What Americans think when a fellow American tells them he studies in Damascus…

During a short trip to the United States this past week, I encountered a variety of different responses to my living in Syria. The purpose of my trip was to visit some of the universities to which I am applying for graduate programs this year.

My first stop was Washington D.C. where, due to a snow storm, I ended up having to stay in a hotel overnight before taking a train to New Jersey. The hotel clerk, who I apparently had woken up so that he could check me in around 2 a.m., asked me where I was coming from. “Syria,” I said. The clerk looked at me at smiled saying, “So, you work for the government, then?” This was one of the most common responses to me saying that I live in Syria – particularly in the political capital of the U.S

Even after I got to the first university in New Jersey the following day, I received some interesting responses to living in Syria. The students were all applicants for a Near Eastern Studies and many had spent time in Egypt and Turkey studying. They, too, however, were surprised to find that I live in Syria – albeit less surprised than my cab driver in Boston a few days later.

There is no doubt that there are more American students in Damascus than ever before and my feeling is that number will only increase in the coming years

Habib was an Algerian who moved to the U.S. three years ago, leaving his family at home in Algiers. As we loaded my bags into the trunk of the car at Logan International, I heard him say hello to a fellow cabby across the road and so I knew he was from North Africa. He was very chatty and told me all about his father who had fought in the Algerian Revolution against the French. I told him I would really love to go to Algeria some day but it is still somewhat difficult for Americans. He told me the Arab world is generally like that – to which I responded that I actually live in Syria now. He laughed for a few seconds and was very surprised, “You live in Syria? Well if you live there then why would you not go to Algeria?” He asked me a ton of questions about living there. He was pleased to hear that I had wonderful things to say about being an American in Damascus.

There was a general response of surprise from pretty much everyone I spoke with about living in Syria because most American students studying Arabic right now are still going to Cairo. Things are changing quickly, though. Cairo is fast becoming a less favored location for Arabic study and many study abroad programs and university departments are sending students to Damascus. There is no doubt that there are more American students in Damascus than ever before and my feeling is that number will only increase in the coming years.

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U.S. names Ford as its ambassador to Syria

This is the full text of a Statement by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William J. Burns, that Forward Magazine, and other media oulets in Syria, received a few days ago.

February 17, 2010

Good afternoon.  I am pleased to be back in Damascus.  I am here to convey President Obama’s continuing interest in building better relations with Syria based upon mutual interest and mutual respect.  Syria plays an important role in the Middle East and this is a moment in which both Syria and the United States, despite our differences, have a stake in exploring ways in which we might cooperate.

 I had quite productive and extensive discussions with President Assad.  We talked candidly about areas in which we disagree, but also identified areas of common ground on which we can build.  The White House announced yesterday that Robert Ford will be the next American ambassador to Syria if he is confirmed by the U.S. Senate.  That is a clear sign – after five years without an American ambassador in Damascus – of America’s readiness to improve relations and to cooperate in the pursuit of a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace between Arabs and Israelis with progress on all tracks of the peace process, and in the pursuit of regional peace and stability.

To deepen our dialogue as we move forward, Ambassador Dan Benjamin, the State Department’s Coordinator for Counterterrorism, will remain here for another day of meetings.  I have no illusions about the challenges on the road ahead, but my meeting with President Assad leaves me hopeful that we can make progress together in the interest of both of our countries. 

 Thank you very much.

William Burns

To Barack Obama from a Syrian citizen

Damascus, 13 December 2008

Mr. Barack Obama
President-elect of the United States of America
c/o President Jimmy Carter

Dear Barack, 

You certainly want to know more about Syria, and I will volunteer —even uninvited— to share some information that can be useful until you manage to see for yourself.

This is a time of festivity in Syria. The end of Eid Aladha is marked by the joyous return of pilgrims from Mecca, each of them celebrating the completion of a journey of a lifetime to live peace with God, with themselves and with one another. It’s also Christmas, when bells of some the world’s oldest churches ring in unison with the carols’ sweet repeat of “peace on earth, goodwill to men.” And it is the end of a year, an opportunity to reflect on the time bygone and to embark on new beginnings. Beginnings have in them the promise of a miracle that still happens in abundance every day: a new birth.

My letter comes to you from Damascus, an ancient city where many civilizations have seen their beginnings. I hear from visitors often that in Damascus they feel at home. Much of that is due to a fact that I find amusing: any visitor will find a Syrian that looks like them!  I will show you when you are here. This is because our people are not the product of today, or of the turbulent 20th century.  We are a blend of cultures that have triumphed over their ethnic or religious identities to form one nation. Our Arab identity is flavored with a rich Islamic culture, a Mediterranean character, a proximity to Europe, and a nucleus location that connects the East to the West. The contributions to humanity by people that called Syria home through the ages are too many to count. And above all, we have a double-edged blessing; the overwhelming majority of youth in our population holds the keys to both, the crisis and the solution.

Those young men and women will arrive at a crossroad as they enter the ‘real life.’ What they decide to do today determine how our tomorrow is going to look like.  The two easier choices are to accept the status quo and fuel it, or to quit in pursuit of ready-made opportunities elsewhere. The more difficult choice is to challenge the status quo and become an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs are inspired by their emancipation, and driven by their ability to take charge and stop relying on “the other” whether this “other” is a government, a parent, or a friend. It makes them stronger and more determined to achieve great results, all the while maintaining even a stronger attachment to their nation.

