Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Alexis de Tocqueville

Notes and tidbits posted on FB and Twitter. Part 93

Note 1: I take notes of books I read and comment on events and edit sentences that fit my style. The page is long and growing like crazy, and the sections I post contains months-old events that are worth refreshing your memory.

Note 2: If you are Not tri-lingual, you will stumble on Arabic notes, written in Latin characters and with numbers representing vocals Not available in Latin languages.

Learn to retain your freedom, born with it? How to go about it

Daesh (ISIS) is being defeated hands down in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, but winning in Europe: The European are falling into the trap of terrorism they exported to our region and banning civil rights and liberty

I am in the position to ask, ‘What can you bring to the table?’ I need someone who is striving for excellence to improve and continually be recipient to changes.

I need conversation and mental stimulation. I don’t need a simple-minded man. I don’t need to be unequally yoked

Rothschild-controlled British Barings (bank) bankrolled the Chinese opium and African slave trades.  It financed the USA for Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon who needed liquidity for his war on England.

Cultivation theory? TV one-sided immersion power makes you view the world as far more dangerous than it is. Any scary event close to home drastically changes your perception.

It helps to be able to see the world as it is from internet social interactions and comments in order to vote properly. Take good care of your inputs.

“Individualism is a recent expression, a reflective and tranquil sentiment achieved by creating a smaller community (modern tribe) for his use. He gladly leaves the larger society to take care of itself” Alexis de Tocqueville

An epic speech by Syria president Bashar Al Assad. (Direction toward the east, Ila al sharq dorr. Until western governments learn to treat other societies on equal human rights terms

You may reserve a petanque patch at home for your invitees to play. You may end up inviting people whom make you feel relaxed to play with, Not their company.

Aussi longtemps que l’ homme garde en lui de l’ espace, il garde la Difference

Si je n’ etais pas, Dieu ne serait pas non plus. Ce n’ est pas necessaire que l’ on comprenne

USA/Israel can plan for the long-term, but their arrogance in the last 3 decades robbed them from the capacity to sustain it.

USA/Israel are scared shit of Iran because it demonstrated the determined capacity to sustain long-term strategies against current obstacles and sustained campaign of “denigrement” (heaping on them all kinds of evil behavior)

Can you resume fighting, with the same abstract zeal, after you were squarely militarily defeated, surrendered and negotiated for your life and potential freedom?
Iran has infused to Hezbollah of Lebanon this patient capacity to sustain long-term strategy consequences against short-term impatient reactions that the world community is pressuring it to behave accordingly.
It is a matter of forcing face-to-face communication and negotiation with extremist factions after each military operation that is allowing Hezbollah and Syrian army to overcome these terrorists abstract zeal and advance quickly on the ground
Defeating the abstract zeal of the enemy (extremist factions) is the name of the game: Forcing face-to-face communication through negotiation after military successes.
On est dans une periode ou seule la mort fait evenement, tout le reste n’ est que banque et jurisprudence
Dans le desarrois, l’ homme dit qu’ il est le genre qui sait aimer, et que les femmes ne font que du theatte, et vice versa
Aussi, dans les periodes de deprimes, l’ homme pense qu’ il n’ y a que misere, violence et negociation, tandis que les femmes vivent avec exaltation ou deception. Et vice versa. C’ est une affaire de frequence d’occurrence
Si les evenements vous coupe le souffle, il y a toujours des professionels qui jouent a dedramatiser et a deposseder ces evenemnts de leurs poids, pour vous permettre de souffler.
Ce n’ est pas une mort humaine quand le mourant, sans energy, abandonne mentalement, avec indifference totale l’agitation de la vie.
C’ est bon signe pour une societe’ quand la critique affecte les auteurs: preuve qu’ ils existent des gens pensants qui font le metier de critiques litteraires
Les gens de “la bas” (les Slaves) savent etre abrute honnettement dans la verite’ de leurs misere comme dans la jalousie
Obama and Hillary should eventually stand trial at La Hague for creating ISIS in 2013 and supporting it to occupy Raqqa and Mosul
This duo of criminals against humanity: Obama and Hillary created ISIS. Excuse? Iraq refused USA to have permanent military forces on its land
You may be humble, if the reader senses boasting, he may well appreciate your piece, but never express or share his liking. A matter of lack of self-confidence
Khalleh Allah 3ala janab. Moush deryaan fiyyeh wa moushma2ez min ehmalo
Follow the money trail Mr. President. Let the investigation start with this gold thread to unravel the Truth on these infamous leaders who got richer on the blood of the countless martyrs and suffering of the relatives.
If the investigation, on the capture of soldiers made hostages by ISIS while the army was capable of liberating them in 2014 in Ersaal, and slaughtered in 2015 without the courage to relaying this information to their parents and relatives, is going to dwell on the foreign pressures in our internal affairs, this Ball of Fire is going to balloon into a rolling Hill of fire.



Notes and tidbits posted on FB and Twitter. Part 82

We must rate the risky jobs by the level of alcoholism among the employees, like the police force.
People interpreted wrongly their observations of animals and came to this conclusion: “The world belong to the fittest”.
We are in constant fear from the methodological application of this monstrosity “The world belong to the fittest”.
One of the plans of the genes is to decide whether we are to be one of the human species or a bacteria.
Together, the bacteria in the intestine have 150 times more genes than us, called microbiome
The Great Book Robbery film shown for the first time in Palestine on January 12, 2013 to an audience of almost 150 people. The documentary by Israeli-Dutch director Benny Brunner unfolds the story of at least 70,000 books looted from Palestinian homes and institutions in 1948.

Shortly after the revolution, this ingrained reasoning of the old story of catering first to current elite classes in order to smooth out transition is a plausible short-term tactic that kills the revolt for sustained transformation

The elites classes reap the benefits under all situations and conditions, in the short, medium, and long-term, and quickly orient the revolution toward the old-time structure… Robespierre and Marrat changed the trend, until Napoleon took over

“Authority is reduced to almost nothing, the day it becomes an object of discussion for lack of instinctive respect” (Alexis de Tocqueville)

“The spirit that guided the French Revolution was the books and pamphlets written in the abstract.

