The Difference between People and Policy

Dec 302008

By Eiad Wannous

There are several reasons why joining the Election Program, which was administrated by the International Center for Journalists, was a great experience for me. These reasons are related to the structure of the program, its timing, and the staff in charge of it. However, there are other issues which affected my participation.

Being from Syria, I have been hearing a great deal of speeches and reading many analyses about American democracy. The program has offered me the opportunity to visit the USA for the first time, and consequently it offered me a first-hand experience with the American election system and its democratic mechanism.

The program included three days of orientation in Washington, a ten-day attachment for every couple of journalists to a media outlet in one of the “battleground” states, then two days in Washington after the election. This structure allowed the participants to be part of the atmosphere the USA was experiencing during the last two weeks of one of its historical elections.

In other words, in this program I had the opportunity to explore whether all those speeches I heard or read were true or not. In fact there is no perfect or ideal democratic system in the world, but I must admit that the USA has the best system at the moment, when it comes to domestic issues only, such as elections.

Being an analyst meant that I was not interested in the day-to-day news of the election. I was rather interested in the issues happening on the “backstage”. In fact, I found several interesting subjects to write about, all of which interest Syrian readers, such as the impact of racism on an election that had an African-American candidate for the first time, what role the Arabic-American minority had in the US election, and the impact of economic crises over foreign policies on American voters in this election compared to previous elections.

In addition, the staff that was in charge of this program was not only professional, but also well informed about the various cultures the participants represented. They were also very supportive. I did not experience any problem during my visit, but I knew that some of the participants did, and they received all assistance they needed to have their problems solved. That is to say, the staff of this program was the most important factor in making this program, which was implemented for the first time this year, successful indeed.

It is important to mention that the staff at the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper that I was attached too was also just amazing, both for their own professional coverage of the election, and for their great hospitality. In fact, working with them and getting to know more about American people through them was a great experience.

However, I experienced a few issues that affected my participation in the program. One of those issues was the American aggressive raid on my country, Syria, just a few days after the program started. It did not only undermine the importance of the election for the newspaper I work for and for Syrian people, but also for me, considering that seven innocent civilians died in that raid.

Taking into account the kindness and warm hospitality I saw in all Americans I met during the program left me with a big question: why Americans who are gentle and kind have such aggressive foreign policy? And my short visit to the USA this time did not provide me any answer for that.

The writer is editor and analyst for Political Affairs at Al Watan newspaper in Damascus, Syria.