Syria: yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

posted Sep 23, 2013, 6:18 PM by Bader George Qarmout

As the world contemplates what to do with Syria, I had the opportunity to speak to Shadi (last name withheld) and his mother and I asked them about what life was like in Syria before the Arab Spring, as well as other things. Shadi and his mother now live in Sussex County. Both Shadi and his mother were living in the US and went to visit Syria before the outbreak of the uprising in that country. They wanted to return to the US but could not and thus were stuck in the land of their birth in the midst of a revolution for 2 and ½ years. Finally Shadi and his mother were able to escape from Syria and come back to New Jersey in June of this year to live with relatives. I sat down with Shadi and his mother for over four hours to discuss Syria in detail.

I specifically asked what life was like in Syria before the revolution and how was the relationship between Muslims and Christians who make up 10% of the population? The answers I received were different than what you will hear in the mainstream media.   Shadi and his mother, who are Christians, were insistent that Christians and Muslims got along without any conflict priory to the revolution. Christians though a minority, had equal access to all the rights and privilege of social, academic, political, and financial aspects of Syrian society. I was told of a Syria that was getting better and more modernized under the leadership of President Bashar al-Assad (Bashar-the-lion) as compared to his father’s stricter control. Bashar introduced or expanded private banking, private hospitalization, internet, cellphones and modern amenities to Syria. The Syrian government funds itself mostly from oil exports and has no personal income tax.

The catalyst of the Syrian revolution was in Daraa, in the southwest region of Syria near the Jordan border. A handful of teenagers were arrested for vandalism by Bashar-al-Assad’s cousin, Gen. Atef Najeeb.  The teenagers were brutally beaten and tortured by Gen. Najeeb’s men because they spray painted anti Assad and anti-government graffiti. When family members and tribal leaders came to Gen. Najeeb to secure the release of the 15 teenagers, the General refused and disrespected the tribal leaders and sent them home without releasing the teenagers. The Sunni residents of Daraa reacted with protest and demonstrations.  The overreaction by Gen. Najeeb was later apologized for by Bashar-al-Assad, but that was far too late, Syria was already on fire. The majority of the population of Daraa is Sunni as is over 60 percent of Syria, while Bashar-el-Assad is a member of a minority Shia subgroup called Alawites.

The revolution that started in Daraa and spread to many parts of Syria was helped by soldiers who flipped sides and joined the Freedom fighters. Shadi wanted to reiterate that initially the revolution was not about Sunni vs. Shia but rather about a population that felt the oppression and corruption of political domination of one party for 40 years.  

It is interesting to note that the soldiers and commanders who did abandon Assad’s army are almost exclusively Sunni.  Most of the alliances that have formed between Arab nations and Syria or the rebels are on a sectarian divide, Shiites with the Assad regime and Sunnis with the rebels.  

When I asked Shadi about the Arab Spring and how likely is democracy to flourish in the Arab world, he said without hesitation “never, it will never happen!” When I pressed him as to why not, he said with clenched fist: “The Arabs only understand authority.”

The original make-up of the rebels for the first year was exclusively Syrians (Sunni) who wanted to rid the country of one party rule (Shia –Alawites rule).  This would have been the ideal time for the United States or other nations to support the rebels.  Shadi said that if Syria was to be democratic then anyone Shia, Sunni, or Christian could become president. Since Sunni make up 60% of the population it would make sense that they would dominate politics. When I asked Shadi, what he thought about the Sunnis regaining power and running the country, he said: “that would be fine, because Christians had a good life when Sunnis were in power and currently have a good life in Syria now that Shiites are in power.” This explains why Christians are staying out of the current conflict in Syria.

I asked if it was true that Al-Qaida (the terrorist group that took responsibility for many attacks and bombings, including the US attack of September 11, 2001) members were helping the rebels fight Assad’s army, to which Shadi and his mother both emphatically said “Yes, and many of them don’t even speak Arabic.” Why would these non-Syrians want to help the rebels? Shadi believes it is because they want to turn Syria towards extremism and strict Muslim law. Shadi predicts that the Syrian population would violently reject extremism.

The Rebels are happy to accept any help they can get to defeat Assad’s regime, but conflicts between the Syrian rebels and the non-Syrian fighters is deepening and turning violent. This matter is complicated by the fact that all the rebels, Syrian and non-Syrian are under one banner and call themselves freedom fighters. Matters are further complicated by the fact that many of the fighters are a group of 200 men being independently led with little centralization.

