to this small roundup from Sami Ben Gharbia on GlobalVoices I would not have even heard about it.
While Egyptian blogger Kareem was on trial because of things he chose to write, Mohamed is sentenced to 1 year in prison and $13,600 fine for an anonymous comment on an online forum he happened to run. [You think there might be a connection with the decision to ban comments on Syrian sites earlier this month?! Hmmm...].
Mohamed is in prison, and he literally did not do ANYTHING.
It is not a blow at freedom of speech. No, this a serious well-planned decision that can only be described as mental-terrorism. This is not aimed to keep him from practicing his right to express himself (Again, the guy did not do anything), rather this is a warning to anyone who might even think of raising a voice. Whether against totalitarianism, corruption or repression... all of them are a common characteristic of our Arab World.
Again, in a very similar case, Kuwaiti blogger Bashar Al-Sayegh was arrested [He was released today] yesterday for an anonymous comment left on his forum.
If you read this, please help spread the word. Let's not be selective in what we chose to rally for.
The latest chunk of news coming from our Middle East does not look good.
Blogspot is still banned in Syria, contrary to earlier reports about the ban being lifted.
And, Egypt, Tunisia... Where to start exactly?!
By Yazan Bardan
While Yazan talks about the Middle East as a whole, I believe that the excesses of the Syrian Regime deserve a special mention.. Their vindictiveness seems to know no bounds, and here's an example..
Riad Seif is a former independent Member of the People's Assembly (a pathetic and impotent institution, supposedly functioning as a Parliment) is a vocal opponent of the Regime. He has only recently been released from prison. His release only came after mounting pressure form Amnesty International and other Human Rights oraganizations, that have persisted to highlight the plight of Mr. Seif and his fellow Prisoners of Conscience. Of particular concern was his ill health, which was certainly not helped by his repeated imprisonment.
Even after his release from prison, Mr. Seif does not seem to escape the harsh and vindictive whims of the Syrian Regime. Mr. Seif has recently been diagnosed with prostatic cancer, and wanted to travel abroad for treatment, but his application was rejected. Here is an English translation of a statement that Mr. Seif has produced recently (Thank you, Maureen!..): (Regrettably, I do not have the original Arabic text. Help, anyone?..)
Riad Seif: A statement to the public regarding the prevention of my travel for medical treatment

More than two months after medical examinations and tests established that I have an advanced stage of prostate cancer, and after ascertaining that the necessary and viable treatment for such a situation is not available in Syria while it is available in some developed countries with the possibility of successful treatment as high as 90%, I submitted a request to travel for treatment outside the country to the Syrian authorities. So far, all of my attempts have failed and I have received nothing from the security authorities but delays and postponements, despite the advanced stage of the disease and fears that it might metastasize to other parts of my body.

I was subjected to a similar ordeal previously during my time in prison, when the coronary angiogram I had on 2/7/2005 showed an occlusion of the left anterior descending coronary artery, which required open-heart surgery to bypass the occlusion. After I was released on 1/18/2006, I filed a request to leave the country so that I could conduct the necessary surgical work, but this request was also denied.

Now that I have run out of options, I can find no alternative but to present my state of health to all those who are interested in human rights issues in Syria and in the world, with the hope that I will procure assistance in obtaining my natural and legitimate right to receive necessary treatment abroad that could let me spend the rest of my life in a natural way.

Damascus 13/8/2007

One has to wonder.. Why would an all-powerful Regime who proclaims unwavering public support, and an eternal and perpetual right to rule unchallenged, pursue and bully these individuals?.. To my simple mind, there is an obvious reason why the Regime continues with its relentless campaign against those who oppose it.. It is because the Regime, despite its might and its apparent invincibility, fears those brave and intelligent voices.. The Regime is scared of these individuals and of their actions.. the ripples caused by their activities threaten to shake the very foundation of this rotten and corrupt Regime..
Perhaps, after all, that juggernaut of tyranny is no more than a frightened little mouse..

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Two-weeks' worth of memories...

All good things come to an end. Good holidays are no exception..

I flew back from Damascus on Tuesday, August 7th, but this is the first time I get a real opportunity to sit down and write about my two-week trip.

I went back to work on Thursday to find 172 e-mails, and a pile of letters half-way up to the ceiling.. all waiting for me to read and respond to.

The weekend came and went like a flash.. On Sunday, I had a 15-hour journey to the Capital.. four-hour drive to London, five-hour meeting, then a six-hour drive back up to Lancashire. I am sure you can forgive me for not being able to write anything yet.

But that's all behind me. I am now sitting trying to get my thoughts together even if it is half past midnight..

Let me start by saying that we had the most awesome time. My brother and sister came over from the US, and my parents were simply overjoyed to see us all. We celebrated my twins' 21st Birthday while we were there, and we decided to celebrate Mum's seventieth Birthday since we were all gathered together.. even though it was a couple of months too soon!.. We went to countless dinners and lunches and feasts and gatherings.. and each left us with such delightful memories.. We so wished that we had the time to see more people.. more friends, old and new.. In fact, one thing I truly regret was that we could not accept Abu Fares's invitation to visit him in Tartous.. but, alas, time was very limited..

Nevertheless, my children managed to squeeze in a two-day trip to Petra with my sister and her family, and they absolutely loved it... (I couldn’t go.. I am only allowed a single entry to Syria every year)..

The girls had a wonderful time (as they always do) exploring the Old City, with its bazaars, souks, and delightful little shops..

They went to the Grand Umayyad Mosque, admiring its grandeur and beauty..

Like an annual pilgrimage, they walked through the alleys and narrow streets of the Old City.. getting lost, but quickly finding their way when they see a familiar shop or some other landmark..

I could easily bore you with a blow-by-blow account of my two weeks in Damascus.. However, I thought it would probably be better to talk about a few things that caught my attention..

As I said in my earlier post, Damascus never fails to amaze me with how much things can change.. I should say, however, that no matter how much things change, they still seem to remain the same!..

Undoubtedly, some of the changes are simply a natural progression of what things were two years ago. However, there are some obvious developments that I have noticed for the first time..

Our flight to Damascus was uneventful.. We travelled by SyrianAir. We knew in advance that the service is not exactly Five-Star!.. Nevertheless, it certainly has a very distinct advantage: it is the only airline that operates direct flights from Manchester to Damascus.. It will get us home in four-and-a-half hours, and no-one can beat that!..

