Interview: What’s Going on In Syria?

August 30, 2012

We're bombarded by claim and counterclaim about Syria. On September 11 there will be a forum on current news about Syria and Iran at Founders Auditorium in Davidson Hall at Central CT State University.

One of the speakers will be Najib Saliba. He is a professor in the History and Political Science Department at Worcester State University in Massachusetts. He’s recently back from a trip to Syria's neighbor, Lebanon.

Here is an interview I (Stanley Heller) did with him by phone on August 30, 2012. (Q. for question and A. for the answer)

Q. Tariq Ali has described the fighting in Syria as recolonization by western imperial powers. Richard Seymour sees it as a social revolution. As'ad Abu Khalil emphasizes the extent to which the Free Syrian army is a Sunni sectarian revolt. What is your view?

A. I think I agree with the last point that it is a Sunni revolt against a Shi’a president of Syria. This is not the first time the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria rose against the regime. It is continuation of the uprising of the late ‘70’s and early 1980’s that culminated in 1982 in the suppression in the city of Hama.

Q. So you don't see this as a revolt against a tyrannical regime, but just a way to put in some new tyranny?

A. Well, the regime in Syria is an authoritarian regime and has been for some time, but there are some more tyrannical regimes in the Middle East and elsewhere than the Syrian regime. If we are against Syria because it is tyrannical we should be also against other tyrannical regimes that are supporting the rebellion in Syria like some Persian Gulf states.

Q. Could you tell me a bit about yourself?

A. I am originally from Lebanon. I came here for college work and I stayed and I have been teaching at Worcester State University for something like 40 years.

Q. When you were in Lebanon most recently and for how long?

A. I was in Lebanon from June 15 of this year to July 18. I did some work at the American University at Beirut.

Q. Did you talk to refugees from Syria?

A. Unfortunately I wasn't able to. I was doing research at AUB and was pressed for time.

Q. What about the situation of Palestinians in Syria. There were reports they were trying to lay low. There were other reports that some had joined the rebellion. It’s very unclear.

A. The Palestinians have been refugees since 1948. They are scattered around. There are refugees in Syria. There are refugees in Lebanon. There were refugees in Iraq. There are refugees in Gaza. As far as the Syrian problem is concerned I don’t think the Palestinian refugees have any interest in warfare.

Q. So from what you’re hearing they’re trying to stay out of it.

A. Some elements who feel strongly for Sunnis may be on the rebels side, but as refugees they are on the sidelines and in my view have no interest to be part of the conflict. Syria was the country that supported the Palestinian refugees the most especially in the drive to resolve the Palestinian refugee conflict based on international law and human rights.

Q. We hear the fighting has been spilling over into Lebanon. There were some kidnappings. Could you talk about that?

A. Lebanon is the first to be impacted by developments in Syria. , Lebanon and Syria were one country until 1920. Actually the area was divided up by British and France. Lebanon is impacted by what happens in Syria.

Sometime Syrian rebels hit the Syrian army in Syria and fled to Lebanon for refuge. The Syrian army chased them or shot at them into Lebanon. The war has broken out several times between supporters and enemies of Syria in Tripoli Lebanon. More than 20 people have died. Fighting was bad two weeks ago. Now I understand it is quiet. I wouldn’t count on it. Fighting may break out again.

Q. What are the best sources to read about Lebanon?

A. The US media is biased against Syria. The media and admin are anti-Syria, and you can never reach the truth from the media here. For a person who is really interested he or she should read several sources and after a time that person may be able to figure out what may be worth reading or not. You can read the Arabic newspapers which are fairly neutral like As-Safir and (garbled). There are others which are pro- or anti- The English language Daily Star is basically on the right wing side which could be on the side of the rebels or on the Western side.

Q. I want to thank you for the interview and am looking forward for your talk on the 11th.

(As-Safir English link is here)