When I asked Shadi about President Obama’s plan to punish Bashar-el-Assad by bombing key military sites,  Shadi believed that the time for the US to assist the freedom fighters was during the first year of the uprising and now it is too late. Now that the extremists and Al-Qaeda fighters have entered Syria, the struggle has changed and no longer resembles the original intent. Shadi and his mother spoke of brutality at the hands of the foreigners and the violence they unleashed at Syrians, Christians and moderate Muslims.

Shadi spoke of a Syria that has been devastated by the 2 ½ years of civil war. Many buildings and homes have been destroyed and Syria and its people are now worse off than compared to pre-revolution.  When I asked Shadi about the use of chemical weapons, he believes that Assad’s army most likely did use them, but was not sure if it was with or without Assad’s orders.  The same weapons in the hands of the Al-Qaeda infiltrated freedom fighter’s army will be even more threating to Syria, its people, and the civilized world.  

China and Russia not only have economic benefits to maintain status quo in Syria but both have fought against Muslim extremist in their respective countries.

What did Shadi and his mother see as a solution to this conflict and what does the future look like for Syria? I was surprised that Shadi believed there is no solution to the current madness that Syria has spiral into. Shadi and his mother were both saddened and frightened by what is happening. The withholding of their last name was to protect the family members still in Syria.  Shadi believed that if America was to attack Syria, it would only make matters worse and empower the extremists and Al-Qaeda. Shadi said to me, “I just don’t know why President Obama wants to empower the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Qaeda in Syria, Egypt, Libya and elsewhere.  The time for America’s involvement has passed. Currently there is no good outcome in Syria and if the rebels win and the extremists remain, then a violent rebellion between the extremists and local moderates will ensue. If Assad was empowered and remains and puts down the uprising, things will never be the same and will most likely start up again because the extremists who are now in the country will not just leave, but rather will resort to suicide bombings. The Al-Qaeda terrorists are here to kill and destroy not build.”


Peace in the Middle East?

posted Apr 22, 2012, 12:33 PM by Bader George Qarmout   [ updated Apr 29, 2012, 11:58 AM ]

 Peace in the Middle East? 

Will there ever be peace in the Middle East? If yes, how and when? If no, why not? As a good faith disclosure, I am a Christian American of Arab descent. I was born in Jordan in 1968 to Palestinian parents. I would love to see peace in the region and land of my ancestors.  As a Christian, I may have a different perspective than a Muslim or a Jew.  I grew up in a Muslim country and raised in an Arab-American culture, I understand the Arab psyche and values.

What would it take for the Arabs (Muslims and Christians) and Jews (religious and secular) to achieve true peace? The first question should be, if peace is reached today who would it truly benefit? On the surface the quick answer is everyone. If one digs deeper, it would become easy to see that not everyone would benefit from peace. Who benefits from a continued state of war?  Some people and groups would lose their power and influence if peace is achieved. Extremists would have a smaller audience and fewer donors, thus have a vested interest to prolong and perpetuate the violence and conflict. Some foreign nations and world leaders support the continued violence in order to profit from the sale of military hardware and other goods. Not everyone would benefit from peace.

Back to the original question, who benefits from peace? The real beneficiary of peace is not just this generation but the next and future generations. Why wouldn’t every parent want peace and success for their children? Both sides would see an enormous growth in tourism and business should they compromise and settle their differences.

What would it take to achieve this seemingly impossible task? American presidents for decades have attempted, and none harder then President Clinton, to no avail. America and other nations can help, but the ultimate work falls on Palestinians and Israelis. Both sides have to want peace in order to achieve it. Past failures have been due to one or both parties not really wanting peace. It’s not what either side wants, but rather what their enemy wants. If Israel wants peace and the Palestinians want the destruction of the Jewish state, then peace is impossible. Palestinians must truly want peace in order for peace to be within reach.  Both sides must love their children more than territories.  Moderates must view extremists as an obstacle and alienate them.

