Essays and Features

Syria and the Politics of Personal Sadness

A Review of Yassin Haj Saleh's Revolutionary Thought
By 
Rana Issa

Rana Issa surveys aspects of the life of eminent Syrian intellectual and activist, Yassin al-Haj Saleh, and how he weaves his personal experiences into his political analysis and outlook. Al-Haj Saleh spent 16 years in Assad’s prisons, including one year in the notorious Tadmur prison. After his release, Issa states that the Syrian intellectual found himself “using a combination of personal narrative and general observation to subvert the system.” As a secular and progressive activist, al-Haj Saleh is as much a critic of the Assad regime as of the fundamentalist Islamist groups. Threatened by the Assad regime before and after the Arab Spring, he was forced to leave the Ghouta of Damascus in 2013, traveling to Raqqa then to Turkey.

 
“We do not gain a reality if we lose a dream.” With those words the Syrian intellectual Yassin al-Haj Saleh ends his sad analysis on the destruction of Tadmur, Palmyra, at the hands of Daesh, or I.S., (the Islamic State) in late May 2015. Although known as the site of a famous ancient city, and a popular tourist destination, Palmyra, or Tadmur as the Arabs know the place (Palmyra will be used from now on), holds different associations for the locals.

Syrian Children and the Exit from the Dark Tunnel!

By 
Salam Kawakibi
For more than five decades, the Syrian child was subjected to an orderly process of upbringing to control the phases of his growth and maturity. Following the nursery phase, which did not have an ideological formation, the child entered the realm of official popular organizations, along the North Korean model, controlling the child’s consciousness and distorting his growth.
 
 
For more than five decades, the Syrian child was subjected to an orderly process of upbringing to control the phases of his growth and maturity. Following the nursery phase, which did not have an ideological formation, the child entered the realm of official popular organizations, along the North Korean model, controlling the child’s consciousness and distorting his growth.
 
Among the new promised generation, ideological series of “brainwashing” continued while accompanied with the development of an intelligence psychology.

Rima Assaf: How One Broadcaster Liberated Her Emotions with the Written Word

By 
Rima Assaf

While preparing my report on the Holocaust of Aleppo, I felt the customary format of broadcast news did not allow me to express my feelings. Thus, I have resorted to these written words in order to release my unbearable pain after watching a father breaking and clawing at stones with his bare hands in search of his children, entombed under mountains of rubbles.

Through these words I repeat those of a wounded child in Al Sukari suburb hospital as she cried out: “Mother, help me! May God support and comfort you. My heart hurts me.”

The Tarabishi — Al-Jabiri Debate

A New Book Debunks Mohammed Abd al-Jabiri’s Theory and Sources
By 
Elie Chalala

A work which would have stirred a rich intellectual debate, involving historical and methodological questions in studying contemporary Arab political thought has, instead, taken a bizarre twist. George Tarabishi's book “Nakd Nakd Al `Aql Al Arabi, Nazariyyat Al Aql" [Critique of the Critique of Arab Reason, Theory of Reason], published by Dar Al Saqi (London 1996), levels harsh criticisms at a fellow Arab intellectual, Moroccan theorist Mohammed Abed al-Jabiri in response to his work, “Theory of Arab Reason” or (Critique de la Raison Arabe), the third book of a four volume. Tarabishi focuses on both the intellectual limits of al-Jabiri and an alleged scandal, the fraudulent usage of sources, including misinterpretations and erroneous conclusions. This has not only set the stage for what has come to be known as the Tarabishi — al-Jabiri debate, but also has unleashed another scandal: revealing al-Jabiri’s sectarian predisposition when he explains Tarabishi's criticisms in terms of the Syrian author's Christian faith.

A work which would have stirred a rich intellectual debate, involving historical and methodological questions in studying contemporary Arab political thought has, instead, taken a bizarre twist. George Tarabishi's book “Nakd Nakd Al `Aql Al Arabi, Nazariyyat Al Aql" [Critique of the Critique of Arab Reason, Theory of Reason], published by Dar Al Saqi (London 1996), levels harsh criticisms at a fellow Arab intellectual, Moroccan theorist Mohammed Abed al-Jabiri in response to his work, “Theory of Arab Reason” or (Critique de la Raison Arabe), the third book of a four volume.

