Sanctioning Messenger Dr. Bouthainia Shaaban Assaults American Values – OpEd


As part of its 7th set of US sanctions against Syria, which began in June, 2011, the Obama administration has targeted a messenger, a sometime spokeswoman, a positive image of Syria, someone people of all religions and cultures have easily identified with over the past several years, Dr. Bouthainia Shaaban. The US administration acted thus for the sole purpose of pressuring the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, but has succeeded in undermining American values of freedom of expression much more.

On August 28, 2011, the US Treasury and State Departments targeted Dr. Bouthainia Shaaban, and froze any assets she might have in the US.

According to State Department spokesman, Victoria Nuland, who two US Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffers speculate may view Dr. Shaaban as a rival of sorts given their job descriptions, and Dr. Shaaban’s stellar performances during meetings with US officials both in the US and Syria, the explanation for blacklisting a Syrian nationalist and media advisor remains: “She (Dr. Shaaban) has served as the public mouthpiece for the repression of the regime.”

No US official to date has stepped forward to defend the sanctions against Dr. Shaaban with any more substantive or detailed complaint or supporting evidence.

Theodore Kattouf, former US ambassador to Syria was reportedly astonished to see Dr. Shaaban’s name on the latest sanctions list and he expressed on television his regret for such a bad decision. Former Ambassador Kattouf explained that sanctioning Dr.Shaaban was a serious mistake because Dr. Shaaban is well known of her positive and constructive attitudes and positions against wars and injustices and bloodshed.

True, Dr. Shaaban, among several others, is a trusted advisor to the Syrian administration. She presumably offers counsel and insights; perhaps much like Theodore Sorenson did for President John Kennedy, and Bill Moyers for Lyndon Johnson. But she is not and has never been a decision maker. Presumably her advice is considered, but who knows to what degree. Which advisor is also a key decision maker?

Surely the Obama administration knows well that when any person occupies a position as media advisor or even press secretary, he/she speaks for and explains the policy of the administration he’s working for. To sanction them violates American notions and values of freedom of expression and immunity from harassment for performing a vital job that benefits all by way of clear understanding and communication of a country’s position on political, social, and economic issues of the day.

Dr. Shaaban’s background is well known to recent US administrations and also much appreciated according to Washington sources. She is known as an independent thinker, reformer, writer, University Professor (she taught in Eastern Michigan for two years and earned her PhD from Warwick University in the UK and was a Fulbright Scholar at Duke University (1990-1991) and received prestigious McCandless Professorship at Eastern Michigan University for 2000. She is known for her ability and willingness to take a minority position, if her evaluation of the facts of a case or issue leads her there, and is never reluctant to speak truth to power. Her writings, many of which have appeared in the left of center Counterpunch ( always advance positions against wars, violence and occupation.

The Obama administration knows that Dr. Shaaban has no account in the US, earns a modest salary, is the wife of the manager of the Syrian Estabishment for Food Indurstry and this ‘sanction’ is designed solely to harm her excellent reputation that she has earned during the past couple of decades. When pressed for details of her assets both the US Treasury, and State Department spokeswoman Nuland only offered: “Let’s just leave it at that.”, whatever that is supposed to mean.

Dr. Shaaban’s office avers that she has very few assets at all and certainly none in the US.

“Bouthainia connects with people” according to a US Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer who has met with her: “Whether with Hamas or Saudi Princes, and both know her views on full rights for women and justice for Palestinians, and with American officials too she is effective.”

For some of these reasons the US treasury and State departments have targeted her and the Obama administration, largely it appears, out of ignorance, according to Congressional sources, said, “Ok, if you think is a good idea go ahead.”

It was not a good idea. Attacking Mrs. Shabaan is a low blow and disgraceful by any standards and especially for one who is a very positive force helping bridge several divides between East and West.

President Obama erred in signing off on this mistake.

On losing her father last May, Dr. Shabaan wrote to an American friend, words that reflect both Syrian and American values and says something about this scholar and humanist.

“Dear Franklin,

“I was so touched with your message of condolences; it was so kind of you. Thank you very much. I was fortunate enough to look after my ailing mother for 7 years and after my father for the same period and then for a year and a half before the passing away of my father. I would like to say this is the most important and the most valuable and pleasurable thing I have ever done.

As Muslims we are requested in the Holy Quran to look after our aging parents and never to say a word to them that may hurt their feelings and this comes as second in importance only to believing in God and worshipping Him. In this sense I believe no parents should be sent to senior homes as their most desperate need is for love and affection and not only for food and bread I am so comforted that they lived happily and with integrity and I was an instrument to that. I want to write more about this very important aspect of human life in the future.

Thank you so much again and hope to see you soon in Syria.

Best wishes,

Bouthaina Shaaban”

The White House attacked a friend of America and of all people of good will. It needlessly assaulted a symbol of the great country of Syria, the great Syrian people, their history, culture, resistance values, profound dignity, and their decency.

In so doing the Obama Administration sullied American values and doubtless does not represent American values or the will of the American people. It did undermine American values of freedom of expression and compromised American notions of fair play and American legal norms of substantial justice.

Would that President Obama will immediately reverse this ill-considered action.

Franklin Lamb

Franklin Lamb, a former Assistant Counsel of the US House Judiciary Committee at the US Congress and Professor of International Law at Northwestern College of Law in Oregon, earned his Law Degree at Boston University and his LLM, M.Phil, and PhD degrees at the London School of Economics. Following three summers at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Lamb was a visiting fellow at the Harvard Law School’s East Asian Legal Studies Center where he specialized in Chinese Law. He was the first westerner allowed by the government of China to visit the notorious “Ward Street” Prison in Shanghai. Lamb is doing research in Lebanon and works with the Palestine Civil Rights Campaign-Lebanon and the Sabra-Shatila Foundation. His new book, The Case for Palestinian Civil Rights in Lebanon, is due out shortly.

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