Sunday, March 27, 2011

Dispelling the Sorrow of Daraa

The Syrian Ambassador to the US, Imad Moustapha, just posted a new blog "On Woe and Sorrow or How to Dispel Sadness." He dedicates the entry to "the martyrs of Daraa."

For background, protests in Daraa erupted after some youths were arrested last week. The government has since killed dozens and the protests have spread throughout the country. For video of some of the protests, you can watch here. For VERY GRAPHIC videos of the government response, you can watch here and here. In the last video, you can hear protesters chanting "Selmiyya Selmiyya" or "Peaceful peaceful" as government forces shoot them with live ammunition.

Given the brutality of the government crackdown, it's quite surprising Ambassador Moustapha would dedicate a blog - especially as one as reflective and thought-provoking, to the victims of the government he serves.

In the post, he draws upon the work of medieval Iraqi philosopher, scientist and physician, al-Kindi. As the Ambassador explains, "sorrow is akin to desire not to be, because calamities befall us as a result of being mortals. Had there been no decay, there would have been no being." In other words, tragedy is an integral part of what it means to be alive.

But that doesn't mean al-Kindi believes we must give in to suffering. Rather, to "not be overwhelmed by misery, we must only value that which is within our means and under our control." For al-Kindi, this necessitates detaching ourselves from material goods "in favor of a thoroughly vigorous ethical system based on intellect and reason."

It's striking that Ambassador Moustapha speaks of the events of Daraa as if the victims died of some natural disaster. Yet the deaths at Daraa were no accident. They were government policy.

Poignantly, if we follow al-Kindi's advice, we should not grieve for the fallen in Daraa. For under the regime of al-Assad, the right to life does not belong to the people, but to the government. For Syrians, avoiding governmental oppression is not within their means and not under their control. In fact, it is the very struggle to assert such agency over their lives that too many in Syria have paid a terrible price.

Now I don't know enough about the Ambassador to say whether his silence over the cause for Syria's grief reflects a desire to whitewash or the limitations placed upon him by his position. Either way, I have one question for the Ambassador. How can the cultivation of an ethical framework built upon intellect and reason dispel sorrow when tragedy is inflicted by an unethical, unintellectual, and unreasonable regime?

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