Palestinians must love their children and value their future more. One must ask what type of person and society accepts the notion of glorifying children martyrdom? What type of society would allow children to carry suicide belts and machine guns? As a parent, my children are my life and how I raise them will be my legacy and monument.  I can’t imagine promoting my children to kill themselves (not to mention to kill others) for anything.  Every father should do what ever it takes to leave an inheritance to his children. Peace is not easy and will not be possible till both sides agree that it MUST BE for the sake of the kids and grand-kids. Obviously hate and killing is not working, why not try true compromising with realistic objectives and goals. I believe everyday Palestinians want peace but are hijacked by the extremists among them who will only settle for total destruction of Israel, that will not happen. Rather than buy guns, buy books and educate them. rather than kill out of hate, love as you want to be loved. Peace will be possible when both sides see each other as equals. My Palestinian brethren are not all so innocent. I was raised in an anti-Jewish hateful society, but I wanted better for my children. As a Christian American of  Palestinian descent, I support the existence and legitimate right of Israel to exist . The value of human life must be elevated in the Arab world. Arabs must love their children more in order to achieve peace, until then there will be no peace.

We Need Education Reform

posted Apr 21, 2012, 8:30 AM by web master

Any discussion of education reform must start with the realization that the system is broken and in need of reform. In an honest disclosure, I am a member of the American Federation of Teachers and I have been teaching as an adjunct faculty at a New Jersey college for fourteen years. Education reform is not a Republican verses Democrat, or union verse non-union issue. Education reform is a realistic view that the system is not only expensive but is also very broken. This blog answers the question how to reform education in America and give our children the education they deserve and that we pay for. As a businessman, I believe the best way to improve any product and lower its price is competition.  I strongly support school vouchers as the best way to improve schools and give parents the freedom and choice that they deserve. The educational monopoly we currently have is not conducive to a good education and thus is an injustice to the child, parent, and society as a whole. 

The United States spends on education more per student than any other nation in the world. This fact in itself is not the crux of my argument. It’s what we are getting for that very high price tag. It's like buying the most expensive Rolls Royce the dealer has and getting a beat-up Pinto Ford. No offense to Ford, I and my wife both drive Fords. The feeling of getting ripped off is very unsettling. The United States is rated 27th in Math, 33rd in Reading, and 22nd in Science. Did I mention that we spend much more than any other country in the world on Education? Let’s take Germany for example. Germany outscored the United States on all three measures. Germany overall spends less per student than the United States. Yet starting salaries for teachers in Germany are higher than starting salaries for teachers in the United States. I do think we need to rethink tenure and re-evaluate teacher’s performance on a regular basis. I am recommending cutting the duplicative and unnecessary administrative salaries but not teacher's saleries. New Jersey has 600 district superintendents and 21 county superintendents, each with office, staff, budget and a salary between $125,000.00 and $250,000.00. Why not remove the 600 district superintendents and all the curriculum advisors, staff and budgets that come with each one. Such a move would equal hundreds of millions of dollars a year in savings for New Jersey alone. The 21 county superintendents are already in positions to lead their respective counties. Not a single student, teacher, or parent would even notice. Correction, they might notice the funding for music and language studies are back again.

We must look at the funding disparity between Low income and high income school districts. Low income schools districts (Abbott school districts) get significantly more funding than higher income school districts. Although they get more money they still do not perform up to par and have low graduation rates. How is it that some kids are worth more than other kids? Why not give each student the same amount of funding.  For example a set dollar amount of $7,000.00 to $8,000.00 per student irrelevant of district. Most school districts would be able to offset property taxes by a quarter to a third.  Abbott school districts do not need more money, but rather they need a four prong solution. In order to improve the quality of education in Abbott schools we need better supported teachers. Good teachers that are doing a good job should get pay raises and recognition. Teachers who are not performing should be replaced. Parents must also be responsible for their children’s school performance. As a society we have lowered the standards so everyone can pass, that’s not reality. Throwing more money to the problem is not the solution. The United States spends more than any country and New Jersey more than any other state, and we still underperform. To fix the problem we need parents, administration, unions, and government to work together for the greater good of the child, not for the benefit of union, administrators, or special interest groups.  School vouchers are still a valid option that must be considered, it is a parent’s right to place their child at any school of their choosing without having to pay for both.