Our country today has a vision of what it can be, and has set on course to implement it. Thousands of Syrians, in government, civil society, and the business sector, and “quiet heroes” of ordinary citizens have worked hard to maintain that course despite the immense and unjust pressures that we have endured. Our military is perhaps not as strong as the ‘army’ that is working make available to our worthy young generation a vision of what they need to have as able citizen of Syria and of the world; a vision of how they can be makers of peace —inner peace before anything else— not seekers of peace. When they are at this crossroad, we want them to choose to be positive and assertive in Syria, not be that somewhere else, nor 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.

The dynamism and energy of the reforms in Syria today has a global perspective too. The long heritage and cultural accumulation gives confidence that transcends from one generation to the next.  We are an old country that now has new people shaped by the globalization of knowledge and technology. By virtue of that, our people are citizen of the world, just as much as they are citizen of Syria, the ancient nation.  In many ways, Syrians have not thought of their country only as home, but also a meeting place; a refuge for the persecuted and the displaced; 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, justice, and solidarity as their social capital—an infinite resource that maintains our social stability in the tides of crises hitting everywhere in the world, and one that will not only reduce financial poverty, but 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.

More severe probably than the crisis of prosperity today is a “crisis of heroes.” A few of them still exist however. Last night, at Marquand House in the American University of Beirut, I sat at the dinner table with one of them, President Jimmy Carter. Thirty years ago he was where you are today. His hopes had their share of fulfillment and disappointment. But at eighty-four, he seemed as driven and unrelenting in his quest to “wage peace” around the world. Many young people are looking to you, Barack, as they arrive at the crossroad. You have inspired them, but can you be their hero? They think you can, as Abraham Lincoln’s promise of a “new birth of freedom” has been renewed by your election, America’s new –and much needed– triumph.

Peace through justice and equality, and friendship through peace and common human values, are the pillars upon which you can build the foundations not only for a new America, but for a new world. It’s going to be a hideously tricky mission should you decide to take it. But you are an entrepreneur, and entrepreneurs are not derailed by obstacles along the way but believe instead that it is only the results that are measured at the end —when the curtain falls— that matter. Your kind of people firmly believes that the smallest of deeds are greater than the biggest of words, and they lead by example to chart new horizons. “Yes, we can”. This is what they have faith in as they strive to leave the world better than they had it.

Congratulations and good luck with the transition and inauguration. I will be watching it, and praying that you succeed where most others have not had enough courage or attitude to try or persist. As you are taking the oath to give the United States of America “the change we need ,” do remember that millions of proud and peace-loving people in Palestine, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria —and indeed the world— are extending a firm and warm hand of friendship to you.

I hope you can do the same, Barack. I hope you will.

Haykal's signature

 

 

Abdulsalam Haykal

Copy to President Jimmy Carter

Carter v.s Forward Magazine: 1st Syrian media outlet to conduct an interview with a U.S President

Forward Magazine is the first Syrian media outlet to ever carry out an interview with an American president. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is the first American leader to speak to Syrian media – he spoke to Forward last month and broke many important news, including:

  • The appointment of a US ambassador to Syria is expected soon.

Jimmy Carter speaks to Syrian media outlet, Forwrad Magazine (1)

The 1st American president to give an interview to a Syrian media outlet…

Carter to Syria’s Forward Magazine: I’m carrying Assad’s good greetings to Obama

DAMASCUS (January, 2009) – Former American President Jimmy Carter said that Syria and the United States can expect there are “better times ahead” for their bilateral relations. In the first-ever interview for an American president with a Syrian media outlet, Carter told Forward Magazine, Syria’s first independent English monthly, Carter implied that the near future will see the return of the US ambassador to Damascus, filling a post that has been vacant since relations plummeted in 2005. Such a move will coincide with re-opening of the American school in Damascus, Carter said, in addition to reopening the American Language Center – both of which were closed by the Syrian government after US warplanes raided the Syrian town of Abu Kamal last October killing 8 civilians.

Speaking to Sami Moubayed, Forward’s editor in chief and Syria’s top political commentator, Carter confirmed that he “will be carrying some good greetings to the leaders of the new administration, through my meeting with President Assad.” During his visit to Syria, the fifth since 1983, Carter met with President Bashar al-Assad, whom he described as “popular among his people.” They discussed Syrian-American relations, in addition to regional developments in the Middle East, including the peace talks between Syria and Israel. Speaking of the involvement of the upcoming administration in Washington, Carter asserted that Obama cannot “put enough pressure on either Syria or Israel to yield on their basic principles.” He added, “My hope and my belief are that there are enough compatibilities between the two parties to reach a final agreement.”

The full text of this exclusive interview appears in the January 2009 issue of Forward Magazine (Syria).

Justice for Gaza: You can make a difference!

Syrian Activism

Forward Magazine January 2009 cover, Syria Make a differnce! E-mail or fax your protest message to U.S senators, congressmen, governors and state legislators! For their contact details visit: fw-magazine.com/gaza

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.