Robin Yassin-Kassab

About Qunfuz

with 62 comments

Qunfuz is the Arabic word for ‘hedgehog’ or ‘porcupine’.

I am Robin Yassin-Kassab, author of The Road From Damascus, a novel published by Hamish Hamilton and Penguin, and by il Saggiatore in Italy. Co-written with Leila al-Shami, our non-fiction book Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War is published by Pluto Press and distributed in the US by Chicago University Press. The book was shortlisted for the 2017 Folio Prize. Books I’ve contributed to include Syria Speaks, Shifting Sands, and Beta-Life: Stories from an A-Life Future. My journalism on Syria, and book reviews, have appeared at the Guardian, the National, Foreign Policy, the Daily Beast, Newsweek, al-Jazeera, and elsewhere, and I’ve spoken on radio and television including the BBC, Channel 4 and al-Jazeera. These days I often write essays and sometimes short stories for the Critical Muslim, a quarterly journal that looks like a book, published by Hurst.

Robin Yassin-Kassab by Kim Ayres

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

June 17, 2009 at 4:38 pm

62 Responses

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  1. A single article of yours was enough to know you. Proud to have rationale among Muslims too.

    Rashid Aurakzai

    October 4, 2009 at 6:44 pm

  2. A spiffing blog with great politics!


    December 29, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    • thank you, Baba

      Robin Yassin-Kassab

      January 8, 2013 at 10:14 pm

      • Why you left facebook.

        Rashid Orakzai

        February 2, 2015 at 10:57 am

  3. Sorry not to give my surname, but googling my full name comes up with hundreds of entries from sites I’ve had contact with for one reason or another and I so now I’m careful to avoid adding to the list.

    I’m writing to say that ‘The Road To Damascus’ is one of my all time favourite books. My copy is now with Al-Aqsa University in Gaza. I collected 160 books – mostly from Dr Eid of Al-Aqsa University’s ‘Right To Read’ campaign (see http://www.freegaza.org) – and they were delivered by the drivers of the 2 vehicles we sent from the Isle of Wight to Gaza with the recent Viva Palestina convoy.

    It was very difficult for me to part with The Road From Damascus – but I am in the fortunate position that I can buy another copy, which is unlikely to be the case in Gaza.

    I was delighted to read your review of ‘My Father Was A Freedom Fighter’ (on Electronic Intifada), as I’ve been wondering whether to buy this book and have now placed an order. To avoid emotional exhaustion I like to intersperse such subject matter with a bit of black humour – most recently Bulgakov and Kurkov – and this mixture of serious subject matter with humorous insights is one of the things I appreciated so much in ‘Road From Damascus’. I enjoyed the bits of quantum physics too. Thanks also for putting me on to ‘Footnotes On Gaza’ – which I’ve also ordered today.

    If you ever have reason to travel in the direction of the Isle of Wight, let me know. We have a lot of support from people turning out for talks (can be as many as 1 in 1,000 of the population – tho’ that’s only 130!), but it’s always a struggle to get people to then take any other action. I find it surprising that people will trek across the Island by bus in appalling weather, to attend a talk, but then won’t click on a link to send something to our MP. I realise now that I’ve probably put you off the idea of a visit – but, nevertheless, do let me know if you ever have a reason to travel to the south coast.

    All the best,


    March 6, 2010 at 11:17 am

  4. Very interesting. if you want to read a nice articles about Mahmoud Darwish you can come here: http://hookipedia.com/mahmoud-darwish-and-palestinian-literature/


    April 26, 2010 at 9:43 am

  5. I enjoyed your post on Dr. Said and read some of your other writing. You have a fine way with words and I look forward to future posts. I also hope to find your book here in Japan.


    April 26, 2010 at 11:58 pm

  6. Hi Robin

    Nice to finally remember to get a look at your site. I found it very interesting, a really personal insight into the magnitude of these troubles. I have visited only Israel and Dubai in that area myself. Israel frightened the monkeys out of me honestly, especially Jerusalem. I was working at the next desk to an Israeli at the time and I have to say I found his outlook rather troubling. I was just on a package holiday in southern Israel but it is the only place I have ever had the opportunity to hold and fire a handgun. Possibly the most terrifying experience of my life. Seeing the young boys and girls walking around with their AK47s and hearing the stories of my co-worker’s compulsory national service made me shudder to my core. One can only imagine what it must be like to grow up there amidst that level of indoctrination.
    Dubai just made me feel really really sad when I saw the conditions the slaves had to live and work in as I’ve said to you before, but it seems like a luxurious life they live now having read your accounts of the Palestinians.
    Well, I shall bring my thoughts back now to Scotland and the relative beauty and safety that we reside in. Nice to see you and the kids last night on Halloween, hope to run into you again sometime soon and have some more time to chat.
    Take Care

    Kevin Startup

    November 1, 2010 at 12:17 pm

  7. Hi Robin,

    I just read your article that was posted on Al-Jazeera. Very interesting but yet very sad. I hate to say this but as an Arab we deserve this melchonic chapter in our history. This whole situation could have been avoided in the begining of the twentith century. Currently the situation is worse when their corrupt Arab leaders that rule Arab regimes and suppress their subjects to express modern political thought that would help take the Arab World from the “Dark Ages.” In order for the Palestinian problem to be resolved its time for Arab subjects as well as Arab leaders to think as one to resolve all of the crisis that Middle East is facing.

