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"Your Silence is Killing Us"
By Elie Chalala
“Your Silence is Killing Us” was the slogan put forth by the peaceful Syrian opposition on one of its many Fridays. It has become a sort of tradition to give a different name to each Friday the protestors demonstrate against the Assad regime. This title was also used in an article by Ahmad Ali al-Zein, published in Al Hayat newspaper on August 10, 2011.
However, none of the names given to the many bloody Fridays in Syria, now for almost six months, have generated more questions than “Your Silence is Killing Us.” Many wanted to know whose silence the opposition was singling out-- that of the Syrians, the Arabs, or even the world community? Obviously, whatever target is identified, it remains a matter of interpretation rather than of fact. Since neither the Syrian activists nor al-Zein are specific, it was left to identify the targets of the slogan from the context of the article.
“Your silence is killing us” is an explicit indictment since, according to al-Zein, “silence acts as an accomplice of murder.” This silence is “lethal and painful,” especially for he who carries the coffin of his dead and “looks backward to find himself walking alone at the funeral of his brother, friend, and son.” Al-Zein says that, at the very least, there is bitterness among the Syrian people, for “their blood was shed, the fingers of Daraa’s children were betrayed, and the throats that hailed freedom were slit.”
Al-Zein takes aim at Arab intellectuals, who he claims have generally remained mute on the subject of the slaughter or, even worse, have shown support for the Syrian regime by publically regurgitating its propaganda. Pleading on behalf of the Syrian people like a defense attorney in court, al-Zein asks the intellectuals to grant that the evidence presented has been sufficient -- surely they can agree that the blood that has been spilled was real? He then asks in what circumstances they would stand up to bear witness to murder? Closing in on his point, he demands, “If you will not bear witness, then what is the meaning of your pen, poetry, literature, and analysis?” Al-Zein inquires about the function of “language,” questioning “why do we need language -- is it to praise the killer?” What is the use of “speech” when you are asked “to witness that I am slaughtered” and you instead “jump on TV to exonerate my killer?”
A dark sense of disappointment permeates progressive groups regarding the silence among intellectuals. Al-Zein zeros in on those who call themselves or have been labeled modernists, demanding “you who spent tons of paper theorizing for modernity, wrote statements encouraging the solidarity of peoples around the world -- isn’t liberation from tyranny a key aspect of modernity?”
His final targets are those intellectuals who are termed revolutionary and progressive-- those unwilling to second-guess Syria because of its position on the Arab-Israeli conflict and its support of Hamas and Hezbollah. Al-Zein unsparingly questions, “And you the revolutionary fighter and intellectual, what estranged you from me and my cause? And what put you in the same camp with killers? Who made you a false witness? Why did you decline to support my testimony?”
Al-Zein’s article is a cutting indictment of those intellectuals who sit silent in the face of the atrocities the Assad regime commits daily against peaceful protestors. “Forgive me if I did not note that you are dead; I recognized that from the stench of your silence,” wrote al-Zein. In simple English, silence is equivalent to death. Here he refers to both the spiritual and possible physical deaths of those who choose not to speak up, cautioning that silence does not equal innocence or guarantee future impunity.
Silence, al-Zein concludes, "legitimizes killing and barbarism," a claim agreed upon by both human rights legislators and the mourners attending mass funerals. History will be the judge, and “the pain and guilt felt by those whose silence made them accomplices to the crime will live on for generations."
Compiled, translated and edited by Elie Chalala
From Al Hayat, August 10, 2011