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Web Critic: a Website about Aleppo

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The best way to experience Aleppo, other than going there, is to view the pages of this website, Historische Alepposeife, which means Aleppo soap in English. The authors are clearly overweening, but their rambles through the city, its history and its specters is entertaining enough.

This is true for the North Arabian Diary in particular, from 2007, with words and pictures, and occasional ideological quarrels between Germans and Arabs, some news (more frequent updates there wouldn’t hurt), and an overview over Syria’s foreign-language media.

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Written by taide

November 19, 2010 at 9:39 pm

Swiss Ban on Minarets: Philistine Cowardice

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So they’ve dunnit. The Swiss have voted in favour of a ban on building further minarets in their country. Four minarets atop mosques had been built until yesterday, reports the Los Angeles Times, and if yesterday’s referendum is turned into law, it will have been the first a and the last four minarets. Unless the Swiss will start to fear the consequences: boycotts from Muslim countries, or being locked out from the European Council, for example. The latter could happen because a ban on minarets may count as a refusal of an elementary human right: the freedom of worship.

I’m not trying to discuss if minarets to a mosque are an essential ingredient to freedom of worship. And I have no doubt that many Muslims do view minarets in European country as demonstrations of power indeed. I have no illusions about Islam – if I’m unrealistic at all, it is in that I view Islam more negatively than facts would demand. What interests me most, as a non-Muslim, are the reasons for the Swiss decision, and for the secret or not-so-secret approval among Germans here.

The Los Angeles Times

Aleppo, Minaret: Not very Long, but Still Longer than Yours

Aleppo, Minaret: Not very Long, but Still Longer than Yours

interprets the Swiss referendum as a sign of latent fears of Islamic influence in Switzerland. That’s probably a safe bet. The referendum’s result may also, to some degree, stem from the fact that many non-Muslims in Islamic countries are denied the degree of freedom of worship that Muslims enjoy in Europe. If the Swiss tick the same way many of my compatriots do, they will also have rebelled against a politically-correct elite, a political left or against Muslims who try to brand all opposition against foreign religions as “reactionary” or somehow “Nazi”. As a basis for public discussion, yesterday’s referendum may be a lucky event (for us in Germany, anyway).

But a ban on minarets must not stand in a free country. Islam is a an ideology, rather than a religion. Still, we must not deny Islam formal recognition as a religion. There is no way for a free society to deny any follower of any religion the freedom of worship. This is no question about if Islam is good or bad for Europe. It isn’t good for us to betray our own convictions. Human rights are an elementary conviction. Islamism and reactionary religious or political views in general (many of those who oppose minarets are as reactionary as many of those who are advocating them) can’t be defeated by restrictive legislation.

As Amelia Earhart, an American pilot, once said, courage is the price, that life exacts for granting peace. Banning minarets won’t make cartoonists who depict Prophet Mohamed any safer. Talking about Amelia Earhart, banning minarets won’t keep certain European airlines to refuse European citizens a seat in their planes once they have been targeted by a “fatwa”.

Only conviction and courage can stand up to Islamism, and to all kinds of totalitarianism. “Learning from Switzerland” and acting likewise elsewhere in Europe would be a mere act of compensation for real decisions we need to take if we want to defend our liberties successfully. And there may be some Muslims who will actually support our concept of freedom – if we respect and support their freedom.

Syria: H1N1 Vaccines “available in December”

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Syria reported its first confirmed case of swine influenza or A-H1N1 on July 4, according to the Voice of America. Syrian health officials said that the case was detected in a Syrian woman who flew to the country from Australia.

The first death from H1N1 was confirmed on August 26. Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) quoted the Health Ministry as saying a Syrian man had died of the strain.

Street Cleaning, Aleppo

Useful, but no Drug replacement: Street Cleaning in Aleppo, Syria

Syrian News Station, a news website frequently quoted by international newspapers, reports that vaccines should be available in Syria in December. Syrian health minister cited safety reasons for not starting large-scale vaccinations earlier. The country recorded 122 infections by October 20.

According to Taiwan Today (quoting the China Times), Taiwanese drug manufacturer Adimmune was approached by Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern countries which were unable to purchase H1N1 vaccines from other nations, but the company’s ceo Ignatius Wei said that Adimmune’s main concern was the welfare of Taiwan’s citizens.