    Rana El-Deek

    November 15, 2010 at 7:29 pm

  8. hi
    I’m one of your students when you were teaching in Oman.
    I haven’t got the chance to express how much I appreciate your discussions in the class.
    I was telling my literature teacher, Prof.Roscoe, about you and he told me that he read about your book. He finds the title quite interesting in which you converted “The Road to Damascus” into “from Damascus”.
    I’m eager to read your book.

    Good luck


    December 3, 2010 at 11:10 am

  9. Hello Kevin, and hello Rajaa! How are you? The road from D was my fourth choice of title after
    1 Sami Traifi’s summer (the agent didnt like it)
    2 The Traitor (the publisher didnt like it)
    3 Bread Hashish and Moon (Nizar Qabbani’s estate wouldn’t let me use it).
    but, yes, the ‘from’ Damascus reverses St Paul’s conversion..

    Robin Yassin-Kassab

    December 13, 2010 at 5:30 pm

  10. Dear Robin:
    A friend recommended “The Road from Damascus”. I am glad she did. Although, when I requested it from a distant library, I received one by the same title. I did not pay attention to the sub-title of the book I received, and that the author was someone else.
    I skimmed though it and was surprised that my friend who knows my taste and I trust hers, would recommend such a book.
    I am glad to get yours finally. I read it non-stop. I could not do anything but just read.
    Thanks so much.
    I am recommending it to local libraries and to the book club I attend.
    Thanks for great work.


    January 26, 2011 at 10:43 pm

    • thank you, Ghada. It’s very good to hear that.

      Robin Yassin-Kassab

      January 27, 2011 at 1:23 am

  11. Why Syria’s Christians Should Not Support the Asad Regime

    By: Elie Elhadj

    At the Dormition of Our Lady Greek Catholic cathedral in Old Damascus, Father Elias Debii raises his hands to heaven and prays for divine protection for embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.[i] Bishop Philoxenos Mattias, a spokesman for the Syriac Orthodox Church said: “We are with the government and against these movements that oppose it”.[ii]

    Those among Syria’s Christian clerics and civic leaders who publicly support the Asad regime are short sighted. They are courting long-term disaster for themselves and their congregations. Why? Because, the Asad regime will not remain in power forever; it is immoral to support non-representative unjust rule; the Asad clan’s exploitation of Sunni Islam has emboldened Islamism and thwarted the development of secularism in Syria; and because scaremongering for blackmail legitimacy will not work forever. The following explains each reason.

    The Asad regime will not remain in power forever

    Since the March 8, 1963 military coup d’état against the democratically elected parliament and government of President Nazim al-Qudsi, an unelected minority of the Alawite Asad clan has been ruling Syria with an iron fist; notwithstanding, those seven uncontested referendums for the two Asad presidents.

    In addition to impoverishing Syria; despite billion of dollars in oil revenues[iii], the regime has committed horrific atrocities—extra-judicial killings of hundreds of Muslim Brothers detainees in the Palmyra prison in 1980, mass murder in 1982 of between 3,000 citizens, according to the regime’s apologists, and 38,000 [iv] in the city of Hama, let alone the torture of residents at the slightest suspicion and the disappearance of opponents. The killing of more than 1,000 demonstrators during the seven weeks since the March 26, 2011 popular uprising adds to the regime’s grim catalogue of human rights violations.[v]

    Such a system of governance is unsustainable. It cannot last forever. When the day of reckoning will come, the support that certain priests and civic leaders had given to the regime will place all Christians in danger.

    It cannot be predicted when the Asad regime might fall. However, should the demonstrations become larger and spread to downtown Damascus and Aleppo, the demonstrators could overwhelm the security forces; rendering a Hama or a Palmyra type atrocity impossible. If the demonstrations get bigger, more Sunni clerics would join the uprising. Ultimately, even the Sunni palace ulama could turn against their benefactor president.

    There is no love lost between Sunnis and Alawites on a religious level. Accommodation between the Asad regime and Sunni palace ulama is a matter of convenience. Orthodox Sunnis regard Alawites as heretics. Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328), condemned the Alawites as being more dangerous than the Christians, and encouraged Muslims to conduct jihad against them.[vi] Likewise, Alawites despise Sunnis. To Alawites, the howls of jackals that can be heard at night are the souls of Sunni Muslims calling their misguided co-religionists to prayer. [vii]

    If parts of the army, which is a conscripted institution, would refuse killing demonstrators or if the army would stand up to the republican guards and the intelligence brigades, then the regime might very well collapse.

    It is immoral to support non-representative unjust rule

    That leading priests of certain Syrian churches publicly support the Asad dictatorship does not reflect well on the sense of justice, morality, or benevolence of the priests. It is not very Christian for priests to abandon their duty to stand up to oppression, corruption, and injustice.

    There might be an argument in favour of tolerating an illegitimate dictatorship if the dictator were benevolent. But, Mr. Asad’s dictatorship is neither legitimate nor benevolent.
    For some priests and civic leaders to publicly embrace short-term convenience and abandon long-term security and defense of justice and human rights can be very expensive for the Christian community as a whole. Syria’s Sunni majority will forever remember Christians’ support of Mr. Asad’s misrule. A thousand years later, the memories of Christian and Alawite support of the Crusades are still vivid in the collective consciousness of Sunnis.

    The Asad clan’s exploitation of Sunni Islam emboldened Islamism and impeded the development of secularism in Syria

    Islamism has been gaining strength over the recent decades, thanks to the Asad clan’s strategy of exploiting Sunni Islam to prolong their hold on power.

    That the regime and its apologists and propagandists describe Mr. Asad’s rule as ”secular” is an exaggeration, if not false. The Asad regime is neither secular nor sincere in its promotion of the Sunni creed. Since their seizure of absolute power more than four decades ago, the Asad government did not secularize Syria in the slightest. Syria of 2011 is no less Islamic than Syria of 1963.

