During the height of World War II, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill felt the need to raise the sagging spirits of the British people. He gave a memorable speech asking his countrymen to: “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never in nothing, great or small, large or petty never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy. We stood all alone a year ago and to many countries it seemed that our account was closed, that we were finished. Very different is the mood today.”
These words, along with admiration for Churchill, were some of the things that the publisher of this magazine Abdulsalam Haykal and I found in common during our student days at the American University of Beirut (AUB). Our journey since has been a long one indeed. We were housemates in Beirut, classmates at AUB, joint committee members in student societies, roommates during our graduate studies in London, then founders and board members in the Syrian Young Entrepreneur Association (SYEA). We entered similar careers, Abdulsalam as publisher of Syria’s leading economic monthly al-Iqtissad, and myself as a political writer on contemporary Middle East affairs. Abdulsalam is a young leader in every sense of the word, who has taken his family business towards new heights in two much needed domains in Syria, being media and information technology. More recently we have jointly embarked on publishing a “Who’s Who in Syria” to document the lives of prominent Syrians. Ambitiously, we now launch FORWARD, a magazine inspired by the Syrian people’s “never give in!”
Pessimists may argue that Abdulsalam and I are dreamers, because there is nothing in Syria today worth being optimistic about. That is arguable, but what is not is our enormous faith in the Syrian people, who can do wonders for Syria if given the opportunity to work for Syria in their own special ways. I know how difficult it is to lose hope in a country like mine. I lose hope a million times a day in Damascus, and regain it, a million times a day. I regain hope by observing the small beauties in Syrian life and the qualities of Syria and the Syrian people. I regain confidence every time I walk through the old streets of Damascus and remember how much the Syrians have been through in their history. I regain confidence every time I write about famous Syrians. The last time was in early April 2006, when I wrote about Syria’s late playwright Mohammad al-Maghout and the novelist Abdulsalam al-Ujayli. As far as I am concerned, these Syrians are my heroes. These men experienced the turbulence of the 20th century—occupation by the French, liberation by the Syrians, war in Palestine, coups in Damascus–then lived long enough to tell the story.
I regain hope every time I see people smashing the traditional norms of Syrian society and bringing Damascus out of its stuffy Puritanism. I regain hope every time I see Syrians standing up for life, love, liberty, and freedom of religious belief. It is these people, who insist on having a better life and who have tolerated many hardships over the centuries; only to emerge, time and again, with a new resolve and determination.
This we can achieve, by restoring our confidence in ourselves and in our nation. A few months ago, I had the honor of interviewing H.E. Abdullah al-Khani, a retired Syrian diplomat, minister and judge at the International Court of Justice, who had served under the late presidents Shukri al-Quwatli, Hashim al-Atasi, and Hafez al-Assad. A seasoned and worldly statesman, the single most striking trait about him was his astonishing tone of optimism in the future of Syria and its people. Khani was saying that Syria has every reason to survive because the Syrian people have talent, skills and character.
Shortly afterwards, I met many Syrians from the expatriate community who had returned to spend Christmas in Damascus. They and us who decided to live in Syria by choice had endless debates about nation-building. More than ever, the expatriates were seriously thinking of returning home. More than ever, we were seriously thinking of leaving. Strangely enough, the expatriates and Abdullah al-Khani were seeing something that many of those living in Syria could not see. It was: hope.
Having that said, it is now time to move forward, as the name of this magazine implies. There is no way for Syria but forward. We should see what Abdullah al-Khani sees in order to create a finer Syria. We have every reason to believe in ourselves and to stand up and demand real change. It is our right. This was the spirit with which our “founding fathers” created our country after independence in 1946. This is to what we should return.
Wrapping up, I would like to quote a fine statement said during Syria’s first independence day in 1946 by former Prime Minister Jamil Mardam Bey. It says: “Syria has been subjected to more trial since the armistice of 1918 than any other Near Eastern country. All is not lost, however. There is room for hope. The territory we have been left with is a vast playing field for our young people and their entrepreneurial spirit. The Syrian soil is fertile. We produce cereals, cotton, fruit. We have oil. Our artisans are some of the most ingenious in the world. Our people are sober, tough, and hard-working. Syrians are found all over the world, and everywhere they occupy important positions. The spiritual forces of our country are intact. The past and the future is ours. We have every reason to believe that Syria will survive.”
All is not lost…
Forward Magazine, January 2007