Syrian Stray Dogs

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Moving from place to place, I hope they know that they are never alone.

I hope that they know that they’re free to roam, to frolic, play, be present, be real.

That I love them so, never apart, they hear the things we don’t pay attention to.

1% of the daily grind we call our own, and they’re following the next layer of the cosmic web within this temporal frequency.

The ships they ride teeter precariously, undulating, because the sea is envious of their untapped potential.

A hug is beautiful, a touch is divine, a glimpse is the most exquisite of benedictions, a blessing.

Really, the presence is enough, the knowing.

This city is yours. Its streets, shop signs, back-alley shop sheds, well-maintained rice paddies.

These kids! Your comrades, arm-in-arm, you chase each other, tail in tail.

Stray dogs travel far and wide, searching for food, dozing off on subway trains –

  • Only to be, to be reunited. Yelping, bounding, snuggling, loving, pawing in the sand their beautiful transmutation circle. Transmuting base metals into gold without a real circle.
  • Copulating, proliferating, digging mounds, re-domesticating, renewing.

Fretting endlessly across scales, with and without a plectrum, as sundown and sunset intermingle with the hazy mounds across the latter part of the ethereal earthly hemisphere.

Far from home, torn across in exile, fragmented your historical soil, you teach us life again, by being the example.

Your heart on your sleeve and I love the process of interacting with them – from intermittent moment to intermittent moment – in between my protracted, reflective love affair with the healing energies of this web called life. I hope that they know that I love them so, and that I can’t wait to be present with them again, as they speak, bleed, sow, paint, as they write, as they do their art simply by being.

Oh, stray dogs, it is an honour to be a listener.

I love you so, I love you so. 🙂

Why Syria and Palestine Are Inseparable

"Palestine and Syria are one"

“Palestine and Syria are one”

A gruesome image of dead children murdered in Syria by pro-Assad militias from the Banias / Bayda Massacre of 2013 has been re-circulating recently, mislabelled as an image of dead Palestinian children murdered in Gaza, as the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF)’s ferocious onslaught in the besieged coastal enclave with air / sea strikes followed by a horrific ground invasion continues unabated at the time of writing.

I have been silently following the heart-wrenching news unfolding in Gaza as Israel acutely escalates what it has essentially been doing to Gaza for over 8 years – besieging it, sharply curtailing the entry of all but the most basic necessities into the area (thereby triggering a series of grave humanitarian crises), and tormenting the populace with air strikes, border arrests, wanton killing sprees, and restriction of movement. I must say I had no intention of writing or even commenting about it, heart-wrenching as it has personally been, as I am not currently active on the Arab activist / social justice network due to a myriad of unrelated commitments that continue to entangle me. This changed drastically when I arose this morning and found that someone close to me had shared, in nothing but the most humanitarian sense of faith and compassion, the above image of dead Syrian kids on social media mislabelled in the aforesaid manner as being a snapshot of Israel’s on-going atrocities. Suddenly my heart sank. It stirred something indescribable in me, and I found it unusually impossible to satisfactorily embrace the internal ill-ease with my usual approaches.

So, here I am writing about it now. I am writing about this in the hope of humanising the distance. I will start by asserting with all the vigour my heart can expand to fill how utterly shocking is Israel’s maniacal and blood-thirsty behaviour in Gaza, as they plainly seek to approach – or even match – their similarly murderous 3-week long killing spree in Gaza in December 2008 – January 2009, leaving 1,400 dead. There is wall-to-wall coverage of what is currently happening in Gaza all over Arab media, not just in Palestine, but all across the Levant and North Africa. Because of the urgency of what is taking place and the base level of injustice inflicted on so many innocent people, it has temporarily overshadowed other crimes taking place in the region, such as the on-going murder, destruction, and detention by state forces of civilians in Syria and oppressive political measures in Egypt. Regardless of the proportions, the transgression of human rights in Gaza deserves every bit of the attention it is receiving. It deserves – and is entitled to – every initiative executed to highlight attention and mobilise campaigns to affect change on the ground that has befallen it so far, irrespective of whether or not certain activists mention similar atrocities taking place among other groups of people.