Aleppo: A Catastrophe Defying Poets’ Powers of Description

By 
Amjad Nasser

When talking about what is happening in Syria, I face the inability of language to express reality. My vocabulary remains limited. My ability to describe reality, the basic forms of literature and writing, remains limited.  Nothing I have written or read could be elevated to the level of one moment of the reality experienced by Syrians in their disastrous country, or in their great Diaspora into which they were unmercifully pushed.

The Syrian War Has Taken Us Prematurely to Hell!

By 
Father George Massouh

The crimes committed in Syria have surpassed what the human mind can imagine in terms of horrors and atrocities. Undoubtedly, in our cruel East, we have become accustomed to living with this reality, which plunges us down to the depths of hell. This horror lies in our acceptance of what occurs in our countries while we continue our daily lives as if nothing is happening, and justify the violence as a defense of central causes or as wars against terrorism. As if some want to convince us that terrorism can be defeated by “counter” terrorism.

Whatever is Left of the Levantine Spirit?

By 
Elie Chalala

The Arab world lives in a state of nostalgia for bygone days, when much of the hatred and intolerance of today had not set in, and the demographic minorities of what was once called the Levant were not escaping to Europe and elsewhere. But the Levant of peaceful coexistence between religious and ethnic minorities and the Muslim majority has suffered a physical blow with the rise of the terroristic Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)...Using the word Levant has raised much curiosity, both intellectual and political. Identifying the vicious and obscurantist ISIS movement with the region called the Levant, a place which historically has represented the polar opposite of ISIS ideology, causes dissonance. 

 

The Arab world lives in a state of nostalgia for bygone days, when much of the hatred and intolerance of today had not set in, and the demographic minorities of what was once called the Levant were not escaping to Europe and elsewhere. But the Levant of peaceful coexistence between religious and ethnic minorities and the Muslim majority has suffered a physical blow with the rise of the terroristic Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Rescuing Christianity in Syria!

By 
Salam Kawakibi

While the number of Christians has decreased under the Syrian government – a government that claims to be the “the protector of minorities” – from 15% in 1970 to 4.6% in 2008, the regime still insists on exaggerating the percentage to about 10%. The church itself places it at about 7%. The state’s rationale in offering a rosy picture appears clear: it provides a convenient propaganda tool from which the regime benefits in its “public relations.” 

Many factors contributed to the decreased numbers of Syrian Christians before the 2011 revolutionary uprising. These included immigration based on economic or political reasons, and low birth rates compared to other religious communities, with the latter a factor generally attributed to higher educational levels.

Europe’s New Refugee Problem Requires Explanation beyond War!

By 
Bobby Gulshan

The scenes of refugees drowning by the hundreds in the seas between Turkey and Greece as they attempt to reach Europe are harrowing . They come from all corners of the Middle East, not only from Syria, but also Lebanon and Iraq. Lebanon recently received the corpses of a family of eight who died when they illegally took a ship from Turkey heading to Europe. All this while the photo of the Syrian toddler, Aylan Kurdi, remains fresh in the minds of the world.

 

The scenes of refugees drowning by the hundreds in the seas between Turkey and Greece as they attempt to reach Europe are harrowing. They come from all corners of the Middle East, not only from Syria, but also Lebanon and Iraq. Lebanon recently received the corpses of a family of eight who died when they illegally took a ship from Turkey heading to Europe. All this while the photo of the Syrian toddler, Aylan Kurdi, remains fresh in the minds of the world.

‘The Secret of Being a Woman' on Etel Adnan's Quest

By 
Mona Takieddine Amyuni

I read Etel Adnan. I meet her sometimes in Beirut. I try all the time to discover the kind of writer she is, the woman she is, how she perceives herself and the world around her. She tells us that her books are the houses she builds for herself, that she settles nowhere, that she lives all over the world in newspapers, railway stations, cafés, airports. Feeling different early in life, she writes in “Journey:” “Memories are as fresh as cool water and a cool breeze floats over one’s fever.”

Etel Adnan describes a group of friends who gather frequently in Mill Valley, California, ostensibly to paint.  Instead, they are fully involved in the issue of perception. In her book “Journey to Mount Tamalpais,” she quotes one woman in this group: “To perceive is to be both objective and subjective. It is to be in the process of becoming one with whatever it is, while also becoming separate from it.” And, she adds, the moment of perception is a moment of art. 

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