Within 45 minutes from arrival, we were on our way towards the City. Soon afterwards, we were snaking our way through the legendary Damascus traffic. That is always the first thing you notice.. It has gone significantly worse since I have been there last time. My brother-in-law blamed the increase in car imports, and the lack of any new projects to ease the congestion in the Capital.. Clearly, this is a universal problem.. Driving through London two days ago, even though it was a Sunday, was certainly no picnic!.. Nevertheless, driving in Damascus is not for the faint-hearted.. It is a death-wish.. It's everybody to himself in that jungle!.. Mind you, walking in Damascus is almost just as fraught!.. One afternoon, my wife, my daughter, and I thought we'd go for a walk into town!.. What a silly idea!.. All the sidewalks and footpaths are occupied by parked cars, and you end up being forced to walk in the middle of the street, risking life and limb in the process!.. However, apart from the shear volume of traffic, and the way people drive, one thing that really amazed me in Damascus was how drivers totally ignore the poor traffic policemen!..

I was struck by how many people smoke in Damascus.. It is a filthy habit that seems to traverse social divides and seems to afflict every level of Society.. I found it difficult to understand how people, especially the young and the affluent, still equate smoking with being suave and sophisticated... People smoke anytime and anywhere.. in cars, in offices, in restaurants.. before food, with food, after food.. with coffee, with tea, or with a glass of arak or whiskey.. They smoke when angry, and they smoke when happy.. when anxious, or when relaxed.. I particularly found the proliferation of the trend to smoke argheeleh in restaurants quite disturbing, especially with the number of young people getting hooked..

On one of our excursions around the City, a friend of mine pointed out the open-air market known as 'Souk el-7haramieh' , where 'second-hand' goods are bought and sold openly.. (for 'second-hand', read 'stolen').. Now I ask you, how many cities around the World can boast having a whole market known as The Thieves' Market?!...

There are clear signs of 'new money' in Town.. The abundance of smart shops selling designer goods.. the flashy new cars.. the imposing hotels and towering plush office buildings.. the large bright new Shopping Malls.. the countless vast restaurants that are ALWAYS full to the rim!.. (Isn't it amazing how all activities, social, commercial, and even political, in Damascus revolve around eating?..). However, one cannot help but wonder whether this apparent 'affluence' is true, or is it just a thin veneer, camouflaging a very ugly truth of masked unemployment, abject poverty, and an insatiable need to show off..

Speaking of large shiny Shopping Malls, we went for a snack in a café at the new Sham Centre.. How impressive!.. Spotlessly clean, with uniformed staff constantly going round ensuring cleanliness.. Beautiful shops, with many selling very expensive designer goods.. Palm trees, and smart cafés.. It is noteworthy, however, that while the walkways and passages of the Mall were very busy, the shops were not!.. In some shops, shop assistants vastly outnumbered the shoppers!.. Nevertheless, I found it very interesting that this was the only place I came across that has a 'No Smoking' policy.. Now, I think this is very encouraging.. Mind you, with some disappointment, I note that amongst all those smart and elegant shops, there was not a single bookshop.. I wonder what does that say about us as a community?..

There was one particular change that truly shocked me.. I simply could not get over the re‑emergence of the personality worship.. and it was so 'in-your-face'.. The omnipresence of the President.. everywhere you look. Larger-than-life images of his smiling face, the shepherd overlooking his flock, reassuring them that he is there to stay, and they'd better get used to it!.. I must say, I found it quite nauseating how some slogans were written in, allegedly, colloquial terms, seeming to suggest spontaneity and truthfulness!...

Another aspect that really saddened me was the sense of resignation amongst the intellectual elite.. Those who once were the focus of our hopes and ambitions have turned into a bunch demoralised, disenfranchised, and disaffected individuals.. The spark has gone off from their eyes.. the flames of their passion and enthusiasm has been cruelly snuffed out…

You will not be surprised to know that corruption is alive and well.. and thriving!.. It has now reached areas that were previously thought to be protected.. A well-connected friend of mine recounted a story about some controversial, highly-experimental treatments for a rare and uncommon condition, being approved for trials by the Ministry of Health in the name of encouraging ‘international research activities’, in return for substantial backhanders from drug companies for Ministry officials.. and when my friend requested funding to purchase some essential, well-proven, but expensive, life-saving treatment (for Hepatitis B, which is rampant in the Country) for a Government hospital he works for, he was shrugged off, and his request rejected for lack of funds… Mmmm.. Quite a worrying development, don’t you think?..

I went to the National Museum in Damascus with my three children.. I have not been there since I was a schoolboy in shorts!.. On the one hand, I was delighted and very impressed by the richness of the displays and the immense historical value of the treasures contained in it.. On the other hand, I was distressed and deeply upset by the state of neglect some of these treasures were in.. Some displays have been removed by members of Staff, and a small, hand‑written ‘Post-it’ note left behind to state the whereabouts of some invaluable, irreplaceable piece of history!.. Notes like ‘On loan to the Curator’s Display’.. or ‘Loaned to such-and-such Museum’.. I wonder how many of these ‘on loan’ artefacts find their way back to their display cabinets!… My daughter noted that various items were described wrongly, while others had no description whatsoever.. She was incensed by the fact that information written in Arabic contradicted what was written in English, and, rightly, felt that this showed complete disrespect to the artefacts, as well as to the visitors’ intelligence!..

Amongst those I met in Damascus, there was an overwhelming sense of ‘something big is about to happen’… People were apprehensively anticipating some cataclysmic event that will change the shape of the Region.. Some people were absolutely adamant that war with Israel was both imminent and inevitable. They cite the alleged increasing intransigence and isolation of the emboldened Regime, as well as rumoured purchases of arms (including possible nuclear warheads) from some relics of the former USSR, bought in the aftermath of the break-up of the Soviet Union.. Proponent of this theory assure you that you should not be deceived by the apparent state of disarray in the Syrian Army.. they talk of elite troops, trained to highest standards, and equipped with the most up-to-date arsenal.. To my simple mind, signs of the Regime being emboldened are abundant, but signs of its isolation were, on the surface at least, notably lacking.. but nuclear weapons in the hands of the Syrian military?.. Now, that’s a sobering thought!..