However, it is one thing to devote massive efforts across social / political justice media in order to support and be in solidarity with Palestinians that are deeply hurting right now, to culling images of similarly gruesome and outrageous war crimes, such as the massacre of children in the coastal Syrian city of Baniyas and the town of Bayda by Syria’s equivalent of Zionist mercenaries – namely, pro-Assad militants, and mislabelling them as being the victims of the Gaza atrocities. It is a disrespectful gesture, whether or not it was intended. It is dismissive towards both the Syrian victims of the Assad regime’s unsurpassed violence and of the Palestinian victims of the IOF’s genocidal waves of terror. It is insulting to Syrians because, directly or not, it contributes to the notion – which I hope continues to be dispelled as much as possible – that the Syrian revolution is less worthy of support than Palestine’s resistance against occupation. Syrians suffer when this happens, because it gives them the impression that certain Palestine activists are willing to give short-shrift to their valiant struggle for freedom and dignity in the face of a foe equally as oppressive and unshackled in its oppressiveness as Israel in the form of Bashar Al-Assad. It ignores the myriad revolutionary dynamics in Syria – peaceful and armed – and fuels tribalistic, partisan narratives, such as ‘Syria is too complex to support as a resistance movement’. These Palestine activists have appropriated and desecrated very personal emblems of Syrian’s suffering in the same manner that Israel does every single day with every aspect of Palestinian life, from hummus to kuffiyehs.

The Palestinian victims of Israel, such as those who have recently died in Gaza, also suffer from these misrepresentation tactics because there is more than enough legitimate media available depicting the horror of what they are currently going through. Their suffering is multiplied because they are reduced to cheap pawns whose genuine pains are left completely unaddressed, leaving aside the moral implications of even sharing images of dead bodies online to raise awareness for political ends to begin with.

 

Ultimately, though, there is something even bigger missing here, and it is not in more criticism, shaming or calling out. This article is not by any means meant as an attack on the person / people who mislabelled that image from Syria as being from Gaza, and most definitely not the vast majority who shared it, who I am sure genuinely thought it was accurately labelled. If any such people are reading this, I want them know that I harbour nothing but love and goodwill for them. A gentle reminder for all readers is what I offer instead. Accordingly, I would like to devote the conclusion of this piece as a reminder that I do believe our personal markers as being Gazans, Palestinians, Syrians, Iraqis, etc. are identity designations that are vital to those who invest meaning in them. Our sense of who we are, and what makes us special and unique are not factors to be dismissed, ever! Even though, say, ‘the Syrian experience’ varies greatly in terms of one self-identifying Syrian to the next, in terms of range of cultural interactions, interests, family ties, location in/out of the country, and, in Syria’s case, being as it is so big and friggin’ diverse, in terms of religion, customs, dialect, and even the language itself! That being said, it is equally important to realise that differences are differences in resonance and vibration, and not fundamental constitution as living beings. We are all humans borne of the same cosmic / godly material, and we exist in each other. Yes, we are Syrians, Palestinians, Egyptians, Lebanese, Armenians, but underneath that we are human. And we exist in each other. Even our worst enemies, blinded as they may be by their oppressive practices, share the same unlimited potential that we do as activists or socially conscious people. In practice, however criminals such as those loyal to Bashar Al-Assad or Benjamin Netanyahu probably will not get the chance to explore these in a world where despots are brought to account. The same cannot be said for us, for in witnessing the revolutionary struggles of our neighbours, we not only enrich them with our solidarity, we enrich ourselves by finding validation in others. In short, we become stronger by surrounding ourselves with those who remind us of who we are, across regional and cultural markers. And we do this by opening our hearts, by being transparent in our words and what we share online, and constantly seeking to harmonise the diverse elements that exist within each of us. There is a frequency out there, a revolutionary frequency that has moved mountains, and it can be seen in those moments, however fleeting, when popular will is brought to bear on leaders. It is when we all collectively promote what we love rather than criticise what we hate. I understand revolution to mean just this, to echo on into eternity not our words (talk is cheap, man) but the energy and vibration behind everything we do. It is, after all, a revolution. It may indeed include critical debate clubs, but is, in essence, creatively and artistically, so much more than this. We are inseparable. We are inseparable because – leaving aside the intertwined resistance heritage between Palestine and Syria, the latter which would never have taken off with the former – separation is the basis of fear. And fear, as we know it, is an illusion, because we are constantly bombarded with the idea that our world is only one of injustice, pain, and darkness. We are so much more. We may be fear, but we are also love. We might be anger, but we are also laughter. We may be indignation, but we are also rejuvenation. Therefore, on a holistic plane, we are pure expansion and abundance. We are so much more than what we have been told. The day we realise this is the day the revolution comes full circle.

I Remember Syria: A Pre-Revolutionary Collection of Audio Fragments from the Ordinary Country and its People

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This feature / review was originally published on Syrian Memory Collective, which you can read here.

