Congress has decided to impose sanctions on Syria, thereby cooperating with the Bush administration’s program for regime change in Damascus and the complete remaking of the Middle East. I think that’s unreasonable, and just another step on a “road to Damascus” that doesn’t lead to Jesus (see Acts 9:3-9) but to more hell à la Iraq.
If one were to propose a modest strategy to resist that effort, one might begin by exploring ways to buy Syrian beer. In doing so one might express solidarity with the Syrian people targeted for attack, while promoting international cultural exchange.
Syrian beer? You ask incredulously. They’re not supposed to have that sort of thing, being Muslims and all. But in fact the Syrians in ancient times pioneered in brewing. Today
10% of the Syrian population is Christian, and there are even small Jewish communities in Damascus and Aleppo; these folks of course face no religious ban on alcohol. Muslims do, theoretically, face such a ban, but Syria (like Saddam’s Iraq) is a secular state, and the government so vilified by the Bush administration could care less if good Muslims want to chug down a couple cold ones on a hot day while watching the World Cup or washing the car, or whatever.
Now, I can’t give specific information about how to order Syrian beer, because I’m a law-abiding citizen, and I know that while Syria retains diplomatic representation in Washington it’s still considered a “terror-sponsoring” nation, and I’m aware that according to some extremely vague and stupid laws in this country, if I give “material support” to a “terrorist organization” (which is whatever the government wants that to be) I could be arrested just for advocating Syrian beer consumption. I mean, even though the bill hasn’t gone into effect yet, they could say that the Syrian breweries I’m suggesting one might hypothetically patronize (see how carefully I’m choosing my words?) are connected to terrorism (just because they’re Syrian), and so my suggestion itself would be advocacy of terrorism. I have a wife and kids, so I can’t do more than what I’m doing here, which is to suggest you surf the net and pursue the theoretical possibility of procuring some Syrian brews to share with your friends; show your solidarity with the good, decent innocent people of the next neocon-targeted nation; and generate in your next back-yard barbecue some discussion of the complexity of the world the Manichaean Bushites want to split neatly in two. Just imagine:
“Whatcha got there?” Your neighbor will ask curiously.
“Oh, this? Pretty decent lager.”
“What’s the writing on it?”
“Arabic. It’s a Syrian brew, actually.”
“No shit. They don’t drink in those countries.”
“Sure ‘nuf they do. They invented the stuff, y’know”
“Not! Germans invented beer.”
“Wrong. Arabs were brewing it a thousand years before the first European chugged it down from a drinking horn…”
Then, seizing the opportunity to politically educate your friend, you can go on to explain that the Baathist Party governing Syria (and Saddam’s Iraq) is committed to secularism, which means not enforcing Islamic law, and maybe drive home the more important point that these secularists targeted by the religious fundamentalists now in power in the U.S. (who often lie, very deliberately, about the Middle East) actually have nothing to do with al-Qaeda and its program.
If I were to advise you on how to acquire your Syrian beer (which again I won’t do, lest I violate some anti-terrorism law), I’d suggest you first go to the website www.bottledbeer.co.uk and become familiar with the Syrian products available. Reviewer Silk Tork is harsh on Barada, which he judges a “foul, sewerage filled trickle,” but some of your friends and neighbors might like that, everybody being different. Al-Chark on the other hand is (in Tork’s estimation) “a wonderful beerastonishingly excellent,” flavored with pineapple and grapefruit. Just 4.6% alcohol. It sounds to me rather like a Sam Adams Summer Ale, but I haven’t tried it yet. I haven’t found information on Dunia, a Syrian Pilsner, but I’m sure with some web-surfing you can get details.
I can’t find, on the net, an easy way to order cases of al-Chark. So if Syria weren’t being targeted for the neocons; and if I didn’t risk arrest for supporting terrorism in so doing, I’d suggest the following procedure. Fax the Syrian Embassy in Washington (there still is one) at 202-234-9548. Write something like:
To whom it may concern:
I am interested in acquiring information about how to legally procure the beer labeled “al-Chark” produced in your country, which I understand has a fine international reputation. I would like to buy at least one case, not only to expand my knowledge of world beers in doing so, but to also take a stand against the thoroughly unfair, bellicose policies that the government ruling my country is taking towards yours.
I would greatly appreciate any help you could lend me in this cultural exchange activity.
With all best wishes to the Syrian people,
I don’t know if it will be possible to order directly from Syria. Maybe the embassy will point you to some European or Canadian distributors.
GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org