Why do other countries, developed and developing, outperform the United States on math and science? Money is not the answer to this question. Obviously we already out spend and under perform. The answer is much deeper. The United States use to rank much higher in previous decades. The answer has to do with the breakdown of the American family and society’s diminishing respect for education and educators. Children today, on average, have less supervision, due to divorce and single parent households. It’s not about poverty; it’s about responsibility and respect of parents, teachers and the institutions. In some cases, parents are trying to be best friends with their kids, the kids have friends, and they need parents. In countries that outperform the United States, the parents and students take school much more seriously and education is viewed as a privilege. How do we instill that in our kids? It must first start at home. We must save the American family, reduce fatherless homes, reduce teenage pregnancy, Reduce societies dependence on social services, and raise the standards for academic achievements. Rather than lower the standards so everyone meets them, we should raise the academic standards and lift our students to meet those standards.

The Qarmout Immigration Reform Plan – A Common Sense Solution to a Difficult Problem

posted Feb 24, 2012, 2:07 PM by web master   [ updated Apr 22, 2012, 2:34 PM by Bader George Qarmout ]

Although President Obama joked about the moat and alligators along the border, illegal immigration is not a laughing matter. Some    would be justified in thinking that the president was dismissive regarding  the concerns of millions of Americans, especially those living in border states. Nero may have fiddled when Rome was burning but President Obama campaigns while our country is going down in flames.  What America needs is one less politician, and one more great American to defend and protect this nation. Senator Menendez does not fit that bill. His career may personally benefit from the votes he receives from turning his head from this problem, but America and New Jersey suffer the consequences. As a United States Senator, his priority should be the American people and solving their problems.  In this instance, he is part of the problem.

While President Obama may not know the difference between legal and illegal immigrants, neither does Senator Menendez who prefers to call them “undocumented workers.” Most Americans have no problems with legal immigrants. The problems that most Americans have are with an unsecured border and criminal illegal aliens. 

The term “criminal illegal” aliens are a bit redundant, in that breaking our laws makes you both a criminal and someone who has acted illegally. It should be no surprise that those who enter this country illegally have disregarded other laws as well.  This somewhat redundant term “criminal illegal” refers to an illegal alien who has broken other laws as well our immigration laws. When discussing this issue, it would be wise to remember that the mindset that makes it permissible to break our laws in order to ascertain what you want is not a desirable trait, nor is it the type of person we want to welcome into our country. The argument that these are good people who are seeking a better life for themselves and their families fails to take this moral defect into account. The Qarmout Immigration Reform Plan would differentiate between the criminal and non-criminal illegal aliens. The criminal illegal aliens would be immediately deported.

Before going into detail, it is necessary to stress up front that any illegal alien who indulges in additional criminal activity of any kind while participating in this plan will not be permitted to stay in this country.  The plan does not permit illegal aliens who are participating in this plan to be the beneficiaries of our entitlement programs, nor will any of their children born on our soil during this 10 year period be granted automatic citizenship. It should be noted that this Plan complies with our system of juris prudence that fines lawbreakers and imbues a period of probation upon them as well. 

Immigrants come to America for many reasons. My parents legally brought my siblings and me to this great country for opportunity and freedom of religion. I was born and raised as a Christian in a Muslim country. I understand the “pull” factor of this great nation. I equally can understand the “push” factor in many oppressive and repressive countries. I do not fault anyone who wants to better their lives and the  lives of their family members by coming to America. However, I believe as my parents came legally, so must others. Those who disrespect our laws to gain entry to this great nation corrupt the very principles they risk life and limb to acquire.  When a country’s laws are disregarded for personal gain, and that disregard is not penalized, the entire country is in danger of anarchy.  Senator Menendez does not appreciate the philosophical consequences for this nation when he minimizes the impact the illegal alien invasion has cost us statewide and nationwide. It is virtually impossible for a man who does not recognize the problem to be able to offer a viable solution.

Before I introduce my plan, I believe it is imperative to acknowledge that we have a problem.  Rather than sweep this issue under the rug or pretend we can solve it by deporting over 11 million illegal’s, I have developed a practical and comprehensive plan that both penalizes those who have broken our laws and offers a solution to their dilemma. 

The goal of The Qarmout Immigration Reform Plan is  to offer a practical solution  to  fix a broken system. As a Conservative Republican, I must painfully admit, that even some of my favorite presidents made mistakes regarding illegal immigration. Providing amnesty and leaving the border unsecured was a colossal mistake by Ronald Reagan, arguably the biggest failure of his administration.  However, I recognize that we must move from agonizing over our mistakes to creating solutions.