One of the most striking aspects of the Syrian revolution, not sufficiently commented on, let alone documented, is its profuse eruption of cultural creativity and other forms of humanistic expression that, on the popular, rural, and suburban levels at least, had largely remained dormant under a severely repressive political, economic, and social climate lasting over 40 years. These cultural avenues and their expressionistic features constitute some of the most enduring, idiosyncratic, and downright unique features of an uprising triggering a cataclysmic effusion in Syrian society that remains absolutely unparalleled, manifesting as it does in the form of graffiti, song, banners, lyricisms, journalistic / literary projects, slogans, online video series, theatrical forms of direct action and civil disobedience, and myriad, seemingly innumerable forms of art.  In particular, these socially transmitted expressions of art, identity, and all manner of collaborative projects are authentic, spontaneous, and deeply intertwined within the nation’s revolutionary zeitgeist and simultaneously emanate forth from it. They are attributes of a Syrian society that had not overtly articulated its voice – until now, that is. As a result, one gets the sense that the rich character of Syria’s rural and working class communities prior to the uprising was largely unknown or relegated purely to the subterranean spheres of social life. However, it is precisely these seminal components of the current waves that make for such exciting discovery for anyone fascinated by the post-revolutionary cultural renewal of Syria.

Originally released in 2004 on Sublime Frequencies, a record label based in Seattle, Washington (they are most notable for having helped propel Syrian dabke vocalist Omar Souleyman to worldwide exposure) devoted to releasing pop/folk musics, visual material, field recordings, radio fragments, theatrical expressions and other forms of left-field sound art from marginalised communities across South-East Asia, and what is commonly parsed as the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region, I Remember Syria is a double-album anthology of sounds recorded in Syria over two trips made across the country in the late 90s and again at the turn of the millennium. This collection is startling in that it gives global listeners an extremely rare, perhaps unprecedented, chance to hear an eclectic, sprawling, and multifaceted first-hand representation of the daily lives, activities, and unique artistic creations of ordinary Syrians prior to the revolution.

I Remember Syria is essentially composed of two parts; the first contains recordings derived from Damascus, the second peregrinates further afield and comprises pieces from various places all across the country, most notably Lattakia, Aleppo, and Hama. This heterodox compilation chiefly documents street sounds of daily activity, radio broadcasts, impromptu musical performances, the researcher’s interviews of locals in market places, restaurants, stalls, hotels, and places of labour as well as various outdoor recordings of rural life, chatter, and mechanical / human ambience in the interiors of mosques, factories, workshops, and other frequented locales. This list is far from comprehensive, however; I Remember Syria transcends the travelogue blueprint in order to portray aspects of Syrian culture so interstitial and interwoven into the underground Syrian cultural milieu that even frequent visitors to Syria would have failed to apprehend, for instance, the tendency of competing cassette kiosk owners in marketplaces to blast music at one another, the country’s theatrical-musical folk traditions, and even Aleppo’s underground queer community.

The content in Sublime Frequencies’ I Remember Syria collection determinedly opens up a no-holds-barred representation to unfiltered textures of Syrian life as it is lived in its many spaces, both literal and figurative. It is dotted with many exceptional, unorthodox, and illustrative moments of the personalities of all the people captured in these recordings. Across this odyssey, one is treated to the sounds of a wedding in the one of the narrow haras (alleys) of the Old City, inaugurated in a flurry of zalghoutas (celebratory ululations for festive occasions such as the announcement of an engagement): the cheers and yelping of young Bedouin children as they boisterously sing folkloric tunes, perceptibly thrilled at the prospect of another day revealing its petals in full blossom; dense sounds of bustling evening traffic as a petrol salesman cries out ‘Mahzot! Mahzot!’ (diesel); and the insouciant, banshee-wailing from a woman singing a scathing song about Saddam Hussein, US Imperialism, and Arabism, giggling diffidently as her interviewer goads her on to sing some more.

