Saturday, July 07, 2007

Creative Syria's Creative Forum

Click here to go to Creative Syria's new topic for discussion: If you had the choice, what would you change in Syria?

My contribution to the discussion is below. Feel free to comment here, but keep in mind that leaving your comments on Creative Syria's page will offer more of a contribution to the discussion as a whole.


In my opinion, the most essential change that needs to be made right now is that Syria needs to stop making changes – in one area, at least: the arrival of Western fast-food chains.

If you had told me two years ago that there would be a KFC in Damascus by now, I wouldn’t have believed you. Sure, we had Hesburger (jokingly called “Hezbollah Burger” by us and our friends…probably in bad taste) out in the Dummar suburb. It was never clear to us why this Finnish burger chain was allowed in the country and all the American varieties weren’t. The Hesburger manager’s explanation was that any company with Jewish investors was not allowed to set up shop in Syria. Whether his explanation is accurate, I’ve never been able to find out. In any case, that’s certainly not the reason I think these businesses should continue to be blocked from entering the country.

Rather, Syria should remain fast-food-free because to do otherwise would go against the nature of its attraction. Damascus is billed as being the oldest continually inhabited city in the entire world. The genuine quality of its ancient streets, souqs, and culture is almost palpable. In my opinion, a slough of garish chain restaurants would only cheapen this atmosphere without providing enough benefits in return.

It’s true that these kinds of businesses often provide stable, well paying jobs, often for women. And American fast-food restaurants may very well give a boost to the economy and increase the perceived convenience factor for foreign tourists.

But the first two benefits can be achieved through other means, and the third may actually deter as many travelers as it attracts. Certainly, more traditional Syrian restaurants (and other types of businesses) can – and should - offer positions to women. And the kind of traveler who comes to Syria for a purposeful, independent visit is likely not one who also appreciates the effect of golden arches over a narrow, ancient alley.

Where else in the world today is there such a place without a McDonald’s, Hardee’s, or Pizza Hut to destroy its enchanting atmosphere? Granted, I know there are other countries without American fast food, but that is just one of the things that makes Damascus so unique and authentic. Because how foreign can a country really be when you can still biggie-size a burger and fries, or be sure of a clean public restroom with toilet paper and hand soap? Not very, in my opinion.

Some may counter that the introduction of Western fast-food establishments to Syria would usher the country into the 21st century – finally. To this I say: I hope Syria never enters the 21st century in certain respects. A more modern approach to cumbersome bureaucracy and high-speed internet would be welcome, of course. But holding on to the values of past generations means that the corner grocery store, an emphasis on strong family ties, and an extremely safe community are traditions that are still alive and thriving.

Syria doesn’t even need these kinds of restaurants. Why does a country that is already home to fabulous eateries like Elissar, Beit Wakil, and the Parfait even need a McDonald’s, Burger King, or Hardee’s? Besides, the introduction of the authentic Western restaurants would make rip-offs like “Pizza Hot” and “Popay’s” redundant.

Perhaps I’m just being selfish. I will admit that in many ways, I want Syria to remain the same charming place it was when I lived there. Yes, there were moments (especially when I was pregnant) when I wanted more than anything else to be able to order something ultimately familiar, something like chicken nuggets or a vegetarian pizza topped with fresh mushrooms, real American mozzarella cheese, and sterile, generic olives out of a can. But these moments passed and in the end, I was left with a profound sense of appreciation for the capital city that Damascus is, not what it could be.

If they must come – and I realize that eventually, they probably will – at least let them try to fit in with the aura of the city. Villa Moda recently opened a branch in Damascus – in the Old City, no less. But the designers of the boutique were careful to make the shop an integral part of its surroundings, not an eyesore.

So go ahead: open up more jobs for women, more businesses to drive the economy, and free up some of the state controls. But don’t use American fast-food restaurants to accomplish these things – they’ll stab you in the back every time.

16 comments:

KJ said...

I agree. I always loved the fact that you can't eat two burgers that taste the same in Syria. Every shop has its own way to make its food. If this continues, the public will be exposed to "generic taste" which is what the world is now trying to destroy.