Adimmune did not specify which countries were among its Middle Eastern contacts. While Syria’s infection numbers have risen since June, it may still be in a more comfortable situation than most of its neighbours if the trends have remained the same. As of June this year, Syria’s number of confirmed infections was much smaller than those of most of its neighbours.

Written by taide

October 31, 2009 at 7:06 pm

Posted in government, Syria

Tagged with , , , , ,

Vrouw Antje comes to Aleppo

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When people talk about Historische Alepposeife, they mean HISTORICAL Aleppo soap, which means that it is very old and traditional.

But now that Vrouw Antje has arrived in Aleppo…

Vrouw Antje comes to Aleppo

Vrouw Antje comes to Aleppo

things are becoming messy… 

Vrouw Antje: You can look, but you better not touch

Vrouw Antje: You can look, but you better not touch

And when I say messy, I mean REAL messy:

Something's rotten in the souq

Something's rotten in the souq

Actually, even worse…

Aleppo soap spacecakes

Aleppo spacecakes

It’s THAT messy now!

So mind the Dutch, next time you come to Aleppo. Recent excavations suggest that Antje’s been here for a long time:

Aleppo Ancient Boobmonsta Excavation Site

Aleppo Ancient Boobmonsta Excavation Site

And when I say for a long time, I mean for a REAL long time!

Related:
(Not) the Queen Diana of the Orient, September 12, 2009
En nu… zit Jesper zelf op de Trekker, June 13, 2008

The Will of the People is no Policy

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“Anatolian Eagle”, a military exercise scheduled for last week between Israel, the US, NATO as an organisation, Turkey and Italy, was cancelled a week ago. The schedule faltered when Turkey’s government disinvited Israel’s military, and was then cancelled altogether because of American disappointment with Ankara’s rejection of Israel’s participation.

At the beginning, Ankara’s motivation was unclear. Technical problems were given as reasons, then delays and malfunctions in Israeli military supplies of ten Heron drones, until prime minister Erdogan released the cat from the bag: “in accordance with the will of the people”, no Israeli fighter pilots would be allowed on Turkish soil. And Turkey’s foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu added that in times where there were no efforts for peace, Turkey couldn’t afford to be regarded as Israel’s military partner.

Martyrs, Everywhere - Aleppo's Armenian Quarter

Martyrs, Everywhere - Aleppo's Armenian Quarter

To base ones policy on “the will of the people” is populism, and there is reason to believe that Ankara’s main motivation is that it wants to become more influential in the Middle East, and arguably in Central Asia, too. You got to make them love you, and some Israel-bashing should work fine to this end.

But opportunism in politics usually only leads to short-term benefits. Syria might profit from Turkey’s new policy – if it really is one -, but Syria’s Armenians will watch Ankara’s moral plateau boots with astonishment, if not with disgust. If the 2009 Gaza War is a reason to lock Israel out of the traditional alliance, the Armenian genocide – and Ankara’s denial of it – would be reason enough to cancel any cooperation with Ankara, military or otherwise.

Besides, if Turkey ceases to mediate between Syria and Israel – and Israel has reasons now to reject further Turkish efforts in this field – it is hard to see how Turkey could play a positive role for Syria.

OK – Israel’s policies on Palestine aren’t smarter than Turkey’s on Israel and the Middle East. The settlements in the West Bank don’t serve Israel’s security at all. One can argue about, and possibly buy the need for the Gaza war, but the government’s refusal to rein in on the West Bank settlers is opportunistic. And its opportunism costs, not only in Israel’s relations with Turkey.

But Ankara’s big words against Israel’s army are unsavoury. No angry statement about Hamas and its rocket attacks on Israel, which actually triggered the ensuing Israeli “war crimes”. The Ummah is a cartel of perfect silence, when it comes to “holy wars” and their crimes.

Written by taide

October 18, 2009 at 6:54 pm

Syria Hurts Maliki’s Pride

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Damascus might find itself in the role of a broker between the Iraqi Ba’ath Party – once Saddam Hussein’s party in Iraq, and still Bashar al-Assad’s political vehicle in Syria.

