Saturday, April 14, 2018

"Beautiful Syria": Thoughts and Prayers

I'm so angry with the lies, with the confusion and deceit that surrounds everything about Syria. People who have no business talking about it, about my home city, Damascus, about the country of my parents and grandparents, Syria, pontificating and deciding that they know best. I'm tired of other Syrians, too, the ones who sit back and suddenly pray to Allah to "protect Syria", but only when it seems like the American bombs will come. Nobody I know of in Damascus cared one iota when the Ghouta gas attacks happened, nobody sent pictures on their Whatsapp, and their Viber, and their Tango, or talked about the dead children lying in the arms of their dead parents. They just sent each other smug texts saying that "it's over" in Douma. Like someone had just taken a can of Piff-Paff and killed a roach infestation. But now, suddenly, we're expected to "Pray for Damascus"

There's someone I know, or maybe that I thought I knew. She's never posted a thing about Syria in years. At least nothing that I can recall. But yesterday, of all days, she decided that beautiful Damascus was on her mind. I'm shocked and angry, but I've learned over the last seven years not to get into discussions about Syria because there is no point in trying to change the mind of someone who is pathologically incapable of moral outrage unless it's in acceptable, clearly delimited channels. Palestine. Iraq. These are nice and easy causes for the children of the old Arab bourgeoisie. A polite clap and salute for the athlete that refuses to wrestle an Israeli athlete, a quick boycott of Marks & Spencer or Wonderwoman, a status change on their Facebook for Land Day, and maybe the odd picture of Jerusalem are enough to fulfill the quota of daring political activism for these bright-eyed scions of the great Arab families abroad. Mention Iraq and a well-rehearsed litany of the many crimes of Bush and Blair can be reeled off, an honourable mention of Abu Ghreib, and of course the rise of ISIS. All of these tragedies that have befallen the Arab world, we are assured knowingly, can be traced back to shadowy basements in government buildings in Tel Aviv and Washington. And I don't doubt that some are. Yet mention the names of Saddam Hussein or Assad and you hear crickets and a polite silence.

When it comes to talking about Syria, people like me are told we are "too emotional", that we're not seeing some kind of big picture. Of course Assad is bad, they'd argue, but apparently, it would be far worse if he was removed. So the discussion moves comfortably back to how terrible the Americans are, how awful their invasion of Iraq is, and how morally outrageous the occupation of Palestine is. Gotta remember to buy that Palestinian olive oil. Very important. Never mind about nerve agents and barrel bombs, about Russian jets and Iranian martyr squads, about Shiite militias recruited from as far afield as Afghanistan and dragged all the way to Syria to fight and die for some guy they don't even know. Seven years. Seven years and not a peep out of these people. Well, that's not entirely true. Back when ISIS was the only thing being mentioned in the news there were prayers for Syria then, and tears for the old dead cities in the desert and the empty temples that ISIS decided to tear down. There were tears for civilization, for coexistence, but today there's no mention of coexistence. There's no mention of the green buses that are taking entire Syrian families and dumping them up north in Idlib, in a place they probably had never been to in their entire lives, uprooting them from the land that had nurtured them, from the places where their ancestors are buried, to live as strangers and refugees in somewhere that might as well be another planet for them.

Good luck getting a visa or finding a job or renting a decent place for you and your family to live. Good luck. Get on that green bus, and leave your home under the watchful gaze of a scruffy looking grunt in a uniform who flicks you the bird as you're bused away from your entire life because you happened to live in an area that the Syrian government decided was enemy territory. Good luck and fuck you very much. You're not the kind of Syrian that elicits sympathy from these Arab patriots, sitting smugly in their living rooms praying for Syria. No prayers and tears for you. Unless you get killed by an American bomb accidentally. Then we'd get the sighs, and these condescending patriots would lament the state of the Arab world, and the unjustness of American tyranny and they'd say their prayers for "beautiful Syria" and remember the lovely summer holidays they spent there once.

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