Let's hope in Syria the chicken are treated better

Anonymous said...

What about clothes? And maybe computer? Or perhaps cars? And do not forget the modern architecture in syria. This all destroyed our beloved country. It should be the only spot on earth, where the public could expose the original taste of living.
"The world is now trying to destroy" our Syria.

Anonymous said...

Freedom for chickens in syria.
What about the deeks?
But ahhhh yes now I know why syrian chicks fled the country in masses. No not to eat western fast food. Good to know. Its because they want to revolt and install Orwells "Animal Farm", isnt it?

Bridget said...

Anonymous raises a good point: What about the deeks?

You can use the "slippery slope" principle to try to destroy most any argument, but I don't think it works with this one. We have to draw the line somewhere. In my opinion, Western fast-food is where it is.

Anonymous said...

What do you think, Lady Bridget, how many times most of syrians can eat chicken? Is fast food a problem for this people? Its only your problem, Lady. You should know my family, they are bot the poorest syrians, go and watch their breakfast (not at fast food rest...no...at home) one egg for six people. You want to change it?
Yahoo. So: One fast food meal for any kid in syria daily for free. And for the adults who refuse such food they can share the one egg. Saher.

Nonsoloafro said...

Hey guys! Sorry, I lost your addresses again. i`m in Syria. Are you ready for a visit of the Italian macho in good old Amman?

I might be coming around the 24th july...talk to you later and tell you exactly when
Francesco

Gimly said...

I disagree.

The introduction of fast food restaurants to Syria can only be a good thing in my opinion. Damascus, located where it is, has always been a trading hub of the "old" world. A place where people could find and buy everything from the old world. This means variety which has always been present here.

The introduction of fast food chains should be seen as adding to the variety that existed here since the beginning. The thing that should change, however, is the city planning. I also don't want to see a mcdonalds in the old city, but letting one open in mezzeh is completely harmless.

I'm having trouble putting everything I want to say in words, so I hope I made my point clear enough.

Jim Baxter said...

Every September, I recall that is more than half a century (62 years) since I landed at Nagasaki with the 2nd Marine Division in the original occupation of Japan following World War II. This time every year, I have watched and listened to the light-hearted "peaceniks" and their light-headed symbolism-without-substance of ringing bells, flying pigeons, floating candles, and sonorous chanting and I recall again that "Peace is not a cause - it is an effect."

In July, 1945, my fellow 8th RCT Marines [I was a BARman] and I returned to Saipan following the successful conclusion of the Battle of Okinawa. We were issued new equipment and replacements joined each outfit in preparation for our coming amphibious assault on the home islands of Japan.

B-29 bombing had leveled the major cities of Japan, including Kobe, Osaka, Nagoya, Yokohama, Yokosuka, and Tokyo.

We were informed we would land three Marine divisions and six Army divisions, perhaps abreast, with large reserves following us in. It was estimated that it would cost half a million casualties to subdue the Japanese homeland.

In August, the A-bomb was dropped on Hiroshima but the Japanese government refused to surrender. Three days later a second A-bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki. The Imperial Japanese government finally surrendered.

Following the 1941 sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, a Japanese admiral said, "I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant..." Indeed, they had. Not surprisingly, the atomic bomb was produced by a free people functioning in a free environment. Not surprisingly because the creative process is a natural human choice-making process and inventiveness occurs most readily where choice-making opportunities abound. America!

Tamper with a giant, indeed! Tyrants, beware: Free men are nature's pit bulls of Liberty! The Japanese learned the hard way what tyrants of any generation should know: Never start a war with a free people - you never know what they may invent!

As a newly assigned member of a U.S. Marine intelligence section, I had a unique opportunity to visit many major cities of Japan, including Tokyo and Hiroshima, within weeks of their destruction. For a full year I observed the beaches, weapons, and troops we would have assaulted had the A-bombs not been dropped. Yes, it would have been very destructive for all, but especially for the people of Japan.