In terms of the audio-transmitted arts, we are treated here to a consummate goldmine of gems which, when they are not utterly captivating musically and aurally, are at least overtly instructive of the stultifying nature of a national state that brooked nothing less than total prostration to the odious cult of the Al-Assad dynasty. This is particularly glaring in a radio presentation in English entitled ‘Arab Women In Focus’, which propagandistically features a female newscaster describing in sordid detail how the purportedly gracious, cosmopolitan minded Hafez Al-Assad single-handedly paved the way for women’s liberation in society’s public spheres, opening up opportunities for women in all areas of life, from occupational spaces to the military. Its duplicitous narrative brings to mind the more contemporary phenomenon of pinkwashing, a tactic used by Israel to promote the ‘Jewish state’ as a liberal, open-minded haven that is accepting of people with deviant, commonly marginalised lifestyles, pulling the wool over the eyes of naive outside observers as to the state’s systematic economic, sectarian, and social oppression of the Palestinians who live there. Excerpts such as the aforementioned portray how Syria under Hafez Al-Assad exhibited much of the same traits. Musically, we are treated to styles that run the gamut from an independent, jaunty pop-folk outfit from Aleppo (the Gomidas Band), an utterly invaluable ditty from an Assyrian singer known as Jermain Tamraz, crooning a song here entitled ‘Moumita’ and sung in that language, as well as myriad cuts from radio children’s musicals, commemorative Ramadan-themed songs, and synth-laden, incidental soundtracks to talk-show segments. It is difficult to sufficiently emphasise how beguiling and immersive these sounds are and virtually impossible to overstate!

Beyond all this, however, and as remarkable and exhilarating as this entire package is, there are two pieces in I Remember Syria that give us such phenomenal albeit fleeting insights through a penetrating cultural lens from this pre-Arab Spring era which one would be hard-pressed to find depicted anywhere else. One of these is a record of a dialogue called Kazib City, which features a staged theatrical in-joke in the form of a dialogue between the staff of a Syrian hotel and cheekily presented to the revolving door of hapless tourists passing through there. Together they concoct an (apparently) fictitious Arab state called ‘Kazib City’, which is cryptically presented as a sovereign state that lies beneath the desert somewhere between Oman and Yemen, and for which only two-day visas are available for visitors, who for some inexplicable reason have to go through the immigration offices in Oman in order to obtain them. At one point in the exchange between Syrian hotel staff members and one of the American researchers, a Sudanese clerk who works at the reception desk indignantly intervenes, complaining about how the government of Kazib (incidentally derived from the Arabic term for ‘lie’) City favours handing out visas to the ‘bullshit Americans’ at the expense of the Sudanese people. Without giving too much else away, this deadpan comedic performance taking place with such verve, extempore, and witty imagination and in such a mundane locus as a hotel in broken Syrian English is one of the most revealing paragons of this entire collection. The second is the harrowing closer of this marvellous volume, ‘The Norias of Hama (Blood Irrigation on the Orontes)’ clocks in at 8 minutes and consists of the droning, rhythmic noise of the water-wheels as they turn slowly in the stately river and with all the weight of their dissonant splendour; they are harsh and abrasive in their sonic density, and fill the air with an ambient sense of haunting (and very physical) nostalgia of a city that was the first to experience mass martyrdom after an unspeakable genocidal bloodbath in 1982 that served as a precursor to the sort of state-sanctioned behaviour Syrians have been experiencing daily after March 2011. It is a fitting end to a piece that closes one chapter in the modern Syrian story and that portentously lays the ground for the next.

Far from being an exotic, romanticised, and fetish-filled archive artificially constructed for outside consumption, I Remember Syria’s web of audio-fragments is as raw as it gets, and boasts little editing and mastering beyond perhaps some basic production arrangements of the wide array of radio and television excerpts. It was captured on very basic equipment and it shows; its presentation is totally decentralised, choppy, and unpredictable, as radio white noise erratically intervenes in vying receptions from different sources of audio. It is absolutely essential listening, and if pre-revolutionary Syria was this much of an intricate vortex of creative webs, one can but anticipate with sheer awe just how prospective compilations of Syrian society’s revolutionary creations will appear before us. Suffice it to say, a few two-hour audio compilations of eclectic mash-ups will scarcely be enough in capturing them!

I Remember Syria, originally released on Sublime Frequencies in 2004, was re-issued digitally in April 2013 as a purchasable download, available here (where you can also stream full tracks) and here, all proceeds of which go to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to directly aid the humanitarian crisis facing those living in Syria under the constant threat of violence, starvation, and homelessness.

On Doubts Raised by Geneva 2-Related Evidence Outlining Executions in Assad’s Jails

The day before yesterday, on 21st January 2013, a report purporting to document the deaths of 11,000 detainees in Assad’s prisons in Syria was released to coincide with the Geneva 2 peace talks by a plenary of three war crimes prosecutors along with a cache of autopsy images and accompanying forensics examinations outlining the causes / methods of death. The source is a former photographer employed by the Syrian military apparatus, known by the pseudonym ‘Caesar’.   The findings of such a report will certainly not come as much of a shock for those who have been following the Syrian revolution and as well the unravelling humanitarian & military crises that have since transpired. The policy of meting out detainees arbitrarily seized by the Assad regime with torture culminating in execution is an uncontroversial fact. However, there is already at least one dissenting article that been published in response on which doubt is cast not merely on the veracity of this particular report, but on what it says about the Syrian situation as a whole.