Others seem to bet on the ‘Peace Option’.. Some people feel that, as Bush starts his ride into the political sunset, he, and his Republican Party, are eager to do something substantial, to distract from the unholy mess they have created in the Region and around the World.. Bush, as this theory goes, must try and make some significant achievement before he leaves the Oval Office. Otherwise, the Republican Party will be consigned to political wilderness for a generation… He must, at least, be seen to be trying to leave a legacy of some significance.. and there is no bigger prize than a lasting peace in the Middle East.. Now, to my simple mind again, better and wiser people have tried and failed!.. And what’s more, the most basic elements required for the success of such a notion are not in place.. things like fairness and equal respect to all parties involved.. things like credibility and trustworthiness…

But rest assured.. Whatever it is people are fearing, you will be delighted to know that the lingerie industry in Syria is alive and well…

My two weeks in Damascus flew past like two minutes.. However, the beautiful memories I accumulated are worth a lifetime.. every little detail of every moment is alive in my mind.. just like the love of the Old City is forever alive in my heart...

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Homeward Bound

It is finally happening.. Within 72 hours, we will be heading to Damascus..

A few weeks ago, I received that precious piece of paper from the Embassy, giving me permission to visit my Country..

I am particularly excited about going to Damascus this year, because my brother, my sister, and her family will also be coming from the States.. It would be the first time the whole family met together since everybody assembled in our humble abode four years ago, to celebrate my father's eightieth Birthday..

It will be far from a restful holiday.. In fact, it will be diabolically hectic.. Nevertheless, I have no doubt that we will all love every minute of it!.. We will be trying hopelessly (but failing miserably) to keep friends and relatives happy.. There just aren't enough hours in the day, or enough days in two weeks, to accept every invitation for breakfast, lunch, dinner, night-out, or day-trip that we will invariably be invited to... I just hope that I can tactfully convince all those lovely, well-meaning people that it is actually physically impossible to do that..

Apart from all the self-indulgence, the great food, and the delightful company, I am looking forward to seeing the City again.. Damascus never fails to surprise me.. It never fails to amaze me how so much can change in two years.. Unfortunately, not all change is for the better, and often I return so deeply saddened but what I have seen..

Despite that, I will hopefully come back with more precious memories, invaluable experiences, and unmissable moments to cherish forever... What I will definitely come back with is excess weight around my waist, that I will struggle to shed over the coming months.. but hey.. it will definitely be worth it...

(Photo: Abu Rummaneh St., Damascus. Source:

Friday, July 13, 2007

A Day to Be Proud

Wednesday July 11th 2007, was, for me, a day to feel proud..

It was a day that every father dreams about and lives for..

Dana, my beautiful, talented, sweet little girl, graduated from Leeds University... She now holds a BA in World and Popular Music..

We travelled that morning to Leeds. She has been there from the previous day, preparing with her friends and fellow graduands for their collective big day...

When we got to her house, she met us at the front door, looking radiant.. She was happy and self-assured, and in her usual way, bubbly, excited, and full of beans!..

She led the way in the short walk through Leeds's famous Hyde Park to the University, walking ahead of us with her elder sister. Her twin brother met us at the University. He also studies in Leeds, doing Medicine. He had asked to be excused from his tutorial to join us, and be with his sister on this memorable day. The sight of the three of them together completed our sense of pride, and filled our hearts with immense pleasure and deep contentment.. They are our most valuable asset.. our most gratifying achievement..

She then went to collect her graduation gown. When I saw her emerging from the dressing room in her gown, I felt a lump in my throat.. She looked so grown-up.. so confident.. so, so beautiful...

Dana, on the Parkinson Steps, Leeds Umiversity

The Graduation Ceremony was delightful. A nice congratulatory speech from the Pro Vice Chancellor, followed by the Conferment of the Degrees. Each graduand was called by name, and was handed his or her certificate, to the applaud of the audience.. At that point, the 'graduand' is transformed to 'a graduate'.. and what a moment in their young life this is..

The two sisters

Dana has worked very hard for this moment. She has put a lot of time, effort, tears, anxious days and sleepless nights to get the results she aspired to. She achieved an impressive and truly deserved Higher Second Class Honours (known as a 'two-one'). Even more impressively, she got First Class Honours for her dissertation, which many of you have so kindly contributed to, when you responded to her questionnaire about the Fairuz... (Alright.. alright.. so you too deserve some of the credit!..).

Dana is going to do a Masters degree.. I am so proud to say that she has chosen to do her dissertation on Middle Eastern Music, although the exact topic is yet to be determined.. some of the options she is considering include Fairuz (too large for a Masters.. more like PhD material..), or Folk Music of the Levant (a largely untapped subject, with a good opportunity to come up with some truly original work..).. However, whichever topic she chooses, her choice would be an indication of her deep-seated sense of belonging, and an unmistakable expression of her pride of her roots...

My pride and joy...

More importantly, whichever topic she chooses, and whichever career path she follows, with her delightful sense of humour, her unique personality, and her considerable drive and determination, Dana will continue to radiate optimism, happiness, and vitality around her.. and will continue to make me a very proud Dad.. very proud indeed...

Friday, June 15, 2007

What is happening in Palestine?..

One of my colleagues, an enlightened, well-read, open-minded, inquisitive Englishman, asked me today: "What is happening in Palestine?..".. I paused, and thought to myself: "Yeah.. What the f*** is happening in Palestine?!!..."

What possible explanation can I give him?.. How can I tell him that they seem to have taken complete leave of their senses in Palestine?.. How can I justify the killings?.. The cruelty that Palestinian is inflicting on Palestinian?.. The destruction to everything resembling an infrastructure, not by the hands of the Israelis, but by the hands of Palestinians?..

How can I say to my enlightened, well-read, open-minded, inquisitive colleague that this is the curse of the Middle East?.. that back there, if your enemy does not succeed in killing you, then your brother will... That Palestinians, and Arabs in general, do not need Israel to persecute, kill, torture and humiliate them.. we can do it to each other far more effectively than any one else can!..

How can I insult his intelligence and say: 'It is all the fault of interference by the Zionists, and meddling by the Western governments?...'