The same fondness for general theories, complete systems of legislation, and exact symmetry in the laws.

The same taste for the original, ingenious, and novel in institutions.

The same urge to remake the entire constitution in accordance with the rules of logic and a uniform plan…

What is meritorious in a writer is more often than Not a flaw in a statesman.” A de T.

Isn’t the same path that Lenin undertook in the soviet revolution? Isn’t what happened in 1848 when the republicans failed to deliver what the people demanded after ousting Louis Phillip from power? Is the EU Constitution also mainly based on abstract notions?

“Free access to tools that permit private and individual power to tailor-made education, find inspiration, model our environment and share our adventure with all who need them…”(Stewart Brand in his Whole Earth catalogue, 1968)

Sound that the less fortunate can make good use of these opportunities.

That was half a century ago, many are applying this opportunity when available, though only the elite class is mainly profiting from any of these facilities.

L’ ennui fait un lent travail de sape de notre envie de vivre et de notre energy. Ecoutez les vieillards et les jeunes qui non pas le sous for modern entertainment

C’ etait la librarie de ses reves: la plupart des livres avaient ete’ lus

Les injustices du terrorism des Blancs sont peut-etre historiques: c’ est justement que je n’ ai pas l’ impression que nous en sortions

Qana of Gallile  (Qana al Jalil) is a town in south Lebanon, by Tyre.  It is where Marie was born and lived most of her life before moving to Nazareth with Joseph, and returned after he passed away. Current Gallile was included in the judicial province of Tyre before and after the Roman Empire.

Jesus performed his teaching in East Sidon before moving south to spread his message after he performed the wine miracle in Qana Jalil (current Lebanon).

The place where Jesus transformed water into wine is in Qana (current Lebanon). A town called Jalil (Gallile) facing Qana on the south side. Qana is where Marie was born and her parents lived

Democracy in America?  By Alexis de Tocqueville

A French social scientist observations in the 18th century

Alexis de Tocqueville may be considered the first modern social scientist by the mechanisms he developed to explain political, economical and social phenomena in various political systems.

“Every morning, I find that somebody has just discovered some general and eternal law that I never heard of. General ideas that pack a lot into a small volume”.

“The exaggerated social system based on general causes is a source of consolation for mediocre historians ( and current reporters). It invariably provides them with a few grand explanations, useful for quickly extricate themselves from any difficulties they encounter in their work. And it favors weak and lazy minds to garner a reputation of profundity”. How fitting for current times.

“In the rare centuries of doubt (rational trends dominate), people cling stubbornly to his belief systems. People are Not ready to die for their opinions, but they do Not change them. And you find both fewer martyrs and fewer apostates”

The problem in this period of doubt, certain categories of communities are transforming it into a century of horror stories of faith.

Beware of the tyranny of the majority in “democratic republics”:

“The Master no longer says: You will think as I do or die. He says: You are free Not to think as I do. You may keep your life, properties, retain your civic privileges… but the majority in your community will ostracize you and refuse to esteem you, or to demand your vote. Those who believe in your innocence will steer away from you lest they are shunned in turn”

Isn’t what happens to Whistler blowers? At the doors of Abortion clinics, or gay marriages…? In France they even deny him the citizenship.

Alexis borrowed in Montaigne and Pascal views on ignorance:  “It may be plausibly asserted that there is an infant-school ignorance which precedes knowledge and another doctoral ignorance which comes after it” (Montaigne).

This is the state of education affairs in the Arabic speaking Islamic countries: coranic schools and doctors in fikh and other religious degrees… Ignorance lies at the ends of knowledge

“When an opinion takes hold in a “democratic” nation and establishes itself in a majority of minds, it becomes self-sustaining and can perpetuate itself without effort: Nobody will attack it. No one combat the doomed belief openly. This hollow ghost of public opinion is enough to chill the blood of would-be innovators (in political sphere) and reduces them to respectful silence”

“The American life-style is to take short-cuts by adopting general, all-purpose ideas: They are bombarded with so many individualistic responsibilities that they lack the necessary leisure time to indulge in reflective time-consuming periods”

An observation that was valid 2 centuries ago and worsening. Worse, spreading like wild fire all over the world and in Asia.

“The Americans seldom admit that they give in to selfless altruistic endeavors: They are pleased to explain all their actions in terms of self-interest properly understood. They will obligingly demonstrate how enlightened their behaviors regularly lead them to help out one another and makes them ready and willing to sacrifice a portion of their time and wealth for the good of the State”.

“The norms make a difference and they cannot be switched at will: either your norms are of the “honor kinds” or of the “material interest”

Prisoner’s Dilemma” of two persons involved in the same crime:

1. If you inform on the other, and the other refuses to inform on you, you are set free

2. If both inform on one another, both get 5-year prison term

3. If both refuse to inform, both get a year prison term.

The rationale of this Dilemma is used to explain:

1.The weakness of public institutions: people want strong institutions but refuse to pay the necessary taxes

2. The case of lobbying interest. Ironically, the more the number of lobbies, the more the central power imperceptibly expand, which the lobbies don’t want

3. The more frequent the number of private bankruptcies (risk takers) the more the State/casino win. Thus, the lack of stigma in bankruptcy.

“Politicians have this capacity to manage the creation of ephemeral convictions in accordance with the feelings and interests of the moments: They can, with a tolerable good conscience, do things that are far from honest”

“Individualism is a recent expression, a reflective and tranquil sentiment achieved by creating a small community (modern tribe) for his use. he gladly leaves the larger society to take care of itself”

Americans want the Union, but reduced to a shadow: they want it strong in few case and weak in most case, particularly in period of peace”

Is that why the US government launch frequent pre-emptive wars outside its boundaries?

