Syrian dissident’s treatment creates disincentive to dialogue


A prominent Syrian dissident has been told he cannot get political asylum in the United States because he organized a conference with Syrian opposition groups — even though the American government has supported members of those same groups in the Syrian civil war. The case of the dissident, Radwan Ziadeh, 41, who lives in a suburb of Washington, reveals a stark gap between American immigration law and foreign policy, The New York Times reports:

Ever since counterterrorism provisions were expanded after the Sept. 11 attacks, the United States government has considered many armed opposition groups around the world, including some that it backs diplomatically or financially, to be “undesignated terrorist organizations.” Anyone who provides “material support” to those groups can be disqualified from receiving immigration papers.

Mr. Ziadeh is a prominent political opponent of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. He has received fellowships at Harvard, Georgetown and the United States Institute of Peace, which is funded by Congress. He has testified in Congress, written books and served briefly as a spokesman for the Syrian opposition umbrella group that the American government supported.

The decision to deny asylum to Ziadeh, a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, is “appalling,” said PEN America Executive Director Suzanne Nossel.

“Ziadeh is a leading Washington-based Syrian dissident who has worked tirelessly for years to draw attention to his country’s conflict, provide policymakers and civil society with an informed perspective, and bring together individuals and groups to try to find solutions,” she said. “If this decision stands, the U.S. will be turning its back on an upstanding individual who has used the freedom and safety that are the foundations of our democracy to stand up against terror and to defend human rights.”

The Department of Homeland Security notified Ziadeh that because he provided “material support” to the Free Syrian Army, he has “engaged in terrorist activity.” By the same standard, thousands of CIA, State Department, Pentagon and White House officials should be jailed, argues analyst James Bovard.

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