Sunday, August 12, 2007

Perhaps it was the Genie in the Lamp?

A number of Arabic-language newspapers and websites over the last few days have featured translations of Joshua Landis and Joe Pace’s article “The Syrian Opposition” – which appeared in English in the Autumn 2006 edition of The Washington Quarterly (TWQ). In the article, Landis cites my March 2006 article on the Syrian opposition as the source for his claim that dissident Michel Kilo met with the Muslim Brotherhood in February 2005. In TWQ’s latest edition, I requested a written clarification on what I feel is an erroneous citation. It is pasted below.

What happened to the “interview with anonymous” Landis cited in his response to Michael Young on this issue last spring (which Landis cc’ed to me at the time) is anyone’s guess. But the interview certainly wasn’t with me. Perhaps it was the genie in the lamp?

My article and emails on this matter hardly contain enough evidence on which to base such an accusation. To my knowledge, no journalist or researcher in any language confirms the rumor. I could not confirm it either – and therefore have never stated such a claim as fact.

I am grateful to the TWQ for their patience in helping me sort fact from fiction on this issue. I also appreciate the support given to me by journalists and researchers in Syria and elsewhere while I quietly sorted through this unfortunate incident – one that I feel only undermines the integrity of reporting and research on Syria.

Letters to the editor

On ‘The Syrian Opposition’
© 2007 by The Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology
The Washington Quarterly • 30:4 pp. 157–159.

Dear Dr. Lennon,
In the Winter 2006-07 edition of The Washington Quarterly, Joshua Landis and Joe Pace wrote in the article “The Syrian Opposition” that in February 2005 the then-arrested and now-imprisoned Syrian civil society activist Michel Kilo met with Syrian Muslim Brotherhood Chief Ali Sadreddin al-Bayanouni in Morocco and Europe. The authors attributed the meeting to my March 2006 report on the Syrian opposition entitled “Democracy to the Rescue” for the Institute of Current World Affairs.
However, my article only cited that “two unnamed members of the Syrian Committee for the Revival of Civil Society” flew to Morocco to meet Bayanouni. In a subsequent email exchange with Landis following Kilo’s arrest by the Syrian authorities in May 2006 for his work with the opposition, I did not confirm Kilo’s alleged meeting with Bayanouni.
This is a sensitive subject in Syria. Membership in the Muslim Brotherhood is punishable by death under Syrian law, and association of Syrians with the organization is strictly prohibited. To my knowledge, no other journalist or researcher has confirmed the alleged meeting.
During subsequent email correspondences on the matter, Landis said he made the allegation based on an interview with an “anonymous” source. Landis claims a line reading “interview with anonymous” in the footnote citing my article was removed by TWQ editors prior to publication.
I do not claim Landis’ accusation directly led to Kilo’s conviction, but given the fact that he was in state custody at the time, the sensitivity of the matter is obvious. Following his arrest, Kilo was charged with “provoking religious and racial dissent, insulting official institutions, weakening national sentiment, damaging the image of the state and exposing Syria to the danger of aggression.”
On May 13, 2007, Kilo was sentenced to three years imprisonment on charges of “weakening national sentiment.”

I request a clarification on this matter in the pages of your respected journal.

Andrew Tabler
Institute of Current World Affairs

Dear Dr. Lennon,
The publication of Joe Pace’s and my article on the Syrian opposition in the Winter 2006-07 issue of The Washington Quarterly has stirred up a controversy, focusing on whether Michel Kilo, one of the central architects of the secular Syrian opposition, traveled to Morocco in February 2005 to meet with leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood in an effort to unify Syria’s splintered opposition and agree on the principles of what became the October 2005 Damascus Declaration, as we had written.
When I was preparing to write this article, I emailed Andrew Tabler for confirmation of Kilo’s role as an architect of the Damascus Declaration. Andrew had already written a fine article on the opposition, describing the Morocco trip without saying who had gone on it. In the course of the e-mail exchange, Andrew kindly offered to help with questions and responded to me, among other things, that: “According to several people I interviewed, Kilo was the guy who went to Morocco and met with Bayanouni in [February] 2005.”Ali Sadreddin Bayanouni is the head of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.
I was grateful to get what I believed to be this confirmation of Kilo’s central role from Andrew and to find out that “several” activists he had interviewed had told him “Kilo was the guy who went to Morocco.” I wrote to ask how I might credit him for his help and if he would co-author. He wrote back: “just give me some kind of special credit in the footnotes. That would be enough for me.” I understood this as confirmation that Kilo went to Morocco and that I could use it in my article if I credited Andrew. I cited his published article, but did not mention our email exchange. I should have.
I am aware of no one who denies that Kilo went to Morocco, but beyond the controversy about whether he did or about footnotes, in my mind, is a separate question: whether I should have written what I did as the Syrian government was cracking down on the opposition. The following is my rationale:
First, the Syrian authorities already knew who had traveled to Morocco long before our article was published. They had Kilo and other leading activists under investigation, had their passports, and would simply have had to look to see who had Morocco stamps in them. Second, Michel Kilo did not try to hide his role as one of the central architects of the Damascus Declaration or subsequent declarations. Like most other brave reformers, he tried to get as much coverage for the opposition as he could to build public consciousness and pressure on the government.
I believe that it is better to raise public awareness of his central role in trying to knit together a viable Syrian opposition at great risk to his freedom. Not only do I believe it corresponds more closely to Kilo’s own efforts, but I also believe that only public pressure is likely to gain his release from jail.
Joshua Landis
Damascus, Syria

Editor’s Reply
The Washington Quarterly, as with many journals, is unfortunately not able to independently verify citations in its published articles. Authors are responsible for appropriate citations for any facts or quotations their pieces contain.
In this particular case, the original 12,000-word draft of “The Syrian Opposition” originally contained 134 endnotes, and the final 9,000-word version had 69 endnotes. Through the editorial process, it is certainly possible that an additional reference to an anonymous interview in the endnote was misplaced along the way.
According to our records, however, neither the original submitted draft nor the revised draft contained a reference to an anonymous interview in this specific endnote. In the e-mail sent with the author’s final edits to the page proofs, the author inserted the full citation of the reference to Andrew Tabler’s newsletter but not to an anonymous interview.
We thank both Andrew Tabler and Joshua Landis for their clarifications in this case and apologize for any error on our part.
Alexander T. J. Lennon

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