“The aristocratic families would willingly preserve the democratic habits of the (political system) if only they could reject its social state and laws”

Actually, the elite classes always succeed in circumventing the few laws that theoretically could have been applied to them.

Every morning, I find that somebody has just discovered some general and eternal law that I never heard of. General ideas that pack a lot into a small volume.

Note 1: I read Democracy in America and the Ancient Regime (France before the revolution) in their originals many years ago.  It is striking that the Revolution in France didn’t have to change anything in the administrative structure of the ancient regime.

Note 2: And the “professionals” who are researching details and facts on the ground are rare because Not paid to do these dirty fundamental jobs. What irks me most is that scientific papers fail to extend additional hypotheses and conjectures to what they have researched in order for the rest of us to follow up and demonstrate them

Note 3: Traditions of classes, professions, family and social structure, and religious beliefs… have been initially drawn from observations of human nature and establishing general notions, before the politicians (men of actions) in each sphere of influence in life organized them to self-serve the interests of the elites.

If we seek reforms by bringing up human nature then we are following the wrong direction. What is needed is to develop a belief system based on that all born people have the rights to enjoy equal opportunities to learning, getting training, health and due processes with a fair justice system. This new belief system or petition principle is feasible because in transparent democratic processes people rely on the majority opinion to extend any rational excuses for their attitudes.

Equal practical opportunities circumvent the wrong implication that opinions are reached independently of their surrounding. The effects of community sanctions to deviation attitudes from the belief system can then formalize the equal opportunities rights to everyone.

Andrew Jackson 7th President: The most powerful and popular President (1829-37) in the 19th century US history

Andrew Jackson founded the Democratic party and was the least educated of the former presidents.

Born on March 1767 in a small farm of South Carolina, he got engaged at 13 in the revolutionary troops. Orphaned at age 14, his education is cut short and multiplies the small jobs. He never applied to or attended a “university” but learned enough law to be admitted as lawyer in North Carolina in 1787.

In 1788, he is appointed district attorney general of what is currently known as Tennessee. He speculated and lost and was about to experience prison for defaulting. This adventure would mark Jackson and his apprehension for banking institutions.

Jackson is elected to the convention that discussed Tennessee Constitution and became the first representative of this State in Congress in 1796, then senator in 1797, and was appointed member of the Supreme Court of this State (1798-1804)

Jackson is elected militia chief of Tennessee and became a national hero during the 1812 war against England. The British troops entered the Capital of Washington DC and burned it.

He defeated the Indian Creeks before saving New Orleans from the British siege in January 1815.

Jackson confronted the Indian Seminole and colonized Spanish Florida. This non-declared offensive war, not approved by Congress, expanded the US territories to the east of Mississippi.

Jackson becomes governor of Florida in 1821. By 1823, he is a federal senator.

In the 1820’s, the debate over slavery in the opened western lands for colonization is raging. A sectional compromise is agreed upon: slavery is prohibited North of 36 degree and 30 minutes latitude and accepted south of this latitude. This consensus was the work of strong Congressmen such as Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun and Daniel Webster. President Monroe had no say in it.

The southern States import most of its consuming goods and reluctant on paying import taxes, while the northern States want to preserve and protect their industries from foreign competition.

Opposition to Federal financing of transportation infrastructure is another major hurdle to surmount.

The year 1819 experienced a financial crisis that halted the speculative trend in the newly expanded territories westward.

The latest creation of the second Bank of the USA in 1816, after the expiration term of the first national bank, is raising resentment.

Six of the new western States agree on the universal vote for all white citizens, and thus, you don’t need to be an owner of properties to vote. In 1828, 18 states have adopted this “democratic” voting system

The caucus system is still applied for the selection of the Presidential candidates: The political parties select their candidates, and consequently, only weak Presidents are selected to consolidate the power of the legislative body.

In 1823, the future President, John Quincy Adams was minister of foreign affairs and originated the Monroe Doctrine of the US neutrality in European affairs and guarding the American continent from any European incursions.

The Republican party is divided and refuse to abide by the caucus system. On July 20, 1822, Tennessee support the candidate Andrew Jackson.

Andrew Jackson is first in popular votes but the 99 votes of Grand Electors is far short of the absolute majority of 131. The speaker of Congress Henry Clay managed to elect John Quincy Adams as 6th President.

The string of Presidents from Virginia is broken. Jackson resigns from the Senate and retires to his property at the Hermitage. Jackson’s friends are mobilized to forming the “Democratic Party” or the “men of Jackson” against the men of Adams. Jackson is promoted as the Man of the western frontier, a region that was in full expansion, in opposition to the elite classes of the East.

Jackson got 178 votes of the Grand Electors in 1828 and 647,000 popular votes against 508,000 for Adams. The popular vote broke the 50% in participation.

Jackson opposes his veto to the renewal of of the chart of the second Bank of the US in 1832, and take out the federal funds the next year. This second national bank held one quarter of the nation’s deposits and had the monopoly of keeping all federal funds.

Jackson uses the veto as  a weapon to oppose any law that does not serve the White House policies.

Jackson relies more on his “Kitchen Cabinet” formed of informal counselors and exercises for the first time the power of firing ministers and federal employees who are nominated by the President.

The French explorer and political analyst Alexis de Tocqueville coined the term “Jackson’s Democracy”, though only white males can vote. Jackson’s opponents called him “King Andrew”.

Jackson leave the White House on March 1837, but remained the most influential man until his death in 1845.

Jackson’s Democratic Party focused its identity around liberty of enterprises and States Rights facing a weakened Federal State.

The Whig opposition favors Federal financing of transport infrastructure, raising import taxes and a centralization of banking system.

The election of 1828 changed the caucus format to the national convention of the political parties that select the candidates and their vice presidents as a “ticket”. Consequently, you had to belong to a party in order to be a candidate.

Certain States adopt the concept of “winner-take-all” and others rely on the proportional system for sending delegate to the convention.

