Archive for Current Events

Syrian-Americans and the Assad Regime

There is no doubt that Syrians in the United States searching for a role in Syrian current events must carefully avoid reifying American imperial power without eschewing their ethical duty to stand against the killing, injuring, arrest, and other abuses of protesters, the vast majority of whom have been peaceful despite the ruthlessness of the security services.

That space is difficult to find when the past decade has seen a U.S. establishment that is perpetually waiting for the next opportunity to undermine the Syrian government, not because it cares about the welfare of Syrians or wishes to weaken dictatorships as a general matter, but because Syria has not knelt to American and Israeli agendas in the region — despite its participation in the war on Iraq, its cooperation with the War on Terror through the extraordinary torture of people like Maher Arar, and its satisfaction with the status quo with regard to Israeli apartheid and the occupation of the Golan Heights.

What should be certain, though, is that today even a single word in defense of the Syrian government’s actions is morally indefensible. That maxim must also extend to indirect actions that function to deceptively embellish the government’s image while it continues to pursue an agenda of violence and brutality against the Syrian people.

It is outrageous, then, that, according to Syria News, a “delegation of Syrian-Americans” recently met with Bashar al-Assad (I will not call him ‘president’ today) and rendered free propaganda services for the regime. The event was clearly a public relations stunt by the Syrian government meant to whitewash the crimes that have led to the death of 1,300 protesters, not to mention the deplorable state of Syrian affairs overall. In organizing the event, the Syrian government sought to convey the image that Syrian-Americans stand by the government even as thousands of demonstrators stand against it.

Even more troubling is the fact that, according to Syria News, this so-called delegation included Jay Salkini and Assad Jebara, two board members of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). While I doubt that they intend their actions to reflect a personal endorsement of regime violence, even if the publicity around it conveys that image, their meeting represents a style of elite political engagement — one, perhaps, that many other upper middle and upper class Syrians would gladly partake in — that must be done away with.

One cannot draw an analogy between this meeting and the recent conference of Syrian opposition figures in Damascus, where the dissidents — many of whom have served jail time –  were unrestrained in their criticism of the government. In contrast, Jebara remarked in an interview with Syria News that the meeting was “very positive” and that “President Bashar al-Assad was very realistic and open to all opinions, reaching the limits of candor and honesty.” Here, Jebara himself reaches the limits of flattery and obsequiousness!

Salkini continued to promise al-Assad that Syrian-Americans would call on Congress and the American government to give Syria a “chance to implement reforms adopted by the Syrian government.” Had the Assad regime presented its people with a credible plan for reform, Salkini’s statement might not have been so objectionable. As of yet, however, endless committees continue to “study” reform at a snail’s pace, even as the government swiftly and ruthlessly mobilizes the army and security services to attack its people. It seems this government is more competent at some tasks than others.

Reprehensibly, Salkini told Syria News that Syrian-Americans would aim to support Syria’s economy with more investments, especially because “the tourism industry was harmed most by the events in Syria.” Were it that such a callous phrase never left his mouth to remind us of March 14th’s disgusting whining about the tourism industry while Israel was bombarding Lebanon in 2006, killing over a thousand people!

It is truly embarrassing for Jebara and Salkini to participate in this event, given that they are board members of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). How unbecoming of people who defend Arab civil rights in America to function as allies of a government that recognizes civil rights for no one. In doing so, they give fodder to anti-Arab factions in the United States who accuse people who criticize United States and Israeli policies of hypocrisy in order to distract from the egregiousness of those policies. Jebara, Salkini, and other members of this “delegation” insult the Syrian protesters and, in Jebara and Salkini’s case, further damage the credibility of the ADC, which is barely recovering from the last Syria-related flap, the dis-invitation of Malek Jandali.

