Tag Archives: assad

Dogville, Syria, Tribute to Bahraa Hijazi

Dogville, Syria,

Tribute to Bahraa Hijazi

By Ruben Elsinga

It was the autumn of 2008, I had just graduated from the London School of Economics. Disillusioned not only with the human ability to rise above itself through reason, but also prompted by the démasqué of the international financial system, I left London and civilization as I knew it. I rejoiced tragically in the escapist belief that the world of lies was crumbling behind me as I speeded away to one of the only places I knew that world had not reached yet: Damascus, Syria. In this secluded place nothing had happened for decades. For thirty years it had remained virtually untouched and was just starting to awaken from its sleep.

Just like in Dogville. Dogville is a movie by Lars von Trier starring Nicole Kidman in a transparent scenery up a dead-end mountain road.  Dogville’s people had not seen many outsiders, until a refugee from the world down the mountain came to seek shelter. The people of Dogville did not know who the refugee was or where she came from. Her name is Grace. Grace first finds shelter in return for her manual labor. The world from down-the-mountain kept creeping up the hill though, as it came looking for its lost Grace. As the world from down the mountain crept into Dogville, Grace increasingly compromised herself to keep the shelter given  by the town, until she became a total slave to it.

It is when  Grace loses her stubborn belief in the goodness of the people of Dogville after they have enslaved her, not out of bad intent  but out of the slur of a lack of perspective in life that makes the best of men fall back on the mere power they hold over others, that Grace her father, a maffiaboss, comes rolling up the mountain road. He simply confronts her with her stubborn belief in the goodness of the people of Dogville. She is tired, and the more disillusioned. She gives in and gives up. The grieve the people of Dogville have caused her has killed her belief in their goodness. As Grace was compromised too much, no forgiveness was left in her heart and she could do nothing but ask her father to burn Dogville down to the bone, leaving only a bone for the dog she had once taken it from.

And so it is with Syria where the initial belief in the beauty of the country and the goodness of its people has gradually been overgrown by the bad weeds of the muhabarat (the Syrian secret service), systematic corruption and the rule of the lazy, the stupid and the weak.  I left the country disillusioned in June of 2010 and now understand that the démasqué  of the lie of the City of London was nothing compared to the lie of Damascus. Soon Grace showed her teeth during the Arab Spring and forces unleashed calling for an end to the regime.

But unlike in the movie there is no international community creeping up the mountain. And the Syrian government will not let Grace, the Syrian people, go. Dogville asserts itself and enslaves Grace, my brave Syrian friends, once and again, with brute desperate force. This is the sad conclusion of a world where Dogville is real: There is no Grace that has the last say.  But equally real is the hope residing in the the people of Syria, who do oppose the Dogvillish rule of its system in their hearts, with grace.

Dogville, Syria, Tribute to Bahraa Hijazi

Dogville, Syria,

Tribute to Bahraa Hijazi

By Ruben Elsinga

It was the autumn of 2008, I had just graduated from the London School of Economics. Disillusioned not only with the human ability to rise above itself through reason, but also prompted by the démasqué of the international financial system, I left London and civilization as I knew it. I rejoiced tragically in the escapist belief that the world of lies was crumbling behind me as I speeded away to one of the only places I knew that world had not reached yet: Damascus, Syria. In this secluded place nothing had happened for decades. For thirty years it had remained virtually untouched and was just starting to awaken from its sleep.

Just like in Dogville. Dogville is a movie by Lars von Trier starring Nicole Kidman in a transparent scenery up a dead-end mountain road.  Dogville’s people had not seen many outsiders, until a refugee from the world down the mountain came to seek shelter. The people of Dogville did not know who the refugee was or where she came from. Her name is Grace. Grace first finds shelter in return for her manual labor. The world from down-the-mountain kept creeping up the hill though, as it came looking for its lost Grace. As the world from down the mountain crept into Dogville, Grace increasingly compromised herself to keep the shelter given  by the town, until she became a total slave to it.

It is when  Grace loses her stubborn belief in the goodness of the people of Dogville after they have enslaved her, not out of bad intent  but out of the slur of a lack of perspective in life that makes the best of men fall back on the mere power they hold over others, that Grace her father, a maffiaboss, comes rolling up the mountain road. He simply confronts her with her stubborn belief in the goodness of the people of Dogville. She is tired, and the more disillusioned. She gives in and gives up. The grieve the people of Dogville have caused her has killed her belief in their goodness. As Grace was compromised too much, no forgiveness was left in her heart and she could do nothing but ask her father to burn Dogville down to the bone, leaving only a bone for the dog she had once taken it from.