In Dan Murphy’s article in the Christian Science Monitor , ‘Syria ‘smoking gun’ report warrants a careful read’, the author correctly demonstrates that, though the summary of the report states that 55,000 images were taken of 11,000 victims evaluated by the forensics teams, the actual report itself mentions that in fact only  5,500 images of 1,300 individual corpses were considered. The author prefaces this observation with the disclaimer that his aim is not to defend the Assad regime nor act as an indirect apologist for its crimes, but merely to question the findings of this particular report, as well as the credentials of the war crimes prosecutors who conducted it. However, the writer goes on to dismiss the entire report out of hand, irrespective of the fact that it contains incontrovertible proof of the deaths of detainees in regime custody and many images corroborating the causes of deaths of certain martyrs, as a “well-timed propaganda exercise funded by Qatar”.

While this conclusion does not automatically make Murphy an Assad-supporting stalwart (despite the special pleading), it does strike me as remarkably unfair and downright callous to draw such a conclusion from otherwise legitimate claims of inconsistent presentation and numerical inaccuracy. Murphy is engaging in an intellectual battle of statistics, completely oblivious to the urgency of this report in the context of Geneva, the facts and documentation that it correctly portrays, and, vitally, the practical fulcrum it could serve at the UN conference, potentially allowing the Syrian opposition delegation and the representatives of participating countries extra leverage in putting pressure on the Assad regime to cease hostilities against civilians, the destruction of infrastructure, to open up besieged areas to humanitarian aid, and to release all prisoners.

“There has been much stronger and more credible evidence of this than the Qatar report going back years. Just as there is strong and credible evidence of torture, summary executions, and associated war crimes being carried out by various rebel factions (a fact completely ignored in today’s report).”

The purpose of the report was to provide a small representation of the widely-applied policy of the Assad regime disappearing detainees and privately killing them in custody. A state that is friendly to the Assad regime such as Iran or Russia could have funded a countervailing dossier of its own detailing comparable war crimes by Syrian rebels in the run up to the Geneva talks if it so wanted and they had a body of evidence to present.  It would certainly have had the logistical and financial wherewithal to do so. This particular report is also novel in that it is the first human rights report, as far as I am aware, documenting the deaths of political prisoners in state prisons that contains officially sanctioned photography of the some of the deceased by an officially employed member of the Syrian military establishment. While the information contained within the report may not in fact constitute a ‘smoking gun’ in revealing what was unknown previously about such barbaric practices, the scale and form that this set of evidence takes of previously known state-sanctioned massacres does make it worth seriously considering in trying to push for a solution that saves lives in the midst of a wave of human suffering and cruel, deliberate mistreatment of livelihood by Syrian authorities.

Murphy reasonably makes the claim that “association with war crimes prosecutors is no guarantor of credibility”, however, he goes on to state that:

“Just consider Luis Moreno Ocampo’s absurd claims about Viagra and mass rape in Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya in 2011. War crimes prosecutors have, unsurprisingly, a bias towards wanting to bolster cases against people they consider war criminals (like Assad or Qaddafi) and so should be treated with caution. They also frequently favor, as a class, humanitarian interventions.”

Is it not their duty to at least collate evidence of war crimes by figures that they have been appointed to investigate? In both Assad & Qaddafi’s case, enough is known and can be gleaned from the scale and nature of their cruelty and injustice against the people they were tasked with governing without needing to fabricate claims. While misrepresenting the numbers of figures dead could understandably be seen as attempt to bolster a case against a political leader who they prejudicially consider a war criminal, it is definitely not on the same scale as the outright falsehood relating to the claim that Qaddafi gave Viagra to his thugs in order to make them more effectively able to rape Libyan women or that Saddam Hussein threw babies out of incubators in Kuwait during the first Gulf war. The fact is that, despite imperfections, this report contains genuinely legitimate and verifiable information.

But perhaps the most outlandish suggestion in accordance with Murphy’s analysis explaining why this report should be regarded with doubt if not dismissed entirely is that it is tantamount to a lie “gobbled up by the US people and Congress from anonymous sources” such as “the ongoing reassessment of the strength of the public evidence presented by the US about the certainty that the Assad government used sarin last year” (he mentions, as another example, the falsified intelligence relating to the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq). It should hardly need emphasising how disingenuous and misleading is the insinuation that the strength of evidence coming to light implicating the Assad regime in perpetrating the sarin gas attacks against civilians in the Damascus suburbs in August 2013 is something to be wary of. This is all the more so considering the overwhelming testimony, footage, and evidence compiled and forensically examined by bloggers such as Brown Moses in demonstrating that it is in fact the regime that is responsible for killing thousands of civilians with chemical weapons in the Ghouta suburb.

