Thursday, August 12, 2010

Syria's National Morale — or Morass

My father would have turned 79 tomorrow.

He died on October 7, 2007 from complications of liver disease — a condition he somehow came down with even though he hardly ever consumed alcohol. He served as a Lutheran minister for 38 years, preaching the word, baptizing those new to the faith, burying the dead, conducting marriages, visiting the sick, and doing all the many other things pastors do to equip the saints.

I miss him every day.

With my dad in the back of my mind, I happened to hear about a 79-year-old human rights lawyer in Syria being sentenced to three years in prison for supposedly “weakening national morale.” Haitham Maleh had spent six years as a political prisoner in the 1980s. This did not deter him, however, from decades of advocacy for an end to emergency rule in Syria.

Amnesty International decried the sentence and described Maleh as a prisoner of conscience for his criticism of the corruption and one-party rule of the Ba’ath party, which has banned all opposition since it took power in 1963.

Maleh is not the only human rights activist who has been imprisoned. Mohannad al-Hassani, a 43-year-old lawyer, was also jailed for three years on similar charges.

Neither Maleh nor Hassani should be in prison. One reason I support Amnesty International is that it keeps their personal stories and political commitments live, despite the unjust imprisonment.

Given the grim conditions in Syrian prisons and the ineluctable effects of age, Haitham Maleh may or may not leave prison alive. But he's fighting the good fight, just as my father did in his own ministry. In the words of the epitaph written by civil rights pioneer Jackie Robinson, as engraved on his tombstone, "A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives."

By that measure or any other, Haitham Maleh's life is important. As was my father's.

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