Following are excerpts from an interview with Syrian Culture Minister Riyad Na'san Al-Agha, which aired on Al-Hiwar TV on April 19, 2008.
To view this clip on MEMRI TV, please visit http://www.memri.org/legacy/clip/1749.
"[Jailing] is a Security Matter, And There Are People Whose Job It Is to Deal With It"
Riyad Na'san Al-Agha: "In my capacity as minister, I can say that people sometimes fail to understand the motives of the opposition. There are some oppositionists whom the security agencies suspect of having clandestine ties with embassies or other elements. They suspect that these people commit certain acts, the significance of which I have no way of determining. The security agencies, which are privy to information I don't have, can determine this. I have no way of knowing.
"For example, I asked once why a certain person was jailed, and I was told that he had met with all sorts of peoples, and so on. I have no way of knowing if this is true. It's not my job to know. This is a security matter, and there are people whose job it is to deal with it.
"For example, some writers are currently facing trial in Syria. Some of them are friends of mine, whom I have known for many years – members of the opposition with whom I have debated one TV. I can even divulge to you that many years ago, I spoke with President Hafez Al-Assad on behalf of some of them. They were not in jail back then. I suggested them for senior posts in the civil service, but then, I was surprised to hear them present certain views, which caused me great embarrassment."
Interviewer: "As an intellectual, are you ready to accept that intellectuals are placed on trial?"
"I Accept The Placing On Trial Of Whoever Curses The Resistance [Hizbullah]... [And Of] Anyone Who Wants To Shatter National Unity"
Riyad Na'san Al-Agha: "Of course. I accept the placing on trial of whoever curses the resistance [Hizbullah]. I accept the placing on trial of anyone who wants to take part in the Greater Middle East plan, with which the U.S. controls our nation. I agree with the placing on trial of anyone who questions the identity of this nation, anyone who wants to shatter national unity to racial and ethnic pieces, and anyone who wants to instigate tensions between the different minorities."
Interviewer: "What if someone is not a pan-Arab Nasserist? He refuses to believe in this theory, because the past decades have proven it to be merely empty slogans."
"I Will Not Allow Anyone to Dance On The Body Parts Of My People, And Then Talk About His Liberties"
Riyad Na'san Al-Agha: "Fine, he can write an article. For the past seven years, in newspapers and on the Internet, they write about us things that bring to mind Yediot Aharonot and Haaretz, yet we did not throw anyone in jail. Some of them even went to the U.S. in order to curse us from there, and when they returned to Syria, nobody interrogated them at the airport. But they must not take any action. If they do, we will throw them in jail.
"I'm sorry that I've transformed from an intellectual into a governmental official. I will throw him in jail not because I am a minister, but because I fear for my nation because of these people, who are happy when they meet with a Mossad officer, even when Gaza is trampled under enemy shoes. They are happy even if Baghdad is turned into a cemetery inhabited by ghosts, just so they can raise toasts with some Mossad agents in Washington or New York.
"I am not talking as a minister, but as an injured citizen. I will not allow anyone to dance on the body parts of my people, and then talk about his liberties. No, he is not at liberty to do this.
"I want to remind you of something the caliph Muawiyah said: 'We shall not separate people from their tongues, as long as they do not separate us from our authority.' They can say what they want, but if they act, they will be punished. They can curse or make statements, but if they become tantamount to a secret squad, which assassinates a great citizen, a hero, a martyrdom-seeker, like Mughniya... The person who killed him relies on an ideological group." [...]
"I Am Optimistic That Within 10 Years, Israel Will Come To Its End"
Interviewer: "How would you respond if one day, the regime itself forms similar contacts..."
Riyad Na'san Al-Agha: "On that day, I will be thrown in jail."
Interviewer: "In five years, the government might call Israel and say: Let's put an end to this."
Riyad Na'san Al-Agha: "I will be the first they have to take to jail."
Interviewer: "Will we be saying that the president maintained 'dubious relations' with Israel?"
Riyad Na'san al-Agha: "Those who will want to do this, God forbid, will have to get rid of me and many others like me beforehand.
"Imagine the Arab nation without those resistance fighters. By Allah, it is not worth being stepped on.
"Blair is gone, Bush will be gone, and so on..."
Interviewer: "But in the meantime, people are dying, entire generations..."
Riyad Na'san al-Agha: "That's our fate. We are talking about an eternal conflict. I am not optimistic that it will be resolved any time soon, but by Allah, they suffer more than us. Here in Syria, the people are united. Sheikh Hassan [Nasrallah] himself said that in 2006, the decision of whether Syria should join the war was left to him. It's not me who says this. He said so. We were ready to join the war. This does not mean that we will necessarily win. We might be defeated, but at least we will prove that we exist. I am optimistic that within 10 years, Israel will come to its end."
I Am Minister Of Culture in A Regime Whose Principles I Believe In
Interviewer: "But the pressure on Syria is continuously increasing, and the price you might pay is the economic exhaustion of your people."
Riyad Na'san al-Agha: "So what if they get exhausted?
"I am proud to be the minister of culture in this regime because of its positions, and not because of my role as minister. I am not the kind of man who would be a minister in just any regime, even if they paid me $100,000 per hour.
"I am minister of culture in a regime whose principles I believe in. By my principles, I would not remain in it, and nor would President Bashar Al-Assad. We are people with principles and values."