Letter to the Editor Re “Questionable Thinking on Syria”

15 August, 2022
The city of Alep­po, bombed by Syr­i­an and Russ­ian jets, reduced to vir­tu­al rub­ble (file pho­to tak­en Jan 2021).

 

TMR wel­comes let­ters to the edi­tor in response to pub­lished arti­cles, which will be edit­ed for brevi­ty and clar­i­ty. This let­ter is in response to Fouad Mami’s “Ques­tion­able Think­ing on the Syr­i­an Rev­o­lu­tion,” which appeared in TMR on August 1, 2022.

 

Abdullah Chahin

 

I want to start by thank­ing Dr. Fouad Mami for tak­ing the time to review my book: Nawãr (Sav­ages: Prob­ing the Trans­for­ma­tion of Indi­vid­ual and Col­lec­tive Con­scious­ness under Total­i­tar­i­an Regimes: Syr­i­an Soci­ety as an Exam­ple, Riad El-Rayyes Books: Beirut, Lebanon. ISBN: 978‑9953-21–748‑2). This book was not an easy one to write, nor is it easy to read. It attempts to trace the ide­o­log­i­cal and behav­ioral changes of Syr­i­an com­mu­ni­ties under the bru­tal regime that is cur­rent­ly in pow­er, and how those changes reshaped social and inter­per­son­al inter­ac­tions. The total­i­tar­i­an regime hijacked not only the polit­i­cal are­na, but the eco­nom­ic, cul­tur­al, and reli­gious aspects of life in Syr­i­an soci­ety. The regime has prac­ticed col­lec­tive pun­ish­ment in order to tight­en its grip on our soci­ety, which became one in which peo­ple had to police them­selves and their sur­round­ings for the pur­pose of self-preser­va­tion. This has not only deep­ened the sense of oth­er­iza­tion in soci­ety, but has also cre­at­ed a false notion of “every­one” ver­sus those who dis­sent from the regime — and are con­se­quent­ly depict­ed as hav­ing effect­ed a break with soci­ety at large.

The answer was in the book’s title all along!

This rebut­tal does not exhaus­tive­ly tack­le all the defi­cien­cies in Dr. Mami’s argu­ment. Instead, it con­cerns itself with the more egre­gious ones. One of the major errors in Dr. Mami’s read­ing is his inabil­i­ty to trace the cause and effect of the Syr­i­an quag­mire. The title of the book clear­ly indi­cates that the exam­i­na­tion is of a soci­etal trans­for­ma­tion caused by a bru­tal total­i­tar­i­an regime, and not the oppo­site. I am shocked that the entire premise of his argu­ment against the book is refut­ed by its very title! Claim­ing that this book blames Syr­i­an soci­ety for the bru­tal regime is utter non­sense and is base­less. And so are all the con­clu­sions Dr. Mami came to after read­ing the book.

Dr. Mami, who express­es a pos­i­tive impres­sion of the sec­ond chap­ter, quotes the fol­low­ing pas­sage (he mis­tak­en­ly cites the rel­e­vant page as 175, where­as it is in fact 177): “In col­lab­o­ra­tion with sev­er­al experts in fields such as micro-econ­o­my, human lead­er­ship, and durable devel­op­ment, we planned in 2013 a small devel­op­men­tal project called Mihãd. The point of the project was the build­ing of indi­vid­u­als’ set of skills, pre­cise­ly the ones point­ed out by experts as well as on-ground activists in the lib­er­at­ed areas. Even though the aware­ness of the lack of train­ing comes from the very peo­ple that applied for fund­ing, we not­ed that inter­ac­tion was almost inex­is­tent … from over 200 peo­ple who reg­is­tered for the event, only 10 peo­ple attend­ed the first work­shop. The remain­ing work­shops did not wit­ness more than five attendees…”

Then, he mis­lead­ing­ly states that I have con­clud­ed that “lack of par­tic­i­pa­tion is cat­a­stroph­ic” and that “ordi­nary Syr­i­ans are beyond redemp­tion, giv­en their cur­rent ways of per­cep­tion and mak­ing sense of the world.” This out­ra­geous and out­landish con­clu­sion is Dr. Mami’s own, and not mine. It only takes one to read the fol­low­ing para­graph to see the point I was try­ing to make from the men­tion of my work on capac­i­ty-build­ing in Syr­ia, which is that there was weak insight among the par­tic­i­pants when it came to skills that they thought they pos­sessed — in this sce­nario, admin­is­tra­tive and man­age­r­i­al. To claim that, sim­ply because of this sim­ple inter­ac­tion with a small group of par­tic­i­pants, I wrote off an entire nation as irre­deemable speaks vol­umes of the qual­i­ty of the read­ing Dr. Mami has giv­en this book.

I had hoped that Dr. Mami’s review would be more detailed, with exam­ples and cri­tiques that are bet­ter for­mu­lat­ed. Instead, he dis­miss­es the book as “a hotch­potch of half-digest­ed and bor­rowed ideas from junk sci­ence, folk wis­dom, moti­va­tion­al psy­chol­o­gy, and self-help lit­er­a­ture.” This does not reflect well on the objec­tiv­i­ty or the pro­fes­sion­al­ism of the review­er, espe­cial­ly when he fails to bring for­ward a sin­gle exam­ple of what he alleges.

As a polit­i­cal asylee who had his first expe­ri­ence of ille­gal deten­tion and inter­ro­ga­tion at age 14, and who lost count­less friends and fam­i­ly mem­bers to the regime’s mas­sacres and to forced dis­ap­pear­ance, I con­demn his descrip­tion of me as “coun­ter­rev­o­lu­tion­ary by default” and a “depres­sive reformist.” This book got me banned from sev­en Arab coun­tries. It brought death threats to my inbox. It adds to the exist­ing risk of retal­i­a­tion on my remain­ing fam­i­ly mem­bers in Syr­ia. I want Dr. Mami to know that this is just the begin­ning of our strug­gle. We suc­ceed­ed in expos­ing the Syr­i­an regime as a vio­lent mafia, but we still have not achieved our aspi­ra­tions for free­dom, jus­tice, equal­i­ty, and plu­ral­ism in Syr­ia. Our path is long, but we are pre­pared to forge ahead. The blood and tears we col­lec­tive­ly shed for this cause must not be to no avail.

 

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