The evil, childlike imagination of men at war in Syria

Hazem al-Amin

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The Syrian conflict has surrounded around us. It is flavored with scents from Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq. That lady from Daraya who was arrested by the Syrian regime's army was once in Beirut with her three children. Her photo posted on activists' pages on Facebook is the photo of the very same woman we once spent a long day with. Hamza al-Khatib, the revolution's icon and first photograph, is not far from an icon should be. His parents in Amman say Hamza is not an icon but a mere victim whose murder left grief and pain just like any child's murder does. The videos of young director Bassel Chehade who was murdered while taking footage in Homs, are still being produced. Chehade's friends who appeared beside him in the last snapshots reside in known places. Nothing in their lives is concealed from anyone.

It is neither a war nor a revolution like many like dividing it as when describing what is happening. It is Syria, and it has been exposed before us. It's Syria that is very close to us. Not because it is less than 100 kilometers away from Beirut and almost 200 kilometers away from Amman or very close to Turkey, but because Syria has never been just Syria. Its music was an extension of something further than it. Its parties reside in neighboring capitals. Its schemers infiltrated ours and they all mingled together. Its merchants secretly transferred their funds to our banks. Its tragedies currently lie amid us, and we do not distinguish it from our tragedies.

Syria shocking us?

For an event to be called "an event," we have to stand at a certain distance from it. To perceive it as an incident, it must be independent from us. What is happening in Syria today is not an incident. This is why it does not shock us despite its fright. It is true that we do not hear the shelling sounds in Damascus from Beirut. But we have drowned in Damascene events to the point where we started imagining sounds for the images. The tired soldier at the checkpoint in downtown Damascus whom our lady friend told us about has become the only Syrian soldier in our imagination. Her "Shabiha" neighbor whose face we do not know started to scare us in Beirut.

When we learn through TV news bar that a Scud missile was launched from Damascus countryside towards northern Syria, we stare imagining its long trajectory. A huge missile heading from Damascus to Al-Raqqah going through aerial crossings among Homs, Hama and Aleppo and landing in the heart of a poor and neglected city leaving behind thick dust and killing dozens who were sleeping and who did not feel what the Damascus people felt when the missile was launched from their countryside.

There is something infantile going on in Syria despite its bloodiness. The destructive Scud missile which crosses borders and countries and which Saddam Hussein once launched from above three countries to land in Israel is not as such in Syria. In Syria, this Scud missile is locally used. Its frequency resembles that of domestic airline flights! There is an evil childlike imagination in that. A huge missile passes above and among cities and does not wake up the people. There is something in the missiles' size and action that does not harmonize with people's sizes and actions. This resembles children's drawings in which sizes are inconsistent. In their drawings, the man's head is bigger than his body and the house is smaller than the cat sleeping in it. Isn't there something of a similar imbalance in the president's image?

Children's stories

In this Syria, the war also resembles children's stories. It is true that those killed in this story are truly killed and that the "bad guys" with dirty faces are truly there, but the story's elements are strongly present to the point where the story loses some of its realism. Is it true that this the body of the man who was alive yesterday and that the Scud missile caused all this destruction we see? Even the Al-Nusra Front which they describe as the new devil arriving in Syria has joined the literature of childlike bloodiness. An example is what the people did in a town in Hama's countryside. They decided to get rid of a checkpoint for the regime's army at the entrance of their town. Since Al-Nusra does not reside there, they could not do so. A man however came up with an innovative attack method. He brought Al-Nusra flags and carried them to the town's men during the attack. The soldiers were quick to flee after seeing the flags. About forty people from both sides died in this imaginary yet true story. There's another story told by a Frenchman working in Syria from the organization of Doctors without Borders. He was joking with a friend of his about how many Free Syrian Army battalions there are and suggested his organization establish its own battalion. His friend responded that young men in Edleb have in fact established a battalion called the "Aid Battalion" and that these men attempted to have the organization adopt it and even sent photos of men from among them who fell martyrs while fighting.

This is not nearing the event in Syria. It is the delirium of the man living the event without hearing its direct noise. When a missile falls on a building in a neighborhood in Damascus, its roar absorbs the event and transforms it into blood and terror. This very same missile arrives to us but silently. The deceased leak into our sentiment as numbers, live faces and stories. We are not distressed by them because we did not hear the roar of the explosion. The people we know in the event and who were killed become dead. We transfer with their transfer and become the friends of the dead after we were the friends of the alive.

That lady from Daraya who is detained and whose photo is on Facebook pages today brings to our mind the image of her children who await to know their mom's fate. Before that, she brought her children to play with ours. She was like us. A free mother to these children.

Are you aware how close we are to what is happening in Syria?

This article first appeared in al-Hayat on March 17, 2013.

Hazem al-Amin is a Lebanese writer and journalist at al-Hayat. He was a field reporter for the newspaper, and covered wars in Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq and Gaza. He specialized in reporting on Islamists in Yemen, Jordan, Iraq, Kurdistan and Pakistan, and on Muslim affairs in Europe. He has been described by regional media outlets as one of Lebanon's most intelligent observers of Arab and Lebanese politics.

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