"What I learned about activism from President Bashar al-Assad"
Although I had tried to be an informed and participatory citizen of my country, I was never an activist until I 'met' Syria. My first glimpse through the cracks in the wall of western narratives about the Middle East came from Assad. Since then, almost all of my words have been modeled on his approach that won me over in a matter of minutes to at least wanting to know more. I just thought this might be interesting to share in this group.
Here's what he taught me (which i have failed at often enough but keep trying anyway):
1. Stay calm. The truth gives a confidence that does not require screaming and ranting.
2. Turn the other cheek. Assad has a brilliant way of just letting insults and accusations deflect off him. He listens and then gives his side - but he doesn't take it all personally.
3. Speak clearly and openly. It wasn't 2 minutes into the first interview I saw with him that I was struck by how he was explaining things in a way I could understand.
4. Be accurate - don't exaggerate. When Assad knows a number, he gives a number that he can back up - they don't end up getting exaggerated beyond credibility. If he doesn't know a number, he just says he doesn't have a number.
5. Give facts that can be backed up by the reality on the ground and solid sources. When I listened to the SNC's Moaz al Khatib trying to give an interview the contrast could not have been more stark. Assad consistently gave facts that could be checked and verified. His 'opposition', Khatib, spoke in generalizations and platitudes and spent an hour saying nothing of substance.
6. Be genuine. Assad's love of Syrians and Syria shows in everything he says and does. He walks the walk instead of just talking the talk.
7. Don't just preach to the choir. I think this is what really limits the effectiveness of activism. While we all need to learn from and support each other, it is critical to be able to relate to people who don't understand in a way that is not offensive or insulting. Most people just plain to do not know about these situations. They work long hours, they have families, what little news they get comes from MSM. It's a part time/full time job trying to stay on top of ONE issue for me. Assad has given so many interviews with belligerent media and nations - it is a great example.
8. Engage with people. I went to a demonstration against the proposed bombing of Syria in Washington. The protesters walked around in a circle and just kept repeating slogans some woman kept shouting in a megaphone creating a wall of noise. I quickly left the group and just walked among the people and tried to answer questions and engage in conversation. I ended up on Iraqi TV wink emoticon.
9. Unfortunately, photos of dead children are not effective. Anyone with a heart should be moved by the plight of the most innocent victims but the sad truth is, it doesn't really work.
10. Be an ambassador. The most effective activism is person to person. When I got to know Syrians my intellectual curiosity changed to genuine compassion and a hunger for the truth. Assad is a very personal and gracious man. When I showed his interview to my husband, Syd said "I want to have that man over for dinner." In so many interviews I've seen of his, often you can watch the interviewer coming around to Assad's point of view because he is really present WITH the person, listening carefully to them, then he responds to them and to the question. He's not just taking an opportunity to spout an agenda. Whoever he's with, whether children or foreign dignitaries, he is always gives the people he is with his full attention.
So that's it. Thank you President Assad and many members of this page who helped me begin to understand about Syria and the ME.
Janice Kortkamp, a US Peace Activist.
Dr. Mohammad Abdo Al-Ibrahim