As far as the Geneva conference on Syria is concerned, the fact remains that any legitimate documentation, testimony, or information that can be used to hold war criminals to account or at least put the ball in the court of parties seeking to alleviate human suffering in Syria through the pushing of cease-fires, the lifting of sieges, and the dissemination of provisions such as food and medical attention, should be championed and utilised in order to save lives and improve livelihoods. Quibbles aside, these crimes are far too big to ignore or dismiss and the plight of the Syrian people is far too urgent to delay over a concern relating to dubious funding. Few Syrian observers will doubt that Qatar has geopolitical interests that don’t concern the welfare of Syrians in funding such an archive of documents. But if it contains accurate details of inhumane detention, widespread mistreatment, and murder, then it must be treated for what it is at heart; that is, a representation of inhumane crimes against innocent human beings that are continuing in Syria today, but that can easily be stopped by concerned world powers precisely by making reference to such representations.

The Dictator that Secretly Wanted to be Hated

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Although thankfully it isn’t always like this (events, good & bad, come and go). Today seems like a rather sombre note in this multifaceted fractal-tinged MENA Revolutionary symphony, with all its amazing social, communal, and cultural advances and wounds sustained from the inevitable oppression, particularly vis-a-vis Syria. We learnt that Hassan Hassan, a much-loved Palestinian artist from Yarmouk, Syria, died under torture in Assad’s cells. Additionally, a British orthopaedic doctor, Abbas Khan, who left his south London home this time last year in order to help treat Syrians in need and was detained by Assad’s thugs within 48 hours of entering Aleppo, was also reported dead this week by the Syrian authorities. The circumstances of his death aren’t known but are certainly not difficult to infer. Assad’s forces had apparently previously told his mother, who had been in Damascus for the past few months in order to be closer to her son, that he would be released this week.

It also happens to be the 3rd anniversary of Mohammad Boazizi’s self-immolation, the young Tunisian salesman whose tragic act of desperation set off waves of defiance through Tunisian society that culminated in a full-blown revolution, and which sparked similar movements in neighbouring countries, including Syria.

I wonder if Assad’s forces, long driven to primal lunacy by craven bloodlust, are aware of the significance of today’s date? Whether or not they are is ultimately irrelevant, for these latest killings of wonderful, magnanimous men driven by the desire to help / work in solidarity with their fellow humans can only point to one inevitable conclusion: it’s an attempt by a sociopathic little coward, his uninteresting bloodline, and the few remaining cohorts he has left to try and remain relevant. To try to show Syrian citizens, and the world, that they’re still valiant warriors on the battlefield, that they’re still a ‘player’ in this sinister, deliberately engineered civil war.

Well, Assad and the various transnational groupings whose favour he still aspires to curry can have their apocrypha of the current military conflict so gleefully fetishised by Western mavens as ‘the Syrian civil war’. Indeed, this conflict will pass, as all global strife eventually does. And it will be forgotten.

But Assad & his forces know the bitter, monumental truth, one which is facing them from all angles and which are obviously driving his militias sick with fear; the fact that the Syrian revolution and its fundamental transformation of social, communal, cultural, and hell, even religious spaces, relationships, and modes of organising has long ceased to be about him. Indeed, opposition to the dictator was only a small sliver of the resistance to begin with. Whether Assad falls tomorrow or another 3 years from now he barely leaves a mark on this process; the transformation and the development of a new society is already underway. And it will continue long after he has gone, not just the process of cleaning-up and restoring human welfare, but also the creation and fomenting of new ideas, communities, forms of governance, social relationships, and transformation of public spaces. Indeed, the revolution started off as demands for reforms, dignity, and earnest requests to not be humiliated. Assad wasn’t even mentioned! But the revolution with its local councils, solidarity / aid initiatives, cultural composition, art movements, civil organising, and entertainment avenues through burgeoning Syrian media have evolved way past the initial stage of demonstrations against Assad and his regime. Just one glance at this amazing hub of creative expressions from the Syrian Cultural Revolution will tell you that.

