I love the ‘80s: Syrian Edition
by Zakira Suriya
For Americans, the ‘80s represented everything cool and decadent. From synthesized music, flowing money, and oversized shoulder pads, what was not to love? But across the world in Syria, it is a decade most people would much rather forget: witnessing mass murder in Hama, living in terror from the secret police, watching the single, state-owned, television channel spewing its nightly propaganda, walking down ancestral streets rendered unrecognizable by monumental statues and large-scale posters hailing the glories of the eternal Father, Hafiz Assad. It is a decade Syrians would have liked to keep repressed in the darkest holes of memory, but instead they find themselves thirty years later, reliving it once again.
Bashar Assad is constructing a time warp to 1982, plagiarizing his father’s tactics to perfection (with minor modifications to claim 2011 as his own): Islamic fundamentalist threat (once the Muslim Brotherhood, now the Salafiya), menacing thugs on the street (once the mukhbarat, now called shabbiha), ruthless brother to take charge of the destruction now and hopefully take the blame later (first Rifaat, now Maher), enforced isolation (physically surrounding a city with tanks, now switching off the internet). While the techniques and names have changed, the desired outcome is the same: resurrect the crumbling walls of fear and send the Syrian people back into their caves of submission.
The Ba’ath Party has always been a fan of historic revisionism, attributing any progress in Syria to the Assad clan and blaming the setbacks on the imperial West and of course, Israel. But, today we live historic repetition, where the eternal Leader orchestrates the sins of his son from the grave. So, after Daraa, Banyas, and Homs, we are back to where we were before, Hama. Thirty years ago, Hama was the end of the first resistance, the first struggle, the end that slaughtered over 20,000 people, imprisoned thousands more, and left a once vibrant city demolished, its women and children left to live over the mass graves of their sons, fathers, brothers, and husbands. Fast-forward thirty years later and Assad Jr. seems to be intent rewinding the cassette, pausing on the bloodiest years… What will be the end this time? How many people must die? How many bloggers will vanish for voicing their inconvenient opinions? How many people from Jisr Al-Shughur must flee to Turkish refugee camps, stepping off their land that is no longer safe? How many families will be threatened and forced to publicly declare Bashar the “best president ever” while they stand over the tortured, mutilated body of their 13-year-old child?
Will we crawl back through the time warp to live through another thirty years of repression? Will we stand as silent witnesses while the constitution is changed so Hafiz Jr. can inherit the country? Will our children watch grainy vintage YouTube videos to study the chants of 2011? Will they nostalgically read underground, forbidden accounts of an elusive “Arab Spring”? Will they remember a hopeful season that could have been, that should have been, that would have been, but in the end, just didn’t?
No, the people of Syria will not go back to 1982; they are busy rewriting history with their blood. They are imagining new selves with new hopes in a new world where street vendors claim freedom with their bodies, selves that will build a new future based on the rich past of Syria not the gruesome Assad era. Bashar continues to bet on his father’s one-hit-wonder “fear paralysis” while the people stand on the side of history, where the tyrant always falls with his statues.
So a note to Mr. Assad: There will be a different end to the story of 2011, not the ending of 1982, because you have forgotten that your iron fist has created iron warriors of us all. We have learned to live without water, without electricity, without cell phones, without satellite television, and we will live without the internet. The children of Syria have even learned to live without their fingernails, and they will continue to scratch out your image with their blood. You taught us to march for what we never believed in. You taught us to chant our declaration of love to what we never adored. So how do you expect us not to fight for our country, just and free? After decades of pretending, we finally chant what is true: “We would rather face death than humiliation.” Listen to the sound of Syrians creating their “new selves,” the selves they always had, but never dared to claim. Their chants ring louder than all your stone lions. You can try to switch them off, erase them, but we will still hear them… The world hears them… The question is: do you?