Of course, Jebara and Salkini’s meeting with Bashar al-Assad has nothing to do with the ADC. It has nothing to do with civil rights. It has everything to do with preserving and protecting social, political, and business ties. Salkini and Jebara are well within their rights to feel, despite mounting evidence and mass graves to the contrary, that al-Assad is capable of leading the country on a path to reform. They are well within their rights to feel that supporting al-Assad’s endless reform committees is the best way for Syrians. But they should not do so in their capacity as representatives of Syrian-Americans nor while they are board members of an organization that needs impeccable credibility to be an effective champion of Arab-American civil rights. And they certainly should not do so while protestors continue to be killed in the streets.

The Yudof Doctrine: No divestment from Israel until genocide

“The U.S. has not made any declaration regarding the State of Israel and, therefore, we will not bring a recommendation before the Board to divest from companies doing business with the State of Israel.”

– UC President Mark Yudof, UC Regents Chairman Russell Gould, and UC Regents Vice Chair Sherry Lansing

UC President Mark Yudof — who the Jewish Telegraphic Agency has called “an unabashed Israel supporter” and who has previously compared the UC to a cemetery — has weighed in against UC Berkeley’s divestment initiative, laying out a bizarre formula for UC investments that sets the bar so low it would have prevented UC divestment from South Africa during the apartheid era.

Under the Yudof doctrine, the UC Regents would only divest from a foreign country if the United States government had decided that the country had engaged in acts of genocide. Apparently that is the only standard under which Israel can continue to escape scrutiny by the UC Regents. But the policy has implications beyond the Israeli occupation of Palestine, for under this rule the UC Regents would not be able to modify its investment policy in order to alleviate a host of other social harms, such as the occupation of Tibet, slave labor, human trafficking, any government practices that are racist, sexist, homophobic and otherwise dehumanizing. It clearly leaves much to be desired in the human rights arena.

Continue reading “The Yudof Doctrine: No divestment from Israel until genocide” »

Don’t give Birgeneau a free pass to shut down student organizing

Chancellor BirgeneauOne need not agree with whatever happened at the Chancellor’s mansion to resist the administration’s attempt to co-opt independent student forces by soliciting their blanket condemnation of the incident.

Governor Schwarzenegger finally took notice of public education after the incident, calling individuals who were allegedly involved “terrorists.” Earlier today the Chancellor and his PR spokesperson Dan Mogulof echoed a similar approach, calling them “extremists.” Of course, we have no idea what actually happened yet, or if police provocateurs played any role, but it is clear that with this incident the administration and police hope to obtain a pretext to further suppress student organizing efforts. Students should not give it to them — even if they disagree with what their peers are accused of doing. Continue reading “Don’t give Birgeneau a free pass to shut down student organizing” »

UC must abandon policy of suppressing students with police

Police Surround Wheeler Hall at UC BerkeleyUC Berkeley administrators are still dodging responsibility for police brutality on Berkeley’s campus during the occupation of Wheeler Hall on November 20. Measures that have been announced are meant to distract the campus community from the crucial fact that the problem is not necessarily with policing policy, but rather with policing as a policy. Continue reading “UC must abandon policy of suppressing students with police” »

Chancellor Birgeneau must be held accountable for violence against students

Please forward to UC faculty, grad students, and friends

Dear UC Faculty and Friends,

There are few words that can describe the horror of police violence against students on UC Berkeley’s campus Friday November 20. Chancellor Birgeneau’s dispatches to the campus community, most recently those today pre-empting a critical outrage to what transpired, are disgraceful and must be met with a forceful response by UC faculty and students. What started as aggressive and unjustified provocation by UCPD was soon supplemented by the vicious behavior of officers from Berkeley Police Department and the Alameda County Sheriff. As students peaceably assembled in support of those occupying Wheeler Hall, Chancellor Birgeneau ordered or approved the deployment of hundreds of police brandishing their batons to beat the spirit of ownership out of them.

Continue reading “Chancellor Birgeneau must be held accountable for violence against students” »

"Nothing so tires a person as having to struggle, not with himself, but with an abstraction." - Jose Saramago, All the Names