Bashar Al-Assad is so catastrophically incompetent he couldn’t even manage to make a country hate him properly. From the streets of Aleppo, to the revolutionaries of Yarmouk, to the dorms of Raqqa’s college, people are moving beyond the myth of the tyrant and are steadfastly rebuilding their country to the best of their ability. Independent shows such as “3 Star Revolution”, “Freedom Wa Bas” and countless indie documentaries don’t make him the focal point. Banners and slogans cease mentioning individuals and start alluding towards principles and visions of a better society. They’re not even talking about him, and it is this fact, and not sustained overtly articulated opposition to his rule, that strikes the utmost fear into the core of this vicious network of armed gangs and their mercenary proxies. Indeed, what else could explain Assad’s preferred choice of targets for the regime’s most brutal forms of genocidal savagery, meticulously reserved for warm-hearted comedians, children, humanitarian doctors, and explicitly non-violent activists? Assad is telling us what has been known to Syrians all along, but is just now dawning on him.  Too bad he’s so late to the punch. The people have long moved past him.

Screamer Dreamer

Squirming ‘twixt the bedsheets,
With the only heater in the house,
He feels his head spasm mid-dream,
In carefree reaction.
Or is it more sky piercings invading
Him; White Noise Ring-A-Ding anyway;
He can’t tell.

Since this revolution started,
The adults start using scary new words,
For terrifying things he had never heard before,
Much less seen and known before,
Like ‘MiG’, ‘Scud’, ‘Chemical’,
And ‘Gunpower’.
With each comes associations of smell,
Of texture, of the onset of panic signals,
Of a harbinger of a foetal retreat.

Repetition, repetition, repetition,
I yell screamer, screamer, screamer
Can’t stop I can’t stop so let’s talk about it.
If we talk about it maybe we’ll make it go away,
If we hug and laugh about it, we make some way to play.
Grown-ups come and say nice words but then go away,
Ask me to draw pictures they say wow it’s bad but it’s all I see.
It’s all I see where is baba they said bad man on wall picture,
Everywhere in the street,
Is hurting my baba. What did he do…

Heart-vested Teddy, lay beside him
Squeeze you tight, he clings,
A latching, pear-shaped cling,
For bracing embrace, rejuvenating,
But some pang beneath reaches to the surface.
Fitting away from you, Venn diagram gestures
Fan out to convince himself.
But morsels of love unleash a volcano within,
A Volcano so powerful it doesn’t stop the flow,
Of tears, of loss, of bloodletting groves,
It sears into memory, the lumps in the throat,
Of longing, yearning, hoping, creating,
The lines, crayons, synapses renewing your image.

Blood dries, my soul coruscating;
Shining away,
You stand in fields of harvested tomatoes,
Endlessly renewing your image.
You clutch a vegetable bowl so colourful,
You smile, taking me by the hand, and we’re breathing,
The omnipresent sunshine subsides in ambience,
We’re breathing every last molecule of air, the pollen drifts
We’re just bees, bees, and boy this is our honey.
So baba, my love eruption, my love eruption.

Syrian Refugees, Gas Genocide, and Extreme States of Consciousness

gasmaskdeviant

Like a lot of people who follow Syria, I’ve struggled greatly over the past 36 hours to come to terms with the news that upwards of 1,300 people around the nation’s capital were almost instantly wiped out in a chemical attack by Assad forces early yesterday morning in an attempted genocide of Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus. This genocidal mass-murder was made all the more shocking considering the fact that a team of UN Chemical Weapons inspectors were in Damascus to investigate alleged chemical weapons use from a few months back.

As I absorb these images and the devastating testimony by survivors and doctors, I am unable to adequately articulate in feelings the utter sense of hopelessness and outrage, primarily at these barbaric criminals and their supporters, but also at myself, for even becoming accustomed to reports of wholesale massacres of Syria’s innocents. It is this context in which this episode exists despite the higher-than-usual body count, scale and nature. It is simply the latest instalment in a cumulative string of shocking war crimes that have been steadily and bloodily taking place with increasing intensity and barbarism since the day Assad’s troops decided to meet peaceful forms of dissidence with violence 29 months ago.