Or should I tell him what today seems to be the painful truth?.. that, perhaps, we, the mighty Arabs, are not fit to govern ourselves?... that we are not capable of talking to each other?.. that the word 'discussion' in our deranged lingo has come to mean 'beating the living daylight out of your opponent'?.. that 'victory' means killing everyone who does not share your narrow views of the World?.. including your own mother, if necessary?..

Call me defeatist, but on this occasion, I simply looked at him and said: 'My friend.. it is complete meltdown..'.. I then walked away, trying to hide a small tear in the corner of my eye...
(Photo: Chaos in Gaza. Source:

Thursday, May 31, 2007

A Simple Argument in a Complex Subject

Those of you who are familiar with the Syrian blogoshpere would probably have come across Creative Syria, and may have come across Alex, the creator of that fantastic website.. You may even have crossed swards with him (like I have.. on many occasions..) on the various issues discussed on Syrian blogs.. Whether you agree with his views or not, you cannot but admire his passion, his wit, and his highly intellectual debating abilities..
In a recent discussion about the fortieth anniversary of the 1967 War on my all-time favourite Syrian blog, Mosaics, Alex proposed that he would creat a website (or rather, an annex to his existing website), to be a platform to debate the various issues, including that of the Golan Heights.. and he did.. In line with the high standards that you would expect from Alex, he created a fantastic forum for the Syrian bloggers to launch debates and discussions..
In the first topic for debate, he wanted everyone to write an open letter to an Israeli reader, stating why we believe Israel should return the Golan Heights to Syria.. and the responses were simply fascinating...
Today, I have submitted my letter, and I thought I would share it with you.. (but I would strongly recommend you browse through the rest of the submissions on the Golan Heights, which are infinitely more articulate and a lot more intelligently written than anything I can ever pretend to come up with...)
Anyway, here is my two-pennies' worth:

A letter to an Israeli..
Why should Israel return the Golan Heights back to Syria?..


Alex, a very intelligent, articulate and highly educated cyber-friend, has suggested, on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the loss of the Golan Heights to Israel, that we Syrians should try and put our case to you Israelis, on why your Country/Government/People should hand back the Golan Heights to Syria…

This proposal was taken up by several equally intelligent, articulate and highly educated Syrians from all walks of life.. Some of the letters are posted on the very impressive website ‘Creative Syria’, that Alex has masterminded and so professionally executed.

Now, I do not claim any specialist knowledge in international law, politics, economics, history, or sociology.. If you want a glossy, highly polished answer to Alex’s question, then read George Ajjan’s response.. and for a logical, robustly-argued statement, read Camille’s (a.k.a. Alex) own offering..

Some commentators gave historic accounts, while others pointed out potential future benefits.. Some spoke of economics, others of strategic reasons.. I am sure that each offers a perfectly valid reason why Israel should return the Golan Heights to Syria..

Well.. I am a simple-minded fellow, with (I believe) a reasonable measure of decency and commonsense.. I do not possess the intelligence, sophistication, or specialist knowledge demonstrated by my compatriots (of whom I am immensely proud, I hasten to add!..).. For me, there is a simple reason why the Golan Heights should be handed back to Syria.. So how about justice, or good old common decency for a reason?..

The Golan (or the Jolan, as we prefer to call it!..) is, historically, geographically, demographically and every-other-reason-ically, Syrian.. Israel acquired it in a war that was waged purely for this purpose.. the acquisition of land.. You have held on to it for forty years, but it is still ours.. It is, and will always be, Syrian.. The fact that it has been in your hands for forty years does not make it yours.. It does not make the occupation and annexation legitimate, nor morally right..

I am not so naive as to believe that Israel would simply return the Jolan just because it is ‘the right thing to do’.. I am a pragmatist, and a realist.. Nevertheless, I really believe that, from a purely moral point of view, Israel should hand the Jolan back to Syria.. and what’s more, I also believe that although all the reasons elaborated upon by my fellow-responders are legitimate and sound, these reasons would be worthless if they did not have the moral foundation…

If Israel is truly serious about its declared intentions for a peaceful settlement, then it must show a degree of respect towards its northernly neighbour.. and that starts by returning to Syria what is rightfully hers..

Sincerely yours,

The Syrian Brit
(Photo: The Golan Heights. Source:

Sunday, May 13, 2007


Well, my friends.. I made it!!..

Today, I turned 50..

Half a century on the surface of this Earth... Whether this is as significant a landmark as some might want to make it, is matter of contention for me..

For one, I do not feel any different today from what I was yesterday.. nor what I was a year ago.. Nevertheless, I guess it is an opportunity to pause and take stock..

It all started one spring day, fifty years ago, in Damascus.. My parents have been married for just under 9 months (Yes.. I was a Wedding-day baby!..).. My Mum was desperately worried that my arrival will coincide with her final-year exams, and completely ruin her chances of graduating from University that year.. However, being a considerate soul, at a great risk to my personal safety, I decided to come to this World a couple of weeks too soon, much the delight of my mother.. This way, Mum would have the time to get over the trauma of my greatly anticipated arrival, and still have time to get back in shape to pass her finals!.. And so it was..

My childhood was happy and fulfilled.. My parents, both working, have instilled in me the importance of education, and the value of honest, hard work and perseverance.. They taught me, more by example than by instruction, that if anything is worth having, then it is worth working for..

My brother, four years younger than me, and my sister, eleven years my junior, both made my formative years that much richer and that much more enjoyable.. Both continue to be a constant source of inspiration, support and friendship..

I battled my way through schools and University, got married shortly after I qualified, and the long, hard struggle we call 'Life' goes on.. My eldest daughter was born 16 months later, while I was working in Beirut.. Later on, the raging Civil War, and the Israeli invasion of 1982, force us to leave Lebanon.. and life takes us back to Damascus for while, then to Britain, after a brief and unsuccessful attempt to find training in the States.. Our twins, now nearly 21, were born after we moved to the UK...

After numerous ups and downs, and after a few more battles, from which I bear many a scar, I got to where I am today..

So, what have I got to show for my 50 years?.. What have I actually achieved??.. and what have I learnt?.. Do I have any regrets?.. Are there things I wish I hadn't done?.. and perhaps, on a more positive note, what should my targets be for the coming years??...

