Humanly Syrian Stories


Destruction in Syria

Destruction in Syria

During the madness of war, one can’t possibly weave story that tells it all. There is no story that would ever show the whole picture of the horrors happening in Syria. Media news channels may focus on numbers, numbers of bombs, chemical arms, casualties, refugees, migrants, etc. They may focus of the political divide, the power struggle, and the calculations of winning and losing. People from the outside, may take sides, ignoring the fact that the loss far exceeds whatever media channels could cover. It is the loss of an entire nation (not a country) because it is the loss of people that matters. The stories of each individual affected in this power play are the real stories that should be making the headlines.

Last week, during the follow-up of the YLVP13 (Young Leaders Visitors Program) in Amman, I met a young Syrian guy. Ibrahim Al-Assil introduced himself to me as one of the members of the Syrian non-violence movement. A movement that aims to bring back sanity to the country, calling for change via non-violent means. He, along with his fellow members of this movement are courageous admirable people. He was jailed and tortured before, released and moved to the UAE. Yet, he refuses to settle with the comfortable life in Dubai, and plan to go back to Syria in order to push for the non-violent movement agenda. He told, “Syria needs us, we can’t leave to mad people”. He believes that with communication, he, and his fellows, can help those people see the madness of their action and talk them back to their sane self.

Though part of me think he is mad himself, going back in a suicidal mission to convince armed fighters on the ground to drop their weapons and adhere to non-violent methods, yet looking at his passion towards this cause, I could only admire the amount of humanity he has in his heart. It is only because he is humanly beyond our imagination, that he sees the humanity in the hearts of those fighters and thinks that he could reason with them. It is beyond media coverage, beyond political leaders, beyond ignorance and madness. It is people like him that Syria needs right now, people like him that gives me hope.

I am sure that each and every Syrian has a similar story to tell. Wars may have the capabilities of bringing out the worst in us, but they are very well capable of bringing out the best in us as well. I met Dana Dajani, the Director of Madrasati initiation at the Chevening Regional Conference. She was telling me that she wishes she could capture the amount of stories she hears because of her work. One of the touching stories is for a Syrian little girl in 2nd grade who lost both of her parents for the war. She came to Jordan with her grandmother. One day she headed to a nearby school and wanted to get in to study. Sadly, they didn’t allow her in because the school was full and there is no space from more students. The little girl tried to argue with the school principal, telling her how good she is in languages, that she knows how to read and write, and that she even memories poems! They refused her entry, only to see her next day bringing a carpet, placing it on the floor at the gate of the school, and telling them that she will do that everyday till she gets her right for education.

Another story comes from a school in Karak. A little Jordanian girl gives her daily allowance of 30 pence to her Syrian friend. After few days, her teacher got worried, she thought that maybe the Jordanian girl is bullied to do that. She asked her, why are you giving your allowance to your Syrian friend. The girl answered “I would spend my allowance on buying chips, but my friend would spend it on buying bread, she needs it more”.

There are only 3 stories among millions of stories that we fail to capture. I just wish that the media focuses more on the human side of this struggle rather than echoing the loud voice of the political powers.

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A tale of two singers: Elissa and Fadel Shaker – the ambivalence of the Arabic culture


Fadel Shaker holding a gun

Fadel Shaker holding a gun

Elissa winning two Murex D'or Award 2013

Elissa winning two Murex D’or Awards 2013

A few years ago, Elissa and Fadel Shaker came together into a duet song called “Gowwa Al Ro7” (inside the soul); a romantic song of two lovers conversing how much they love each other. At that time, it was a perfect match for two of the most popular Arab singers who excelled in these types of songs. Fadel was no less romantic than Elissa, and his songs carried no less love.

Fast forward to the 23th of Jun, 2013 (yesterday), Elissa is on stage in one of the biggest celebrations of the TV industry in the Arab World, The Murex D’or, celebrating her success with two awards: Best Lebanese Singer, and Best Arabic Song “As3ad Wahdah” (the happiest). On the other hand, Fadel Shaker is sieged in a Mosque in the Lebanese town Seida, and fighting with a terrorist Salafi group against the official Lebanese army. On stage, Elissa appears in an extravagant white dress, she talks about how she doesn’t feel being the happiest tonight for one can’t help it not to be affected by the killings happening on the ground, but yet what makes her happy is the fact that this event is actually taking place and that people are still celebrating music and life. In a video that came out early in the same day, Fadel Shaker appears with a long beard, cursing Hezb Allah and his leader Hassan Nasrullah and threatening – actually promising that he will – to kill the mayor of Seida.

