Wassim | Student United Kingdom
July 8th, 2007

Re: ‘If you had the choice what would you change in Syria?

If is a very big word. Posed as part of a question where the limit is the human imagination and the difficulty is in distinguishing which of the flood of desires and wants bubbling within you should be the one you wish to satisfy. “If you could have just one thing, what would it be?” A Ferrari? Fame? Looks? Women? Men?? Make a wish. Many years ago I watched an American film, the title of which I can’t remember, about an evil genie who asks people that very question. However, what you think is what you want turns out to be your ultimate nightmare or even undoing. Whatever desire is requested of him, his evil nature twists the outcome in such a way that to answer him would be to your eternal doom. However, his power only lay over those who would respond to him but, since it would be too boring otherwise, none of the protagonists can resist the urge to do so. Indeed, when it comes to desire, it was easy for me to sit back as a teenager and scream out “Don’t answer him!!”. However, would I have done any differently in a similar situation?

The Creative Forum is hopefully nowhere near as evil as our crafty genie, one would hope, but the question they have recently posted elicits the same feelings that I think many of his victims would have recognized. Indeed, many have responded to the articles with a variety of responses no doubt colored by their own interests and addressing a range of ills. Bridget Palmer wished that fast food restaurants and change would stop and preserve Syria in a pristine, non-commercial state allowing her to enjoy the ‘authentic’ Syrian culture, unpolluted by nefarious Western fast food outlets. George Ajjan brings a live and let live attitude which advocates a compromise of sorts with the country’s political and economic elite. Others such as Abu Kareem and Mohanad Attassi have addressed specific issues and laws which need to be repealed, abolished or amended and that they argue would be best for Syria. All are very valid responses and indeed, very much needed. However is this really what Syria needs? Will these changes, in a miraculous “If” scenario, bring about what is best for the country and the people? Or will they, like the Genie’s hapless victims, lead to all sorts of gruesome and grim outcomes. Here I will attempt to answer the Genie’s question at the risk of an uncertain fate.

I make no pretensions to know what ails the average Syrian, I haven’t been there for a very long time and in fact, have lived only a part of my life there. This however, does not make me any less a Syrian, since my upbringing has proven the fertile soil from which sprouts my profound love and longing for this homeland. Perhaps this makes answering such a question particularly dangerous since all sorts of thoughts enter my mind, all of which I brusquely push aside as I think through the end result. There is something missing in Syria and which has been so for a very long time – justice. Now one is probably wondering why on earth I would insist on answering with such a vague term, but is it so vague? What is justice? What do we mean by it and is this really what Syrians want? Let’s have a closer look..

The Oxford English dictionary defines justice as follows:

justice: 1. just behaviour or treatment, 2. the quality of being fair and reasonable, 3. the administration of law in a fair and reasonable way, 4. a judge or magistrate

One of the biggest problems I faced with my own If dilemma was how to arrange for a successful marriage between what I wished to happen and what could actually happen. Did I want revolution? Compromise with common criminals and thieves? A repeal of archaic and damaging laws? I felt all these dealt with the problem too superficially and did not address the root causes of what I saw as Syria’s justice deficit. Like I said I know little of what is happening on the street, but I hear enough to know it is not good. Where is the justice in some families not tasting meat except once a year if that. The justice in money which is intended for the public good used for private purposes, corruption. Where is the justice in being locked up for speaking the truth, criticizing that injustice or being born as part of an ethnic or religious minority and on that basis, marginalized and persecuted. Some in the past have criticized Syria as an Alawite regime, yet few recall the status, treatment and poverty of many Alawites in Syria prior to the seventies and in some cases this has still not improved. Where is the justice in not being able to even work your way out of poverty because there are no jobs and no opportunities that you have to go live amongst strangers in distant lands to make a decent living. I can go on and on about the Palestinians, the plight of Iraqi refugees within Syria and about military service. The end result is, where is the justice, the “quality of being fair and reasonable” in our country? What has happened to the legendary Arab hospitality that we proudly parade on endless television series, yet Iraqi girls are having to work in cheap brothels for Saudi sex tourists on the road to Saidnaya just to make a living? The problem with Syria is everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die. Instead they just emigrate.

