List 5 things Obama should do for peace in the Middle East, and 5 challenges he’ll face there.

Obama, SyriaThe popular Barack Obama seemed and sounded very confident as he told the world during the American festival of democracy that the US is “ready to lead once more.” In his inauguration address on 20 January, the new American president said to “all other peoples and governments who are watching” that “America is a friend of each nation … who seeks a future of peace and dignity.”
Obama, whose middle name is Hussain, took oath with his hand on a Bible used by Abraham Lincoln. He addressed the “Muslim world” as such, promising to “seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.” At the same time, Obama emphasized his message “to those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West – know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.”

While many saw in Obama’s speech a departure from Bush’s policy, some observers insist that it was not much different from the previous administration’s rhetoric before 9/11. Obama did not address the Middle East crisis, that has added a new bloody chapter to its 60-year-long history after the atrocities in Gaza. He obviously avoided the subject, probably wanting to not commit to a stand before he learns more from his envoy Senator Mitchell. In his first day in office, he phoned four Middle Eastern leaders. The Palestinian president was the first foreign statesman Obama called as president, a step that is highly symbolic as to realising a long ignored fact: the Palestinian-Israeli is the region’s core problem, and that the US has to be an “honest broker.”

On 20 January, the Israelis listened to Obama tell the world that “that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.” In a region that is plagued by America’s complete bias for Israel, an occupier and an aggressor, people listened to Barack Obama forthcoming assertion that the US should “reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals… to assure the rule of law and the rights of man… [as the] ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake.” Can Israel continue with its policies when its biggest supporter, the world’s only super power, is on the other side of the spectrum?

Time will tell. But at this time, and with that background, I ask: what are the top five things Obama should do to bring peace to the Middle East? What are the top five challenges he is going to face there?

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The Night Eid Was Stolen

… and the perpetrators were caught in the act. Then they were left in peace to continue what they had started.

In the world of those that can feel no shame, the night Eid was stolen was just another night. They stood as witness at a perfectly sealed Egypt-Gaza border, and made sure that the Custodian of the Holy Shrines could enjoy a sword-dance with the cowboy that violated the Arab’s dignity in Iraq and elsewhere.

Déjà vu? Yes, but not for the first time, and it won’t be for the last. That is fit only for a nation united in ignorance, submission, and disgrace.

The late Saadallah Wannous would have said to the children of Gaza and Iraq and other parts of the nation: “We are bound by hope, and what is happening in the world today can not be the end of history.”

And hope they can never steal.

Happy Eid to everyone.

Syria: A European Arab Country?

So if Syria is to belong to another group other than the Arab World, would it be Europe, or Asia?

Perhaps this is a more legitimate question to be asked by Turks about their country, especially with their bid to join the European Union.  However, this is a question that is being asked today about Syria, and from foreigners that come to live here.

One of them is Gautam Mukhopadhaya, India’s Ambassador to Damascus. Last night there was a farewell dinner in his honor. In response to an eloquent speech by the hostess Massa Hamwi, Gautam spoke about his stay in Syria and his “attachment” to the country. Syria for him was an undiscovered place. Syrian culture was so unique in every aspect of it, starting from food and not ending with art and literature. He then concluded with something that I wrote about couple of times before but never with the same clarity of expression. For Gautam, Syria represented the best of the Arab/Islamic culture, and the best of European culture. If used well, that can be a winning combination.

In many ways, that is true, and indeed, I for one believe in it. A while ago, I’ve jotted down some thoughts that seem proper to share at this time:

My country is at the heart of the world. I hear from visitors often they in Syria they feel at home. Much of that is due to the fact that every person will find a Syrian that looks like him. Syrians are not the product of today, or of the turbulent 20th century. We are a blend of civilizations that have triumphed over their ethnic or religious identities to form one nation. Our Arab identity is flavored with a rich Islamic culture, a proximity to Europe, and a nucleus location that connects the East to the West. The contributions to humanity since the beginning of time made by people that call Syria home are too many to count. And above all, we boast of an overwhelming youth majority in our population that holds the keys to both crisis and solution. We need to leave no stone unturned in our attempt to enable our youth, to have a present and a future, and to create prosperity for themselves, their families, their nation, their region, and indeed their world. With the current circumstances, it is much easier for our youth to be part of the crisis though. The one question that occupies me: how do help them become part of the solution.

Another question would be: if we are to draw a road map of the way forward, what would it be.

