Archive for December 2011
Today demonstrators marched against the Syrian regime in Majdal Shams on the occupied Golan Heights. (For believers in the sectarian narrative, most of the people here happen to be Druze, not Sunnis). One of their slogans was ash-sha‘ab yureed tahreer al-jowlan – The People Want the Liberation of the Golan. The Syrian regime, which has slaughtered over 6,000 civilians since the revolution started, hasn’t fired a bullet over the Golan since 1973. In the clip below Asad loyalists confront the protestors, but are outnumbered. The demonstrators shout almowt wala almuzuleh – Death Rather Than Humiliation – and illi yiqtil sha‘abu kha’in – He Who Kills his People is a Traitor.
It’s interesting to note that the Golan was occupied by Zionists in 1967, before most of the demonstrators were born, and illegally annexed in 1982. The very Syrian drama unfolding on these ‘Israeli’ streets proves – if proof were needed – the absurdity of Zionist hopes that Arab national identity on occupied territory will gradually evaporate.
Many Syrians have been awaiting this moment with dread. A further step down into bloody chaos and incipient civil war, a further step into the dark. This morning two car bombs exploded at security installations in Kafar Souseh, Damascus. At least thirty people were killed and over 100 injured.
Who’s to blame? There is no evidence of anyone’s guilt, and there won’t be any credible evidence while the criminal Asad regime remains in power and continues to lie and to block journalists’ access. This means that pro-regime people will follow the regime line and blame al-Qa’ida, and anti-regime people will blame the regime. I make no bones about it: I’m firmly in the anti-regime camp. Those who followed my writing before this year will know that I was once willing to give the regime the benefit of the doubt. Not any longer. This year I’ve been forced to admit that the regime is a lot less intelligent, a lot less sophisticated, than I thought. Back in February it had enough popularity to lead a genuine reform process. It’s entirely possible that Bashaar al-Asad, had he played this revolutionary year right, could have won a real election. But he didn’t play it right. From the start his regime slaughtered peaceful protestors and subjected thousands to torture, including children, even to death. Worst of all, the regime instrumentalised sectarianism in an attempt to divide and rule. After months of attacks by armed Alawi gangs on predominantly Sunni lives and property there are now instances of ‘revenge’ attacks on innocent Alawis, and tit for tat sectarian killings particularly in Homs and its surrounding countryside. All of this could have been predicted months ago. Of course, the mechanics of these killings is as obscure as that behind the bomb attacks in Damascus today. Some revolutionaries believe the regime is behind the killings of Alawis too, because it aims to spark a sectarian war which it thinks it can win. And we must not forget that sectarian war is still – to the credit of the Syrian people – not the dominant strain in the conflict. There are thousands of defected soldiers, many of whom have seen their comrades gunned down. If they had chosen to they could have attacked the minorities in a coordinated fashion. They haven’t. And the Alawi actress Fadwa Sulaiman is still leading demonstrations in the Sunni heart of Homs.
A slightly shorter version of this review appeared in The Independent.
Places have moods, this novel reminds us. Sometimes Sarmada, a mountain village rising from the Hauran plain of southern Syria, is all “oblivion, dust and tedium”; at other times it’s a shimmering delight, each rock, tree, spring, cliff and cave owning rich meanings and histories. Sarmada is also “a Sheherazade”, a generator of tales, so many tales we can’t possibly hear them all. “I thought about telling her the joke about the overweight fortune-teller,” Azzam writes, “but..”
Like the Arabian Nights, “Sarmada” contains stories within a frame story. The frame and trigger is a meeting with Azza Tawfiq, an expert in chaos theory at the Sorbonne who (following the Druze tenet of transmigration) believes she lived in Sarmada in a past life as a murdered girl called Hela Mansour. Bemused, disbelieving, the narrator returns from “chasing dreams in Paris and delusions in Dubai” to excavate the village’s memories, at first on Azza’s behalf.