Tuesday, September 03, 2013

A Eulogy for the Damascus Bourgeoisies

Spare a thought for those Syrians in their expensive cars as they drive to and from Beirut every time the tensions rack up. I mean how bad must it be for them to have to inconvenience their lovely mundane lives in the well protected posh districts of Damascus and come face to face with the kind of Syrians that they have spent the last forty years ignoring. That's right, you know who I am talking about. I'm talking about the small people who have cleaned your houses, washed your cars, delivered your groceries and are the unwitting subjects of your mediocre photographic skills and nostalgic writings. Yes, those Syrians, the ones that don't have enough money to drive straight through the Masnaa' crossing area and have to squat down in the sun whilst the Lebanese border guards beat them with hoses to keep everybody in line.

Your Syria is the Syria of jasmine and cardamom, of "mosaics" and thousand year old temples built by long dead civilizations that have nothing to do with you. Their Syria is of shanty towns, plastic, and diesel fumes. You don't know this, but Syrians are the Mexicans of Lebanon. They squat and stand at the street corners waiting for somebody to drive by in the pick up and hire a bunch of them to clean out his backyard or do some other menial work. But your nostrils only flare with indignation when you are the one discriminated against, when your visa gets turned down or your promotion is delayed. Only then do you make up the myth that the reason Syrians are despised is because out of all the Arab nationalities it is the Syrians that refuse to bow. Well I have news for you Mr Proud Syrian who won't bow. We have been bowing for forty years whilst you sipped your black coffee on the balcony in Damascus and wrote your bad poetry - and we will still bow because Syrians have always been treated like dirt in their own country. You just didn't notice because you were able to pay a bribe not to bow, at least not physically.

I have other news for you. The Damascus you think is the centre of the universe is actually an insignificant speck that nobody had heard of until the revolution showed the whole world our warts and dirty laundry. Nobody cares about what Mark Twain said of Damascus, or about the socialites who stopped by this or that place. You were a quaint little stopover that they forgot about as soon as they left, remembered more because people wanted to preserve everything they said than because what they said about your city was important. If you dig down deep enough you aren't even from this city. Nobody really is. It's been raped and pillaged so many times in history that you're really just the descendant of rural labourers who now has the luxury of despising the newer rural labourers moving into the capital. And you don't even see the irony in all this.

Didn't you just love when you could sit with those foreigners as an equal in Bab Touma and talk about politics, art and society? About how Syria is the land of churches and minarets, about our lovely tolerance and how we were urbane Levantines in the "oldest continuously inhabited city in the world" with a five thousand year history? Did you ever realise that your entire life was about taking credit for what others have done? It never struck you as odd that you and everybody else around you could only exist because your parents had connections and money, and you never thought it odd that whatever you did, if you were unlucky to have just that Syrian passport that you are so proud of, you would have only found work in the family business? No, that wasn't odd at all? Strange perhaps? How silly of me, of course it wasn't when that was all you ever knew. You might have gone abroad to study and seen a bit of the world, but you came right back to that safe little world, because deep down you were scared of getting out there on your own.

Then your chest would burst with pride at your "British educated" first lady while she treated the entire country like one giant fashion accessory. You'd talk about the "Doctor" and about his wisdom and humility, about how he would walk into the restaurants and mingle with the normal people. When somebody mentioned Syria you would always say "We", and you never thought for an instant, you poor soul, that it was never a "We", just a "Them". You were an accessory to fit into their little doll house of a Syria that was a "mosaic". Their Syria was a quaint little place to be mentioned in a travel brochure. A country that you were taught from a young age to have a manifest destiny, just like every other joke of an Arab state around us. Maybe that's why Arab governments hate each other so much? They see in each other the frauds that they have become.

So I'm sorry about your jasmine and your magically long Damascus nights. About the cool aniseed drinks and skewers of kebabs. The religious tolerance and the mosaic of cultures that you could show off to the world as if it were your own. I'm also sorry you never saw the shanty towns, the desperate people sitting in crowds outside of government hospitals waiting to be treated or for their loved ones, the queues for bread and government handouts, the girl selling chewing gum at the traffic lights, or the young labourers who had to leave their drought ridden villages and become casual labourers in Lebanon. Maybe if you saw all of that before the revolution started then you might have stopped and thought a little bit about why you were living and why things were the way they were.

11 comments:

munasabat said...

I am Lebanese and I want to say that I am hurt by the way Syrians are treated in Lebanon. We are peasants too, if you scratch our skin, and we treat you just like your bourgoisie treats the rest of Syria. And who writes better bad poetry than us?

tatiana said...

يسلم هالتم

Victor said...

Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. So accurate it hurts,

frustratedsyrian said...

i feel your anger, and I share with you that feeling. In your eloquent writing you were able to express what i was saying for years everytime I visit. I used to warn everyone that something have to give in the end, that this is unsustainable. Now many act surprised, as if they did not know.
They keep telling why would you not leave in here, we get all government papers sorted out while we sit at home, why would you stand on line when we can pay someone something and finish our work. I tell them now that is why, these are the people u passed them on bread line or government department, now they want justice. We cant blame them for their bad education because this is what the schools taught them> That is what they know

Unknown said...

Scathing and absolutely on target.

AC said...

على سيرة مارك توين:
After that quote on the next page he says "The Damascenes are the ugliest,Wicked is too king villains we have seen"... Go figure why people don't quote that bit!

Rima K said...

Dear Maysaloon,

I read your “A Eulogy for the Damascus Bourgeoisies”. Although somewhat well-written, it is full of inaccuracies. First of all, it is disheartening to see how much hatred you seem to have for your country, assuming you are in fact Syrian. Is it too much for you to see some Syrians living in comfort? Compared to the rest of the world, even the richest in Syria are considered middle class. For a very poor country, the Syrian government does a great job providing some free medication for its citizens, including those who need very costly treatments. The government also subsidizes food such as rice, sugar, bread, as well as gasoline. Also, I’d like to remind you that education is mandatory and free until high school. You talk about Syria as if its kind of poverty does not exist anywhere else. Most people in the world know that unfortunately hunger, poverty, and homelessness exist everywhere, including in America, Canada, the UK, and Australia. For decades, I personally have been working with and continue to work with the poor in Syria, and I’m definitely not the only Syrian to do so. You stereotype and generalize those of us who are more fortunate than some, painting us as uncaring and selfish individuals living the highlife, unaware of the less fortunate around us. Perhaps instead of merely criticizing what is wrong with our beautiful homeland, you could try and really get your hands dirty by helping your people. Of course, you are entitled to your opinions, but I think it’s important for some of your readers to see the other side of things.

Maysaloon said...

Thanks for stopping by Rima and for giving my readers an example of what I was writing about.

نزار الفهد الملكي said...

It is truly amazing how absolutely delusional some people are about the plight of the less privileged in Syria.

I suppose it is easy for those who bought their children's way out of the "compulsory service" in Syria to talk positively of a regime that kidnaps 17 and 18 year old kids off the street.

I suppose it is easy to talk about free medical care, when the free medical care given to most Syrians who are not affiliated with the government or who could not afford private care, was lousy and substandard, and disappeared as a form of collective punishment from entire areas based on "loyalty measurements." If you live in the wrong part of Syria, once you could get insulin, but now if you are from the wrong area or sect you are relegated to dying of complications, and this is in areas still controlled by the government.

These upper class lice were well described. I read your article to my wife and she agreed with every word, having grown up in the cinder block houses of Damascus and having seen the stolen privileges of rich who never earned nor accomplished anything themselves.

It is these people who lament a rotten decrepit system and who cry louder about a destroyed building or artifact than a human life.

Keep writing, your words are amazingly true.

Mr. Tech Know said...

If you had changed the word Syrian and Damascus to Pakistan and Lahore you would have perfectly described 'liberal' Pakistanis. A oxymoronic liberal elite who thrive off exploitation of the religious poor yet profess their love for them. People who are proud of their 'acculturated' lens, oblivious to their privilege, who despise their countrymen for being uneducated, religious and troublesome. People who will shout in foreign capitals about Democracy and human rights but have lived on a structure that drains the rest of the country for them. Sons of generals, sons of landlords, sons of a feudal bourgeoisie. People who ape every western style and who are more comfortable talking to Westerners in charge of killing their people than their people themselves. People who never had to even cook their eggs for breakfast because some naukar (servant) was there but take pride they read Plato when they were 18. Our country descended into civil war, not revolution like Syria because this class drove it off the edge and all that built up anger and hatred broke through the walls that were supposed to keep this class ensconced. Those that had been left impoverished and disadvantaged have found justification to get back in a twisted religious interpretation and have gone in a nihilistic "burn the country" mode. I suppose its not much different in Syria with "Assad or we burn the country". Your words were very true Maysaloon not only perhaps of Syria but I suspect many regions of the Muslim World. Thank You.

Anonymous said...

Quoting Rima: "For a very poor country, the Syrian government does a great job providing some free medication for its citizens, including those who need very costly treatments. The government also subsidizes food such as rice, sugar, bread, as well as gasoline. Also, I’d like to remind you that education is mandatory and free until high school."
The government's role is to serve the people. We should not be thanking them for providing free medicine or education. Bashar or his government do not pay for these services out of their own pockets! Have you ever thought that if it wasn't for the Assads' and the Baath Party's policies, we would not have been considered a poor country in the first place? Have you ever thought why most people affiliated with the government, the army or the security forces are far richer than the ordinary Syrians? I am sorry if I seem aggressive, but the truth is if it were not for these corrupt people Syria would have been in a much better place now and would have avoided all this destruction and bloodshed.