A Dubious Honor; Damascus Called Capital of Arab Culture

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 26, 2008 | Go to article overview

A Dubious Honor; Damascus Called Capital of Arab Culture


Byline: Nir Boms and Jonathan Spyer, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The ancient city of Damascus recently received another mark of recognition. Following in the wake of Liverpool, which was recognized as the European Capital of Culture, and Stavanger in Norway, which was named the non-EU European Capital of Culture, UNESCO designated Damascus as the Arab Capital of Culture for 2008.

In a speech celebrating this decision, Syrian President Bashar Assad chose to highlight a very specific element of his capital city's culture, namely, Damascus' self-appointed role as the center of Arab resistance. "Damascus is the capital of resistance culture by symbolizing Arab culture," he declared, defining "resistance culture" as "the culture of freedom and defending freedom." A closer look at what exactly Mr. Assad means by "resistance culture" might lead one to ask whether the type of activity designated by the term really deserves the acclaim and recognition of an august international body such as UNESCO.

UNESCO's Cultural Capitals Program was launched in the Arab world in 1998. It aims to promote the cultural aspects of development and increased international cooperation.

The new Arab Capital of Culture has a unique approach to "international cooperation." Damascus serves as the headquarters of a long list of designated terrorist organizations, including Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), and an alphabet soup of smaller organizations similarly committed to the practice of violence against civilians. This particular approach to encouraging international cooperation brought the Assad regime to international recognition even prior to its latest accolade from UNESCO. Syria has successfully defended its position at the top of the U.S. list of "countries supporting terrorism" since 1979.

Since the mid-1990s, Damascus has served as the operational headquarters of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and as a nexus for the transfer of external funds to operatives of these organizations in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Seized documents revealed a series of direct financial transactions from Syria to the two terrorist organizations. Syria, which was quick to recognize the Hamas government in Gaza (despite the objection of the Palestinian prime minister) also announced a public donation campaign to support it.

According to the State Department, Syria gives the Lebanese militia Hezbollah "substantial amounts of financial, training, weapons, explosives, political, diplomatic, and organizational aid. …

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