Professionally, I am pleased to say that I am both content and proud of what I have achieved.. I, even if I say so myself, am a respected and well-regarded practitioner in a complex and challenging field, working in a Department that is widely believed to be the best in the Region, and arguably in the Country.. I teach on various Speciality courses, locally, regionally, and nationally, and I examine on the Royal College exams in our Speciality.. Not bad for someone who, after all, is an outsider!..

On a personal level, I am, undoubtedly, the luckiest man alive... I have a beautiful loving wife, three bright, hard-working, and high-achieving children, and I have my health and my sanity (although many would argue about the latter!..).. I ask you, what more could a man ask for?...

But, surely, there must be some regrets?.. Some things I would like to have done differently?.. Some targets that I wanted to achieve, but failed?.. You're damn right there are!..

I, for example, would have loved to be solvent by the age of fifty!.. I would have loved to have paid up my mortgage!.. but, alas, that was not to be.. With three children in University, I guess I will have to work till I am seventy to keep up with the payments!..

Which brings me to the other unfulfilled target.. I would have loved to have my retirement plans completely in order by the time I reached fifty.. Mind you, I have always known that I am not exactly the most organised man on the Planet.. Leaving things to the last minute has always been my style!..

Regrets?.. Well.. Ever since I was in Third Form, I have regretted calling that bully, Hassan Kalthoum, 'an idiot' to his face!.. I can still feel the painful fat lip, and I can still taste the blood in my mouth!.. Mind you, that experience does not seem to have taught me much!.. I still stand up to bullies, and I still, on occasions, get a bloody nose for my efforts!..

I regret wasting so much time of my life trying to get training in the States.. I was chasing a mirage, and I should have known it at the time.. even if it wasn't that obvious then.. But hindsight is a wonderful thing, isn't it?!..

I regret buying that second-hand Ford Sierra Estate in 1987, from that Fredo Corleone lookalike.. If there ever was a car that can be described as a 'lemon', then it was that one!..

I very much regret not learning German or French, and regret not persevering with my early attempts to learn playing a musical instrument... I still hope that, one day, I will learn to play the saxophone, and I have not quite given up on French or German...

Anyway.. here I am.. Fifty, but not over the hill.. at least, not that I would admit it... I am, in fact, fitter than I was two or three years ago.. I have overcome my lumbar disc prolapse, and my back pain.. I now work out regularly, running up to six miles twice a week.. I have managed to regain my fitness, and return to my ideal weight.. well, almost... My efforts to reach that particular target were comprehensively thwarted by the most amazing feast that my wife had prepared yesterday, when she invited a few of our friends over...

And I tell you something, it was worth going through 50 years of 'life', just to be rewarded with that delightful food!...

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Held at ransom...

What a disappointment...

In the beginning, it was joyful disbelief.. President Assad has signed the long-awaited decree, regulating the Compulsory Military Service for Syrian adult males.. At long last, I might just be able to visit MY Country, unhindered and unrestricted.. According to the old regulations, I was still liable to be drafted for Military Service until the age of 52!.. (What good would an old fart like me be in the Army, I ask you?!..).. Until then, every time I wanted to visit home, I have to apply through the Syrian Embassy for a special permit.. some months in advance.. You have to plan it carefully, and rely on a lot of luck!.. You are never sure how long it takes for the reply to come back.. the permit 'entitles' you to visit the Country for up to one month every year, and is valid for three months.. Request it too early, and you run the risk of the permit expiring before you leave the Country!..

So, I have been waiting impatiently for that day (in just over 2 years.. but more on that soon!..), when I can pay the 50,000 Syrian Pounds (about $1,000), the fee for closing my file.. After that, I would be free to visit MY Country, without any hassle or harassment, and without the long anxious wait for the permission to be issued..

So, you can probably imagine my delight when I heard that the maximum age for drafting has been dropped to 42.. That's it.. I am free.. All I have to do is pay the damn $1,000...

But wait!.. Just read on before you start the celebrations, I thought... What's this?..

Yes, they have dropped the maximum drafting age to 42, but raised the fee to 250,000 SP ($5,000).. which is the same amount that ANY University Graduate who has lived abroad for more than four years would have to pay for exemption!...

So, this long wait has all been in vain... The years I have been waiting for my reprieve are all a waste.. I still have to pay a substantial sum of my hard-earned money for the privilege of visiting MY Country...

Now, you might say $5,000 is not too high a price to pay for the freedom to visit one's Country.. You might even say that us ex-pats are rolling in money that someone like me wouldn't even miss a puny $5,000... Well, you would be wrong on both counts...

The charge of $5,000 (or even the former charge of $1,000) is not simply an administrative fee... It is ransom money.. it is blackmail money... pure and simple.. I accept that, in the great scheme of things, $5,000 would not necessarily break me financially.. but I would not go as far as saying I can simply pull that kind of money out of my back pocket.. (I wish I could say 'Money is no object'. Frankly, money will always be an issue as long as I have to work for it..). And while I could probably afford to pay the charge, it would mean that something else I was planning to pay for would have to wait...

But all that is really not important.. What is important here is a principle..

I don't want to start a discussion about the value (or lack thereof) of conscription as a method to build an army, but my belief is that a professional army, made of well-motivated and well-trained individuals is, by far, the best option..

The idea that one should be made to pay this charge (almost regardless of its amount) is inherently wrong.. It should be within anyone's right to visit one's own Country, and no-one should have the ability to deprive me from that right...

The Compulsory Military Service has become yet another method to blackmail and oppress the population.. yet another issue to keep the young and eager minds preoccupied and diverted away from questioning the status quo.. yet another reason why young Syrians, in their droves, are abandoning the Country..

And what's more, influential players, within the Army and within the Regime inner sanctum, have been charging extortionist bribes from desperate young men to secure them an exemption from conscription, or guarantee a cushy and comfortable Compulsory Military Service..

The Compulsory Military Service is two years wasted in the life of any adult Syrian male.. Two years during the most productive phase in anyone's life.. almost totally wasted... and before you dredge out that old chestnut of 'our duty in defending our Country' and all that, anyone who's done his time as an Army Conscript would tell you that Compulsory Military Service is not designed for that.. It is designed to break the soul and spirit of recruits, young and old, and destroy any self-respect they might still have..

