Mazen Salhi | Engineer Canada
April 17th, 2009

Re: ‘Syria is ...

In the small town of Ma’arra in northern Syria, lies an obscure little museum of ancient art that sees disappointedly low visitor traffic. The facility houses magnificent artwork from ancient Syrian towns, including a number of large mosaic floor and wall panels. The ancient artists were so skillful in their use of the naturally colored stone chips that one can be truly taken by the beauty of some of the works. At the times they were constructed, the creation and possession of mosaic art was a measure of status and wealth. Anthropologists today also consider such works to have been a measure of peace, prosperity, and sophistication, because their production required a high level of dedication and patience that could not be fulfilled in times of turmoil. 

One charming piece after another show portraits of people. Happy-looking, multi-generational members of what clearly look like families, all gazing at us in distinct studio poses. Several renderings are even complete with name tags that identify each of the persons in the snapshots, making the artifacts a kind of a two thousand years old Facebook, forever locked in stone. The wall and floor panels were made with stone chips that came from the land, mountains and plains in the direct vicinity. The resources provided the platforms. Their integration formulated the picture.

The “picture” today is not that different. Even more than what it was two millennia ago, Syrian society is a mosaic of races, sects, languages, and religions from the region and the world at large. Its members have many tints and characters, each based on their own individual heritage, and each adds its contribution to the richness of the culture, rendering an overall composition that is arguably more coherent and at peace with itself than much of the surrounding parallels. It is by far not perfect, and it most certainly has a lot of room for improvement, but yet, it is something to be cherished and built upon.

Syria is a mosaic of its people. It is a living mosaic that needs peace, prosperity, and enlightenment to flourish. The beauty of the mosaic that is Syria shines more when each distinct member shows their unique colors and character, and when the contributions of each member, no matter how small, are given their place and are allowed to add to the big picture. Extremist, dogmatic and exclusionist ideologies will destroy the richness of Syria, and only the millenia old traditions of moderation, tolerance, wisdom, and moral values will preserve and nourish it.

Who knows, even with all the difficulties facing us, if we give it all we’ve got, we may still be able to paint a good picture for future museum goers. I hope that we will.

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12 Responses to the Article

Ihsan Baslan Says:

The Mosaic of Syria was always an advantage, and gives strength to the country and people, but the dreamer who were willing to see Syria with different function in the region tried to look at this mosaic as weak point that may be used to change Syria from inside.
the results were absolute failure always, no matter how.
The fact is that without having fair solution for the middle east core conflict, any talks on prosperity will lack chances to be true.

Mazen Says:


So nice of you to write a comment. It’s been a long time indeed.
The party you call a “dreamer” might probably be better labeled as the reckless criminal. Yes, they’ve tried more than once to use Syria’s diversity to destroy it from within, turning brother against brother along any possible line of differentiation they could lay their hands on. They have failed again, but you can be sure that they will try again, so we can never be too careful.

abufares Says:

Well Mazen
“They” almost succeeded, but not quite.
I think, and pardon my French, we’re way too old for this shit. Syrians were here much longer than anybody else. I strongly believe that they will be the last to leave.
A thoroughly entertaining and informative read.
Thank you so much for dropping by :-)

Mazen Says:

Abu Fares,

My eldest is named Fares so I qualify for your name too :)

The collective memory can be cheated. Indeed it has been in many occasions. That’s why I’d rather be careful than sorry.

Ammar Says:

Diversity and tolerance are an integral part of any functional society. Syria rich and unique history is a shining example for the others to see. I do agree with you Mazen Syria is a rich mosaic, but what concerns me at the moment is the shift in the society towards fragmentation and exclusion. I hope this trend will change with improvement in economy..

ayman hakki Says:

This is very well written. I really enjoyed reading it. The whole Syria is,.. construct has been validated by your metaphor. Syria is a mosaic and each small tile makes it beautiful in its singularity. The forces that act upon it may try to exploit this fragmentation but I agree with Abufares; Syria’s still standing. Conquerors from Hulagu to Dayan have knocked on Syria’s door, but they’re now all gone. Its mosaic remains and its diversity may be its survival’s secret: many voices advise its decision makers in perilous moments, many pockets pour funds into its coffers when times are lean…and many voices sing in its choir.

Mazen Says:


I would like to believe that the shift is temporary. Public opinion is a dynamic field and thus is one that can be influenced and changed. I think the recent attack may in fact has served as an immunization shot. It made us a little sick, but we did overcome it and hopefully have learned a lot from it.

Mazen Says:


Thank you. Yes, the diversity is an advantage, and a potent one at that.

Bisher Imam Says:


“and each adds its contribution to the richness of the culture, rendering an overall composition that is arguably more coherent and at peace with itself than much of the surrounding parallels.”

I love that prose. Would we, or would our descendants one day look back and say, that was the time when Syria’s essence, almost lost, was regained?

Mazen Says:


To answer your questions, consider the Law of Large Numbers, with the view that every single one of us is a “random variable”. To the single element, we may never be aware of what the sum game is, but the choice we have is do we push the average up, or do we push it down. The influence may be infinitesimal, but it’s not insignificant.

I believe that the best motivator is the satisfaction of accomplishment. The more the system empowers the individual to achieve, the more motivated they will be and the more upward will they influence the result.

History, like statistics, looks at sums and averages. It is art that’s more concerned with details.

Ann Galal Says:

I love this and I love Syria. Ma’arra was one of the highlights of my stay in your unique country, which I felt very privileged to visit. I would also say that I felt incredibly welcomed by everyone I met. Long may Syria be preserved from the scourge of globalisation! Syria is the only country I have visited in the Middle East that truly values and has managed to hold on to all the best aspects of its cultural heritage. You put Egypt to shame!

Mazen Says:


Thank you for your kind words.

“Syria is the only country I have visited in the Middle East that truly values and has managed to hold on to all the best aspects of its cultural heritage.”

I agree with that and in fact enjoy it every time I go back there. No McDonnald’s, Starbucks, or KFC, but genuine, local heritage.

I have been to Mecca, and I cannot tell you how sorry I feel to see it littered with fast food and American style Cafes.

You’re welcome back anytime. Glad you enjoyed the visits and article.

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