iSad in Damascus: Syria reclaims Jobs
By Sami Moubayed
DAMASCUS - During the years of French Mandate Syria, Abdulfattah Jandali was
born to a large landowning family in the midland town of Homs in 1931. Like
most affluent and ambitious Syrians of his generation, he studied at the
American University of Beirut before moving to the United States to complete
his higher education in the 1950s.
During his teens, Abdulfattah's cousin, Farhan Jandali, was rising to fame in
Syrian political circles, serving as a member of parliament and education
minister during the era of Syria's pre-Ba'ath president, Nazem al-Qudsi.
The Jandalis probably believed that Farhan would be the most member of the
family to reach nation-wide fame, if only briefly, in the 1950s and 1960s. That
was until Abdulfattah had his first child - born out of wedlock - in 1955. This
baby boy, little would he
know, would become a legend of the 20th and 21st centuries combined. His name
was Steve Jobs - or as many Syrians would love to call him, Steve Jandali.
Few people know that Apple founder and icon Jobs, who died on Wednesday at the
age of 56 after losing a battle with cancer, originally came from Syria. As the
news of Jobs' death vibrated throughout the globe, young technology-savvy
Syrians mourned his death, laying claim to a computer genius who revolutionized
Steve's groundbreaking creations, iPads, iPhones and Apple computers can be
found all over Damascus and are especially popular with young Syrians, although
because of US sanctions they cannot download any application from iTune stores.
"Steve Jobs was Syrian," they proudly typed into their Facebook and Twitter
pages, sadly acknowledging, however, that had he worked in Syria, he would
probably not have achieved any of his innovations.
The story of Jobs' Syrian origins was first published in Syria in early 2007,
when the country's English monthly Forward Magazine ran a story entitled
"Forgotten Syrians". The six-page report listed world celebrities who trace
their origins, three to four generations back, to Syria. The list was a long
and surprising one, and it included Bob Marley, Paula Abdul, Paul Anka, former
Argentinean president Carlos Menem, and Steve Jobs.
Jobs' mother, Joanne Schieble, was a German-American woman who had an affair
with Abdulfattah Jandali in the 1950s, when they were living in Wisconsin. Her
father refused to let her marry a Syrian Muslim, forcing them to give up the
baby boy for adoption in San Francisco, where he was raised by Paul and Clara
Jobs, an Armenian woman who after seven years of marriage was unable to
Eventually, Jandali and his girlfriend married, giving birth to their daughter
(Steve's sister) Mona Jandali, who went on to become a celebrated novelist in
her own right, known by her husband's family name, Mona Simpson. Her parents
divorced when she was four, and in recent years, Simpson managed to reconnect
with her father and brother, but no connection was made between Steve and his
After giving up the baby, Jandali became a political science professor at the
University of Nevada, Reno. Then he moved into the hotel industry where in 1999
he became food and beverage manager at Boomtown Hotel & Casino. He kept
that post until 2010, when he became vice president of the casino.
While Jandali was making a living running roulette and poker tables, Steve Jobs
was leading a very different life; taking over the world was co-founder,
chairman and chief executive officer (CEO) of Apple. When he stepped down as
CEO this summer, for further treatment of his pancreatic cancer, Jandali, now
80, mailed him his complete medical history, hoping it might help his ailing
son - but Jobs still refused to speak to the man who had abandoned him 56 years
Speaking to the London-based al-Hayat last February, Jobs' father said he
regretted having left his homeland Syria, and recounted stories of his
university days in Beirut, where he was an ardent Arab nationalist. "If I had
the chance to go back in time, I wouldn't leave Syria or Lebanon at all. I
would stay in my home country my whole life. I don't say that out of emotion
but out of common sense."
He added: "Of course I miss the social life and wonderful food [in Syria], but
the most important thing is the outstanding cultural attributes which in
general you don't find in the West."
More recently, Jandali gave an interview to London-based The Sun, where he
said: "This might sound strange, though, but I am not prepared, even if either
of us was on our deathbed, to pick up the phone to call him. Steve will have to
do that as the Syrian pride in me does not want him ever to think I am after
his fortune. I am not. I have my own money. What I don't have is my son ... and
that saddens me."
He continued: "I honestly do not know, to this day, if Steve is aware of the
fact that had it been my choice, I would have loved to keep him. I live in hope
that before it is too late, he will reach out to me. Even to have just one
coffee with him just once would make a very happy man."
Steve Jobs never replied, and two months later, he was dead.
Abdulsalam Haykal, a World Economic Forum-recognized Damascus-based media and
technology entrepreneur, typed in a Facebook status, "iSad" on Thursday
morning. Commenting on Steve Jobs' death, the president of the Syrian Young
Entrepreneurs Association said:
Syrians have the right to claim Steve
as their own, regardless of how fate interfered after he was born. Needless to
say, Steve is a legend that everyone wants a part of. He was an inspiration to
entrepreneurs around the globe, and his genius changed the world for ever. But
nothing could change the fact that his father came from Syria and has a pure
Syrian name. In a place where family and lineage means a lot to people, the
connection needs no more emphasis.
Haykal, who is soon to
launch the Steve Jobs Entrepreneurship Award, added:
Steve Jobs is a
personal inspiration. I e-mailed him three years ago about the idea of two
let-down young entrepreneurs in Syria. He e-mailed back briefly, expressing no
interest, but probably with the intention of lifting up their morale, and prove
my argument then to them that even Steve Jobs was reachable and they shouldn't
be giving up.
Many Syrian entrepreneurs have inspired the world with their genius and
creativity. I just wish they will some day be able to make their success in
Syria. I wish Syria could someday give its budding entrepreneurs the eco-system
and supporting environment, and not only the genes. Our expatriates make us a
truly global nation too.
A nation-wide campaign needs to
start, many Syrians are saying, to reclaim Steve Jobs. Syrians have done it
before, reclaiming, for example, the Cairo- and Beirut-based musician Farid
al-Atrash, whom the world remembered as Egyptian rather than Syrian. They then
did it again with his sister, the diva Asmahan.
Reclaiming Steve Jobs might be more difficult, but it is a success story that
Syrians want to be proud of.
Sami Moubayed is a university professor, historian, and editor-in-chief
of Forward Magazine in Syria.
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