Hassan Raymond Tahhan | M.D. United States
April 17th, 2009

Re: ‘Syria is ...

I fell asleep early, after a longer than usual day at work. In my dream, I was walking on a small windy road with scattered trees on both sides, and the rising sun at the horizon. I eventually made my way to a village plaza with a small fountain and many large tables, with men and women sitting but neither eating nor drinking. As a matter of fact, they were just waiting for me.

A single seat was left, and after I sat, I looked around me, and the women, and the men, were still there, but I was now at the center of an old amphitheater, and they were all looking at me.

My audience was made of common people, and there was not a single illustrious individual. Yet, I was able to recognize them as my memories were coming back, from the classes of history to the classes of life itself. They were so diverse: an Assyrian soldier, three women from Mari, two adolescents from Ebla, Arameans from Hazael’s and Ben Haddad’s kingdoms, several Nabateans, a Kurdish Ayyubide family, a group of Romans mixed with Syrian city dwellers from 25 BC, seven Arab Jews from different eras, three Nestorian clergymen, four proud Hejazi cavalrymen, Armenian deserters from the Ottoman army, Druze fighters from Maysaloun, and even a cohort of crusaders who had shed their European garb for the more forgiving outfit of the average Levantine peasant. There were many more, but I could not see them all, only those sitting in the front rows. They intimated to me in unison that I could ask any question about Syria, Syrians, the past, the present, and even the future.

And my thoughts were that I was lucky, that I could get the essence of our historical past, with its moral and ethical lessons for generations to come. An eternity, it seems, passed and after numerous questions and answers, I felt that I had all my questions answered. I woke up.

I remember that my audience spoke with one voice; they told me:

-That waging war was foolish, but that humans must resist oppression and injustice
-That factionalism, under its many forms, is a cancer for society, especially in Syria
-That religion is great but only if our sectarian experience puts tolerance above all creeds
-That men and women should and must be very equal, yet they are very different
-That authoritarianism will unavoidably give way to libertarianism
-That an equalitarian society is the best self-sustaining model for any society
-That fraternity is not only a large melting pot but it is also our prime societal virtue
-That Syria will always be at the crossroads, at all the crossroads
-That Palestine, Syria, and Mesopotamia, were, are, and will always be the crossroads
-That invaders come by the Levant to learn to be more civilized
-That we have, however, unluckily learned too much from the invaders’ lack of civilization
-That we are more diverse than any society, and we should continue to be so
-That we should remain a vibrant mosaic
-That our own brand of cosmopolitism has withstood several millennia
-That we are more homogeneous than any society, because we tend to rally and unite
-That contradictions constitute the rule, and not the exception, in Syria
-That without our contradictions, we would have no longing and no nostalgia
-That our expatriates form many beautiful branches to a beautiful multi-millenarian tree
-That colonizers and invaders keep menacing us and will always do so
-That we are impervious to colonizers and invaders
-That many previous colonizers and invaders are now grains of sand in the Syrian Desert
-That other previous colonizers and invaders are now part of what we have become today
-That Syria is eternal

One of my relatives is an expert at interpreting dreams. I shared this one, just because it was so vivid. I was told that it was both a utopian projection of a perfect Syria and a rejection of current flaws of modern society in general, and of the Syrian society of today in particular. The most interesting aspect of my dream, I learned, was that the “message” bestowed to me came from common folks rather than famous individuals.

Later, I was reading old journals from my parents’ collection. I stumbled on the written account of an interview, conducted in French, of Andre Malraux, famous author and resistant, who had joined Charles de Gaulle. He was appointed Minister of Culture in France after World War II. Malraux was asked to define culture by the interviewer. His response: “Culture is what is left in you when you have forgotten everything” provides us with a great lesson. It means that the lessons of history and of life will help shape us, but that it does so sub-consciously.

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7 Responses to the Article

Mazen Says:

Hassan,

Nice dream, and a very nice article. I especially like the statement “that invaders come by the Levant to learn to be more civilized” How true it is, and how costly have their learning been on Syria’s people.

Hassan Raymond Tahhan Says:

Mazen,
Yes, brother.
Too bad we do not have the copyright laws that Westerners do.

Bisher Imam Says:

Hassan
After reading your excellent essay, I closed my eyes and tried to internalize your dream and to imagine your audience. And it was a fantastic experience. Each of the lessons you learned and your are passing to us is worth a great deal of contemplation. Thank you for sharing this wonderful essay.

My favorites were

-That contradictions constitute the rule, and not the exception, in Syria

-That without our contradictions, we would have no longing and no nostalgia

Hassan Raymond Tahhan Says:

Bisher Imam,
I learned the issue about contradictions from my own father. He is very skilled at changing people’s opinion; only, once he has succeeded, he will change his stated opinions significantly and restart arguing, alleging some nuances in his opinions that the others could not understand. But enough regarding our love for long discussions…
About nostalgia and longing, I have lived in several countries across several continents, but I always feel naturally at home when I am in Syria; it must be because all my formative memories are of Syria…

offended Says:

Hassan,

Thank you very much for the evocative and heart-felt account of your dream. It was very enjoyable to read.

Like Bisher, I tried to visulaize your audience in their costumes and in their poise; I am usually intimated by public speaking but would spend hours with them if such arrangement was possible. Would probably end up with similar outcome, but not as articulate since I am addmitedly not as knowledgable when it comes to the History of Syria as you are.

“-That our expatriates form many beautiful branches to a beautiful multi-millenarian tree”

Being one small bud of the many branches of Syrian expatriates, I hope I can always contribute to the well-being of this evergreen and everlasting tree.

Hassan Raymond Tahhan Says:

Offended,
Thank you for your kind remarks.
I am grateful to my father; besides teaching for over sixty years, he has taught me, and he continues to teach me, a great deal about Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Mesopotomia, and the Levant in general.
He is also the reason I am so fond of cosmopolitism, but the Syrian way, with a significant Aleppine twist. We are Syrians and will always be Syrians, no matter what. Man nakara aslahu…
And, yes, you can be extremely cosmopolitan while keeping your roots for many generations. None of us was born Syrian by accident.

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