Writing on his blog, Qunfuz expresses so well what I have felt for months:
But the written word, and in English – what use is it? To point out that the regime is barbaric, criminal and stupid? Anybody who doesn’t know this by now, after over a year of slaughter, will never know it. To change the minds of faux-leftists whose compassion ends at the borders of occupied Palestine? Such minds will not be changed. To predict the future? I see no future for Syria. I don’t mean the future is doomed, I mean my predictive powers have frozen entirely, except for the obvious, that there will be blood and chaos so long as this criminal gang remains at large. To discuss whether or not things which have happened inevitably, like the emergence of the Free Syrian Army, are good or bad things? Such a discussion would be an exercise in abstract idealism, and this is not the time for that. People are being murdered, right now, again and again and again.
Over the past year my writing stamina has ebbed and flowed, but it has never been as bad as it is these past few months. And yet I chide myself for feeling exhausted. For if I feel mentally exhausted and unable to keep writing about the murder and bloodshed in Syria, what would those people risking their lives over there be saying now? Perhaps Qunfuz is right. Perhaps this is just not our time, and we must preserve our energies for the long sprint to the finish line.
This is now a competition of the will. There is a regime prepared to dig in and wear down the population, and a people that refuse to live under a dictatorship any longer. These days I often find myself having a discussion with an invisible protagonist. He tells me, “What’s the point? The regime is not weaker, the people have suffered enough. It is hopeless.”
“No,” I reply, ” you are going about this the wrong way. Was it not just last year that the regime’s supporters were telling us that this would all be over in days? Weeks? Months? What is truly amazing is not that the regime is still there, but that the revolution still exists.”
“You are being naive”, he says. “Why do you still call this a revolution when it is quite clear that there is a foreign conspiracy against the country? And now that it is armed?”
“Please,” I say, “who are we kidding? There has always been a conspiracy against the country; always some foreign plot. That is not an excuse for shooting unarmed demonstrators, and arresting and torturing people. This is not an issue of mistakes being made, this is a disease that is endemic throughout this rotten system. And be honest, where the hell are these arms everybody is talking about when it’s clear that people are buying or stealing whatever arms they can get. There isn’t an opposition “army”, it’s just a rag-tag bunch of adventurers, deserters and desperate people, some good, some bad.”
“And besides,” I continue, “how on earth can you justify turning entire cities into war zones? This is nothing less than a war of attrition by the dictatorship and its militia, once mistakenly referred to as the country’s national army, to wear down the people, crush their spirits, and return the country into the shadows.”
He gets annoyed now. “Yes, but don’t you see. These people are not going anywhere. They live here. And you know, as well as I, what Machiavelli says about those who occupy a land not just with soldiers, but who go to live there themselves. It is next to impossible to remove them.”
“I know that” I reply, “and I’ve thought about it often. But it occurred to me, don’t the protesters and their families also live there? And are the economic hardships not suffered by all the longer this continues? If the people are also there, and the people also refuse to submit, then what use is force? What use is a tank if you just keep pounding the same piles of rubble, and if the people keep returning at night when the soldiers leave? You cannot fight ghosts. You cannot fight a swarm of bees with your fists. At some point you must learn how to behave in each other’s presence, and the oppressor must learn that they only oppress themselves when they stamp their boots on their fellows and that when they dehumanise another person they are actually turning themselves into beasts.”
“Yes, but look at the refugees” he says, “look how many have left the country. And that’s not counting those people who have flown out and are now living abroad, and those business people and rich people who have already taken their money out of the country. That is only the tip of the iceberg. Do you propose emptying the country?”
“No, I don’t…” I say, “but what kind of life is this if they return to the way things were before? What use is it if this man and his family still rule the country like their personal farm? Is it not better to seek a better life elsewhere? What use to a king is a kingdom without subjects?”
“You’re being unpatriotic now,” he says, “if you cared about our country you would know that it is better to die there than live in exile.”
“Not at all”, I reply, “I belong to this country out of choice, not necessity. I take no pride in belonging to a country which treats its people this way. Besides, being patriotic and loving your country is not just about missing having tea and manakeesh on the balcony in the morning and listen to Fairouz on the car radio. I can do that anywhere. In fact, your real country never leaves you, because you carry it in your heart. And patriotism is not singing some ridiculous national anthem or waving a silly flag. The whole point about a country is that it is a place people can call home, where they feel safe and can speak their mind without fear of repression. It is a place where the guest is always welcome, and where you can protect yourself from your enemies. That is a country for me, and it can be anywhere.”
“You’re right, but, well, I don’t know any more. He’s not going anywhere” he says, “the bloodshed will not end any time soon. And I don’t know what the future holds but I don’t feel optimistic”.
“No.” I say, “No I don’t know what the future holds either. But we cannot give up hope, even if it is a fool’s hope.”
“No, we cannot”, he says.
“No, we cannot”, I say.