Abdullah Dardari is Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs of Syria. He is known as one the most prominent and highest level government reformers. On Sunday, January 16, George Mason University’s seminar on reflective practice, a graduate requirement of the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, was privileged to spend over an hour and a half in conversation with Mr. Dardari in his offices. Professor Marc Gopin, Director of Mason’s Center for World Religion’s, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution, led the discussion, along with Ms. Hind Kabawat, Senior Researcher of CRDC, whose extensive network and reputation in Syria made the meeting possible. The twenty undergraduates and graduates, including a number of students from American universities taking Mason’s course, were impressed by some of the common themes emerging in Syrian self-perceptions. Dardari, a Damascene like Hind Kabawat, expressed a strong identification with all religions and cultures represented in Syria and in the fabric of Damascene life, suggesting a pride in the diversity of Jewish, Christian and Muslim heritage.
Mr. Dardari emphasized that the key to the future of all countries is the ‘buy-in’ of its citizens who see a personal stake in the future of the country. There can be no compulsion in change because no one stays committed to a government by force these days. It will not work. It is the legitimacy that people give you that matters, and increasingly people’s ideas of how they run their country are maturing. He also emphasized that military power is increasingly futile. Only mutual understanding and respect matter, because if you shoot someone, you shoot yourself.
Mr. Dardari emphasized that Syria aspires to makes its citizens into global citizens. The ideal Syrian is a person who loves their country so much that they’re willing to speak to others to spread peace and preserve their own country. That is why he is embracing wholeheartedly the centrality of tourism and global education in his economic plans.
He emphasized that this is actually an ancient idea, stressing that if you are a son of Damascus you are a son of the world, and a central axis of the ancient Silk Road. This requires the deepest embrace of ancient diversity, because if you do not respect your own diversity you are not respecting yourself, your identity.
Mr. Dardari indicated that Syria is reaching out in all directions to trading partners who are increasing every day, from India and China to Malaysia. But he was mystified by the lack of knowledge or understanding of Syria in the United States which has imposed 24 sanctions on Syria, even as everyone else is coming to their doorstep. The books he sees on American shelves about Syria simply don’t match the reality he lives every day.
Mr. Dardari engaged the students eagerly, spent a great deal of time on their questions and their requests for photographs, and expressed hope in greater educational cooperation in the future.