    Exploiting Sunni Islam, together with the excesses of the ruling elite, corruption, abuse of human rights, poverty, and unemployment have been driving increasing numbers of young men and women to extremism. The longer this situation continues, the more fertile the ground will become for Islamism to grow.

    Here is how the Asad dynasty has been impeding the development of secularism in Syria and exploiting Sunni Islam.

    Article 3.1 of the Syria constitution makes Islam the necessary religion of the president. Christians are barred from the country’s highest political office. Article 3.2 makes Islam as “a main source” of legislation.

    Seventh century Shari’a laws and courts are in force in personal status, family, and inheritance affairs (Christians follow their own archaic religious courts). Shari’a law is the antithesis of the liberal laws of the modern age. It denies women legal rights compared with Muslim men. It impinges on women’s human rights. Shari’a law reduces the status of women to that of chattel—a Muslim man can marry four wives, divorce any one of them without giving reason (with limited child custody rights, housing, or alimony), a Muslim woman is prohibited from marrying a non-Muslim man while the Muslim man is allowed to marry non-Muslim women, a woman cannot pass her nationality on to her foreign husband and children while the man can, “honour killing” of a woman by a male relative results in a light sentence for murder, and two women equal one man in legal testimony, witness, and inheritance. Such maltreatment of one half of Syria’s society is in spite of the regime’s energetic attempts to project an image of secularism, modernity, and equality between the genders.

    The Islamic curriculum in Syria’s elementary, middle, and high schools teaches Muslim Sunni Islam regardless of the Islamic sect to which they belong. The textbooks are discriminatory, divisive, and intolerant of non-Muslims.[viii]

    More mosques, bigger congregations, and more veiled women than ever before have become the order of the day in Syrian cities. To flaunt his Islamic credentials, President Bashar Asad even ordered a special rain prayer throughout Syria’s mosques performed on December 10, 2010 in order for God to send rain.

    Following the March 2011 violent demonstrations, Mr. Asad acted to gain support from the Sunni palace ulama and mollify the Sunni street. The popular Sunni cleric Muhammad Saiid al-Bouti praised Mr. Asad’s response to many of the requests submitted by a number of Sunni clerics. In his weekly religious program on April 5, 2011 on Syrian government television, Sheikh al-Bouti applauded Mr. Asad’s permission to allow niqab-wearing (black face cover) female teachers; transferred in July 2010 to desk duties[ix], to return to classrooms. Sheikh al-Bouti had attributed the drought in December 2010 to the transfer from classrooms of the niqab-wearing female teachers. Sheikh al-Bouti also praised Mr. Asad for the formation of the Sham Institute for Advanced Shari’a Studies and Research, and for the establishment of an Islamic satellite television station dedicated to proclaiming the message of true Islam.[x] Also, the first and only casino, which had enraged orthodox clerics when it opened on New Year’s Eve, was closed as well.[xi]

    Why exploit Islam and fight secularism?

    To rule Sunni dominated Syria, it would be helpful to the Asad clan to uphold the influence of Sunni Islam instead of wading in the muddy waters of Shari’a reform and secularization, even if that meant throwing the Baath Party’s constitution away.

    Islam is helpful to Muslim rulers. Not only in Syria, other Arab regimes (except Lebanon and Tunisia) exploit Islam to stay in power.[xii] Islam demands obedience of Muslims to the Muslim ruler.

    The Quran, the Prophetic Sunna, and opinions of famous jurists enjoin Muslims to obey the Muslim ruler blindly. In 4:59, the Quran orders: “Obey God and obey God’s messenger and obey those of authority among you.” Answering how a Muslim should react to a ruler who does not follow the true guidance, the Prophet reportedly said, according to Sahih Muslim: “He who obeys me obeys God; he who disobeys me, disobeys God. He who obeys the ruler, obeys me; he who disobeys the ruler, disobeys me.”[xiii] Abi Da’ud (d. 888) and Ibn Maja (d. 886) quote the Prophet as imploring Muslims to hear and obey the ruler, even if he were an Ethiopian slave.[xiv] Al-Bukhari (d. 870) quotes similar traditions.[xv] The palace ulama invoke one thousand year old opinions of famous jurists such as Al-Ghazali (1058-1111), Ibn Jama’a (1241-1333), and Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328). These men taught that the Muslim ruler must be obeyed blindly because even an unjust ruler is better than societal unrest.

    Syria’s palace ulama threaten the Muslim faithful with eternal damnation if they fail to obey Mr. Asad (waliy al-amr). In the hands of the Asad clan, Islam has become a psychological weapon supplementing a brutal security machine.

    Scaremongering for Blackmail legitimacy will not work forever

    That certain priests and civic leaders subscribe to unsubstantiated scaremongering regarding future Islamist/salafi persecution of Christians is unwise. Those in the Christian community who warn of the slaughter awaiting Christians if the Asad regime collapses fall for the regime’s Machiavellian practice of blackmail legitimacy. Neither historical precedence nor credible evidence today supports such scare tactics. Blackmail legitimacy, like the crying-wolf syndrome, does not work forever.

    Islamists/salafis who might harbor violent intentions against Christians are a tiny minority of Syria’s 23-million population. There are no accurate statistics or opinion polls to suggest otherwise. Syria’s Islamists/salafis are not representative of Syria’s Sunnis. The great majority of Syria’s Sunnis, around 75% of the population, are moderate Muslims who have lived rather harmoniously with their fellow Christians for centuries.

