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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.