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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Syrian reformer: Why I admire Israel - Part 2

Syrian reformer Farid Ghadry is back with the second installment of why he admires Israel. I actually disagree with him on a couple of points, which I will highlight, but it is warming to see the kind of admiration Ghadry has for us coming from the Arab world.

Ghadry starts by relating some of the reactions he got to his first column:
The threats I received were clear and delivered by none other than an Arab journalist who recently spent hours with Baschar al-Assad. My wife thinks that Assad is threatening me to quit politics. I believe there is nothing more dangerous to the regime than secular Muslim Sunnis political activists willing to engage the US and Israel openly and that explains why with all of our activities, the regime has not sentenced me in absentia the way it has sentenced other dissidents; Assad does not want to draw attention to our work. My fellow Syrian members in the party want me to even visit Israel, something I am contemplating seriously. Unbelievable as it sounds, the ones who are pushing me the most to visit Israel are the secular Syrians living in very traditional countries like Saudi Arabia. They represent the best known families in Syria and are one of the most ardent supporters of RPS.
Note what Ghadry says about secular Muslim Sunnis - that's going to be significant to something I want to point out to you later. I hope and pray that he does visit Israel, and I would love to meet Mr. Ghadry if he comes here.
In this second installment, more facts of why I admire the Jewish state and more of our shortcomings. I have always believed that for successful countries to flourish, they must build a solid economic base from which they can project a balanced military power to defend their turf. The Russians, in the aftermath of their gains in WWII, built their military complex before developing a sustainable economic system. Russian communism fell as a result. Syria is duplicating that model, which will eventually bring the demise of the Assad regime and as hard as Assad tries to develop the Syrian economy, there are invisible and expedient forces at work helping forestall any free market initiatives as long as the system is fraught with corruption and lack of tested laws to protect capital. Violent Arab dictators, like Assad, when faced with an incapacity to build a strong economy in a system void of checks and balances tend to resort to terrorism to extract concessions in support of an ailing system. It was true yesterday, through the use of soft threats by Assad Sr. against the Gulf countries, and it is true today by Assad Jr. using proxies like Hezbollah and suicide bombers against Iraq. All of this to save his regime by saving Syria economically.

On the other hand, Israel has followed in the footsteps of the United States but also simultaneously created a strong Army; a feat not to be underestimated. Laws to protect investments and investors are in place along with accountable politicians. Israel’s success is self-made, realized under very difficult conditions that we Arabs tend to ignore. Our calls for Israel’s destruction are destroying us from within. According to the CIA fact book, Israel’s GDP (per capita income) is $26,200 as estimated for 2006. On the other hand, Syria’s GDP is $4,000 almost 7 times less than Israel’s, which means seven times less the standard of living. Mind you, the weaker Syria is the more dangerous Syria becomes and the more prosperous Syria is the less dangerous Syrians will become. If an average Syrian had a strong net worth or balance sheet, he/she would spend their time on finding ways to protect their net worth using the power of his vote. We destroy today because we have nothing to lose. Hamas won the elections because the Palestinian people voted without the benefit of a balance sheet to protect.
And here are three places where I disagree with Mr. Ghadry, who sounds positively Peresian in these two paragraphs. First, he talks about Israel's laws to protect investments and the 'accountability' of its politicians. Maybe having lived in the West all my life, I have different standards than Mr. Ghadry. For a lot of reasons I won't go into, I believe that the US does a much better job of protecting investors than Israel does. Fortunately, Israel imitates the US in many economic areas so that we eventually do get much of the protection - just 20-30 years later than when they get it in the US. A notable exception to this is taxation where we still suffer the after-effects of a socialist economy with confiscatory taxes. In the US, Tax Freedom Day occurred this year on April 30. In Israel, it occurred in 2006 on July 26. No word yet on when it will occur in 2007. That's the latest of any of the countries surveyed other than Sweden (August 8).

Second, although admittedly Ehud K. Olmert is not as totally unaccountable as Bashar al-Assad, given that he is clinging to power despite a 0% approval rating at the moment, I find it very hard to view our politicians as 'accountable.'

Third, having a pocket - or a balance sheet - to protect only works if one is rational and believes that conflicts can be resolved through compromise. However, when a conflict has a religious basis, money doesn't matter anymore.

Note that Mr. Ghadry himself referred to secular Muslim Sunnis above. That is the key. For those Muslims who see themselves as holy warriors who have to murder the 'infidels' (the Jews), no amount of money or economic development is going to help. Many of the 'Palestinians' are true believers in the militant Sunni Muslim beliefs of Hamas. And many Lebanese are true believers in the militant Shiite dogma of Hezbullah. For those people, no amount of money in the world will make a difference. Look at the 9/11 terrorists - they all grew up wealthy in Saudi Arabia. It is nothing if not naive to argue that throwing money at the 'Palestinians' is going to solve their problems. It won't. Besides, Fatah, which ran against Hamas in the 'Palestinian elections' was probably the more corrupt party. Arguably, Hamas would have been a better choice for the 'pocket' vote.
But not everything is bad.

There is something unique about Syria that I hope Israelis will get to see for themselves. We are truly a kind and peaceful people, which explains why, with all the oppression we are subjected to by Assad, we have not resorted to any form of violence to extract ourselves from our predicament. It is no fault of ours that we are not free to express our kindness and tendency for peace freely. Do not listen to the culture of hate permeating in Syrian societies, it is all Assad-induced to divert the attention of the people away from the miseries he and his father before him have worked so hard to inseminate us with. The day Syrians are free from Assad is the day Syrians will extend a hand of friendship to the Israelis.

In the third installment, I will discuss why many Palestinians prefer Israeli democracy to their own corrupt rulers; why Palestinians in Syria must be given the chance to integrate and prosper the way they integrated and prospered in many Gulf countries, and why Israeli peace with Assad is not in Israel’s best interests.
We are waiting for Assad to go. And we are waiting for to see the real Syrian people. And we are anxiously awaiting Ghadry's third installment. But in the meantime, read the whole thing. Because he says a lot of good things that I left out of this post.


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