    During the first 15 years of independence and until the advent of the Asad clan, Syria’s Christians enjoyed peace and shared whatever prosperity was available at that time with the Sunni majority. The suggestion that Syria’s Sunnis would kill Syria’s Christians is malicious misinformation to divide and rule. The regime’s media, apologists, and propagandists who circulate such stories are wicked. Those who believe such tales are naive. Syria’s Christian minority’s best interest could not be separate from the interest of the Sunni majority.

    That the options to Syrians today are reduced to either accepting the current poor state of affairs or contend with an Islamist/salafi rule; even civil war, is blackmail used by the regime to perpetuate its monopoly on power and avoid genuine reform. That genuine reform is not an option does not bode well for the country. That President Asad insisted in his address to the parliament on March 30, 2011 that Syria’s protesters had been “duped” into damaging the nation on behalf of its enemies[xvi], and his infamous billionaire cousin, Rami Makhlouf, stated in an interview with The New York Times that, “Syria will fight protests till ‘the end’” spell danger to all Syrians.[xvii] Like a pressure cooker, the longer a dictatorship stays in power the more violent the end will be.

    Sunnis, like Christians, are threatened by Islamist/salafi ideology, violence, and seventh century way of life. While systematic long-term persecution of Christians by Sunnis will not happen in Syria, acts of revenge by extremist groups might occur during the chaotic days of a popular revolt against; not only Alawites and Christians, but also against non-Christian supporters of the Asad clan altogether.

    To spare Syria a potential catastrophe, Mr. Asad should institute a comprehensive and genuine political reforms, in particular; multi-party parliament and contested presidential elections. Scaremongering priests can help. They must desist from misinformation and hypocrisy. They ought to become honest to the teaching of their churches. They should defend legitimacy, justice, and the rule of law.

    Wise men and women; Alawites, Christians, and Sunnis must council the president and his immediate family that genuine reform; not cosmetic retouches, not the use of the tank, is the only way forward.

    Hafiz Asad and his son, Bashar, have saddled the Alawite community plus the regime’s supporting groups with a terrible burden, a potential disaster. The Asad family must understand that four decades of misrule are kifaya.

    Bashar Asad has a rare opportunity today to become the hero who saved Syria from a frightening future. Would he? Or, indeed, can he?

    [i] Middle East Online, Syria’s Christian against fall of Assad regime, May 4, 2011,


    [ii] The Telegraph, Syria: President Bashar al-Assad has a staunch friend in the Church, April 21, 2011
    [iii] Elie Elhadj, A Question of Oil Accounting, October 2010,


    [iv] Thomas Friedman, From Beirut to Jerusalem, (Harpers Collins Publishers, 1998, London) Chapter 4: “Hama Rules”.

    [v] Reuters reported Turkish Prime Minister Tayyep Erdogan stating that “more than 1,000 civilians had died in Syria’s upheaval”, Reuters, Syrian tanks shell towns with at least 19 killed, May 11, 2011,

    [vi] Patrick Seale, Asad, the Struggle for the Middle East (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1995), 10.

    [vii] The New York Review of Books, Storm Over Syria, by Malisa Ruthven, June 9, 2011,

    [viii] Elie Elhadj, Syria’s Islamic Textbooks: Politics, Intolerance, and Dogma, May 2011,

    [ix] Syria Today, No Place for the Niqab, August 2010,

    [x] Syria Steps, The Leadership responded positively to the demands of the men of religion, April 6, 2011,

    [xi] The New York Times, Syria Tries to Placate Sunnis and Kurds, April 6, 2011,
    [xii] Elhadj, To Prolong their Dictatorships, Arab Rulers Resort to the Islamic Creed, February 2010,


    [xiii] The Six Books Sahih Muslim, traditions 4746 to 4763, pp. 1007-1008 and traditions 4782 to 4793, pp. 1009-1010.

    [xiv] Ibid., Sunan Abi Da’ud, tradition 4607, p. 1561; and Sunan Ibn Maja, tradition 42, p. 2479.

    [xv] Ibid., Sahih al-Bukhari, traditions 7137 and 7142, p. 595.

    [xvi] The New York Times, Syria Offers Changes Before Renewed Protests, March 31, 2011,

    [xvii] The New York Times, Ally of Assad Says Syria Will Fight Protests Till ‘the End’, May 10, 2011

    Elie Elhadj

    May 23, 2011 at 1:27 pm

  12. thanks for this, Elie. I’ve posted it as a comment under the ‘regime versus alawis’ post. It’s an excellent essay.

    Robin Yassin-Kassab

    May 24, 2011 at 8:48 pm

  13. Thanks Robin.

    Elie Elhadj

    May 25, 2011 at 10:12 am

  14. hi,
    I knew you from a blog on Syria on AlJazeera.
    someone posted a link to Blundering and Adapting, I read, then I read your comments on Libya that entirely agree with.
    I was born in the West, by Western parents, and I’m not the on left but not on right, I really appreciate the considerations that you have done. I love freedom and I consider democrazy the least bad form of government of all those tested so far.
    I hope all these people who are fighting for freedom have the opportunity to really get it.
    I can barely read and write English with difficulty, I apologize for mistakes.
    I was very curious about your book The Road from Damascus and as you’ve also published in Italian (I’m Italian) I think I’ll buy it. Then I’ll write if I liked it or not.
    My mail is temporary so I can not get answers, sorry,
    but I will read any replies on the blog.


    June 7, 2011 at 2:54 pm

  15. @Kevin Startup: Dear Kevin, I think you’re referring to IDF conscripts with their UZI rifles, not AKs (Kalashnikovs).