The first step of my Plan, and should be of any plan, is to secure all borders and ports. America, as all nations, should know who is entering the country and why. I do not know of any sovereign country that does not regulate and secures its borders. Secured borders are a must and a first step. It was the first thing President George W. Bush did when we entered Iraq. A country without border is not a country; it’s only a chaotic piece of geography.

We can deal with the illegal aliens that are here after securing the borders. Some believe that we should round them all up and ship them back. Not going to happen.  It is as impractical as it is overwhelming expensive. It has been estimated that there are approximately 12-18 million illegal adults and 3-8 million illegal children, imports not domestic. Therefore, we need a comprehensive plan to deal with approximately 20 million men, women, and children. 

The Qarmout Plan requires, as a second step, all illegal aliens must register with an officially designated office.  For the purpose of this argument, I will suggest that they go to the nearest United States Post Service Office (USPS) to register. The post office already deals with processing passports, is a federal entity, and thousands of jobs could be saved. Instead of firing employees, the post office would have to hire additional employees and we would be creating legitimate tax generating jobs, which are sorely needed.

The illegal aliens would be required to pay a registration fee of $150.00 per adult and $10.00 per child under 18 years old. The registration application would require the applicant to be photographed and fingerprinted. (The USPS could fill that need for a fee of $20.00 for photo and $23.00 for fingerprinting). After the applications is completed and filed it would be entered into a nationwide database system. At this point the applicant would be issued an alien number similar to an H1 visa. The alien number would be specific to every applicant and would be required in addition to a social security number in every instance a social security number is required. The H1 visa would allow the applicant to work and pay taxes, along with open a bank account and get a driver’s license. The H1 visa would NOT allow the applicant to vote. After the 10 year H1 Visa period the applicant can either return to their country of origin or apply for a Green Card. Green Card holders are NOT allowed to vote in the United States.

At the Beginning of the ten year probation period, the applicant would be required to have a form filled out by his/her sponsoring employer. The sponsoring employer would complete and file the form with the IRS and the state Division of Taxation for their respective state. During this time frame, the employer must pay the applicant  minimum wage, or more, and must also withhold payroll taxes and other state and federal withholdings like any other legal employee. 

Additionally, the applicant must agree to and the employer must also withhold an additional $19.25 per working adult for ten years. The applicant can circumvent this withholding by paying it upfront in one lump sum of $10,000.00 and $1000.00 per child, or could pay the remainder of what is outstanding at anytime. After 10 years of legal employment, no criminal involvement, and paying the corrective amount of $19.25 per week, then the applicant can move to the next phase of this plan. 

After a total of ten years H1 employment, and ten thousand dollars of fines, then the applicant would be eligible to apply for a Green Card, or they can return to their country of origin. This plan should be available for a limited time period, perhaps one year.

The intended goal of The Qarmout Immigration Reform Plan is to fix a broken system and have its beneficiaries pay for it through fines and a probation period.  The total estimate of fees paid to the government would be *$3.15 billion in USPS fees (photo, fingerprint, and application fees) and $150 billion in corrective fees. The $150 billion in corrective fees could to be divided 50/50 between states and the federal government. 

These fees will be proportionately distributed to the federal government to pay for border security and no other purpose. The remainder of the fees will be distributed to the municipalities where the applicants live to reimburse them for the cost of municipal services incurred.

This plan will allow t illegal aliens to come out of the darkness and into the light. When given the opportunity, I believe the majority of illegal aliens would agree to pay the penalty fee of $19.25 per week for ten years and keep working, paying taxes, and staying out of trouble if it gives them the right to apply for a green card. A built in benefit of this plan beyond the additional payroll taxes, is the ability of newly registered aliens to open a bank account and thus more of their earnings would stay in the United States and benefit the American economy. They would also enjoy the protection of our labor laws and would receive at least minimum wages, as all American workers. 

* A total of $10,000.00 per adult, $19.25 per week for ten years, ($15 billion a year for 10 years) That’s a total of $150 Billion over ten years. Total of $1,000.00 (10% of the parent) per child would be added to one parent's withholding to be paid over the first five years equals $500 million dollars.

Fees to be paid upon applying:
Photo $20.00 X 20 million (15 million adults and 5 million kids) = $400 Million
Fingerprint $23.00 X 20 million (15 million adults and 5 million kids) = $460 million
Application fee $150.00 X 15 million adults $2.25Billion (could charge 10.00 per child application fee to generate an additional $50 million)

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