Seeing Fadel Shaker in video talking like that is mind boggling. I can never understand how a man who has an angelic voice and who has been singing for love for many years drops everything and becomes an agent of hatred and murder. I don’t want to play the devil advocate here, but watching other videos for him, he comes across to be sincere in terms of believing in the cause he is fighting for. One can’t deny the horrors happening in Syria, and the urges of wanting to stop the killings is totally natural, still the means of defending those innocent people are questionable. I would rather see him fighting with his voice, singing for that nation, singing for peace and harmony, that would be much more effective than joining the devilish game. That’s what Elissa is doing. She has never shied of speaking up her political stand. She probably hates Hassan Nasrullah and Bashar Al Asad even more than Fadel, but she expresses that in words, not bullets.

But looking at the photos of both singers above, I can’t help myself thinking about the gender divide in the Arab world. We regularly talk about the injustice women face in the Arab world, and that is totally true and I am an avid advocate for the fight against that injustice, but taking a closer look, one would wonder if men are in no less horrible situation. In fact, Arab men are on the track of a death discourse. The value of life has taken a backseat next to distorted values of honor and pride.

If one looks at the most Arab followed tweeps online, one would see the list is divided between the female lebanese singers and the religious Saudi leaders! In fact Elissa herself enjoyed more than 1,375,000 follower and is ranked at number 4 in terms of online influence in the MENA region according to Klout. In comparison, Fadel Shaker’s twitter account shows 147,830 follower. That is a huge indication of the polarisation taking place in the Arab world between religious and non-religious people and how men and women fit into that.

While no body can deny Elissa’s popularity, one can not also deny that there is a big side of the Arabic culture that looks down at her and what she represents. In her fist video clip she appears with no clothes, only a blanket that covers her body and moves along with the wind. The song, “Baddi Doub” was a big hit, but Elissa had to fight for years to prove herself and break out of the accusations of her using her body to overcome her weak voice. The “blanket singer” is still how many sees her today after more than 15 years of her career.  It is also true that her appearance in that clip opened the door for a new wave of singers that flaunted their sexuality and femininity to gain popularity, something that is rejected by many men and women in the Arab world.

If you look at Fadel Shaker’s singing career, he had to face nothing of that. After all, he is a man. He has been pretty much respected for his voice and his songs. Sadly, he asked people not to listen to his music for he believes it is forbidden (haram!). What is interesting is the reaction of people to that change. While many people have been cursing and insulting him for appearing like a terrorist and fighting the Lebanese Army, others on twitter have been applauding him for “repenting” and choosing Allah’s path. They see him as a hero who is fighting to protect his fellow Sunneh.

For me, I would vote for Elissa heroism all the way. We had a history of looking down upon female artists especially those who escapes the boundaries of the culture and celebrates their femininity. For some, it may be an over exposer of women sexuality and objectifying of the subject of women, yet it may very well be what were are missing these days; more women celebrating their gender expressions in whatever way they see fit.

I really wish Fadel Shaker was there yesterday next to Elissa on stage, receiving an award for celebrating life.

When governments damage their people


In two weeks, the Israeli government managed to gain more hatred towards Israel and the Jews than what the state of Israel managed to do in the past decade. As bad as Bush’s administration which hit America’s popularity to the bottom, Israeli government had ruined whatever reputation the Jews managed to build for themselves around the world over the years. I am sure there is much anger among the Israelis towards their government for its stupid calculations and immature adventure they have took the whole region into.

The barbarism of their attacks and the large toll of killed civilians managed to kill their reputation exactly the same way we, the Arabs and the Muslims, have been suffering from the bad reputation of suicide bombers. It is all happening with the blessing of the departing American government that have managed to give its last stab to the moderates and peace activates voices in the middle east and around the world.

A small tour among the Jordanian and Arab blogosphere, one would notice the blow these attacks hit the peace process. War bangers, who have been silent for some time, are enjoying the enormous space opened for them now to build on the anger of people. The calls out to fight and kill the Israelis have spread to cover some Arab leaders and the voice of moderation.

Ofcourse some TV stations are building on the business of the war. A huge hit to cover. Arab war analysts are building as well on the emotions of Arab people and give us a fake sense of victory. If Israel failed to erase Hamas from the map then it is a victory for us? How naive are those measurements of victory? Don’t the 700 dead people (till now) speak loud of how severely we have lost? Human life is sacred. Every single kill is a blow to the entire humanity and its universal ethics and moral codes.

In contradiction to the common assumption, the is NO “win-lose” situations in most of the modern wars. Both parties end up losing, and the civilians pay the price. Hizb Allah didn’t win last war with Israel because it survived the attacks! How stupid that line of reasoning can be at a time where the entire country of Lebanon paid in terms of the lives of its people and the infrastructure of the country?

Irrational voices are claiming that 15 years of peace negotiations have failed to give us the peace we aspire for. In reality, radicals and extremists have never allowed the peace process to go smoothly. They exist at both sides of the fence and they both master the play of manipulating the mainstream emotions to their benefits. In reality, military resistance has failed us for more than 50 years now. Violence triggers violence, the tragedy going on in Gaza can easily spread up to cover the entire region.

If we don’t manage to step out now and scream for peace, the 700 dead people may become 7 thousands and even more.