Abdul Halim Khaddam, the Man of the 'File'
Abdul Halim Khaddam, the Man of the 'File'
The name of Abdul Halim Khaddam, who died in Paris a week ago, is linked to the word “file”. The former Syrian vice president, as per the Lebanese press’s rushed and reductionist description, was entrusted with the “Lebanese file” by Hafez al-Assad. There is no need for a reminder that the “Lebanese file” denotes nothing more than management of disputes in such a way that makes them harder to be solved and compelling the Lebanese to acclimate to conditions that are difficult for free individuals to adjust to.
The “innovative” term coined by the Lebanese press soon became prevalent throughout the Arab world. Hence, today it is said that “Qassem Soleimani took charge of the Iraqi file” or “the Iraqi file was handed, after Soleimani’s murder, to Esmail Ghaani”. This prevalence unearths the long journey that our countries took towards becoming “files”.
On its long journey, the “file” went about occupying unfamiliar territory; there is now the “appointments file”, the “refugees file”, the “economic file”, and others. It is such that the lazy word replaced “issue”, “cause”, “matter”, “history” and other more complex and engaging terms. One who has revised our modern history cannot miss an important juncture, if not a foundational one, on the journey of the file: Hafez al-Assad’s long reign (1970-2000), during which, for the first time, the Levant, and its people were turned into “files”: one file is Lebanese, another Palestinian, a third Iraqi, and so on…
This transformation was, of course, an existential necessity for that regime and for its master’s becoming “the biggest player” in the Middle East.
However, the Lebanese were unaware of the bitter fact that they had become a file themselves: their lives, deaths, freedoms, economy, health, education, and children… All became a large binder that Abdul Halim Khaddam controlled. Since "file" (in Arabic) is defined as a "quilt used to wrap", the concepts of enclosure and control are inherent to the "file". We were "wrapped", that is, packaged.
The use of the file (or folder) had been limited to prisoners, who would be numbered in cold bureaucratic fashion, turning each of them into a stack of papers. Each has a file that turns him into a number. Those who “have a folder prepared for them” are “discovered” and “exposed” and are thus put on a path that may end in the gallows or an incinerator. If, on the other hand, those who prepared his folder have mercy on him, his salvation is hinged on his dedication to his new job: “preparing files" for others himself.
This generalized squealing took many forms: Khaddam, who was entrusted with "the file", or, rather, "files", was received with exaggerated geniality by many politicians and journalists who referred to him by his nickname "Abu Jamal", suggesting that personal ties had been established with the file's holder. Thus, the sheet became fond of the file in which it was enclosed; deluded into thinking that addressing him as "Abu Jamal" would grant him a leg up and neglecting the fact that this whole relationship is lower than a leg.
And "Abu Jamal," those who know him unanimously agree, was not known for having any talents greater than that of classification: this one is a traitor, that is a spy, and the other is a Zionist ... Thus, he would author the first paper in the files prepared for his victims himself.
And his personal and political history is not a reflection of ingenuity superior to that of making the classifications preserved by the file: a regular Ba'athist who believed in its lousy rhetoric that can only be embraced by those with weak intellectual immunity, but then he stopped believing in ideas altogether. When the comrades fought in 1966, he granted his loyalty to the strongest amongst them, and in 1970 he granted his loyalty to Hafez al-Assad and remained faithful and obedient to him until the last day of his life. Later on "coincidences" allowed him to become obscenely rich.
Nevertheless, his record, if we were to "prepare a file for him", would not indicate capabilities that go beyond "preparing files". His mayorship of Quneitra indeed remains a trivial detail of the 1967 defeat, but his mayorship of Hama is not a detail of the 1964 mass murder there. As for the statements he issued throughout his political and “diplomatic” life, after removing the insults, not a meaningful sentence remains.
More importantly than all of this, the holder of the foreign "files" was not a product of governance that witnessed internal success or good management of society. What Syria has been experiencing for a decade is the fruit of a machine to which Khaddam is a cogwheel.
Many Lebanese did not realize that they had become a "file", just as many Syrians did not notice that they became a mere "region" (Qutr, according to Baathi terminology). In this process "his excellency the deputy", remained, until 2005, among the most loyal to these disciplinary procedures and the most enthusiastic for their implementation. 15 years in a Parisian palace are not enough to erase 42 years of "nationalist" activity to turn us into a collection of "files".