How to finish in a revolution? The writer, the revolution

The Qasabji bar in Damascus, on an unremarkable road just outside the Old City, was where Khaled Khalifa and I had our best conversations. Qasabji was a singular room shaped like a boxcar, crowded with wood tables, benches and chairs that pushed against one another and three walls

Khaled always entered first and greeted the customers sitting at tables near the door. He bent down, kissed the men, flirted with the women, and strutted to where Nabil, Qasabji’s owner, had cleaned a spot for us.

Khaled ordered either a glass of arak or the local Damascene beer, Barada, pulled a cigarette from his pack, lit it, and added to the purplish haze of smoke. I only saw Qasabji bar at night, crowded and smoke-filled, loud, dim. Khaled always faced out, better to see the men and women, but mostly the women, and when an attractive one entered he banged the table with his fist and hooted like a wolf.

Matthew Davis posted on Guernica  this November 15, 2013

The Writer and the Rebellion

“The last chapter is the most difficult to finish in a revolution, as in a novel,” writes Khaled Khalifa from war-torn Syria.

(This sentence is from the French explorer Alexis de Tocqueville who visited the USA in 1840 and described the political and social system)

Toni Milaqi, Coffee Time, acrylic on canvas, 120×90 cm, 2008. Courtesy of artist.

I met Khaled Khalifa in 2007. He was a fellow at the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, where I was working. His third novel, In Praise of Hatred had come out in Arabic the year before, and within the year would be short-listed for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, commonly known as the Arab Booker, and Khaled would be profiled by the New York Times.

Qasabji was one of two Damascene locales where Khaled had often written In Praise of Hatred. He had worked until the early hours of the morning, Nabil serving him cup after cup of coffee. It was a romantic image, the focused writer, the devoted bartender, but everything about Khaled was romantic—his outsize personality (he once orchestrated an entire club to dance while standing atop a bar), his love of women (his womanizing is notorious), his capacity to drink (he buys Smirnoff vodka in two gallon jugs, places them around his apartment, and fills them with olive oil when they’re empty). And when he talked about writing, he spoke with a refreshing earnestness:

“If you are going to be a writer, you need to be strong.”

“You cannot write a novel emotionally hot. You must be cold.”

“At one point, I decided that if I did not make it as a writer, I would kill myself.”

Khaled Khalifa was born on New Year’s Day, 1964, in a small village near Northern Aleppo. His father was an olive farmer and owned an olive oil company; his mother raised children.

Khaled was the middle child of a large family of 13 that would come to have 9 boys and 4 girls, something he once told me allowed him the chance to get lost.

Aleppo is Syria’s most populous city, a commercial hub that has historically been a meeting point of Eurasian cultures. Khaled’s family lived among this diversity.

“There are two faces of the city. One face is like a ghetto. We were living there. I remember this neighborhood because all the poor people, like Armenians, Kurdish, Turkoman—these nationalities were living in the past. These were the poor people, the farmers, and they came from the villages.” There was another newer Aleppo that was more cosmopolitan, more “Aleppine” as Khaled called it. His family lived between these two cultures.

At the time of Khaled’s birth, Syria was nearing the end of a tumultuous political period. Syria was given independence from France in 1946. By the time of Hafez al-Assad’s coup in 1970, the Syrian government had been through 4 different constitutions,  20 cabinets, the formation and disintegration of a merger with Egypt, and 4 previous military coups—three in 1949 alone.

The turbulence was in part due to the end of WWII and the collapse of the Western colonial system that had dominated the Middle East between the two world wars. It was also a result of a blossoming Arab intellectualism in the wake of this fresh independence, the buds of which were often left-leaning and communist.

Though Aleppo was historically a commercial town, not a political or intellectual center, it was not immune from these ideas, and its local cotton industry was the focal point of attempts to organize workers and put into practice what was being debated in Cairo, Beirut, Damascus, and Baghdad. Khaled’s older brothers brought these ideas into the Khalifa household.

By the time Khaled was in high school, a different political movement was developing in Syria. Though political Sunni Islam had existed in Syria since the 1930s, it grew following the November 1970 coup orchestrated by Air Force Commander Hafez al-Assad, father of the current president.

Hafez Assad was a member of the minority community of Alawites, a heterodox Shia Muslim sect which came from the northwest mountains of Syria. He was also a member of the Ba’ath Party—the secular, left-leaning political party that had been founded by a Christian Syrian(Michel Aflak) and an Iraqi in 1947.

Throughout the 1970s, Assad’s Ba’ath Party faced mounting opposition from The Sunni Muslim Brotherhood in urban centers such as Hama, Homs, and Aleppo. This opposition culminated in assassinations of government ministers and military personnel, one of the boldest attacks occurring in June 1979 at The Artillery School in Aleppo, when many young officers were killed and dozens more wounded.

Hafez Assad responded with brutal force, arresting, torturing, and murdering thousands of Syria’s citizens.

In March 1980, an entire division of the Syrian army entered Aleppo, and for more than a year, it conducted house-to-house searches for sympathizers to the Brotherhood.

It is this bloody period in Aleppo’s history, as Khaled was a teenager, that In Praise of Hatred recounts. His narrator is an unnamed teenage female whose family participates in and is victimized by the violence. Like many great novels, it uses the personal to get at the national.

What is rare about In Praise of Hatred is that it does the dual work of documenting a period decades past while also illuminating the present.

In March 2011, the Syrian people joined the “Arab Springs” in other countries in revolting against their regimes, and the response by Bashar al-Assad, Hafez’s son, who took power in 2000, has been similar to his father’s. “I was translating a section on the university in Aleppo,” Leri Price, the novel’s English translator, wrote me over email, “and how there had been purges and murders of its professors, and when I turned on the news that night the BBC were [sic] running a story about purges and murders of the staff in the University of Aleppo. You couldn’t make it up.”

