03-27-2011 by L. S. Carbonell
Syrian security forces have arrested a second American in their crack-down on the protests sweeping across their country. As reported earlier this week, Vermont Pathid “Tik” Root was arrested while observing a demonstration in Damascus. The State Department has informed his family that Tik is in jail and is safe. The situation for Mohammed Radwan of Austin, Texas, is considerably more difficult.
Syrians state news has announced that Radwan, who holds dual U.S.-Egyptian citizenship, confessed to trying to seel photos and videos of the demonstrations to a Colombian. They have also accused him of visiting Israel, a crime in Syria where a state of war with Israel is still in effect. Syria has been trying desperately to control videos coming out of the demonstrations. The government has also tried to sell the standard propaganda that the demonstrations are being incited by foreigners, drug dealers, al Qaida…whoever they can think of. President Assad is due to finally speak to the nation today.
Radwan is an engineer who has been working in Syria. His cousin, Nora Salaby, has told the Associated Press that she last heard from him on Friday when he tweeted from a mosque in Damascus during a clash between protesters and the government.
Ever since the cell phone video of the death of Neda Agha Solton in Tehran went viral two years ago, the regimes in the Middle East have consistently tried to stop information getting out of their countries and just as consistently proven how little they understand about the digital age. The regimes are still functioning in broadcast radio and television and print press, while their citizens are on Facebook, Twitter, the Net, cell phones and satellites. The only area in which the disconnect between the regimes and modern communication may play to the regime’s advantage is in rural Libya. The shear size of the desert and lack of cell towers works for controlling information there, but there is no information if the tribes which live away from the Mediterranean coast are hooked up to satellites. It was a shock to our intelligence services to discover that Osama bin Laden was communicating with the world on satellite phones.
Tik Root’s parents have released a statement saying “We very much appreciate the efforst of Ambassador Imad Moustapha [of Syria] and Senator Patrick Leahy in continuing to work to bring this complex situation to a resolution. Please know how much we value everyone’s good wishes and hopes.”
The State Department, through spokesman Mark Toner, said that the United States is aware of the situation with both young men and our embassy in Damascus will continue to work for more information and a resolution.
In one of those ironies that have marked the uprisings in the Middle East, Root was studying, first in Egypt and then in Damascus, to learn more about Middle Eastern culture so that he could return to the United States and work to ameliorate the misinformation and prejudices in our country about Muslims and the realities in the region.