And so it is with Syria where the initial belief in the beauty of the country and the goodness of its people has gradually been overgrown by the bad weeds of the muhabarat (the Syrian secret service), systematic corruption and the rule of the lazy, the stupid and the weak.  I left the country disillusioned in June of 2010 and now understand that the démasqué  of the lie of the City of London was nothing compared to the lie of Damascus. Soon Grace showed her teeth during the Arab Spring and forces unleashed calling for an end to the regime.

But unlike in the movie there is no international community creeping up the mountain. And the Syrian government will not let Grace, the Syrian people, go. Dogville asserts itself and enslaves Grace, my brave Syrian friends, once and again, with brute desperate force. This is the sad conclusion of a world where Dogville is real: There is no Grace that has the last say.  But equally real is the hope residing in the the people of Syria, who do oppose the Dogvillish rule of its system in their hearts, with grace.

Frightful ‘Lebanese prospects’ in Syria

Published tuesday july 12th 2011, Goethe Institut Cairo blog

“Was this all it meant then, the Beirut front line, a mile-wide avenue of sepulchral ruins that stretched from the port all the way out to Galerie Semaan, even to the foothills of the Chouf Mountains? How easily we were misled.”…

“How simply we believed that this wasteland was the immediate effect of social antagonism, community tension, civil war. How little we realized that the front line was a focus, that it was important to the Lebanese, the only way to define the indefinable, the only method by which those who had suffered – which meant every Lebanese – could uniquely understand the nature of calamity that had come upon them.” …

“In truth, the Beirut front line could not be repaired, restructured, rebuilt or re-roofed because it had become necessary for the Lebanese. It was a reference point without which the tragedy could not be expressed. It represented the cruelest of all front lines, one that lay deep within the minds of all who lived in Lebanon and all who came there.” …

“For we had all been fooled, even the Lebanese themselves. We believed in the idea of national catastrophe, of national renewal, of political renaissance. We thought that an identity existed beyond the civil conflict. We were taken in by the lies which the Lebanese told about themselves; we had to believe we had not seen the blood on the stairs.”
Robert Fisk, Pity the Nation (p. 52)

Robert Fisk’s words on Lebanon sound prophetic of the situation unfolding in Syria. The violent stand-off between the people and the Syrian government is reminiscent of the first moments in the Lebanese civil war: A government dominated by a de facto minority – in Lebanon the Maronite Christians, in Syria the Alawites – is under public pressure, and blunders.

The second parallel is the recent indictment of members of the Hizbollah for the murder of Rafiq Hariri, by the Lebanon tribunal in Leidschendam, the Netherlands. Suddenly, the situation six years ago resurfaces in my mind’s eye: Syria was still an occupying force in Lebanon and, if not directly related to the murder of Rafiq Hariri, at least very closely related to the Hizbollah, the party now regarded as the powerbase behind the deadly attack on the Lebanese prime-minister. Syria has withdrawn its troops from Lebanese soil since. Five years later Syria is at war with itself.

Poster by the Arab Socialist Baath Party in Lebanon of Hafez al Assad, former president of Syria and father of current president Bashar al Assad (1987). It reads: “7. April. One Arab nation with an eternal message”.
Source: “Off the Wall; Political posters of the Lebanese Civil War” by Zeina Maasri

Reading and writing on the deteriorating situation in Syria, what continues to worry me is how inappropriate our frameworks of reference are. Just as Fisk and his contemporaries were fooled, we are being fooled today, and continue to fool ourselves. “We” being the Syrian opposition, the Syrian government and the international community.

Meanwhile a front is created. A front in almost every town, every city and every heart. It is not clear who is fighting whom, and what for. What remains are the squares, where people demonstrate before the tanks roll in and hearts are torn between fighting for one’s ‘future’, ever insecure, and for one’s life today. Like the Lebanese frontline running through Beirut, the frontline scattered across Syria is fast becoming the only focal point for the Syrian people, the Syrian government and the international community.

It is this mental and physical front, which Fisk recalls for Lebanon, that really worries me. As the frontline sharpens, the parties on either side fade. What are the Syrian government’s plans beyond quelling the opposition? How does the Syrian opposition define itself in such a dispersed and desperate situation? How does the international community choose sides or keep the different parties apart?

Peace keeps retreating as the answers dissolve. Soon, blaming the government or the opposition will become obsolete, as the country is torn apart.

The difference to the Lebanese civil war is, we are less optimistic about Syria. We no longer think this is temporary. Lebanese history has made us aware of the dangers of an unstable Syria. But the absence of the Lebanese chimera, of snow-topped mountains and the bulging sea of the ‘Paris of the Orient”, makes it easier for us to withdraw our hands, to cast down our eyes, of what is only about to unfold.

Ruben Elsinga has an MSc. in International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). He lived in Damascus, Syria, for one and a half years, where he worked at the Netherlands Institute of Academic Studies.