    If you’re in Israel and you come across young boys and girls carrying AK-47s, you are in big trouble mate! Regards, Peter

    Peter Feuilherade

    June 7, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    • Thank you Peter, I am happy to say that my knowledge of firearms is clearly very limited. In a world where we now farm our animals and they therefore cannot escape, firearms should have no further part to play in humanity’s struggle. All who bear such arms for any purpose other than simple amusement are murderers.


      June 16, 2011 at 4:39 pm

  16. Dear Robin,

    In your essay “Reflections on Libya and the Left” -April 19th- you wrote: “I hope the revolution continues and develops and deepens after Gaddafi.” In the recent days, NATO warplanes by relentless bombardment of the Libyan capital, have terrorized more than 1.7 million people in Tripoli. Do you still believe that the NATO terror bombings and the escalation of the military intervention in Libya by the U.S. and the European military powers still would help the revolution against Gaddafi’s dictatorship? I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

    *FYI: I wrote the below piece right after the U.S. launched the first cruise missiles against Libya. I believe my assessment was correct.

    * * *
    Only fools support the military intervention against Libya
    Massoud Nayeri
    Sat 3/19/2011 4:22 PM

    According to the Pentagon briefing, a few hours ago, the U.S. launched the first cruise missiles against Libya. This military assault is supported by French and British military powers with the approval of the UN Security Council. The aim supposedly is to “Protect” the Libyan people. But the recent military aggression against Iraq and Afghanistan indicates that the intention of these military interventions are not “Humanitarian”. Despite any claims, this military assault will not be limited only to the so-called “No-Fly Zone” operation and this is just another form of occupation for Libya, a former colonial country. This aggression will not help or boost the Libyan opposition in their struggle for freedom and the fight against the Gaddafi’s dictatorship; on the contrary, it will transform Libya to a war zone which endangers the lives of millions of innocent Libyans.

    Only fools would support such a military intervention against Libya, while all the governments of these aggressors – U.S., U.K. and France- are cutting the budgets for social programs, somehow they easily can spend about $200 millions per week to implement the “No-Fly Zone” in Libya alone!

    Stop the war against Libya, spend the money on social programs.

    Massoud Nayeri

    June 12, 2011 at 6:45 pm

  17. Yes, Massoud, I still think the intervention, though i am suspicious of it, was the least worst option. It saved perhaps tens of thousands of lives in the east, in Misrata and elsewhere. I am not generally in favour of ‘humanitarian intervention.’ I judge each case by its merits. I think post-qaddafi Libya may well be compromised, but Egypt and Tunisia may also be compromised by Western and Saudi money. And a victory for Qaddafi in Libyta would have been a defeat for revolutionaries across the Arab world.

    Robin Yassin-Kassab

    June 12, 2011 at 8:35 pm

  18. Robin – I am just leaving this comment so that I can request notifications of new posts and I can’t see how else to subscribe. Also, whilst you have categories you don’t have a search bar. I’m sure subscriber and search bars are easy to install and they’re certainly useful.

    It’s funny but I first heard of your site through a zionist blog and when I saw your comment on Atzmon, antisemitism and zionism, I thought I’d pay you a visit. Having read the discussion between yourself and Massoud I now suspect the blogger who linked to you did so because of where you stand on Libya. So, I would be interested to know where you now stand on the western intervention against Libya. I am not a writer like you so I tend to blog other people’s writing. So when I read Mike Marqusee’s take on the Libya affair I blogged it here. Check out this opening piece:

    In the Guardian, Jonathan Freedland writes that liberal interventionism is “fine in theory” but goes wrong “in practise”. I’d suggest that it goes wrong in practise because it’s deeply flawed in theory.

    In solidarity

    Mark Elf


    August 3, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    • Hello Mark. I like your blog a lot. I know that others have subscribed to my blog, but i’m not sure how. One day I’ll work out how to add a search bar.

      As for Libya, it’s an ugly situation. I can’t see how it would have been any better without the intervention. I’m against bombing Tripoli – that exceeds the UN mandate and probably galvanises Qaddafi’s supporters. I wish the Arabs were in a position to intervene, but they’re not. I think that having Qaddafi win back in March by slaughtering the Libyans would have been a disaster not only for Libya but for Syria and the rest of the Arab world too. By now, there is I think a good argument for winding down the intervention. The playing field is more even than it was at the start (Misrata has been liberated for a start, and the Western mountains are no longer under siege), and if qaddafi doesn’t go soon there must be negotiations.

      I don’t support humanitarian intervention as a principle, and from a British perspective the intervention is probably overall a bad thing. I was thinking from an Arab perspective and I wasn’t thinking on general principle. I make no apologies for that. Every case, and every moment, is different.

      Robin Yassin-Kassab

      August 3, 2011 at 6:13 pm

      • Thanks for that Robin. I wasn’t fishing for a compliment but it’s most welcome.

        Re intervention, I didn’t know what the flip to think when the whole thing kicked off in Libya so I was grateful for Marqusee’s article. At the level of gut feeling (plus empirical evidence) I just feel that NATO/UN consensus is usually wrong.

        Anyway, I’m now subscribed and I look forward to our online paths crossing in future.