Aleppo Baghdad Station: Staying Connected

Aleppo Baghdad Station: Staying Connected

An American military delegation led by Major General Michael Moeller of US Central Command had two days of talks in Syria – in Baghdad however, a lot of people aren’t pleased with the first indicators of a possible thaw between Washington and Damascus. Nuri al-Maliki announced a trip of his own to Syria for the next week – “It is not the duty of the American delegation to negotiate on behalf of Iraq,” his spokesman is quoted as saying. As the American troops withdrew from the Iraqi streets and cities on July 1, and Maliki announced on the occasion that it was the national united government [which] had succeeded in putting down the sectarian war that was threatening the unity and the sovereignty of Iraq, he will now be very sensitive about any possible loss of face.

Syria will be interested in bringing Saddam Hussein’s former deputy, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri (who has lived in Damascus since 2003), back into the game in Iraq. He is said to have been behind guerilla campaigns against the American occupation – and here lies a bone of contention between Damascus and Washington, as the U.S. demand the arrest of about a dozen of high-ranking supporters – or facilitators – of those campaigns.

The Iraqi Ba’ath Party is still seems to be sound and to be taking orders. Its cadres have received orders to resume political activity, writes The Telegraph.

If the new (or old) Ba’ath Party establishes itself in Iraq as a palladium of national resistance and gets legalised, and if it facilitates a rapprochement between Baghdad and Damascus, Iran might find its influence on Iraq further reduced – most Iraqis are Shia, just like most Iranians. But most Iraqis also see their country as Arabic, rather than as easy Iranian proxy. Saudi Arabia’s worries about a handover of Iraq to Iran could turn out to be unjustified.

And America may have restored an old business friend in Baghdad – not in control as it was during Rummy’s and Saddam Hussein’s happiest days, but still a substantial one. And Syria may get shopping options beyond Russia again. That said, its need for arms of a defensive character won’t be unlimited.

Written by taide

August 15, 2009 at 8:42 pm

Syria: Visitors Welcome, but “Sick of Processes”

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France’s foreign minister Bernard Kouchner visited Syria on July 11 and 12, as he announced in advance, within the framework of the extremely constructive dynamics that characterize the new relationship with Syria. The United States are about to restore full diplomatic relations with Syria, after semi-suspending them following the assasination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri. Kouchner received assurances from Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad that Syria would not meddle in the formation of the Lebanese government (that’s how Al-Shorfa, a website sponsored by USCENTCOM puts it, let’s assume that al-Assad and Kouchner used more diplomatic expressions). Their discussions also included an adoption of a comprehensive peace plan between Palestine and Israel, but France’s plans in this regard received rather offish treatment in a meeting between British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs David Miliband and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem. “They’re pretty sick of processes”, suggested Miliband. Mouallem and his country are now looking forward to a visit by U.S. special Middle East envoy George Mitchell as “the first step of dialogue.” President Obama‘s envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, will be in Damascus on Sunday to meet president al Assad, ahead of meetings in Israel with prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The American government may be sick of processes too. “If the Syrians or anyone else can persuade [Hamas] to take a positive path forward, well, clearly, I think the Palestinian Authority and others would welcome that”, secretary of state Hilary Clinton reportedly said.

France isn’t at the centre of the process. That may hurt. Then again, maybe it could also be an opportunity. An NGO would like to remind the French foreign minister that there are issues besides Palestine, the Golan Heights, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Lebanon. Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) points out that five cyber-dissidents are still in prison, among them Habib Saleh and Firas Saad. A Palestinian journalist and expert on Israeli affairs, Helmi Musa, was arrested in Damascus  on July 5 for unknown reasons.  The Syrian Press Law of 2001 prevents any liberalisation, criticizes RSF. Only the prime minister may authorise work permits for journalists, and the press law provides many reasons for arresting journalists, such as damaging the the reputation or dignity of the state, national unity, or the morale of the army.

Aleppo, satellite dishes: You can watch, but You better not Blog

Aleppo, satellite dishes: You can Watch, but You better not Blog

More than enough for Bernard Kouchner to take care of, while Washington and London are doing the sweet-talk. Someone has to be the bad guy after all.

Then again, if he gets the impression that talking with Damascus about Lebanon is more than just a process, maybe he will prefer to  stay nice.

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Related: Is Sarko just “showy”? – July 13, 2008

Written by taide

July 25, 2009 at 4:08 pm