I can rant on about this forever.. At the end of the day, against my better judgement, and against my principles, I will probably end up paying the ransom.. You see, I have two aging parents back home.. I would really like to be able to visit at a very short notice, should I need to..

(Picture: 'Despair' by 'booga'. Source:

Friday, May 04, 2007

In Solidarity with our Prisoners of Conscience

Fares, my cyberfriend and fellow Syrian blogger has asked me to re-post his latest offering. I am delighted to be able to oblige.
Thank you, Fares, for all you are doing.. I wish we had more of a notice about this.. I would have re-arranged previous commitments and gone to London in person... but I am there in spirit..
Fares says:

I got this message from Maureen of Amnesty International. Please repost in your blogs to give it more publicity. Every support no matter how small counts.


In the light of the prison sentence given to Anwar al-Bunni at the end of last month and the probable sentencing of Michel Kilo tomorrow [I think it is may 7] and Kamal al-Labwani on 10th May, Amnesty International are calling for a Day of Action in protest on 9th and/or 10th May. These will take place in various countries. They are also supported by Human Rights Watch and Human Rights First.

In London there will be a peaceful demonstration outside the Syrian Embassy, 8 Belgrave Square, London SW1X 8PH from 2pm to 4pm on Wednesday 9th May. Please put in an appearance if you possibly can during these two hours; just a few minutes of “solidarity” with the Prisoners of Conscience in Syrian jails will mean a lot. Please also encourage as many people as you can to take part.

I should be grateful if you could give me an idea of how many people you anticipate will be able to get there, as this will greatly help the organisers.

Best wishes,
Maureen Thomas

Monday, April 30, 2007

In honour of a few brave men

The following is a post that has recently appeared on Fares's blog, and on Rime's Mosaic. Abu Kareem has also posted it with the Arabic translation attached.

In support of those brave men, whose spirits will never be anything but free, I post it on this blog, with great humility and immense admiration for their courage..

From the Prisoners of Conscience in Damascus Central Prison Al AdraApril 29th, 2007

We are prisoners of conscience and opinion in Damascus Central Prison, lawyer Anwar Al Bunni, writer Michel Kilo, Dr. Kamal Labwani, activists Mahmoud Issa, and Faek Al Mir, and Professor Aref Dalila who could not be reached as he spends his sixth year in solitary confinement.

After the sentencing of lawyer Anwar Al Bunni on 24 April 2007, we would like to say thank you and greet our families, friends, and all the people, groups, committees, organizations, associations, parties and political assemblies of Arabs, Kurds and Assyrians in Syria and the Arab world. We thank and greet the official representatives, countries, media and websites that support us by protesting our trials and arrests, and denying the accusations against our colleague Anwar Al Bunni.

We would like to send our heartfelt greetings and thanks to all of you and hope that your noble and brave attitude will not stop only with denying these accusations and supporting our cause.

Our case as prisoners of conscience is part of the continuing crisis of basic freedoms and human rights in Syria that began with the Emergency Law 44 years ago. This crisis reached its height in the 1980s and again today by an increase in tyranny, arrests and the suppression of fundamental freedoms.

Tens of thousands of Syrians have paid a horrible price, some with their lives, others with the loss of years and youth from inhumane prison conditions and cruel torture. Still more have suffered by being forced to escape the tyranny or enter into voluntary exile, another difficult experience. Other Syrians stayed, throwing salt on their wounds and binding their tongues to save themselves pain. Those that couldn’t live with their tongues tied faced a future in prison, homeless and alone. For the few people that climbed to the top of the tyranny and darkened Syrian society, they have contributed to the corruption, theft and poverty that have strangled the necks of the people.

The denial of fundamental human rights in Syria is the main case that we work for and your support for prisoners of conscience is part of this fight. Fighting for the release of these prisoners is a duty, not only to decrease their suffering and their families’ pain, but also to encourage others by knowing they are not alone. We must give society hope, making sure its doors and streets are not closed. With the power of hope it is possible to fight the crisis of freedom and human rights in Syria in a peaceful way.

Terrorism is the enemy of mankind and civilization itself. It flourishes in societies that lack freedom and close doors to peaceful expression, leaving violence as a way of expressing oneself. Inside these societies suffering from poverty, where they find no well being on earth they will turn to the heavens and the answers that it may provide them. The lack of basic freedoms and human rights coupled with poverty are two faces of the same coin in the Third World. Syria is at the forefront of totalitarian countries, ruled from an isolated point of view with its citizens either idle passengers or doomed to be labeled traitors.

The lack of freedom, means of expression, political participation and accountability leads to the growth of corruption, despotism, looting of public funds, rampant poverty and the collapse of moral values. The real fight against terrorism must not only be about combating extremist ideas. These ideas have existed throughout history, though they will always remain on the periphery, isolated and shunned, unless they find fertile soil to take root and grow. If they are allowed to develop in the soil of society, they will spread like toxic plants, poisoning communities and innocent people.

Addressing the root causes of terrorism requires opening up pathways to free expression and the peaceful exchange of ideas. By giving people unfettered freedom we can blunt the sword of injustice, oppression and domination to grant full political participation, a hand in future decision-making, accountability, the preservation of equality and a life of dignity. This would make the world a safer place and improve international security.

Syrians have paid a high price for their rights and freedom and we hope to be the last group forced to pay this price to help the great Syrian people. To do this we need more than your solidarity and denunciations. We need constant and tireless efforts to compel Syrian authorities to respect human rights, international law and the treaties and agreements it has signed which demand freedom of expression and opinion. The release of political prisoners is a necessary first step, including the abolition of the State Emergency Law and other such laws like Decree 49 signed in 1980 or the Hasakah Accountability Decree of 1962. Syria must abolish the State Security Court, compensate those that have suffered, create an independent judiciary, end torture and hold perpetrators responsible.

