Guilty by association

Magazine blog, SyriaMehdi Rifai

As you are undoubtedly aware, the US ventured over Syria’s airspace and tread on its territory in an operation that resulted in the murder of eight people, five of them from the same family, and at least two of them minors, and the injury of 16 others. The US has yet to even acknowledge that they’ve committed this horrific violation of every one of their beliefs, a fact that has not gone unnoticed by the Syrian people.

Indeed, to them, this equals the murderous act itself: that we are so disposable as not to be even worth acknowledging is something that so enrages this proud people, that they have begun taking action. The American Embassy closed in fear of retaliation for a few days, and three of the cultural institutions have been closed down, leaving the employees of these institutions unemployed in a land that, for now, hates the American government. These employees have been left to fend for themselves, mostly, and are in fear that their change in status will leave them vulnerable to having their residencies revoked, which would lead to their immediate deportation with no possibility of return for at least five years. The Damascus Community School, an institution in this country since the 1950s that has produced numerous important graduates, including FW’s own Sami Moubayed, has suffered that fate. It was closed down, and the teaching staff, whether they were Americans or not, were told to leave the country within 48 hours to guarantee their safety. As of today, Friday November 7, 2008, the same threat has been hung over the American Language Center (ALC) teachers’ heads like Damocles’ sword, swinging ever closer; we have received unofficial notice that the order to revoke their residencies has been issued, but has not been filed.

Many Syrians – by my count, most – agree that this is too drastic a measure. These teachers love Syria, and have come to think of it as home: to be asked to leave your home is something Arabs have experience in, and do not wish on any other people. Also, for the most part, these institutions have been of immense benefit to the Syrian people: ALC has always had the reputation of having the best ESL teachers in the entire country since it first opened in the 1980s; and the DCS has produced generations of graduates that both love America and its people, and have done immense good for Syria, opening it up economically and diplomatically, and fueling the current growth it has undergone.

However, these same Syrians feel that there must be some consequences for the Americans’ military incursion. Trade between the two countries is practically non-existent due to the American sanctions against us, and so, retaliation must be taken where it can. If this means that they must close down institutions that have become iconic in Syrian society; that one of the very few venues for cultural interchange and communication between America and Syria are to be closed down; and that American expatriates, who have lived in Syria for years, must be forcibly returned to a country that is no longer familiar to them, and is currently undergoing economic strife, then so be it. Something must be done. The last of those threats is not an exaggeration; many of the deported DCS teachers spoke of living in relatives’ basements and imposing on the kindness of their few remaining friends in the United States once they get there. ALC teachers fearing the same fate are asking if their embassies will at the very least loan them the money to get back home, as their salaries over here were only enough for hand-to-mouth existence, and their budgets didn’t cover unforeseen deportation fees.

From those I have spoken to, it seems that all it will take to change this is an acknowledgment of the incident by the American government. The enormity of this request is not lost on me, as the few words it would take to admit to what happened will have extreme consequences for the US. Still, if it is legal action the Americans fear, proceedings will go on whether or not they acknowledge the incident. In this month’s issue of FW, Ibrahim Daraji writes an interesting piece about the repercussions of the American attack. One recommendation jumps out and demands to be put into play: he feels steps should be set in motion to sue the American government in the same manner the US has done over two of their soldiers killed by al-Qaeda militants, completely unaffiliated with and unsupported by the Syrian government or its people. A US Federal Court in Washington found Syria liable somehow, and demanded on October 3 of this year compensation for the relatives of the deceased to the amount of $412 million. Some here in Syria wonder if military personnel, who are trained professionals capable of defending themselves and prepared for the eventuality that they may die, can recoup that much for their lives, how much should unarmed civilians murdered in cold blood while simply earning their meager living in a construction site be worth in compensation for their widows and orphaned children?

This isn’t going away, nor should it, but I hope for all my friends and colleagues here from the ALC and American Cultural Center, now that it is too late for the DCS teachers, that it doesn’t end up being the wrong people paying the price for what occurred, as it so often does, unfortunately. Please, Syria, realize who your true enemies are, an evil and maniacal administration in its death throes, not teachers who have worked had to impart the best of their knowledge to help Syrians become stronger on the world stage. Please, America, make some gesture of friendship, and let’s head off any increased hostility between our two countries before it’s too late.

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2 Responses

  1. […] Guilty by associationAs you are undoubtedly aware, the US ventured over Syria’s airspace and tread on its territory in an operation that resulted in the murder of eight people, five of them from the same family, and at least two of them minors, … […]

  2. I agree that these people shouldn’t leave Syria because of a stupid barbaric US administration. But that’s what often happens in politics, some innocents pay the price, just like Syrians who wouldn’t be granted a visa to take the CFA higher level in the US, Syrians who couldn’t take the GMAt just because they’re Syrians, and many other cases.

    I hope these people find a solution, cause as you just said, not a single American or foreigner visited Syria but liked it a lot and felt like home. Everyone thought that it is a great country with great people, and managed to become a defender of Syria in front of media-influenced Americans.

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