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: www.phirebrush.com)

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