I am not an advocate of liberalism or democracy and couldn’t give two hoots about whether democracy ever takes root in our countries. If anything I hope it never does. Plato and Socrates used to consider democracy the worst form of government where the nation is ruled by its peoples base desires. Aristotle argued it was the least worst form of government after tyranny and oligarchy and in that I do agree with him should there be no other alternative. Principled Islamic thinkers, along with their own Islamic principles, inherited Plato’s aversion to rulers and kings since they rightly believed that such power was a source of great corruption and heavy responsibility, best taken by somebody else. Entrusting legislation to the desires of an uninterested and self absorbed mass of people leads to all sorts of ills which I will not go into here. Ultimately though, it is justice which was required from the ruler. Syria’s foreign policy has charted it skilfully through many treacherous waters and continues to do so, without jeapordising the ultimate justice which can be denied at the highest level to a nation, such as has happened with Palestine. However, not pursuing justice in all avenues has also led to many of the problems Syria suffers. Syrian troops overstaying their welcome in Lebanon, heavy handedness and corruption all tarnished Syria’s image in what is, I continue to firmly believe, another part of the same country, call it what you may. Heavy handedness, torture, corruption to the highest levels all taking place domestically have stripped Syria of justice within and now, like a raped woman whose clothes are in tatters, she is trying to cover her shame. Each time she moves the cloth up, something else is exposed. Prying eyes feast on her futile attempts at modesty, aroused at the prospect of finishing the job. Where is the justice? Most importantly, if the government no longer cared about this, who will seek it and how will it be obtained?

My tendencies are for a typical Chekovian style of justice where all would end up dead and justice served to its fullest, yet the weakness of the flesh and the wants of the individual sometimes render such solutions as impossible for all. Still, we can make changes individually and dare I say it on a government level without throwing the baby with the bathwater. As Muslims would say, “God does not change what is in a people until they change what is within themselves” a saying I am particularly fond of and which applies for many Syrians. When was the last time you actively enquired about somebody who was poor in Syria and needed something, did you help them? There are Iraqi refugees who haven’t got enough food to eat, after the media hype died down did you ask about them, buy a bag of goceries and visit them every week. If you are a rich ‘mas2ool’ how much does it cost you to run a soup kitchen every week, or to buy domestic goods instead of spending your money on frivolous consumer items imported at great cost to Syria from the very countries which are trying to subjugate everything you are? Do you really need all those cars? Do you care what people think of you if you don’t wear designer clothes? The point I am trying to make is that all the expatriates money in the world, returning doctors, lawyers and IT experts returning to Syria will not make an iota of difference if Syrians themselves to do not confidently assert their free and independent thought and actively seek justice for all, even at their own discomfort. Where is the justice in sleeping with a full stomach and your neighbors children are still hungry. That neighbor might even be about half an hours drive away. Before the body is made free, the mind must be freed and it is only when one actively seeks justice, even in the smallest way, that we have a chance for all the other measures and changes to succeed.

Many would argue that this is all impractical and utopian, but the point is precisely not to care if others are on the same path but to start walking yourself. Does it really cost a lot to ask somebody from your family back home to buy groceries for a poor family every week and pop buy for five minutes? Do the people who constitute our political and economic elite come from somewhere outside of Syria or are they not Syrians born and bred on the very same land. Jesus once said that you can judge a tree from its fruit, so what kind of tree are we if we think we are a part of and at the same time separate from the rest of society? I’m not trying to preach to anybody, nor do I believe in universalist ideologies, but surely treating the problem at its root and seeking the truth in our own assumptions as well as what is around us is the first step to fixing society? A society where it is the norm to be “fair and reasonable”? Perhaps rather than asking what we’d like to change in Syria, maybe we should be asking what we’d like changed in Syrians?

In case you were wondering, the Genie was finally defeated when the lady he forced to make a wish asked that the man who accidentally released him was not drunk on the day that happened. It negated all the Genies actions and justice was restored for all. If I had that Genie, I’d probably ask that Alfred Dreyfus was never treated unjustly.

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10 Responses to the Article

Alex Says:


I couldn’t agree more.

ā??God does not change what is in a people until they change what is within themselvesā?”