When we landed in Japan, for what came to be the finest and most humane occupation of a defeated enemy in recorded history, it was with great appreciation, thanksgiving, and praise for the atomic bomb team, including the aircrew of the Enola Gay. A half million American homes had been spared the Gold Star flag, including, I'm sure, my own.

Whenever I hear the apologists expressing guilt and shame for A-bombing and ending the war Japan had started (they ignore the cause-effect relation between Pearl Harbor and Nagasaki), I have noted that neither the effete critics nor the puff-adder politicians are among us in the assault landing-craft or the stinking rice paddies of their suggested alternative, "conventional" warfare. Stammering reluctance is obvious and continuous, but they do love to pontificate about the Rights that others, and the Bomb, have bought and preserved for them.

The vanities of ignorance and camouflaged cowardice abound as license for the assertion of virtuous "rights" purchased by the blood of others - those others who have borne the burden and physical expense of Rights whining apologists so casually and self-righteously claim.

At best, these fakers manifest a profound and cryptic ignorance of causal relations, myopic perception, and dull I.Q. At worst, there is a word and description in The Constitution defining those who love the enemy more than they love their own countrymen and their own posterity. Every Yankee Doodle Dandy knows what that word is.

In 1945, America was the only nation in the world with the Bomb and it behaved responsibly and respectfully. It remained so until two among us betrayed it to the Kremlin. Still, this American weapon system has been the prime deterrent to earth's latest model world- tyranny: Seventy years of Soviet collectivist definition, coercion, and domination of individual human beings.

The message is this: Trust Freedom. Remember, tyrants never learn. The restriction of Freedom is the limitation of human choice, and choice is the fulcrum-point of the creative process in human affairs. As earth's choicemaker, it is our human identity on nature's beautiful blue planet and the natural premise of man's free institutions, environments, and respectful relations with one another. Made in the image of our Creator, free men choose, create, and progress - or die.

Free men should not fear the moon-god-crowd oppressor nor choose any of his ways. Recall with a confident Job and a victorious David, "Know ye not that you are in league with the stones of the field?"

Semper Fidelis
Jim Baxter
Sgt. USMC
WW II and Korean War

Job 5:23 Proverbs 3:31 I Samuel 17:40
http://www.choicemaker.net/

M. Al Jabi said...

Well to try to keep something the way it is just because it looks nice and it makes a couple of people happy because they think the city will remain attractive is not a good reason, i believe. If a fast food restaurant is to open in syria then i dont see any harm. on the contrary it will help the economy in some cases, and will definitely encourage tourism. Globalization is inevitable. I currently live in London. I must say it is a very unique city, and has even managed to remain so even with so many American fast food restaurants.

In a way i agree with you about not changing, but definitely believe in integrating. Integrating that which is the best for syria, with what already exists. I do believe that damascus should remain unique in its splendor and beauty but not to sacrifice economical benefits over lesser things.

I think the reason why there are no american products and companies in syria is due to the US sanctions on syria.

anyways i enjoy your blog. Thank you!!

Anonymous said...

you know why KFC was allowed in Damascus, because it's a franchaise. Someone who has connections in the government paided some other guy who had more power than he did to open up the restaurant. why do you think there is only one location??

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طـفــره جـديـده ورائـعــه فى مـجــال الانـتـرنت وتـكـنـولـوجـيـا الـمعلومات
هل انتهى عصر التليفزيون والفضائيات وبدأ عصر البث الحى على الانترنت؟؟؟؟؟



www.tutamon.net

قناه توت امون (شمس الفضائيات تغرب وشمس الانترنت تشرق)

Sourie said...

I couldn't agree with you more. I visited Syria last month and hated the fact that a new KFC opened up close to where I live. I love Syrian food. It's healthy and delicious.
You made me miss home even more. I'm glad I found your blog.
Cheers

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alex said...

wow theres a KFC in syria??.. never know that before..

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Basil - باسل said...

I agree. Local food chains are rather unique but they rarely seem to get competition from Western chains. I personally always prefer the local chains.