Khaled spent over 13 years writing In Praise of Hatred. In one of our conversations at Qasabji, he said the novel finally fell into place when he discovered the character of the Yemeni, Abdullah, a man in his mid-forties who wants to marry one of the narrator’s aunts. That’s the character’s dramatic purpose. His intellectual purpose is to give background on the various Islamic parties and spin tales of martyrs and battles that captivate the narrator and send her to Aleppo’s religious front lines.

No one wins in Khaled’s novel.

Sectarian hatred leads to pain on all sides: families are torn apart; cities destroyed; memories seared; a country traumatized. Not surprisingly, like most art or writing critical of the regime, the novel is banned in Syria. Yet the novel is widely read there.

Khaled likes to tell the story of its launch in Damascus, an event, he jokes, that drew the entire capital city. “On one side, were all my friends, and writers, and other artists. And on the other, was all the Mukhabarat,” the secret police.

In 2009, two years after I first met Khaled, I spent the summer in Damascus learning Arabic. On my second night in the country, Khaled picked me up from my hotel. Short and stout, the nexus of his body lodged in his rotund gut, his curly salt-and-pepper hair bushy on both head and chest, he engulfed me in an embrace and said, “Matt, Matt, welcome to Damascus, my friend, welcome to my paradise.”

His red Peugeot had a large scrape and dent along the driver’s side door from a recent accident. Inside, empty and half-empty Gitanes Lights cigarette packs littered the floor, and there was so much white ash on the dash, the seats, and the consul, it looked like it had snowed inside the vehicle. We turned out of the parking lot and found our way to congested Al-Thawra Street.

We drove to a store and bought chicken, vegetables and hummus and then drove to his apartment. Khaled lived up a mountain and across from a mosque. I spent several evenings at this apartment, usually for dinner as a prelude to Qasabji or his favorite club, Mar Mar.

There were two bedrooms (one for sleeping and fucking and the other for writing); a large living room with a television, usually tuned to Al Jazeera; a balcony with a view of the lights of Damascus; and a sizable kitchen.

Khaled’s money came from writing television scripts. He was quite good at it and was paid handsomely, and sometimes, when I was at his home, I heard him arguing with producers or directors over money.

His first love was poetry.

Khaled began writing in childhood, publishing poems as early as the fifth grade. At university in Aleppo, he discovered fiction, and by his second year, he was writing his first novel. He tore it up.

“You tore it up?” I asked during one of our conversations at Qasabji.

“Yes, because I felt it was not my voice. I took the voices of other Arab writers. It was very important for me because I tore it up after two years of work. I wrote for two years, very important years for me. All my time was for reading and for writing and for sex and for hasheesh. And for discovering books and the city and the country. I discovered everything.”

Khaled studied law in college, though he rarely attended class. He claims he was able to graduate by cramming for college exams 50 days before they were given. When he graduated, he did his customary two years of military service required of every Syrian male and then moved to Damascus.

He and his friends established a literary magazine called ‘Alif (the first letter of the Arabic alphabet) in order to create a new, modern Arabic literature. He wrote a novel, the first one of his to be published. “I left poetry. Good-bye poetry forever,” he said.

The novel’s publication ushered in the most turbulent period of Khaled’s life. He moved in with his parents to avoid being homeless. They hounded him to get a job as a policeman or judge, especially his mother, who worried not only about his financial situation but about confrontations with the government if he pursued his dream of becoming a writer.

He told me he was very sad at this point, because he knew novels take a long time to write, and that any other work would take him away from his fiction. He lived in Aleppo off-and-on for five years.

Eventually, because of the strain with his family, he moved back to Damascus. He took money from friends for one year and wrote. He began writing for television, and when he sold his first script, “it was a very very very very big moment for me.” He paid his friends back.

His mother couldn’t believe that he had been paid that much money for writing. His twenties were over and his thirties about to begin. It was 1993. He had just penned the first chapter of In Praise of Hatred and published it in his magazine ‘Alif. “But I felt it was not good. I wrote 90 pages and tore it up and started again. When I wrote the next 20 pages, I said ‘Yes, this is my novel.’”

Thirteen years later it was done: a novel born of an idea when he was depressed and broke and unemployed inside his parents house in Aleppo—of memories from his time as a teenager whose city was at war. The novel and its writer have made an important impression in Syria, especially among its young.

I met several twenty-something Syrians working in the international community who were effusive in their praise; a young filmmaker, Bassel Shahade, once pulled me aside with a smile to say Khaled approved of his film idea; and during an evening when Khaled and I were out to dinner with a young musician and writer, a waiter asked if I knew who I was eating with.

“That’s Khaled Khalifa,” I said.

“No,” he protested. “That’s a god.”

In the early morning hours of September 16, 2010, I arrived in Damascus for the second time. Syria was becoming the place for foreigners to study Arabic. The country was cheap and fun and its Arabic dialect was often thought the language’s most beautiful. There was a sense that after 4 decades of secrecy and closure, a curtain was being drawn open for Syria’s Great Reveal.

An influx of foreigners rented apartments or Arab homes in the Old City, creating an army of backpackers on the cobblestone streets where once Romans and Crusaders had walked. In more formal, geopolitical ways, Syria was receiving a second look. Once lumped in with North Korea, Iraq, and Iran as part of Bush’s Axis of Evil, the Obama Administration placed the country close to the center of its Middle East policy. The idea was to further isolate Iran by making inroads in Damascus.

President Obama nominated an Ambassador to Syria for the first time since 2005, the experienced Arabist Robert Ford. Even the mainstream media showed a renewed interest in Syria beyond terrorism and international conflict. National Geographic featured a story about a new Syria opening up to the world; Vogue published a controversial hagiography about Asma Assad, Assad’s wife; and the Times ran a series of profiles of Syrian artists and intellectuals.

It was this last topic that had brought me back to Damascus. My first summer there, largely because of Khaled, I had met dozens of artists, writers, and filmmakers who had left Syria because of censorship or oppression or opportunity but were returning to a burgeoning creative scene. It was part of Syria not widely known in the West, and I wanted to write about it as a means to explore Syria’s history, politics, and culture.