I hope all those who are waiting for “the regime” or for “opposition leaders” for leadership, to realize that the sum of the little forces that each one of them can exert adds up to a net force and an average direction that “Syria” eventually takes. Each one of us is a vector and collectively we do make a difference.

naim Says:

I like what you wrote , Charitable donation and volunteer work is important to make Syria better , the government can help by making Charitable contributions Tax deductible and appreciated.

Abu Kareem Says:


No fair, you got to read our essays before you submitted yours :-). I fully agree with you regarding the issue of justice. But after reading you piece twice, I am not sure I know how you see that happening. I too am fond of the saying:God does not change what is in a people until they change what is within themselves. I am not as cynical as you are about the average Syrian’s compassion and sense of Justice. Yes there are the stories of the Iraqi women forced into prostitution, but there are also the stories of individual generosity and compassion to the Lebanese refugees last summer. How people behave is dictated to a degree by the environment in which they live. If, in an autocratic state, your survival depends on being corrupt and keeping your mouth shut about injustice, then you either leave, if you have the means, suffer in silence or succumb to the corruption that surrounds you. I argue that people will change when given the opportunity, when, to paraphrase #3 in your Oxford dictionary’s definition of justice, laws are administered in a fair and reasonable way. You don’t like kings and oligarchs and you scoff at democracy, so who then will ensure that laws are administered in a fair and reasonable way?

Wassim Says:

Naim, thanks for the comment.

Abu Kareem, I’m so sorry about that. Tobeh, next time I’ll start and submit it with everyone else! As for your points, they are indeed valid and I have to admit I wrote the whole thing in one go so I am technically flying by the seat of my pants. I hear what you are saying about the average Syrian’s compassion and you are absolutely right about the environment dictating to some extent the nature of people. However I disagree that this is universal or always the case and with a concerted effort, the environment can also be shaped back to something more desirable. Perhaps I’ve been influenced a bit too much by Gramsci, but it might just be possible to reconstruct a new superstructure from within a decrepit and rotting foundation.

As for the ideas of rulers, oligarchs and democracy, in all fairness this is Plato talking and not just myself. One thing which has been bugging me for a few years is the question of why do we have to internalise Western assumptions of how governance and society should progress and not build on our own much richer traditions of governance. By this I’m not saying we should follow Iran but that before we reject outright all ideas which do not fit in snuggly with a Western understanding of politics maybe we should review things on a per case basis. I feel we have a richer tradition of justice for all than anything liberalism could ever give us, we just need to articulate it away from the doldrum and noisiness which is the “international community” aka. the West.

abu kareem Says:


On that last point, I fully agree. We have to find our version of good governance. But you can start from the “least worst option” and mold it our society and its needs.

Wassim Says:

Abu Kareem,
That is very Aristotelian of you :)

Majhool Says:

I could not agree more with Abu Kareem. The environments we live in dramatically influence the balance between positive and negative vectors. The government is by far has the most influence on the direction and magnitude of these forces. One rotten apple (institution) can ruin the whole stock (the people). Effective leadership (a role abandoned by the government and discouraged and sometimes banned by the government) is what it takes to really redirect these victors in the right direction.

Yazan Says:

You bring out a very interesting social perspective. It is the duty of the ruler to bring justice, according to the social contract. And we as a country have the real potential. BUT, you are ignoring many facts here, you are ignoring that what is happening in syria is not mere misconduct on the scale of officials, what is happening is a country gradually turning into a farm for a fixed cult [i know this is not the most original statement but it stands true]… That is not a thing you can oversight when u wanna discuss that..
We need to find a way out of that mentality first, to actually start reforming ourselves, and applying what we consider our own form of governance…

Mazen Says:


Grass root movements are good, but they need organization and endurance, and the average Syrian is just too busy and too distracted. It would take a huge amount of commitment for the averagely trained individual plus that the work of hundreds can be sabotaged by the ill work of one person high up the power ladder.

I am not saying that your suggestion is incorrect. On the contrary, I would love to see us all do the right thing. However, I believe that we need much more than a grass root movement.

Global Voices Online » Syria: Change in Syria Says:

[…] simply wants Justice. In his articulative way, he explains what that means, and why Justice has been missing in our country for so long… […]

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