They must stop political arrests and ensure the freedom of the press, allowing political participation and the formation of parties, organizations and civil society.They must stop the looting of public funds and policies of impoverishment and domination. However, these steps are just the beginning necessary to put Syria on the path to security and move towards development, progress and the protection of national unity that now suffers from division and tension. These rifts and divisions are now impossible to conceal, despite the dancing and celebrations and empty rhetoric about a healthy society that in reality is sick and suffering. As prisoners of conscience and opinion we are apprehensive about the future of our homeland, our children and our very decision to shape Syria’s future. However, we will not be deterred by threats, intimidation, and the repression of long years of imprisonment that we face to save our country and ourselves

Adra Prison. 28-4-2007

Below is the Arabic text from ME Transparent:

من معتقلي الرأي في سجن دمشق المركزي
إننا معتقلو الرأي والضمير في سجن دمشق المركزي /عدرا/، المحامي أنور البني والكاتب ميشيل كيلو والدكتور كمال اللبواني والناشطين محمود عيسى وفائق المير والبروفسور عارف دليلة الذي لم نتمكن من الاتصال به والذي يمضي سنته السادسة في زنزانة منفردة، وبعد الحكم الذي صدر على المحامي أنور البني بتاريخ 24-4-2007، فإننا نود أن نتوجه بالشكر والتحية لعائلاتنا وأهلنا وأصدقائنا وجميع الأشخاص والمجموعات والهيئات والمنظمات والجمعيات والأحزاب والتجمعات السياسية في سوريا من عرب وأكراد وآثوريين وفي البلاد العربية في مختلف أنحاء العالم والممثلين الرسميين والاعتباريين والدول ووسائل الإعلام ومواقع الانترنت وكل الذين تضاموا معنا واحتجوا على اعتقالنا ومحاكمتنا ونددوا واستنكروا الحكم الصادر بحق زميلنا المحامي أنور البني الناشط في مجال حقوق الانسان.

نتوجه بالشكر والتحية لكل فرد منكم من كل قلوبنا ونتمنى أن لا يقف هذا الموقف النبيل والشجاع عند حدود اللحظة والمناسبة والتضامن والاستنكار فقط.

إن قضيتنا كمعتقلي رأي وضمير في سوريا هي جزء واستمرار لأزمة الحريات العامة وحقوق الانسان في سوريا بدأت مع إعلان فرض حالة الطوارئ منذ أربع وأربعين عاما قاسية وشهدت ذروة حادة في الثمانينيات وهاهي تشهد ذروة حادة أخرى بزيادة وتصاعد القمع والاعتقال ومصادرة الحريات

لقد دفع عشرات الألوف من السوريين ثمنا غاليا طوال تلك الفترة فمنهم من قضى نحبه ودفع كل حياته ومنهم من دفع سنوات طويلة من

زهرة عمره وريعان شبابه في ظروف لا إنسانية في السجون والمعتقلات وعانى التعذيب الوحشي ومنهم من هرب من البطش والقمع إلى من الغربة مختارا النفي الطوعي وتجربة قسرية ومعاناة بشكل مختلف وبقية السوريين فرض عليهم الانكفاء إلى ذواتهم ووضع الملح على الجرح والمعاناة والعض على الألسنة هربا من البطش. ومن لم يستطع احتمال زمن القهر الطويل فانفلت عقال لسانه أو عقله كان مصيره السجن أو التنكيل أو التشريد، والقلة القليلة تسلقت قمة القهر والقمع والتسلط التي خيمت على المجتمع السوري فعاثت فسادا ونهبا وإفقارا وتسلطا على رقاب البلاد والعباد.

هذه هي القضية الأساسية التي ينبغي دائم العمل من أجلها. وتضامنكم مع المعتقلين هو جزء من هذا الفعل والعمل لإطلاق سراحهم هو خطوة واجبة ليس فقط من أجل تخفيف معاناة المعتقل وعائلته بل هو ضروري لتشجيع الآخرين وإحساسهم بأنهم ليسوا وحدهم في هذه المعركة ولأجل إعطاء أمل للمجتمع بأن الأبواب ليست مغلقة نهائيا والطريق ليست مسدودة نهائيا وأن هناك قوة أمل حقيقي أن تصل أزمة الحريات وحقوق الانسان في سوريا إلى حل سلمي آمن.

إن الإرهاب عدو البشرية والإنسانية والحضارة الأول، يلقى الدعم والأرض الخصبة في التجمعات التي تعاني أزمة حريات وتغلق أبواب وطرق التعبير السلمي مما يفتح الأبواب لطريق التعبير العنفية والتجمعات التي تعاني من فقر شديد حيث لا يجد الانسان ما يملكه أبدا في الأرض فيسعى تحت تأثير الأفكار المتطرفة الخاطئة إلى ملكيته في السماء وما يوعدون.

إن انعدام الحريات العامة وانتهاك حقوق الإنسان والفقر الشديد وجهان لعملة واحدة في بلدان العالم الثالث وسوريا في مقدمة هذه الدول خاصة وأنها من الدول الشمولية التي تحكمها وجهة النظر الواحدة والرأي الواحد والآخرون مارقون وخونة.فغياب الحريات ووسائل التعبير والمشاركة السياسية والرتابة والمحاسبة يؤدي على نمو الفساد والإفساد والتسلط والإفقار ونهب الأموال العامة ويستشري الفقر وتنهار القيم الأخلاقية والإنسانية.

إن محاربة الإرهاب الحقيقية لا يجب أن يكون هدفها فقط محاربة الأفكار المتطرفة فهذه على أهميتها فإنها موجودة عبر التاريخ ولكنها معزولة ومنبوذة وليست ذات تأثير إذا لم تجد التربة الخصبة لزراعة أفكارها بل يجب أن يتوجه إلى تجفيف هذه التربة التي تتلقى هذه البذور لتحويلها إلى نباتات سامة تجتاح مساحات أوسع فأوسع من المجتمعات وتنقلب على أفكار إجرامية تطال الأبرياء والمجتمع ككل. إن معالجة أسباب الإرهاب يتطلب فتح أبواب وطرق التعبير السلمية وتبادل الآراء وإعطاء الشعوب حريتها المسلوبة منها ورفع سيف الظلم والقهر والتسلط عنها ومنحها حق المشاركة السياسية الكاملة برسم مستقبلها وصنع القرار وصنع القرار والقرابة والمحاسبة وحفظ حقها بالمساواة والعيش الكريم. وهذه مسؤولية دولية عامة لأن الأمن أصبح في العالم أمنا واحدا.

