How it came to this

mohjaBy Mohja Kahf


It Came to This



For Kurdish rights in Syria

For Kurds stripped of citizenship since 1963

stripped of their land   their language   their names

whipped by the Arab Belt of the Baath

no economic justice no equality no


dignity for prisoners of conscience in Syria

families of prisoners assemble on the curb

outside the Justice Building in Damascus

for Tal Malouhi, 17, imprisoned for a poem

for a word   for an essay   for a blog

no charge no warrant no

redress and no recourse

for Raghda Hassan, imprisoned for her novel manuscript

her ten-year-old son on the curb beaten at the vigil

no charge no warrant no


accountability of government

its rubber-stamp parliament

its executive all powerful for life

its security branches all powerful

all seventeen of them

its Mr. Ten Percent lining his pockets

the Assad family plundering the country

For human rights in Syria

for the schoolboys of Daraa

imprisoned for a word scribbled on a school wall

beaten purple

Draught made Daraa dry for a spark

from the haughtiness of Daraa’s

police state authorities

draining the countryside  stuffing their pockets full

police state corruption

police state terror


For this and much more than this the people poured into the street

It was enough



lift martial law

release the prisoners

give us justice

enough police state bullying

enough police state terrorizing us

give us this day our dignity

this day we take it back

this day we wake it up

inside us





the people want

no violence no

sectarianism no

foreign military intervention

one one one the Syrian people are one

Sunni Druze and Alawite

for justice Syrians unite

Christian Muslim hand in hand

Arabs Kurds Assyrians

with one voice we all demand

the people want the fall of the regime



Live fire on unarmed protesters

and the first three young men fell

unarmed in Daraa town

Hussam Ayyash    Mahmoud Jawabra    Ayman Hariri

And their funeral marches

become protest marches

And regime troops shoot live fire at mourners

More fallen, more funerals, more marches, more

And tanks surround Daraa town

And machine guns fire on Daraa town

And army troops march on Daraa town

And the alarm sounds all over Syria    fez’a, fez’a

An alarm for Daraa – rise, rise, to the aid of Daraa

And the people rose in towns all over Syria

The regime media spun “armed gangs”

but there were no armed gangs

regime media said “foreign agitators”

but there were no foreign agitators

regime media said “caliphate terrorists”

but there were no caliphate terrorists

except the ones the regime slipped from prison just then

And the people clapped their unarmed hands above their heads

and in Banyas they lifted loaves of bread in their hands for Daraa

and from Damsacus they set out with milk for Daraa

And the people








noise protests

silent protests

hunger strikes

work strikes

shops closed

work slow-downs

lights-off protests

water bottles for soldiers sent to fire on protesters

eye contact with soldiers



local councils

local elections


food caravans between villages of different sects


crates of vegetables

bags of clothes

flower protests

bread protests

bread for the hungry in the trunk of my cousin’s car for which they arrested her

smuggling solar panels through state checkpoints


hiding the wanted activist

documenting atrocities

mourning together

singing the anthem of Syria in protest   ours now

organizing without ideologies

underground schools

underground hospitals

underground art

underground love



white-shirt security men

black-shirt security men

water hoses

electrocuting billyclubs

live fire on unarmed protesters

sniper fire on unarmed citizens


home invasions

arrest sweeps



stripping  whipping naked

genital electrocution

fingernail extraction

breaking hands of journalists

breaking teeth

breaking bones

bending the body backward to break the spine



hanging on meathooks

binding in rubber tires then beating

torture by doctors in state hospitals

military trials of civilians

torture of children in front of parents

psychological torture

extra-judicial executions


prisoner massacres

mass graves

bribe demands


state thugs




rape farms

torched crops



foreign military advisors

foreign military recruits

fueling sect-based hatred

fueling ethnic rivalries

fueling tribal rivalries

killing journalists

targeting hospitals

targeting schools

close-range slaughter with knives by paramilitaries


after massacre

after massacre



army defectors from the neighborhood at first

villagers banding together at first   brigades and statements

hunting rifles at first, and pocket knives

then weapons warehouses and police stations seized

then arms from the smuggling routes

when those were not enough, they opened the door for more

from foreign weapons suppliers

to protect the neighborhoods    the villages

Peace be upon you, protectors of home—

then they manned their own checkpoints

their own arrest sweeps   informants

kidnappings      hunting down “traitors”

with their own security forces now

their own foreign recruits

ideologues   warlords    their own Mr. Ten Percents

heroized   glamorized   entouraged

child soldiers    hostages   ransom demands

prisoners torture decapitation executions of their own

silencing activists of their own   killing journalists of their own

tribalism    rivalry   fueling sect-based hate

shelling bombing massacring

lessons learned in the master’s house

will not liberate no will not protect no



and they became armed gangs at last

and they became caliphate terrorists at last

and the foreign agitators came at last

and drew red lines and withdrew red lines

and hooked their hooks into Syrian backs

and jerked and toyed with Syrian lives




stop the killing stop we

want to build

a country

for all Syrians




sarin gas

weaponized chlorine


car explosions

rebel suicide bombs

rebel shelling

Jabha shelling

Kurdish shelling

ISIS shelling

Daesh decapitations

starvation sieges

humanitarian aid convoys blocked

two towns besieged by rebels

forty towns besieged by Assad

kneel or starve

one million Syrians starving

half a million Syrians killed

forced conscription by regime

barrel bombs

bunker bombs

apartment-block razing bombs dropped from five kilos in the sky

Syrian army airstrikes

foreign army airstrikes

city blocks in rubble

evacuees shot at checkpoints

displaced Syrians covered in dust

refugees drowning in desperation

my brother with his sister on his back

my sister facing the world with all she owns bundled on her back

unaccompanied minor, 14, behind barbed wire in Greece for what will be years

thirteen million Syrians gone

more than half the population

country of my birth destroyed


after massacre

after massacre



That’s how it came to this.


Born in Damascus, Mohja Kahf is a poet, novelist, scholar and activist. She is the author of the poetry volume E-mails from Scheherazad, the novel The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf, the critical study Western Representations of the Muslim Woman: Fom Termagant to Odalisque, and the report Then and Now: The Syrian Revolution to Date. She is Professor of Middle Eastern Studies, Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies at the University of Arkansas, where she teaches courses in Arabic literature, the Quran, medieval Spain, and Muslim feminist thought.

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