As conspiracy theorists of the left and right muddy the waters with lies and half-truths, as they continue their exclusive focus on the peripheral with utter disregard for the actual, the voices of the Syrians themselves are drowned out. Jadaliyya deserves credit for giving space to these voices and shedding light on the human dimension of the conflict. Amal Hanano is the most compelling of these voices. Here’s from ‘One Year of Hope‘. (I’m borrowing the above title from my good friend Phil Weiss).
The enemy was not one man or even his regime. As questionable motives emerged regionally and internationally, it became very clear that there were no real friends of Syria. As we fought each other, we fought a world that insisted on telling us who we were. Suddenly, everyone was an expert on Syria. Opportunistic pundits sucked the Syrian narrative like leeches, dispensing complex conspiracies, warning of the regional and global political interests at stake while belittling the people’s struggle. Opportunism seeped into the Syrian opposition as well: they splintered into rivaling groups, each betraying the other to prove itself worthy of the Syrian street’s loyalty but in the end, their divisiveness rendered the groups unworthy and incapable of defending those blood-soaked streets. The truth of Syria was lost somewhere in the middle of an axis between east and west, right and left, Sunnis and minorities, along fault lines we had never asked to define us, but they did.
There were other Syrian stories hidden from the stark black-and-white sectarianism and sweeping generalizations repeated over and over in the media — not just of Christian and Alawite revolutionaries, not just of the silent betrayal of Sunni business men in Damascus and Aleppo. Stories from Baba Amr of opposition families who delivered pots of home-cooked meals to sympathetic soldiers at checkpoints and received the pots later, filled with bullets. Or stories of guards who promised prisoners that they would not follow their orders of torture. Or stories of Alawite youth driving through regime checkpoints with bottles of alcohol on the dashboard as decoys only to unload trunks filled with medical supplies to field clinics. These slices of daily interactions between the Syrian people never made it into the “news.” They didn’t fit the narrative of hate we were supposed to follow.
What I learned hardened and softened me. There were things I will never recover from, like knowing that certain words I had told citizen journalist Rami al-Sayed were the same words he asked never to hear again in the final message he wrote hours before he was killed in Homs. Things I will never forget, like the emails I used to receive from the irreplaceable voice of truth that was silenced forever. Things that I will never get used to, like the sounds of weeping men I have never met, who told me, Amal, I miss my brother, my friend, my father. I learned how to talk about death without cringing and how to say goodbye without crying, how to soothe an activist as he mourned his dead friends while in my heart I was selfishly relieved that death had not claimed him. Not this time.
I began with Hope. But the definition of hope itself had become narrower and smaller. Hope in Syria had become relative. Hope, was that the number of dead today would be smaller than yesterday’s. Hope, was that the knife’s blade was so sharp that the child felt only fear but not pain when it sliced her neck open. Hope, was that a falling mortar ripped apart only stone but spared human flesh. Hope was that the young men whose charred bodies haunted me in my sleep were already dead from torture before they were set aflame.
And as March 15, 2012 rolled by, it seemed every few days brought yet another anniversary, death days instead of birthdays. We relived what had happened one year before as the day brought its fresh casualties — names we would carefully record to celebrate next year. The revolution is now caught between past and present — its recorded memory is written, photographed, and videotaped as if we now fear forgetting as much as we used to fear speaking.
And we knit, together, Syria’s bloody destiny, every murder intertwined with injustice, every revenge a setback, every chant a victory. Our revolution began in a moment of indignity and humiliation too great to bear, like Dickens’ French peasant child crushed under the wheels of nobility. But it also revealed what we had concealed as a people for decades. Our ultimate fear was not the fear of the unknown, or even the fear of tyranny. It was the fear of exposing what we had tried to hide, the universal truth that everyone tries to hide, but this time in history, it was Syria’s lot to rip itself apart and have its secrets revealed to a silently observing, judgmental world: that the best and the worst, wisdom and foolishness, belief and incredulity, light and darkness, the spring of hope and the winter of despair, exist together. Within us all.
Anthony Shadid knew this very well. He knew it is impossible to mend what was left of our country until we found a way to become greater than the sum of our battling contradictions. He knew we had nothing left but our limitless imaginations that were still in chains though we struggled to break free. Our Syria hovers between heaven and earth, oscillates between dreams and nightmares, it moves from revolution to war, from a once promising spring to yet another cruel summer, but despite it all, we hope.
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