An Apology to the Aligned

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A Syrian refugee stands on 20 June 2012 at the Kilis refugee camp near the Syrian border. (Photo: AFP - Adem Altan)

By: Ounsi el-Hajj

Published Friday, June 22, 2012

I understand the yearning for biased writing. It lets off steam, especially with regard to Syria. There is too much duplicity and obfuscation here, not only out of fear of assassination, but also to avoid angering the reader – and the Syrian reader, for those who know, is very dear to the heart.

I understand the yearning for frankness, for taking sides and making up one’s mind. I understand readers’ irritation at moral sermonizing, which they often find tedious not to say patronizing. I too yearn for something to unburden me when I read, and I cannot stand evaders and sophists. I might be one of them myself sometimes, but that does not prevent me not standing them. For I cannot stand myself when I dissemble, in deference to the requirement of living under our “democratic” regimes and in our well-meaningly bigoted societies.

There are Syrian reasons for vacillating on the subject of Syria: The regime in Damascus has two faces, one gentle and one bloody, and the revolution in Damascus has two faces, one secular and one Islamist. There is endless confusion and an abundance of ulterior motives.

Only the blood is honest and clear. That is why it beckons us and we bow to it. Blood, especially children’s blood, is above everyone. And it rules over everyone, so long as deception remains master of the situation, and there is no court to name and arraign the perpetrators.

If we read Asharq al-Awsat or al-Hayat (Saudi newspapers), we find that the perpetrator is the regime alone. If we read Al-Akhbar, we find that the regime is the victim of a worldwide conspiracy because it resists American imperial schemes. If we watch Al Jazeera, we marvel that there are still people left alive in Syria amid the incessant barrage of shelling, not to mention the participation of tanks, warplanes, shabeeha and mercenaries. If we watch al-Dunya or the official Syrian satellite channel, all is calm on the front other than a few crimes committed by armed gangsters.

Should we blame the media? The media are an extension of (or facade for) the regimes and sects. It would be unfair to the Arabs to confine the description to them. We saw the deceptions in the US media and the European press before, during and after the invasion of Iraq. Nobody, neither Bush nor Blair, has been made to answer for their falsification of history. America’s allies and its free media were never held to account for the genocide in Iraq, the looting of its oil and treasures, and the tearing apart of the great country called by al-Masudi the “key to the world”. Our Arab media – despite their laughable and lamentable biases – remain innocent in comparison to the American media and its European affiliates.

But without being unfair to our newspapers and media, they cannot be absolved. In the midst of this vertical and horizontal split in the Arab World and Middle East, nobody dares rise above the massacre and rattle everyone with the voice of truth. The sect is stronger than the mind, and the denomination stronger than the sect. Nobody capable of bringing about peace wants it. The only people who want peace are the defenseless and poor, those who earn their bread daily, and who are preoccupied with considerations of survival and staying alive.

Nobody any longer wants to avoid erring, or remain above the crime. There is something more strife-provoking than death and live: There is the trap. Sometimes, minds (and pockets and claws) can no longer resist falling into it. If they were to do so alone, the fall would be bearable. But they drag peoples down with them. And while dragging down the peoples, they themselves usually avoid having to pay any price whatsoever.

I wish I could take sides: with the Shia Crescent, the Sunni Oceanus , the Kurds, the Copts, Wahhabism or the Taliban, with Hassan al-Sabbah or Osama bin Laden, with Nato, the CIA, or with fairytale figures. I wish I had the luxury. But I am too vague to be categorized, and too undecided to join lines. Single-mindedness is not for me. I am air above water.

I am a child of 1958, and of 1975 and its aftermath. I am a child of when we were all taken for a ride. I am the child of fearing the Muslims who will slaughter me, or the Druze or Christians who will slaughter me. I am the child of fearing every slap in the face lest it turn into a civil war.

I am a child of the realization that we Arabs are politically backward, blind and unreading, deaf and unhearing, and mute except in our farcical shows of shouting and lamentation. I am firm in my view because my innocence was assaulted, and sparing in my sympathies because I spent a lifetime being torn by those who sought to pull me to the right or left. There is something of both within me, something of neither, and something I am still looking for. Neither the Christians nor the Muslims represent me, and the Lebanese, with their gullibility and insanity, drive me to suicide at times, and to suffocation at others.

I do not want to be divided. The Syrian army’s shells during the Lebanon’s wars did not make me hate Syria, and the secularism of the Assad regime does not persuade me to side with it against a people oppressed in body and spirit. I do not want to be two halves...

My gauge is compassion, not justice, I understand enmity, but not crime. I do not write about politics out of commitment to an ideological or partisan line, but out of fear for people. And we today, in Lebanon, Syria Iraq and the rest of the Arab world, are passing through a tunnel in which nobody fears for anyone else any longer, but all are fearful of each other.

The Assad regime does not appeal to me, nor any dictatorial regime that deems the country to be its private property and the people an enemy. I am unpersuaded by a secularism which breeds confessionalism, and will not believe in the secularism of any Arab regime until the day religion and state are fully and finally separated.

On the other hand, I can find nothing in common with the Arab regimes that are stoking the Syrian revolution. On the contrary, the fact that these regimes in particular are stoking it makes me deeply apprehensive about Syria’s fate. However much I try not to be, I am suspicious of the motives, and fearful of what is sought for our countries after the downfall of our tyrants: The democracy of Salafism? The democracy of anarchy and sectarianism? The deluge of ethnic, sectarian and tribal fragmentation? Or extinction by means of endless civil wars, and secessions spawning more secessions?

Back to the question of what position to take on developments in Syria. With whom, and against whom? With what Assad could have done in the first weeks of the peaceful protests, but which he failed to do, and which is too late to do now. We want freedom for the Syrians even if it takes them to hell. Freedom to speak and write, to oppose or support, and to resume their normal civilian lives without being spied on, without confiscations, arrests or the paranoia that has plagued Syria for half a century . We are for a Syria that resembles Lebanon before 1975, and before 1970, and before 1967. We are for a Syria that resembles Syria before the Baath and before the ruinous military coups initiated by Hosni al-Zaim. We want a Syria without sectarian, ethnic or confessional complications, a Syria at the heart of the East and not just of Arabism.

The war underway is pure criminal folly. Its principal victims are those who are slain in order to fuel the killing, not those who fall fighting. I do not take sides when taking sides strengthens the killing, and because I can accommodate adversaries when I see the humanity of both.

I do not take sides because I do not possess the truth and dislike those who do.

I take the side of the children, the ordinary and the weak.

I take the side of the defenseless and abducted.

I side against the cold-blooded and the hot- and lukewarm-blooded killers.

I side against the sources of fear wherever they are.

Ounsi el-Hajj is a renowned Lebanese poet and Editorial Consultant at Al-Akhbar. He writes a weekly commentary and literary prose column for the Arabic Edition of Al-Akhbar.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


Ounsi el-Hajj.

A humane voice that is clear and true, soars above the clamor like the song of a bird.


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