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A Recently Translated Novel Lays Bare the Horrors of Assad’s Syria

July 14 2017

In his semi-autobiographical novel The Shell (originally published in Arabic in 2008), Mustafa Khalifa—who spent the years from 1982 to 1994 as a political prisoner in the notorious Tadmor prison—tells the story of a Syrian arrested and held prisoner on trumped-up charges. The book, writes Kyle Orton, is not only a powerful and moving account but also one that can be instructive to those in the West still enamored of the idea of partnering with Bashar al-Assad to defeat Islamic State (IS):

The notion that IS, a symptom of the war Assad started, could be treated with a narrow counter-terrorism strategy—in isolation from broader conflict—was always a fantasy. The recent collision between the coalition’s anti-IS war and the [Syrian] civil war is merely the intrusion of reality: it was one war all along. As the U.S.-led coalition was destroying the caliphate, it was parceling out territory to various contenders in Syria, changing the political and military balance in the wider war—mostly against the rebels, from which IS had taken most of its territory.

Still, for many Westerners, there is something that just doesn’t quite compute; Assad is a bad guy, [Westerners admit], but IS [is composed of] monsters! They drown people in cages and enslave Yazidis—medieval savagery that must surely be everybody’s priority. . . . The Shell helps break down this illusion [of a moral distinction] between a jihadist organization that revels in its brutality and a regime that proceeds in silence with a system of near-indescribable cruelty on a scale Islamic State cannot even dream of.

Khalifa’s protagonist, Musa, is living in Paris. Returning to his home country, he is picked up by the security services, tortured by being folded into a tire and caned on his feet until he passes out, and then thrown in a cell. Musa will remain in detention for the next thirteen years. Formally held, despite being an atheist of Christian background, as a suspected member of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, Musa will never be charged with any offense, and only finds out in the last few months of his captivity the trivial [crime] that landed him in prison.

Read more at Fathom

More about: Arabic literature, Bashar al-Assad, ISIS, Politics & Current Affairs, Syria, Syrian civil war

Why Israeli Arabs Should Drop Their Political Parties

Sept. 20 2017

Even as Israel’s Arab citizens enjoy rights, freedoms, and economic opportunities unrivaled in the Arab world, their political leadership is more intent on undermining the Jewish state than on serving their actual interests. Moshe Arens, a former Israeli defense minister, comments. (Free registration may be required.)

[T]he Knesset members of the [Arab] Joint List have nothing but criticism for Israel and praise for its enemies, be they Iran, President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Hizballah in Lebanon, Hamas in the Gaza Strip, or Palestinian terrorists. . . . Although spanning the ideological spectrum from Communism (aside from the North Koreans, the only Communists still around), the Muslim Brotherhood (called the Islamic Movement in Israel), and Baathists (the Balad party), they are united in their hatred of Israel. Naturally, they do not call for Arab integration into Israeli society.

Those who oppose the polygamy rampant in the Arab community oppose Israeli measures to curb it. Those who are against the abuse of women and so-called honor killings think these are “local problems” that should be handled by the Arabs themselves. Nor do they want the Israel police to handle the crime running wild in Israel’s Arab towns. Keep Israel out of your lives, is their common motto. They oppose young Arabs volunteering for either military or civilian national service. . . .

Within Israel’s Arab community there is a struggle between those who insist on rejecting everything Israel stands for while supporting its enemies and those who want to integrate into Israeli society and take advantage of the opportunities it offers. . . . Can Israel’s Arabs become a beacon of democracy and modernity for the Arab world, or will they provide proof that Arabs are not yet prepared to enter the 21st century? . . .

[E]ach year, growing numbers of young Arabs volunteer for national service and join the ranks of Israel’s military and police. At the moment, the only way this trend can express itself politically is for these individuals to drop their support for the Joint List in favor of Israel’s existing political parties, and for these parties to welcome Arabs into their ranks.

Read more at Haaretz

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli Arabs, Israeli politics, Joint List