The portrait of the Syrian as a “terrorist”

Fares al-Dahabi 2017-02-07 11:59:00

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US President Donald Trump’s inclusion of Syrians in the 7 nationalities banned from entering the U.S. is nothing new. The history of post-1970 Syrian relations with the West is rife with numerous lists and designations that only hurt the Syrian citizen, given the fact that the regime has survived 47 years till now.

Who is responsible for transforming the portrait of the Syrian citizen from a normal human being and a respected world citizen to a “terrorist” on the watch in every country, suspended for hours in most of the world’s airports to be interrogated as if he/she were a criminal, all for the sole reason of carrying a Syrian passport?

Why should the Syrian citizen pay the price for the ruling regime’s political and military adventures, which he/she knows nothing about?

To begin with, we need to know that the list of Sponsors of Terrorism states, issued by the U.S. Department of State in 1979, included only 4 states: Iraq, South Yemen, Syria, and Libya. Afterwards, Cuba in 1982, Iran in 1984, and North Korea in 1988, and Sudan in 1993 were added.

According to the U.S. Department of State website, the list includes states sponsoring, providing and supporting illegal groups with arms outside of their boarders, thus jeopardizing world security and civilians’ safety. 

It is not strange to find Syria among the ’founding’ members of the list of Sponsors of Terrorism states. Based on this list, citizens of these nationalities suffer restrictions on their freedom of travel, and the states themselves are denied technological, military, and economic assistance. It is obvious why these states faced the American list with mockery and national slogans of anti-imperialism and anti-colonialism, while the peoples of these states suffer the worst kinds of economic, medical, and technological sanctions. 

But did this list appear out of nowhere? And how did the regime controlling Syria manage to transform the portrait of its citizens from normal humans to suspected criminals in all corners of the world, reaching Trump’s ban on the entry of Syrians, among other nationalities, to the US?

Since the 1970s, the ruling regime in Syria paid no attention to domestic development programs or the growth of the national economy in general. All the regime’s efforts were focused entirely on consolidating its rule and subjugating its opponents. Thus, it carried out a long series of assassinations in Lebanon, which was already suffering a civil war and terrible security conditions. These assassinations, coupled with the chaotic realities of Palestinian and Lebanese factions, and Arab and Western interventions, made the Lebanese scene a training ground for the regime’s security forces, which were active in militarization, spying, penetration by recruiting agents within the regime’s opponents, bomb attacks, kidnapping, and occasionally exploiting these factions for political needs. The regime in coordination with its affiliated-factions at the time kidnapped Western students, doctors, and journalists to blackmail their countries for compromises in other issues. This annoyed the West immensely at the time, but there was no alternative to dealing with Syria, which completely surrounds the Lebanese boarders, and can change its realities drastically and abruptly.

This condition worsened with the assassinations of influential leaders in Lebanon like the Mufti Hassan Khaled, leader Kamal Jumblatt, president Bachir Gemayel, and president Rene Moawad, and also the assassination attempt of the Jordanian prime minister Mudar Badran in Amman. The regime also sponsored “revolutionary” Palestinian organizations in Damascus and Beirut, which were also very well-versed in kidnapping Western airplanes and ships for demanding political compromises. The Western irritation grew massively, until the US issued the list of Sponsors of Terrorism in 1979. Yet the regime paid no heed, and practiced a brutal crackdown on its opponents in Hama in 1982, and in Palmyra prison two years before that. The West and the Soviet Union regarded this as merely an internal issue, but what caused Europe to explode with fury, however, was the affair of Nizar Hindawi, the Palestinian-Jordanian who in the 1980s surrendered himself to the British intelligence confessing to how he was recruited by the Syrian Air Force Intelligence to hide a bomb in the briefcase of his pregnant Irish lover, in order to destroy an Israeli El Al plane boarding 400 passengers from different nationalities. This led to a large-scale scandal followed by a complete European boycott, which caused a huge hardship still remembered by the Syrian people.

This situation dragged on until the Syrian forces participated in the second Gulf War, which led to a minor mitigation in relationships with the West. This fell apart, however, after the assassination of the Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri, causing the West to withdraw its ambassadors from Syria unanimously. This was also followed by the accusation, made by Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, that the Assad regime was sending groups of Mujahideen to Iraq. Naturally, the crisis got worse, and only the Syrian people felt the weight of sanctions. When George W. Bush issued the list of the states forming the Axis of Evil, Iraq, Iran and North Korea, the Syrian people hoped for a possible improvement that would follow Syria’s exclusion from the terrorist list. Yet the situation lingered on and on, all the way to the revolution in 2011 and its consequences in the following years. This long chain of adventures proved its uselessness, and wasted the national and economic efforts on a bunch of failed intelligence operations, which in no way benefited the regime, but stigmatized the Syrian citizen with one single nomenclature that would chase him/her wherever he/she went in the world, and which changed, for long time to come the portrait of the Syrian in the memory of the Europeans, and the Westerners in general.