        August 4, 2011 at 7:40 pm

  19. If there was NATO/UN consensus I missed it.

    Robin Yassin-Kassab

    August 5, 2011 at 12:46 pm

  20. Don’t apologise! But there was no consensus. The US didn’t really want to get involved. Neither did Germany. Qatar (not a NATO power) is definitely involved. In the UN, Russia and China are against. I consider myself to be ‘of the left’, whatever that means, but I am disturbed by the blanket thinking of some leftists who see ‘imperialist consensus’ where there is none, who say ‘it’s just like Iraq’ although the Iraqis were ignored when they rose against Saddam in 91, who fail to notice that the imperialist west has just lost two wars and doesn’t have either the appetite or the capacity for an occupation of Libya. It can still be profitably debated, however, how much support the revolution lost inside Libya when it sought help from outside, and to what extent the future has been compromised by British and French involvement. Unfortunately, I don’t see any happy end for Libya. But I’m still glad Qaddafi was stopped from forcing his way into Benghazi and Misrata.

    Robin Yassin-Kassab

    August 5, 2011 at 4:07 pm

  21. […] Ratta joined Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat, Syrian novellist Manhal Al-Saraj, British Syrian author Robin Yassin-Kassab, and cultural resistance specialist Steve Chandra Savale. Another Syrian novellist, Mamdouh Azzam, […]

  22. […] Yassin-Kassab, a journalist who also wrote The Road to Damascus and is a prominent blogger, said he was disappointed in the attitudes of journalists who dismissed the Syrian rebels as […]

  23. Hi Robin
    I just read your essay, ”Why isn’t it exploding’, in October-December 2012 issue of Critical Muslim. I like to think of it as a cool shade of Chinar (Oriental plane) in the scorching sun of negativity that goes around, masquerading as scholarship, about Pakistan. You mention ‘Chitrali cigarettes’ on two ocassions: p. 33 and 34. I am from Chitral and, as far as I know, we don’t have any cigarette factory in Chitral. Are you referring to the bhang/charas (weed?) produced in Chitral and smuggled to the urban areas of Pakistan or there is an actual cigarette brand named Chitrali?


    March 3, 2013 at 5:16 pm

    • Ali, I am referring to charas. I took the amusing title ‘Chitrali cigarette’ from my friend Mohammed Hanif, who uses it in his novel “A Case of Exploding mangoes”.

      Robin Yassin-Kassab

      March 3, 2013 at 8:15 pm

  24. […] was near the summit of Mount Etna with Ra Page from Comma Press and writers Robin Yassin-Kassab and Julian Gough. The walk up had been tough – a 45-degree slope of black volcanic marbles […]

  25. […] whole reason that I and the other writers: KJ Orr, Julian Gough, Robin Yassin-Kassab, Annie Kirby, Stuart Evers and Zoe Lambert, were invited to this truly mind-blowing conference was […]

  26. Is this blog still active ? If it is I am writing my dissertation on the Identity of British Muslims and will be using your novel, was wondering if you could recommend me some pointers / advice ?


    December 19, 2013 at 3:43 am

  27. […] the coldest day (so far!) of the year here in New York, why not warm up by reading Robin Yassin-Kassab‘s account of his trip through Morocco — which ends up on summer afternoon in Marrakesh […]

  28. […] Robin Yassin-Kassab is the author of the novel The Road From Damascus. He co-edits the Critical Muslim and http://www.pulsemedia.org, and blogs at http://www.qunfuz.com […]

  29. Greetings Robin I wondering if Qunfuz is Arabic for hedgehog dose that mean Sonic the Hedgehog’s name in Arabic is Sonic al-Qunfuz? If not what he is called. Also is the qu in qunfuz pronounced like the qu in quack and queen or is the qu said like koo like in some Arabic names for example Nazime al-Qudis/Kudsi and Qusay Hussein?


    April 14, 2015 at 11:58 pm

    • Hello, Niall. I am barely aware of Sonic the hedgehog in English and not at all in Arabic, so I can’t help with that. The pronunciation is as in ‘Qudsi’.

      Robin Yassin-Kassab

      April 15, 2015 at 11:45 am

      • Thank you for your replay Robin, my name is pronounced the same they boy from one direction if you were wondering.

        Niall Fraser Love

        April 15, 2015 at 6:29 pm

      • Thanks Robin for the reply my name is pronounced the same as the boy from one direction if your wondering. I can’t tell you how many people get it wrong. In my 1st 3 weeks of my 1st year of secondary school they teachers would all get it wrong when reading out the register, so I have to correct them 6 times a day at least and it happened so often soon the whole class would say it in union. So I really wanted to make sure I getting reading Qunfuz right.


        April 15, 2015 at 6:35 pm

  30. I was at Wigtown Book Festival yesterday when I heard Robin speak very powerfully and assuredly about Syria. He said, “I stand with the people not the states”. His oratory brought a round of applause. For me, this is all very well but when the people get clobbered when they stand up to their oppressive dictator, is it really worth all the bloodshed and mayhem?

    In both Christianity and Islam, aren’t the adherents urged to obey the earthly powers, the authorities of the land that have been ordained of God/Allah? I have not been impressed with the behaviour and foreign policy of our English monarchs and rulers down the centuries. However, I would not dream of trying to overthrow them, knowing I would simply end up in jail or with my head cut off or being burnt at the stake! Here in Wigtown, two women were drowned at the stake in the 17th century because they would not acknowledge the authority of their earthly king over and above that of their Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.

    Today, we Westerners continue to enjoy great comforts and ease of life. But then we are the top dogs in the world, still. Our economic wealth has partly come from the armaments and ammunition that we make and sell that end up in the hands of any old dodgy regime! Far better to gain employment in more ethical ways. But then the Scots will get their wages from building and maintaining WMD at Faslane for the English to sail beneath the high seas to threaten nuclear annihilation on a huge section of humanity! Our own aggression, immorality and illegality sets a very bad example to other countries and peoples, like Assad and Islamic State.

