A sense of humanity must mean a sense of 'surprise' at inhumanity

By Elie Chalala
A child who lost both parents sitting in front of his home alone in Homs (Photo Credit: Reuters).

 

An avid reader of Fawaz Traboulsi’s columns in As Safir, one of his latest really caught my eye.  The title Traboulsi gave to his column is “About Aleppo, Its Sisters and Its Surprise.”

Troublsi's major concern is with the weakened or absent feeling of "surprise" among some of the Lebanese and Arabs who constitute the bulk of his readership. According to the author, two villains in particular exemplify the callous mentality that permits one to be unperturbed in the face of the crimes currently being committed against the Syrian people. The two culprits are the “globalized media" and “the local fahlawis,” as he calls them.Fahlawis is a term that designates those who feign  knowledge and expertise that they simply do not have. Examples of such poseurs abound on just about any political talk show on most Mideast TV stations.

While the term “surprise” is quite general and abstract, and thus can be applied in a variety of contexts, Traboulsi’s “surprise” is expressed in general terms, raising the question of what "surprise's absence" does to our humanity; in other words, what would happen when we cease to be "surprised"  by the scenes of torture and massacres in Syria. Clearly, Traboulsi is saying that a loss of surprise in reacting to the current violence in Syria is an unequivocally troubling phenomenon, one that should be resisted.

This phenomenon is not without causes, and Traboulsi excels in making sense of them. The lack of “surprise” is associated with common thinking, propagated and reinforced by experts and pundits of all types, and is invariably based on the assumption that “everything is known and understood, is clear and does not require proof, especially when it involves conspiracies,” he writes. 

Traboulsi offers a good example from what was once known as the Arab Spring. Even the millions who came out to the Arab streets demanding regime change, freedom, bread and dignity in more than a half a dozen countries did not surprise some people, for whom it was not something out of the ordinary. Rather than considering the Arab Spring a watershed development, indeed, a political revolution --the Arab world has never seen anything like it on such a scale -- it became something “natural," to use Traboulsi's term. It is a season that comes once in a year, followed by a summer, a fall and winter, and as such it needs no explanation.

We are told that an in-depth or intellectual analysis of the unfolding events, with all their deplorable violence, should be directed toward the search for intentions. But such a search is symptomatic of the authoritarian tendency to ignore what has actually been said and done, and focus instead on the alleged "intentions" behind acts and statements As the author goes on to say:

"I want to be surprised so I can maintain my sense of humanity. I am surprised in order to say to TV: neither you or your owners could make me accustomed to killing, torture, injustice, oppression, repression and exploitation; my resistance is to keep being surprised and I will stay surprised not for Aleppo alone," but also for "its sisters-- Dara, Raqa, Deir Az Zour, Latikia, Homs, Hama, Damascus and other Syrian cities.

I can only agree with him.

 

 

This essay appears in Al Jadid, Vol. 17, no. 64

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