Confounded in a sea of intense reactions, I am reminded of a story related by Arnold Mindell, Jungian psychologist and pioneer of ‘process-oriented psychology’, who has extensive experience working with people diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar, psychosis and other ‘extreme’ states of consciousness. In a radio interview he gave a while back, he spoke of a notable experience early on in his career while in Switzerland working with a woman who was a patient of one of his clients in the medical field. The whole hour-long interview on Arnold Mindell’s fascinating work and personal experiences in the field is well worth listening to, in my opinion, although for the purposes of this article I’ll at least encourage any readers to tune in to the 27:20 minute mark and hear this particular story. It lasts about 4 minutes, and I’ll provide a brief summary below:

At the behest of his client, he visited her at the mental hospital in which she was holed up. Arnold explains that this was at a time when medication to temper the prominent symptoms of mental disorders was not widely available. When he went into her room to see her, Mindell found her under her bed, having been told by the staff there that she was very ill and had ceased to talk or even come out from where she was. After wondering for a few moments as to what he should do, Arnold went under a chair at a distance from her. Suddenly she spoke and told Arnold, “It’s no good being a person. I am in a fish bowl and I am a fish.” After being awestruck at her revelation, the psychologist again deliberated on the best way to respond, having never encountered such a situation before. Eventually, he went ‘blub’, imitating a fish sound. She then responded, ‘blub blub’, and the two of them ‘blubbed’ around together as she remained under her bed. In this way they learned to communicate with one another. A couple of months later, Arnold found her walking in the street, when she explained to him, “I said it wasn’t worth being a person and the reason was because my father came from a country that has done some very bad things to people, and he was involved in that. [And] as soon as I found out that he was involved in doing some really bad things to people, I decided that it wasn’t worth being a human being anymore. I didn’t want to kill myself and suddenly I found myself becoming a fish.” It took her some months before she told this story. Arnold recalls crying together with her, and that she was ‘normal’ from there on out, “People heal us by bringing up marginalised experiences,” explains the psychologist.

Though the story of this woman and her psychologist references an unnamed country, I instantly and profoundly empathised with her firstly as a Syrian but foremost as a human being with intimate family ties to a country helmed by authorities that do ‘very bad’ things to people, to utilise Mindell’s heavily understated terminology. You certainly do not have to be directly related to the war criminals that are pestilence to our home soil to feel utterly ashamed at calling yourself human, who lives, breathes, talks, has goals and some form of occupation,  as other humans who not only inflict such atrocities upon innocent lives with pathological calculation, but share those same basic human traits as vast scores of others – yourself included – who permit through inaction or puerile, time-wasting intellectual debate these very same crimes.

Then I think that there are possibly hundreds of thousands of Syrian victims of Assad’s crackdown and the resulting war conditions who, like the woman who abdicated her human identity and ‘became’ a fish, are undergoing extreme states of consciousness engendered by those devastating experiences. Such experiences as detailed above that involve going through introverted psychotic episodes with the support of a psychologist and a mental institute are facilities that many Syrians, especially refugees (both external and internally displaced) are denied. They continue to suffer the trauma from losing loved ones and/or their homes, neglect, poverty, rape, exploitation and other forms of abuse at the hands of Assad forces, shabiha, their former captors (and to a far lesser extent, rogue rebels and foreign jihadis that run amok in certain parts of Syria) largely in solitude and in destitute conditions, be they in camps or ramshackle shelters. Having said that, this sort of understanding and acceptance of the many psychologically volatile symptoms exhibited by many survivors of the Syrian crisis is essential in learning to communicate and help them overcome such horror as we are currently seeing. I hope that medical teams will treat Syrian victims and their conditions with empathy, respect, understanding, and validation regardless of what they’ve experienced or how they choose to express themselves in their various mental states, and that they are not simply viewed as ill subjects to be routinely diagnosed, studied, medicated, and then shunned. While medication is vital in some cases (especially surviving victims of chemical warfare), the focus must predominantly be on teams who make human communication an imperative. Anything less than that is simply unacceptable.

The damage in Syria runs deep, and will continue to do so for quite a while to come. As I browsed the newsstand at my local supermarket earlier today and gazed in pallid disbelief at the front cover of the Daily Mirror and The Times, I couldn’t help but lament the thousands of victims of this gas genocide, many of whom experienced extreme symptoms in rapid, fatal, and painful succession and then perished before ever having had the chance at overcoming them. Chemical injuries aside, it is not too late to help and support through therapy the many surviving Syrians experiencing all kinds altered forms of consciousness. Going forward, such therapeutic support will be extremely important in dealing with a lot of the psychological trauma that many Syrian victims and their families continue to suffer in the throes of this conflict.

To quote Madness Radio’s description of Mindell’s ‘process-oriented psychology’,  the idea is about “seeing whatever the person is going through no matter how bizarre or strange as potentially meaningful and stepping in and joining them as if they were joining a dream, which becomes helpful to the person.”

Call it ‘process-work’, ‘solidarity’, or anything else, but we all need to learn to talk like fishes.