Mr. Ziadeh, Qatar and all the others

Mr. Ziadeh, Qatar and all the others

The New York Times story of a Syrian political opponent, Radwan Ziadeh, who was denied political asylum in the U.S. (June 24-25), says a lot about the evolution of the Syrian affair. Ziadeh was told that “he could not get political asylum in the United States because he organized a conference with Syrian opposition groups – even though the American government has supported members of the same groups in the Syrian civil war,” the NYT reported. Once praised as “a prominent political opponent of Bashar al-Assad,” and with fellowships from Harvard and Georgetown Universities, Ziadeh now is accused of “providing material support to Syrian groups that the government considers undesignated terrorist groups.”

The label of an “undesignated terrorist organization” seems to have been invented after 9/11 to define “the organizations that have engaged in violence, whether or not the U.S. supported them” a lawyer at the advocacy group Human Rights First stated. The letter that Mr. Ziadeh received from the Citizenship and Immigration Services claims that “both the FSA and the Muslim Brotherhood met the definition of an undesignated terrorist organization.” 

I cannot avoid comparing Mr. Ziadeh with Qatar. The only difference is the fact that poor Ziadeh is not rich enough to assume that he can challenge the sanctions against him. Nevertheless, Qatar seems to as confused as Mr. Ziadeh, about how things have turned upside down. Once praised as the rising star of the Middle East and encouraged by its Western allies to play an oversized political role in Middle Eastern affairs, Qatar has recently been accused of supporting radical/terrorist Islamist groups in Syria and elsewhere, not only by its hostile neighboring states but also by the U.S. 

Mr. Ziadeh received his fellowship from Georgetown University, and Qatar has a branch of the same university in its complex, ambitiously named “Education City.” Mr. Ziadeh was encouraged to participate in the meetings held with FSA and Muslim Brotherhood members in Istanbul, and Qatar was encouraged to support such efforts and play the role of mediator with radical groups. The transfer of the Hamas bureau from Damascus to Doha at the time was also considered a political success, which would deprive the Syrian and Iranian axis from having the legitimacy of being the supporters of the Palestinian cause.

Thus is the nature of politics. It is not only the principle that “a freedom fighter for one is a terrorist for another,” but it is also the principle that “a freedom fighter today is a terrorist tomorrow.” This is not as unfair as it seems at first; if one wants to play an oversized role, one should consider the possible price as well as the possible prize. What’s more, those who aimed for regime change in Syria created a great tragedy in the name of deposing a dictator and providing democracy, despite the failures of previous efforts most recently in Afghanistan and Iraq. The democracy talk was little more than a political calculation, even a total hypocrisy. 

It may be argued that it is a small man and a small country that is paying the price, whereas the big powers are avoiding it after all. I always hope that all who are responsible pay the price, but I also always think that the complicity of the weak with the powerful may be more vicious and despicable. Because if the weak do not collaborate with the powerful, the powerful inevitably lose their power.