Art as a Weapon
Syria: Art can be a weapon when journalists are forced to shut up.
Hardly a day goes by in which we aren't confronted by bad news from Syria. We hear constant reports of the bloody excesses and brutal attacks of the Assad regime. What the international audience does not hear about are the peaceful and creative protests spreading throughout the land.
The death and suffering in Syria have become unbearable. For those of us who are following the revolution closely, the country has become like a huge game of Russian roulette. We live expecting the people we know, and those we love, to be the next victims.
We Syrians based abroad often talk about how we find an endless source of hope and energy in those who live inside the country. Shocking as it may sound; they are the ones who are staying strong, brave and hopeful while the rest of the world is growing ever more pessimistic and overwhelmed by their suffering. They were the only ones who knew what they were risking when they decided to break the 40-year wall of silence, and they are teaching the world a daily lesson on overcoming brutality. On August 24th, a friend of mine wrote on this on his Facebook wall:
"We have become travellers... with our suitcases always ready. We have learnt what are the things that we really need and we have given the rest away. Since we feel death coming from every corner we don't keep extra food or money. We share it. We consume less. We waste less. We even walk more to avoid wasting oil; we're becoming friends of nature. : )
Our relationship with each other has improved; we don't worry about things we used to worry about before.
I offer my house to others and I may have to leave it any minute, so I keep it clean and neat.
I understand now why some people choose a life of travelling, because travelling makes you see your goals in life more clearly. It makes the world smaller in your eyes, and keeps you closer to God. We've learnt the hard way, it's true, but we finally woke up to what we didn't see before. We are suffering oppression and poverty, but we're trying to change the world.
Wait for us, we are the Syrian people."
Despite the massacres, the attempts to terrorize the population, the crackdowns against every form of citizen expression, silence is no longer possible in Syria. Citizens have broken the wall of silence and they are paying a huge price for it. With every form of expression, they challenge state propaganda, which has grown as the regime has become more desperate for legitimacy.
Syrian official channels have consistently portrayed every form of opposition as terrorism and treachery against the country. However few pieces have shown the true extent of this instrumentalisation of the media and journalism like the state TV station al-Dunya's coverage of the Darayya massacre has.
Hundreds of civilians were killed in cold blood between the 20th and the 25th of August 2012 in the town of Darayya, which had been a model of peaceful anti-government activism since the beginning of the uprisings. State TV immediately blamed the massacre on "foreign mercenaries and terrorists" and sent one of their reporters to cover it. The reporter, Michelene Azar, showed graphic images of the bodies of men, women and children. She stopped to interview two victims who were in clear need of immediate medical attention: a mother, who died hours later, and a four-year-old girl who was leaning on the dead bodies of her mother and young brother. "What did the terrorists do to you?" Azar asked.
As the first journalist to enter the town embedded with the Syrian army, the reporter was recently honoured by the government for her coverage of the Darayya massacre. Both the coverage and the award reveal the extent to which the regime has instrumentalised the media to terrorize the population and dehumanize every form of opposition in the country.
Posting a comment, drawing a cartoon, recording a video, singing a song, and engaging in discussions on the future of the country have become daily acts of resistance in Syria. These acts, however, are overshadowed by the military aspects of the uprising. Despite the militarisation to which the Assad regime has pushed the country, the revolution is still underway. Syrians continue to demonstrate all over the country, especially on Fridays, and non-violent initiatives co-exist with the armed rebellion. Many activists have complained about the fact that these initiatives are no longer covered by the mainstream media, although they are an essential part of the Syrian picture.
One of the best examples of this daily creativity and resistance is the people of Kafranbel. Kafranbel, a small town in Northern Syria, has come to be a well-known name for the banners that the town's inhabitants have been drawing since the beginning of the uprising; banners and drawings that reflect their view of the revolution.
The drawings, which are published and widely shared online, are powerful critical messages, not only about the Assad regime, but also about the international community, geostrategic interests in Syria and the passivity of Arab countries. They have recently addressed the disproportionate reaction to the video that mocked Muslims while the slaughter of Syrians has caused no similar outrage from Arab and Muslim communities.
Syrians are speaking out – loudly – making their voices heard all over the Internet. People in big cities and small towns alike continue to display huge amounts of creativity in their struggle against dictatorship. One question remains though, and it applies to both international powers and the mainstream media: "Is anyone listening?"
As a response to these drawings, on November 4 Assad's forces carried out a ferocious air-raid on the town of Kafranbel, leaving dozens of dead, many of them children.