A Fulbright Fellowship gave me 9 months to do so, and before I left for Syria, I had formulated a rough arc of my nine months in country. Because of the pervasiveness of Syria’s Mukhabarat, I decided to delay contact with people or issues that could potential threaten the regime. No mention of politics unless they arose in context. No meetings with public dissidents. No interviews with political or religious activists.

I would spent the first 8 months meeting artists, writers, filmmakers, and musicians, asking them about their lives and creative work, getting a feel for the dynamic in Syria’s capital city, and then, with a month left, ask tougher questions that could potentially lead to trouble. The rationale was simple. It behooved both my own personal safety and those of my subjects to avoid complicated, political issues.

So in September and October, as I settled into a spacious apartment with a gorgeous, panoramic view of Damascus, a city that, legend has it, Muhammad did not want to enter for fear you only enter paradise once, I spent time with artists whose work was benign: a group of young artists experimenting with animation and video art who wanted to start a comic book series; a musician and singer in the Damascus Higher Choir who invited me to the group dress rehearsal for Carmina Burana at the redolent Damascus Opera House; and Bassel Shahade, the young filmmaker making a short film about a poet whose heart literally broke from failed love.

And, of course, there were my conversations with Khaled at Qasabji.

Khaled’s control of English was better than my control of Arabic, so it was the former that we spoke. We understood each other well, but if there were times when I wished language wasn’t a barrier, it was when we spoke about the Mukhabarat, the secret police.

In 2009, a couple days after I arrived, when Khaled’s English and my Arabic were at their worst, we had dinner at an outdoor café. We were eating chicken schawarma and drinking a kind of yogurt, sitting on plastic chairs, and a wedding party drove by with horns honking.

“Ah, just get to the fucking,” Khaled shouted, and then he hit my leg in cahoots.

This was at the peak of Khaled’s popularity in Damascus, the same summer when the waiter asked if I knew I was sitting with a god. Totalitarian regimes allow godliness in singular form, and I asked Khaled whether he had ever had contact with the government. His answer was choppy, and I’m not confident in its veracity, though it rings true. He said that when he began winning awards for In Praise of Hatred, he was asked to meet with one of Bashar Assad’s close advisers. The adviser offered Khaled whatever he wanted—a new car, a new home, money—if he would speak positively of the regime. He declined the offer.

A year later at Qasabji, amidst the cigarette smoke and conversation, Khaled lamented to me the lack of development in Syria’s literary culture. He said many writers live abroad and that one of the reasons was the censors. But, he said, visual art thrives here, in part because Bashar likes and doesn’t really understand it. He pointed to the wall, where an abstract painting hung over the table, and pretended to be the Syrian President. “Yes, I think this is just fine,” he mocked.

He told me that a writer’s life was no different than any Syrian’s life—they all faced dictatorship and censors. A fruit vendor was as restricted as an artist.

Maybe it’s because of the recognition he has received, the acclaim that started in the Middle East, spread to Europe, and is poised to proliferate in Britain and the United States, but Khaled never seemed bitter when he talked about the struggles of being an artist or writer in Assad’s Syria.

At our first dinner together in 2010, he regaled me with stories of his summer, which he had spent in Europe with an “important man’s wife,” answering questions from European journalists. He said they all wanted to know what it was like to write under a dictatorship, about what the censors were like, and what that means for him as a writer. He waved his hand.

After 3 years, he was tired of answering such questions. He told me that a writer’s life was no different than any Syrian’s life—they all faced dictatorship and censors. A fruit vendor was as restricted as an artist. Instead, he was eager to talk about the new novel he was working on. He held up his two pudgy index fingers and placed them parallel on a horizontal plain. “It is about the Baath Party and the Syrian people,” he said, a smile creasing his face. “And how they never meet.” He moved his fingers in a straight line, always parallel.

The last time I saw Khaled in Syria was, of course, at Qasabji. It was October 9, 2010, and he was preparing to leave for a one-month writing residency in Hong Kong. He hoped to work on the new novel, which he was tentatively calling The Parallel Life. We spoke about our plans for the winter when he returned—how he was going to bring me to the mountains, to a home he was building, so we could write our novels in peace. How we were going to invite our Egyptian friend Hamdy and our Mongolian friend Ayur, both writers we knew from Iowa.

A few weeks later, in early November, I was sitting inside the University of Damascus campus. The previous day, a group of Fulbright Fellows had gathered at the university to fill out forms for Iqama, or residency. The application took all day, and we had returned to receive our passports with our Iqamas stamped inside. Everyone’s passport was ready except for mine and a friend’s. We were told to walk to the passport immigration police station close by and answer more questions.

It became clear early on, when the officers asked us how many states were in the United States and what was the last state admitted to the union, that this wasn’t a routine clarification of answers. It became more apparent when we were escorted out of the police station and asked to get into an unmarked white van.

We spent part of the afternoon in jail for reasons we did not know. We were interrogated on three separate occasions, and were offered coffee, tea, and chocolate in a lieutenant’s office while watching American action movies. We waited in this office until evening, when we were told to leave the country. There was no explanation given, only a stamp in our passport that said: “You are welcome to leave Syria in 48 hours.”

Before we left the station, a line of generals shook our hands and said: “Ahlan, wasalan,” Welcome. The next night, we traveled to the airport for a scheduled flight to Amman. A hawk-nosed border guard typed in our passport numbers and became confused. He visited his superiors, spoke with our Syrian handler. We were interrogated for a fourth time. Finally allowed to leave, our handler gave us our passports with a warning.

“I shouldn’t tell you this,” he whispered. “But on their computers you are labeled as national security risks.”

Our deportation instigated three weeks of diplomatic wrangling between the U.S. and Syria and between different agencies in the U.S. government. At one point, John Kerry spoke with Bashar al-Assad about us, and Bashar said there had been a mistake and that we could return. The culmination of all this was a choice between Syria and Jordan; the caveat was that if I chose Syria and was detained or deported again, I would lose my fellowship.