 

Education is the key it seems. Education, whether at school or university, has to be an all-embracing experience that makes them aware and able of the opportunity to put what they have learned to use. When they have come to a point where they are mature and capable of making their own decision, we want them to choose to be positive and assertive in Syria, not be that elsewhere, or be passive and submissive. We want them to follow in the traditions of their forefathers and become the self-consciences entrepreneurs that are agents of change and progress in all walks of life, from medicine to technology; from music to sports, and from business to philanthropy.

But education alone is not the way to make the young generation part of the solution. We should not allow for our educated youth to get frustrated with an inability to use their qualifications to create prosperity right at home. That would only be a deeper crisis.

Reforms in Syria have to touch all the economic, societal, and participatory intersections to help our people find opportunities, create opportunities, and make them sustainable. The reform effort cannot be restricted to the government’s back office, but to bring into play as equal partners in development both the private sector and the civil society. The three together are creating Syria’s renewed social capital, one that will not only reduce financial poverty, but will also enlighten the soul, and restore a deserved and much need meaning of human values, often lost in the quest of needs and wants satisfied by money.

And indeed, Syria cannot continue to be known only as one of the oldest countries in the world;

We are old an old country that have new people shaped by the globalization of knowledge and technology. By virtue of that, these people are citizens of the world, just as much as they are citizens of Syria, the ancient nation. In many ways, Syrians have not thought of their country only as place they call home, but also a meeting place; a refuge; and a hub where ideas, resources, and goods can be exchanged in a free and just manner. They have believed in partnership as a means for creating added value, sustainability and growth. They have believed in equality and solidarity as their social capital—an infinite resource that maintains social stability in the tides of crises hitting everywhere in the world.

Yes, Syria has one of the world’s lowest ratios of college graduates per capita, and that is our biggest challenge now. There is a huge gap between the supply and demand side of the job market; low skilled labor is abundant, while human resources with the right skills and qualification are scarce. But to go with education, we probably need a judicial system that gives people a sense of security, which is at the core of any sense of belonging even the sternest patriot would have. Education can flourish on a level playing ground, and prosperity cannot be created or sustained without both.

Until then, both Asia and Europe have moved far ahead, and we are short of living up to the great legacy of the real Arab/Islamic culture.

A Syrian Message To Rabbi Krinsky: My Heart Goes Out to You

Moshe (2 years) was orphaned by terrorists in India on 26/11

Moshe (2 years) was orphaned by terrorists in India on 26/11

Sara (2 years) is one of 7 siblings and 20 cousins all under 16 that were orphaned by Amrican terror on 26/10

Sara (2 years) with her 7 siblings and 12 cousins were orphaned by terrorists in Syria on 26/10

By Abdulsalam Haykal

Dear Rabbi Krinsky:

I changed my plan and stayed in the hotel room in Chicago to watch your press conference on Friday following the horrific tragedy in Mumbai.  Your commitment to adopt the innocent toddler Moshe, Prophet Moses’ namesake, spoke volumes of the solidarity of your community, and the sense of responsibility you have towards them.

My heart goes out to Moshe in as much strength as it denounces the terrorist attack on the Chabad house and scorn the evil perpetrators. Perhaps what makes a child’s life so precious is the promise of a better tomorrow that lies in it.  What an impression is the daunting idea of having parents killed by terrorist going to have on Moshe? These cold-blooded terrorist have not killed only Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg but also Moshe’s future ability to be a peacemaker.

Gavriel (29) was a man of peace who dedicated his life to the serving human beings. So was Faisal (34), father of Sara, also a toddler of 2 years, and her 7 brothers and sisters. Gabi was killed by terrorists in India, and Faisal was killed by American “hellcopters” in a raid on Syria one month ago. The orphaned Sara and Moshe remind us of Moses, a Man of God whose story and heroism has defined justice. You are a servant of God, Rabbi Krinsky, and probably you recite everyday: “Justice, justice, you should pursue.” The essence of that sacred text is that when we are concerned about others’ justice, they will be concerned about ours.

I worry just as much, like you must do too, about the numerous children that are orphaned everyday in Iraq and Palestine- also by terrorists regardless if they are dressed in a uniform and work under the umbrella of an official flag.  It’s not only when terrorists kill a child that they kill a brighter part of the future. It is also when terrorists kill a father or torture him at Guantanamo or Abu Gharib, or widow a mother, or demolish a home, or besiege a people within a wall…

From Damascus today, I do not have strong enough words to condemn the horrendous crime that orphaned Moshe, and the crimes that do that to countless children in the Middle East and around the world. My fears however are not of terrorism per se, but of its consequences that prevent us from giving future generations the foundation to prosper and live safely, right at home in our region rather than in Brooklyn. My heart goes out to leaders like you who carry on their shoulders the cumbersome responsibility of stopping the terror campaings everywhere, trying not to end as a failed Messiah.