Sunday, July 04, 2010

The Maysaloon guide to being a Syrian Intellectual

In Syria, 'intellectuals' have a ready made template of authors, musicians, poets and public personalities that are rolled out to show how civilized and sophisticated we are. The list usually includes:

Muhammad al Maghut
Nizar Qabbani
Lena Shamamyan
Malek Jandali
Gibran Khalil Gibran

There will also be pictures of obscure Syrian painters with awful abstract paintings that my neighbour's four year old might have come up with. Usually involving naked women with strange contorted bodies and sagging breasts - because that's what you do if you're an artist. You draw rubbish which is offensive to people.

"Intellectuals" from Syria usually lack any substance, so make a habit of only reading the titles and synopsis of books, or read books which have fancy titles but are utterly incomprehensible or useless. They are also very good at doing the things they think an intellectual should do. To be one, there are certain key things you must master. See the list below:

1. Chain smoking - you need to do this to show that you are obsessed about your work, your cause or your struggle. The more outlandish the brand the better. When in doubt, pick something with a Spanish or French name.

2. Alcohol - you need to drink this like a fish. Work hard and play hard and all of that. It's also anti-establishment and you can't be a rebel if you just prefer drinking green tea or liquorice juice.

3. Massive library of books - the older the better. Doesn't have to be about any particular knowledge. Just cram in the odd book about some French philosopher, some books about poetry, and some books by other intellectuals. Also, it helps to scribble notes in the pages. Again, any books about sex, sexuality or atheism give you a massive boost. On no account must you have a book about religion unless it is critical of it.

4. Manic depressive - this aspect gives you that "troubled genius" aura. Usually you can get a good start on this by owning a few books by French post-modernist philosophers. No need to actually read what they wrote. If you're too lazy to try and read them in full, then just get some used copies of the books, put them on your shelf and memorise the author's name. It helps to remember a basic synopsis of what its about, then use liberally in your discussions. Sprinkle with some lines by Abu Alaa al Ma'ari.

5. Find a regular haunt - preferrably some cafe in a rundown old district. Sit there every evening and, by this time you should have mastered points 1-4, wait for a Western journalist. When they come, you can do one of two things. Either the "I don't care what they do to me anymore" nihilist persona, or you can try the persecuted intellectual approach, looking nervously over your shoulder and whispering things.

Some final very important points - Western journalists love it when you talk about homosexuals. So throw that in for good measure, and sex. Always mention something about sex. The other thing to remember, and you will usually be prompted if you forget, is to talk about how oppressed women are in the Arab world. You've got to get the right balance between self-righteous indignation and despair. Usually this works well when you've sorted out the manic-depressive bit in step 4.

There you go, the Maysaloon 5 step guide to being a Syrian intellectual.


Zaher said...

i think this post is hilarious , even though i hate to stereotype people.
but you summed it up very well, for some people being an "intellectual" is just about what you've mentioned earlier.
for me ;i prefer to call them educated fools.

Lasto adri *Blue* said...

Well, You can cross "Syrian" and put any other Arab -could be "any"- nationality and your guide will still be valid.

They called it in Egypt "neo intellectualism".. whatever that means..

You can also add point number 6: Write any Bohemian philosophical sophisticated understandable stuff and call it creativity..

NonArab-Arab said...

Wow, it's like you work for MEMRI or the New York Times. Amazing! :)

Maysaloon said...

Well I'm glad you like it guys! Lasto I thought it wouldn't be fair if I just said Lebanese or Egyptian, though I agree this can be a near universal phenomenon ;)

Anonymous said...

Very amusing Maysaloon and not very far from the truth.

But where did this stereotype come from? These 'intellectuals' are immitating other intellectuals who were in fact intellectuals in their own social, political and cultural contexts.

So the problem is that of blind immitation and immitation of the wrong/ useless types of things on top of that.

Maysaloon said...

Spot on Algerianna, it is blind imitation for the wrong reasons.

Anonymous said...

Hahaha! Well spotted again, Maysaloon.
It's both a funny and very sad post.

Those so-called intellectuals think (or have been trained to think) that intellect could not lie in their own capacity - to think by themselves - but in what Western intellectuals think (and how they behave).
They call it "Universality". Even though it's a very peculiar imperialist perspective.

Amira said...

This is hilarious....and what's funny is that it is so true. I know a lot of Syrian 'intellectuals' like this, but I disagree with Lasto on one thing- yes a lot of these characteristics apply to Egyptian 'intellectuals' with exception to the sex thing. I noticed that 'intellectuals' in Syria are singular in their obsession with sex and the weirder the better...just an observation of mine in any case :)

Maysaloon said...

Princesse, SiSi,
Thanks. Glad you both like it :)