I wanted badly to return to Damascus, but by Thanksgiving, I had chosen Jordan. Three weeks later, Muhammad al Bouazizi self-immolated in the Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid, which sparked the Tunisian Revolution, which sparked The Arab Spring, which I experienced from Jordan’s sleepy capital of Am

When revolution spread to Egypt, Khaled, back in Damascus, posted to Facebook: “If we succeed in Egypt, we will win every where.” Protests in Syria began tepidly, as if waiting for results in other countries.

On January 26, a man self-immolated in the fashion of Muhammad al-Bouazizi.

A week later, A Day of Rage planned for February 3 netted very few participants. Yet by March 15, following the detention, torture, and murder of teenagers who had scrawled anti-regime graffiti in the Southern Syrian town of Daraa, a town abutting the Jordanian border, a more cohesive protest movement coalesced.

Protests were now taking place in cities across the country, with Daraa at its center. I followed Khaled’s response on Facebook.

March 18: Who can stop this raging sea of waves?

March 23 There is no third road ahead of us. We either live with dignity or die with dignity.

March 27: How alone we are in this world. Even the soil and the skies are against us.

March 27: If emergency law disappears, I will really quit smoking.

Snipers on top of buildings wantonly killed protesters in Daraa, Homs, and Baniyas. Reports emerged of torture, rape, mutilation. A singer’s vocal chords were yanked out of his throat. A cartoonist’s hands broken and smashed. Refugees poured out of Syria to the neighboring countries of Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan.

April 30: Those who inside wish to wake up and not see the name Daraa on the map, I tell you look inside for a second and you will discover that the beast that lives inside you will eat you and Daraa will remain the queen of cities.

May 3: Can someone explain to me how an artist, all kinds of artists, and a writer, all kinds of writing, and at the same time, the siege of Daraa? I swear I still don’t understand it.

In late July 2011, I returned to the U.S. I spent a night with my family in Chicago and then drove to Iowa City, where Khaled was teaching a writing course to Arab teenagers. He had told me to find him at Java House, a coffee shop on Washington Street full of young writers and burgeoning scholars, and when I walked in, Khaled was ensconced at a wood table, getting news on the revolution out through Facebook.

Khaled hugged me and we left to go outside so he could smoke. We talked about my deportation, the revolution, the regime, and Syria’s future. The revolution had only been on for several months, and successes in Tunisia and Egypt had given hope across the region and in Syria that other regimes would soon collapse. Khaled was ebullient.

We covered many topics. He said that he hadn’t been restricted at all in his movements, that he wasn’t directly working for the revolution though he was broadcasting it, that the regime will fall and those in charge will be tried as criminals, and that when the regime fell, there would be blood for about a couple of months before things subsided.

That evening, we went to George’s, Iowa City’s Qasabji: a dim, narrow bar of perpetual darkness. We met friends who still lived in town and drank and talked late into the night. “I think now, in Syria, we have a very new idea,” Khaled told me. “Now I’m writing my new novel. I have been writing for four years. But now, I will rewrite it, because I feel it is old writing. We have a new time, and new ideas, not just for writing but for the people too. Now we can understand our people. We are talking about this with young writers. What will be the future, I ask. You must be better. Because after the revolution you have new ideas about writing and about all art. We will have new ideas.”

I drove Khaled to DeKalb, Illinois the next morning, where a Syrian musician friend of his lived. The two men hugged and joked and watched Al Jazeera. They went to his back deck for a cigarette, and the friend told Khaled he shouldn’t return to Syria, that it was too dangerous. Khaled protested and said he must be there at this time, that he couldn’t leave now, that he knew how to keep safe. When he stood up, his pants were soaked. He had unknowingly sat on a chair with a large puddle. He smiled at me through his stubble.

Syria was disintegrating.

In mid-August 2011, as Khaled returned to his country, President Obama called for Assad to go. In mid-November, Jordan’s King Abdullah became the first Arab leader to ask for Assad’s removal. The killing didn’t stop. In an interview with Barbara Walters that aired December 7, Assad said a leader who kills his own people is crazy. Two weeks later, a two-day military campaign began in the Jabal al-Zawiyah area in Idlib, killing at least 200 people. The Arab League called for Assad to step down on January 22, 2012 amidst shellings and bombings of cities like Homs and Hama. On February 4, China and Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution on the violence.

January 18: Sometimes silence is a tank

January 19: The last chapter is the most difficult chapter to finish in a revolution, as in a novel

February 6: Khaled sent a letter to friends around the world that began: My friends, writers and journalists from all over the world, in China and Russia, I would like to inform you that my people are being subjected to a genocide.

On the same day Khaled posted his letter to Facebook, the US Embassy in Damascus shuttered its doors. More than a month later, the UN and Arab League supported the Kofi Annan proposal to end the violence.

On March 31, the Assad regime claimed victory over the opposition.

On April 12, a UN-backed ceasefire began. On April 25, many children were among the 69 killed during shelling of Hama. On May 3, an 18-year-old student at The University of Aleppo, Khaled’s university, was tossed out of a five-story window for protesting the Assad regime.

On May 25, over 92 people, thirty of whom were children, were massacred in the Sunni city of Houla.

On May 26, in a funeral for a friend who was shot in the head during a peaceful protest, Khaled Khalifa was beaten by security forces. His left arm was broken.

On May 28, Bassel Shahade, the young filmmaker whose face had turned into a smile when Khaled approved of his project, who had left a Fulbright Fellowship at Syracuse to train activists how to shoot video, was killed by shrapnel in Homs.

May 29: Who doesn’t know our martyr Bassel Shahade, I tell you he’s a kid who knows only the rays of light. Bassel, you broke our hearts.

June 1: Bombings, bombings and bombings now

June 3: Unbelievable bombings and heavy gunfire

July 20, 2012 in a Facebook message to me: Hi Matt, until now I am safe, but under bombing and fear. Don’t worry.