    Tim Weller

    September 29, 2015 at 1:06 pm

    • Tim, I think it’s a misconception that people in Syria in 2011 (or Russia 1917, or France 1789) all decided to have a revolution. It doesn’t happen like that. Instead, regimes collapse when they can no longer bear the weight of their own economic/social/political contradictions. And yes, Islam has an idea about loyalty to the ruler even if he’s unjust – but it’s not an idea I agree with. I don’t blame the revolution for what’s happened in Syria, but the violence of the counter-revolution.

      Robin Yassin-Kassab

      September 29, 2015 at 1:52 pm

      • Thanks, Robin for the reply.
        I think you have lived in Syria and know all about what’s going on. So could you tell me if the present ‘civil’ war started from a peaceful protest demo being put down by force by Assad, please?
        Or, how did it start? Was it part of the Arab Spring revolts?
        I think I know why you want shot of Assad but, would you mind putting in down for me so that I know and understand your position, please?
        Was Assad a friend of the West, at one time? If so, why did they turn against him?
        Thanks for your help.

        Tim Weller

        October 8, 2015 at 3:13 pm

  31. Tim, I’m afraid I don’t have time to respond to your questions now, but I have a book coming out January 20th 2016, with Leila al-Shami, called Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War. That answers your questions. Or, you could read back on this blog from March 2011.

    Robin Yassin-Kassab

    October 8, 2015 at 5:08 pm

    • Is the angelic West on the side of governments (regimes) or rebels?

      Why should a government NOT be ruthless in putting down a rebellion? Any UK government would be. Even the good people of Scotland in 2014 had the fear of God put up them, if they dared to be so stroppy as to vote for independence from big brother England. Our problem, in our so well meaning, we know what is best for you fortress, is supporting the rebels to overthrow their governments in Afghanistan, Iraq, Tunisia, Libya and now Syria. And look where it gets us.

      Rage against the oppressor with extreme care and with non-violence. Only overthrow an oppressive government (regime) by the ballot box, not the bomb and bullet. If there is no ballot box, put up with the tyrant or get out of his reign of terror, oppression, sheer nastiness.

      Tim Weller

      October 14, 2015 at 8:06 am

      • Tim, who do you think you are to be telling people to ‘put up with the tyrant’? When state officials torture your children to death, rape your wife and destroy your home, I hope someone tells you to put up with it. That’s first. Second, when you say ‘why should any government not be ruthless in putting down a rebellion’ you are talking like a fascist. Are you aware that the Syrian regime has killed 300,000 people and driven out millions? Why shouldn’t it? you ask. Do you leave comments on Jewish people’s sites telling them Hitler had a right to be ruthless? And the armed rebellion was a response to months of state murder, rape and torture. Third, believe it or not, the West is not the prime cause of events in the Middle East. The Tunisian, Libyan and Syrian revolutions were initiated, led and fought by the Tunisians, Libyans and Syrians. Fourth, I already told you I don’t have time to do answers to individual questions, but then you post an ex-British ambassador and ask me to comment. Well here you are: this man is either ignorant of the situation is a straight-forward racist and imperialist. Now please stop trolling.

        Robin Yassin-Kassab

        October 14, 2015 at 10:59 am

    • if you want to learn what an ex-ambassador to Syria who understands the situation thinks, follow Simon Collis.

      Robin Yassin-Kassab

      October 14, 2015 at 11:07 am

  32. […] black published authors of sci-fi fiction. Also look out for author of The Road From Damascus Robin Yassin-Kassab who has a forthcoming book about the Syrian […]

  33. Robin you posted that promoting your book in Glasgow Byer’s road February 16, what time will you be there because love to attend and love to buy and signed copy from you.


    January 26, 2016 at 12:00 am

  34. Dear Robin,

    Am writing from Glasgow. I was disappointed not to get the chance to have your excellent book ‘Burning Country’ signed by you in the Byres Rd bookshop, and just wanted to offer some moral support.

    I have been following the civil war for a long time now, as best as anyone outside Syria who is not Syrian and does not speak or read arabic can. As I’ve rarely come across a political opinion of yours on any subject that I don’t have sympathy with, I’ve come to respect and trust much of what you have to say on about this conflict.

    Watching the world try to collectively bury all of the opposition Syrians alive, to stop up their mouths, cover them over with dirt, and label the grave ‘terrorist’, is horrible. I am an older person and I had thought that their wasn’t much left to surprise me about human nature – but watching the base human instinct to move from self interest to covering yourself in moral self-justification in this instance has shocked me in it’s severity and in it’s extent. It used to be something I only expected from the West. Seeing it as an almost global phenomenom here, with opposition Syrian democrats cornered from all sides is sobering. It has made me tear up my own political rule book and it has caused me much soul searching as a leftist.

    The way I perceive it, those who have followed realpolitik, afraid to allow Syrians to resolve their own revolution lest it bring about an outcome they don’t want, will not fly their flag bravely, but must cover themselves in moral justification, entailing the nullification of the moderate, democratic elements of the revolution and denying their part in the uprising, or indeed any essentially Syrian catalyst for it at all. This latter element has been heavily, repeatedly and widely disseminated until it has almost become a truism in the international press, above the line and under it. I keep posting links to the long and excellent article the activist Clay Claibourne wrote on Obama’s courting of Assad whenever I can. I often post links from Juan Cole and Louis Proyet too. It all seems so inadequate. I worry tremendously about the monster that is being created here. If the world’s collective response to a perceived secular fascist dictator/theocratic fascism dichotomy in the Middle East is to reinforce it and conspire to uphold option number one,,with the huge and glaring exception of fundamentalist shia Iran,, what message will the sunni people of that region, especially the young, take from that, and how will it manifest itself?

