|Abufares | Architect||Tartous, Syria|
Re: ‘Syria is ...’
On a stormy night in February 1960 another child was born. The egress from the womb could have occurred at any place but chances were that I was born in Syria, in a sleepy little town by the sea known as Tartous. A geographical accident, no more, made me a Syrian.
I grew up in a magical time and place, when and where everybody knew my name. My hometown was a typical Mediterranean fishing village. Folks worked and played together effusively oblivious to descent, affluence and creed. With the sun lifting her skirt daintily above the knees and dipping herself unashamedly in the bluest of blue seas, men gathered around square wooden tables and played cards. Women walked leisurely along the tree-lined Al-Mina Street, pushing babies in strollers and enjoying the unhindered view to the west and the cool evening breeze wafting from the east.
The winds of change blew over the Levant altering the landscape as it has done so many times in the long course of history. Happy times were followed by abysmal ones. As I became of age, the ingrained travel bug nagged at me. I stood by the eternal sea and looked back at what I was leaving behind. Syrians were increasingly identifying themselves more microscopically. They were Muslims or Christians. Turning the magnification level further, they inhered in a sect of Islam or a church in Christianity. They were rich or poor. The rich were snobby and the poor detestable. They went their different ways as there were no more places to host them both. They were liberal or traditional. They belittled each other by virtue of the way they dressed or celebrated their nuptials. Syrians differed from city to city, from street to street, from home to home. Yet these were not the disparities that jointly form a mosaic of colors, shades and hues. They were mere pieces of a giant puzzle with a tedious and dull background. Their discord only vanished within the confines of a stifling political calaboose. They whispered in hushed voices and looked behind their shoulders. They shared their fears of walls… walls with ears everywhere.
The illegitimate affair between mosque and state produced a misbegotten political model which threw its shadow over the entire Arab world. Colonialism or not, we were breastfed subservience to our leaders with good manners and hospitality. No vision of liberation was conceived by the intellectual elite. The curse of polarization and division that plagued the masses infected the upper cerebral echelon of society with equal force. Bootlickers usurping stolen wealth, forming a new parasitic socioeconomic class, holding the welfare of the country hostage in their despicable hands and partners in crime on one side and disillusioned expatriates conquering distant lands, disenchanted denizens waiting in queues for their daily bread and nihilistic fundamentalists seeking salvation in the archaic realm of fanaticism on the other. A magnificent human tapestry, millennia in the making was ripped apart in front of my eyes while Syria lost her way and succumbed to her external injuries and internal bleeding.
But she was not born yesterday my Syria. She has witnessed wave after wave of raiders from without and vandals from within triumph then lose their grip and vanish like swill in the gutters of time. Like the mythical phoenix, she will rise from her ashes. Syria is Abu Al-Alaa Al Maari (973-1057), author of “A Treatise on Forgiveness” which was the inspiration for Dante’s Divine Comedy. Syria is Nizar Qabbani (1923-1998) the greatest modern Arab poet who made women and Damascus even more beautiful than they already were. Syria is Sadik Jalal Al-Azm (1934 – ) who attacked, head-on, the putrid state of theological reason and political literature, unabashed, unafraid and unperturbed. Syria is Saadallah Wanous (1941-1997) one of the most influential playwrights of the 20th century on the international scene and a social and political critic with a sharp eye for the details behind the details at home.
Syria is also ordinary people with a passion for the good life. Syria is two adoring young lovers holding hands on a mountain road and stealing moments of joy and intimacy. Syria is a brilliant new generation of youthful men and women capably chiseling their freedom and emancipation from the rocks of stagnation and conformity. Syria is the unborn children who will come along and set her on the proper course in the making of history. Syria is her persevering and ingenious people waiting impatiently on the sideline. Syria is a sailor who leaves his home behind in search of fortune in lands beyond. Syria is a Tartoussi, sitting by the sea, trousers rolled, a glass of Arak in hand, cheering “Kasak Ya Watan”. Syria is me.