Monday, April 24, 2006

Exit – Reentry visa for Iraqis in Syria

My sister has a problem , four times a year her husband hauls her and their children to Iraq. The trip to the Rabiaa border crossing ( different from the Tanef border ) is harrowing and expensive so why do they go through with it ?

Map courtesy of the Telegraph news.

Because after 3 months their visa expires and it is easier to go to the border get their passport stamped and re-enter Syria then apply for residence status if you do not have a job contract.

Syria has probably the best immigration laws for visitors so it is not mistreating the Iraqis – all Arabs enter without a visa in Syria,they only need to make their stay legal after 3 months.

Since the US invasion in 2003, Syria has absorbed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees. Their presence has affected the Syrian economy in that real estate prices have risen extensively and this has negatively affected the buying capacity of the Syrian citizen, even though many industries have grown to cater to the large Iraqi community we have here.
Syrian hospitality is legendary and you would expect the Iraqi military ( or whatever you can call them now – no offense meant ) to be hepful to their own people at the border crossings by stamping routinely the passport of Iraqis . Nope it does not happen this way, the new recruits are mostly people who have not made enough money from kickbacks yet and they also have to follow the orders of the American military who are the real boss there on that border. According to the 'boss' the Iraqi has to stay 24hrs in Iraq before stamping his passport and letting him leave Iraq. The trip is so expensive and when you have a whole family with wife and kids where in no man’s land can you stay ? It’s even worse if your wife is Syrian because now apparently she needs a visa to enter Iraq ( was not needed before ), while the Iraqis still do not need a visa. So my sister stays on the Syrian border while her husband and children stand on the other side of the border with their dad waiting either for an Iraqi soldier to have the guts to make a decision in his own country and stand up to the occupation or for the occupation boss to feel sorry for the kids amassing and crying to around their dads and needing to be changed into clean diapers or fed or whatever. I’m telling this adds so much to the peaceful image. These people stay at the border because they cannot afford to travel to Baghdad which is about 5 hours more and very very dangerous . It is enough that they had to go trough the grueling journey of the Syrian desert where the bus does not do bathroom stops or any stops because of ‘highwaymen’. Another alternative to shorten the journey is to take a plane to Kamishli and then drive to Rabiaa border point from there.
Thank you America for making not only Iraqis’ lives harder but also Syrian wives lives. I appreciate that you are thinking of your own security and trying to prevent terrorists and wannabe jihadis but you should have done that 3 years ago not now when those people know how to dodge you.

Update : now I hear that all his family want to come to Syria because the security situation is simply unbearable in Iraq.

Friday, April 21, 2006

The Cartoon Controversy

A lot of water has passed under the bridge following the tasteless stereotypical and shocking ‘Danish cartoons’ and the not less shockingly violent response in the Islamic world. I haven’t really broached this topic as I was waiting for things to cool down and also too much ink ( or for that matter megabytes) has already been devoted to it.

This is not an Islamic-Christian conflict because Christianity in the West is just as badly handled as Islam ( in terms of caricaturing etc…). Even in so called ‘democratic’ countries, freedom of expression is not absolute but is governed by laws. Claiming the right to publish Islamophobic caricatures in the name of democracy is the best and shortest way to discredit this very democracy in the eyes of millions of Muslims and to pit peoples against each other.
Neither society nor civilization can live without freedom but at the same time they cannot live without interdictions . Hence, the West is currently living in a crisis - a spiritual crisis; while the Muslim countries -characterized for years by failure and impotence would still be deserving of respect despite the reactions. Maybe we would like to make the West ponder about its own society?

However, does that mean that one of the two camps should concede, abandon freedom of expression or accept to be insulted in the wave of such a ‘freedom’? A freedom which if not properly guided can hide the greatest intolerance of all. We have to think deeply of the significance of this crisis. If the cartoons have hurt it is a demonstration of an ignorance of the multiple complex reality of the Middle East.
If the calls for censorship have shocked , they show ignorance of the history and values of the West.

So the clash is that of ignorance on both sides and NOT of civilizations. The solution is not in mutual renunciation of our identity, but lies in discovering each other in hearing each other in understanding what brings us together but also what distinguishes us from each other. Knowing each other is UNDERSTANDING, understanding means ACCEPTING each other.