See, I’m not crazy: even the New York Times says Syria is a nice place to visit, in this June article. I like that the lede addresses the very first query everyone has: Won’t they hate me because I’m American?
What I find a little irritating is the obsession with new nightclubs in Damascus, and how this is equated with modernizing/Westernizing/objective good. This is such a problematic assumption that I’m having a hard time articulating a cogent response, but basically, when American journalists go around praising how another country’s youth are learning to booze it up and make out while wearing skimpy clothes, it kind of confirms that country’s worst suspicions about American culture and what this “freedom” is that we’re so psyched about.
But I’m not sure what the answer is–it is illuminating for a lot of Americans to read that there are nightclubs in Damascus, because they may have not even had any idea people drink alcohol there. (Oh, they do! And like a culture that’s accustomed to drinking, and not a culture that’s like teenagers when the parents are out of town.) Guess what: Syrians are a lot more like us than unlike us.
What’s even more interesting, if not surprising, is the freakout letters the NYT got in response, which unfortunately I can’t seem to find online. Many were in the vein of “How can you support that evil regime?!”
The only thing going directly to the “evil regime” is my $100 visa fee, which is so high precisely as a diplomatic “right back at ya”. I think it cost $35 back in 1999, when Syria wasn’t part of the axis of evil. Once I get there, I’m doling out cash to extremely nice people in person, and I’m happy to do it, and talk to them face to face. If we limited our travel to officially sanctioned “good” places, we’d get a very skewed idea of what constitutes good. I don’t see anyone objecting to Americans traveling in Egypt, which has an equally self-perpetuating, randomly-arresting, torturing regime. And I will cheerfully visit Myanmar/Burma when I finally get my ass to Asia.
Peter’s blunter analysis is here (scroll past the pics).
Also, Syria Comment has a very interesting summary of Bashar al-Assad’s recent state of the nation speech, and anecdotal responses to it. What Syria’s government says to Syrians isn’t really covered in Western media–we only get to hear official statements to the West, or little snippets like Diane Sawyer’s interview, which is a little excruciating. (More excruciating: the part where she asks him what’s on his iPod. Hard-hitting…and probably for the best it’s not on YouTube.)
End rant. Just wanted to connect my summer vacation with the larger situation.