Under the Black Flag

Syria, Now and Then

Back in September 1970 I found myself in Damascus, as charming a city as it is ancient, the natives friendly and helpful, especially as I was suffering from food poisoning thanks to a Lebanese kebab from two days before.  My stay in the city was interrupted by the sudden death of Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Egyptian strongman who had been twice defeated by the Israelis, yet remained a great hero to the Egyptian public.  The Syrians laid out a plane for the press corps and flew the lot of us to Cairo for the funeral.  When I approached the press attaché in the airport and thanked him for the gesture, I remember the bittersweet smile he gave and his plea: “Try and remember that not all of us Syrians are what Israel says we are.”

Forty-two years later Syria continues to be the whipping boy of the unholy triple alliance of Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar.  They say politics makes for strange bedfellows, but these are not so strange when you think about it.  All three are experts in oppression, religious zealotry, and paying zillions to Washington lobbies.  Israel has captured Palestinian lands through force of (American) arms and continues to oppress millions of Palestinians under her occupation.  The various bombardments of Gaza have killed thousands of innocents, yet the great American comedian Elie Wie­sel recently asked Obama, “How is it...

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