Archive for April 2012
I haven’t been writing about Syria at my previous pace. The time is not right.
This is a time for Syrian internet activists, those still surviving, to send us their videos. It’s a time for gathering evidence – although no more evidence is needed.
It’s a time for reporters to write, for committed foreign journalists to smuggle themselves inside and tell the tale. (You could call the murdered journalists martyrs, because they chose to go to a place where they knew they might die, and they did so for the sake of the truth.)
People who have specific human stories to tell should tell them. I hear the occasional story, and I might relay some of them; but I am not there. I am observing from Scotland.
This time is the beginning of a long process of creative mulling for those who will eventually produce novels and films concerned with the tragedy.
Most of all it’s a time in which people scream and suffer and die, a time to wait for the next explosion, or the next kick at the door, or for the return of the rapists, or for the next shriek of pain and humiliation from the neighbouring cell. It’s a time for burying children at night, hastily, in silence. And the suffering continues with glacial inevitability. Fate doesn’t seem to plan an end to it, not yet.
This was published in the excellent Ceasefire magazine.
Ba‘athism began as a conscious attempt to supercede the sectarian and regional divisions which plague the Arab world. That’s why many of its early ideologues were Christians or members of other minority groups. The Ba‘athist slogan umma arabiya wahida zat risala khalida – One Arab Nation Bearing an Eternal Message – employing the word for ‘nation’ which previously designated the international Muslim community, and the word for ‘message’ previously associated with the Prophet Muhammad’s divine message – suggests that this variety of Arabism actually intended to supercede religion itself, or to become a new religion.
In Iraq it all went wrong very quickly. Saddamist Ba‘athism in effect designated ethnic Arabs of the Sunni sect as true Arabs, the Shia majority as quasi-Persian infiltrators, and the Kurds as an enemy nation. Saddam even wrote a characteristic pamphlet called ‘Three Things God Should Not Have Invented – Persians, Jews and Flies’, and so demonstrated the slip from nationalism to fascism.
Syria was somewhat different, somewhat more sophisticated. Despite the fact that the president and his top spies and generals were Alawis from the Lattakkia region, only Sunni Islam and Christianity were taught in the education system (to the chagrin of traditional Alawi shaikhs). When the president prayed in public he prayed in the manner of the majority, Sunni-style. In the last couple of decades the regime sought to broaden its base by coopting Sunni businessmen as well as soldiers from the minority groups. And the majority’s rituals and religious festivals were never banned as they were in Iraq.
I’d like to draw your attention to the Critical Muslim, a new quarterly journal which looks like a book. I co-edit the journal with Ziauddin Sardar, who is perhaps Britain’s most prominent ‘critical Muslim’. The CM is concerned with the politics, economics, culture, law and literature of the Muslim world – and of course the Muslim world today includes locations such as London and Lima. Our writers are convinced and sceptical Muslims, religious and cultural Muslims, and non-Muslims. We publish a range of perspectives, usually but not always with a somewhat leftist leaning. And the CM has a sense of humour.
I’m very proud of the arts section. The first issues include a story by the accomplished British-Pakistani writer Aamer Hussein, poetry and prose from upcoming Iraqi writers (one of whom is the very highly-rated Hassan Blasim), a selection of the Arabic poetry (Qabbani and others) which accompanied the Arab uprisings, essays on the Palestine Literature Festival and the Erbil Literature Festival (in Iraqi Kurdistan), a great story of cross-cultural love (and disappointment) by young British writer Suhel Ahmed, poetry from the great Mimi Khalvati, an essay on Muslim jazz, and much more.