    What has depressed me the most isn’t the professional propaganda from various government sources, but the enthusiastic and quite cruel denunciations of all Syrian opposition that ordinary members of the western public have indulged in. With regard to liberals and leftists it has been particularly depressing. I’d be interested to know your thoughts on this one day. Yassin Haj Saleh’s words on the failure of the western left are burned into my head.

    Best Wishes


    March 13, 2016 at 12:56 pm

  35. Dear Robin,
    just finished to read “Burning Country” and cannot stop thinking and crying with Syrians in Idlib and Aleppo and elsewhere that stand so bravely for freedom – these people you describe so accurately in your excellent book.
    Thanks for you and Leila sharing this amazing experience of the revolutionary movement of the Syrian people that the world – right and left – refuse to recognize. This situation you talk about is known to us for years as we were fighting for freedom in Palestine and nobody wanted to listen.
    In such situations it so easy to get tired or move to an extremist agenda.
    i feel your book refuses to let down or go the despair of extremism and revenge – despite everything i found i an optimistic call to action.
    thanks for this spirit also
    warm regards
    Assaf Adiv

    see my article on the left and Syria back in 2013

    Assaf Adiv

    June 12, 2016 at 2:34 pm

  36. Dear Mr. Yassin-Kassab: Prior to recently hiking the Hadrian’s Wall footpath from west to east I was lucky enough to find your November 22, 2008 article in The National in which you mention the Syrian presence in northern England during the period of Roman occupation. As I walked the crags and through the occasional small forest I repeatedly recalled your reference to 500 bowmen from Hama who may have helped feed the Roman garrisons, and I have been searching for more information on this topic after returning to the US. Your article says “texts found elsewhere” refer to these Syrian bowmen. The web seems full of references to Barathes and Regina but I’ve not been able to find more about the Syrian bowmen. It’s been many years since you wrote your National article, but could you recall where the texts you referred to might be found? I would like to read more about the presence of people from the Middle East and North Africa in Britain during the Roman era. Many thanks for any help you can provide. Charles O. Cecil

    Charles O. Cecil

    July 23, 2016 at 3:07 am

    • i’m afraid i can’t remember…

      Robin Yassin-Kassab

      July 23, 2016 at 9:37 am

  37. Robin, I got our library to buy ‘Burning Country’ and read much of it. However, I still cannot figure out how an ophthalmologist in London, for I don’t know how long, turns out to do what he did do and still does in Syria. Do you recommend any source or, what article/book, in particular, from Simon Collis, please. And, how should violent solutions extend to dealing with Kim Jung Un? What should Trump do with this young man?
    Tim Weller

    Tim Weller

    October 23, 2017 at 2:20 pm

    • one of the most stupid takes on Assad is that he can’t have done everything wrong because ‘he was educated in London.’ He spent about a year in London. And why would that make him immune from commintting crimes such as extermination? Hitler too was educated in western Europe. (People like you seem to believe that 1. anything bad that happens in the world must be instigated by evil westerners, and 2. spending a little time in the west innoculates people against evil. These two beliefs do not seem logically compatible.

      Robin Yassin-Kassab

      August 4, 2018 at 10:25 am

  38. just purchased ‘burning country’, can’t wait to read it. thank you for this work. long live the syrian revolution!


    July 31, 2018 at 6:47 pm

    • Are you all in as much enthusiasm for the Syrian revolution now as you were in 2011?
      Was it the West who inspired some Syrians to revolt after the ‘success’ in Egypt and Libya?
      What other countries were affected by the West’s Arab Spring idea of regime change?
      Why do we so love our regime changing wars?
      How is it that the West always knows best? It must be our God given “manifest destiny”, the shining Light on the hill, the very Salt of the earth that enables us to be so right so often and to be the model for everyone else to follow!

      Tim Weller

      August 1, 2018 at 12:01 pm

      • If you read what I have written since 2011 you would see that yes, I remain a supporter of the Syrian Revolution. I mourn its destruction at the hands of imperialists, I mourn its martyrs, and I curse the Russian and Iranian occupations.
        No, the West didn’t inspire Syrians to revolt. Why on earth would Syrians risk their lives on the orders (or ‘inspiration’) of distant foreign governments? Syrians aren’t stupid children, and white people aren’t as important as you think. Your reflections on your own culture are all well and good, but please don’;t be racist about people in parts of the world you don’t understand in order to make them.

        Robin Yassin-Kassab

        August 4, 2018 at 10:21 am

      • Thanks, Robin.

        Tim Weller

        August 5, 2018 at 7:19 am

  39. […] Yassin-Kassab è autore del blog Qunfuz, è co-editore e collaboratore del blog PULSE.Collabora con diversi media ed è co-autore, insieme […]

    • hi Robbin-Yassin Kassab
      your book The road from Damascus is my favorite book and i’m doing a paper about it dealing with how the second generation of Muslim immigrants are struggling to keep their religion in a western society and the influence of the terrorist attack on them, mainly Sami Traifi, and their threatened being there. also, how the image of real Islam is depicted as a resistance to the stereotypical representations of Islam as a threat and its association with terrorism.

      Amina Azizi

      March 30, 2019 at 2:42 pm

      • I’m glad you like the book, Amina. It’s great to hear.

        Robin Yassin-Kassab

        March 30, 2019 at 5:50 pm

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