Perhaps because of its premeditation, it is the death of the 18-year-old tossed from the fifth floor of Aleppo University that sticks with me. Its only solace is that somewhere in the city of merchants on the Old Silk Road, there is another Khaled Khalifa taking note.

“I cannot say more in these difficult moments,” Khaled wrote in his letter to writers and journalists across the world, “but I hope you will take action in solidarity with my people, through whatever means you deem appropriate. I know that writing stands helpless and naked in front of the Russian guns, tanks and missiles bombing cities and civilians, but I have no wish for your silence to be an accomplice of the killings as well.”–Khaled Khalifa, Damascus

In 2012, In Praise of Hatred was translated into English and published in London by Doubleday. The ending had changed. In the Arabic original, the unnamed narrator leaves Syria and joins her uncle in London. In the English translation, the novel ends with the narrator discharged from a lengthy prison sentence, presumably to remain in Aleppo. Khaled was furious with the change, but, he told me, he was in Damascus, so what could he do.

Ever since the war began in January 2011, I had little doubt that Khaled Khalifa would remain in Syria, in Damascus, his paradise, to help usher in the new ideas he spoke passionately about in Iowa City.

More than two years on, however, I wonder whether this ending will change, too. Khaled’s health is failing; he is depressed; he has been barred from leaving the country. I get none of this from him, only those close to him. From him, I get positive emails, an optimism as much at Khaled’s core as his rotund gut and passion for writing.

Khaled’s fourth novel was recently published in Cairo. I’ve also heard that Qasabji is still open, Nabil still serving arak and beer, albeit at a higher price.


Matthew Davis is the author of When Things Get Dark: A Mongolian Winter’s Tale, parts of which won awards from The Atlantic and The Best American Travel Writing series. He was a Fulbright Fellow to Syria and Jordan in 2010-2011 and is currently a Tom and Mary Gallagher Fellow at The Black Mountain Institute at UNLV.

Disobedience is man’s original virtue…”

In “The soul of man under socialism”, Oscar Wild wrote:

“Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man’s original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, and through rebellion…”

In “On the concept of history”, Walter Benjamin wrote:

“There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism…”

James Fenton in “Blood and Lead”

“Listen to what they did.

Don’t listen to what they said.

What was written in blood

Has been set up in lead”

In “The recollection of Alexis de Tocqueville 1896

In a revolution, as in a novel, the most difficult part to invent is the End

W.H Auden in “Epitaph on a Tyrant

“Perfection, of a kind, is what he was after,

And the poetry he invented was easy to understand

He knew human folly like the back of his hand,

And was greatly interested in armies and fleets.

When he laughed, respected senators burst with laughter,

And when he cried, the little children died in the streets.”

In “Sonnets from China II”, Auden wrote: “They wept and quarreled: Freedom was so wild”

Mustafa Abdel Jalil (Libya interim president) said in September 2011:

“I hope the revolution will not stumble by retribution, taking matters into your hands and oppression…”

Late Vaclav Havel (President of Austria) said:

“Decent people cannot sit back and watch systematic, state-directed massacres. Decent people cannot fail to come to the rescue when within their power…”

Joseph Joubert wrote: “Love and Fear. Everything the father of a family says must inspire one or the other”

Joseph Stalin (Absolute dictator of the Soviet Union) said:

Death is the solution to all problems. No man, no problem

Omar Mukhtar (Libya resistance fighter leader to Italian occupation during Mussolini) said:

“We win or we die.” Finally, he surrendered and was taken to Rome in chains

Muammar Qadhafi wrote in his “Green Book”:

“There are inevitable cycles of social history:

1. The Yellow Race’s dominion of the world in Asia

2. The White Race’s attempt at colonizing extensive areas in all continents

3. Now it is the turn of the Black race to prevail in the world…”

One of the first steps to disobedience is to wean yourself out of rituals and ceremonies. Start to question the rationale and historical meaning and purposes of the rituals you are submitting to.

Civil disobedience is not an easy resolution to get engaged in: Law and Order institutions have to be revisited and reflected upon their validity in the pursuit of happiness, freedom of expression, human rights, and availability of opportunities to all regardless of race, genders, religious belief, and financial status.

Gandhi has developed the guidelines for non-cooperative movements against governments that broke their oaths and pledges to serving the people and are exercising cruelty, exploitation and oppression.

The program of non-cooperation is of 4 steps, each step is meant to reach a higher level of disobedience to the authority.

The first responsibility is to exposing, precisely, the project to the population at large through meetings and focused communication.

The next step is to convince the public servants to voluntarily abandon their titled positions and charges with the government and encouraging the lawyers and judges to stop serving the government.  No pressures should be exercised on the functionaries, especially if the movement is unable to provide for the bread winners. The private employees are excluded from the requirements of abandoning their services.

The third step would ask the army and security officers and soldiers to retreat from their duties.

The last step would amount to refusing paying taxes to the government.

In order to shorten the period of resistance with a successful outcome, the organization of the non-cooperative movement should cater to the weakest members in social status or economic needs.  The members of the movement should:

1.  stop taking loans from government funds;

2. conflicts among the members must be resolved through private arbitrage because lawyers should suspend the exercise of their official profession toward the government.

3. The members should start boycotting public schools; (in this request, I would include boycotting private schools so that no discrimination in economic status should be established).

4. The members should not attend any government reunions and meetings and ceremonies; they should refuse accepting any civil or military post.

5. In case of being under occupation, the members should rely solely on local and national products and manufactures “swadeshi” and thus,boycotting imported consumer’s products from the colonial powers.

For more details on non-violent-resistance-guidelines:

Note 1: Quotes taken from “Sandstorm (El Ghibli): Libya in the time of revolution” by Lindsey Hitsum

Note 2: Listen to Matt Damon on “Civil obedience is the problem” Howard Zinn

You Think You Know Someone, and Then He Gets on a Stage and Blows Your Mind




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