إن الشعب السوري دفع أثمان غالية للحصول على حقوقه وحرياته ونأمل أن نكون نحن آخر دفعة من هذا الثمن الغالي والكبير الذي يستحق الشعب السوري بعده أن يسترد حقوقه وحريته.إننا نحتاج إلى أكثر من تضامنكم واستنكاركم. إننا نحتاج إلى عملكم المستمر والدؤوب لإلزام السلطات السورية باحترام حقوق الانسان والقوانين والاتفاقيات الدولية التي التزمت بها وتطبيقها فعلا وإطلاق حرية التعبير والرأي والعمل السياسي ولعل إطلاق سراح المعتقلين السياسيين هو الخطوة الأولى الضرورية لذلك.بالإضافة إلى إلغاء حالة الطوارئ والقوانين الاستثنائية وعلى رأسها المرسوم 49 لعام 1980 ومرسوم الإحصاء الاستثنائي في محافظة الحسكة عام 1962 والمحاكم الاستثنائية وفي مقدمتها محكمة أمن الدولة والمحاكم الميدانية وإلغاء أحكامها والتعويض على المتضررين منه وإعطاء القضاء استقلاله الكامل ووقف ومنع التعذيب ومحاسبة مرتكبيه وإلغاء الاعتقال السياسي وإطلاق حرية الصحافة والإعلام والسماح بالمشاركة السياسية وتشكيل الأحزاب والمنظمات وجمعيات المجتمع المدني خارج الوصاية الرسمية ووقف نهب المال العام وسياسة الإفقار والتسلط والهيمنة.

إن هذه الخطوات تشكل فقط البداية الضرورية لوضع سوريا على سكة الأمان وبالاتجاه الصحيح للتطور والتقدم وتحمي الوحدة الوطنية التي تعاني من الشروخ والانقسامات والأزمات والاحتقانات التي تعصف بها ولم يعد ممكنا إخفائها بالأهازيج والمهرجانات والدبكات والتصاريح الجوفاء الفارغة حول صحة المجتمع الذي يعاني أمراض عدة شديدة .

إننا كمعتقلي رأي وضمير خائفون على مستقبل الوطن الذي نتمسك به وعلى مستقبل أطفالنا ومن حقنا المشاركة بصنع هذا المستقبل ولولا إبداء رأينا ولن نأل جهدا من أجل تحقيق مستقبل أفضل لهذا الوطن ولن يرهقنا التهديد والوعيد والقمع والقهر لا سنوات السجن الطويلة عن الاستمرار بما آمنا به وندرنا نفسنا له

سجن عدرا 28-4-2007

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Another Day at the Office??...

God, what a day this has been!...

It was an ominous start.. I am on-call today, and I was planning to get to the Department, as usual, just before 9am.. At 07:45, my colleague who was on-call Saturday rang me.. He said that he was contacted by the Nurse in-charge about a road traffic crash (RTC) involving three seriously injured people.. As he was planning to head off to London very soon, he wondered if I could start my on-call a bit earlier (we change over at 9am every morning)... Needless to say, I assured him that he can get on his way, and that I will be in the Department within ten minutes..

So I set off bit earlier than I had intended, and got to the Department (breaking every land-speed record known to man!..) before the casualties started arriving, which allowed me time to organise the team and prepare for the reception of the three injured people..

The three casualties came in quick sequence.. All three were quickly assessed, initial resuscitation started, various scans and x-rays done, and a number of emergency life-saving procedures performed.. Within an hour or so, one man was already in Theatre, undergoing surgery to have his pelvis fixed by the Orthopaedic Surgeons. Another was being cared for by the Neurosurgeons and the Intesivists on the Intensive Care Unit, and the third was eventually admitted for observation, after having a couple of minor fractures reset, and several facial lacerations sutured.. It took us two-and-a-half-hours to sort them all out and hand them over to the various specialist teams..

By that time, the Waiting Room was like Central Station.. standing room only!.. It seemed that the whole of Lancashire decided to pay us a visit today.. Suddenly, the week-old cough, the two-month-old back pain, and the ankle sprain that happened three days ago, cannot wait any longer... I guess there isn't much to watch on the telly, so people come to the Emergency Department for entertainment!..

On top of that, yesterday the weather was nice in Lancashire, and we had the promise of more nice weather today, even if not much of that promise did materialize... The morning was grim and dark, but it did brighten up in the afternoon.. and believe me, nice weather does not suit the Brits.. they are genetically designed to have their moronic tendencies displayed, at the slightest hint of sunshine or blue skies.. kids on their bicycles, youths on rugby fields, adults on motorbikes or in fancy cars, hapless DIYers, yobs with too much alcohol on-board, and middle-aged men (but refusing to admit it!..) doing mad things they have not done in thirty years.. the result of this explosive mixture? Accidents.. and more accidents.. not to mention the countless cases of asthma, insect bites, allergy attacks, as well as the 'usual' quota of 'ordinary' illnesses...

The Air Ambulance landed on our Helipad seven times today.. our average is four Air Ambulance transfers a month!!.. Our Prehospital Emergency Trauma Team (lovingly known as PETT) was called out four times.. our average is twice a month (we only tend to go out to RTCs with entrapment.. otherwise, it is better to get the casualty to us).. These are new and unprecedented records, smashing the previous records (for which, incidentally, I was the proud holder!!..) by a long way!.. Well, they don't call me DisasterMaster for nothing!..

Amidst the carnage, there were some touching stories of simple courage, human vulnerability, and pure stupidity!... the five-year-old who fell in the canal, trying to save his dog!.. (I am pleased to report that both child and dog have recovered from the ordeal!..).. the mother who was trying to impress her child with her bicycle-riding skills, but forgotten how steep the the road outside her house was.. (the result: a minor fracture to the foot, and a badly-bruised pride!..).. then the idiot who, after a few pints of lager, wanted to prove to his mates that the fart is flammable!.. (He farted while holding a cigarette lighter close to his bum.. His fart ignited, sending a blast of flames towards a pile of dry leaves they had collected, setting it ablaze.. three of the youths sustained burns to their hands when they tried to put the burning leaves out!.. The human flame-thrower suffered superficial, but very painful, burns to his nether regions... but he has proven his point!..)..

So, after all, this was just another day at the office...
I'd better get some rest.. I am totally whacked, and I have a full day tomorrow... and what's more, today is not over yet.. the night is still young...

(Picture: 'Pandemonium' by Halcyon83, Source: