Syria? What Syria?


There's a lot of remarkable material being written by Middle Easterners lately, but among the most interesting such artifacts is a recently established English-language blog, Syria Exposed. It's not a string of observations, nor a journal of daily life. Rather, it is an inspired performance of literary dissent that is often hilarious.

The blog's voice is weary, deadpan gallows humor, a tone that is apparently not uncommon among Syrians. (The great Yasser Al-Azmeh, who has satirized Syrian Baathism on Syrian TV, has often taken much the same tone; so did a number of other Syrian TV serial comedies during the short-lived Damascus Spring.) Syria Exposed aims its often-wildly exaggerated barbs at the regime of King Lion the 2nd, at western academics and journalists, at regional pan-Arabists, and most of all at Syrians themselves. There's really no such thing as a Syrian, he suggests. So far, the anonymous author (who claims to be the friend of the "real" author, a person from Tartous whom he calls "Karfan," or "disgusted") has been deconstructing a series of "myths" about Syria. Among these myths: "We Have an Identity," "We Are Not Pathetic," and "We Believe in Arabism."

The blog has the quality of late Soviet Empire samizdata, especially in its complete rejection of the region's political-rhetorical framework. Not only is the Arabism of "Nasser Don Kichote" a skein of pro-forma lies, according to Karfan, but just about everybody knows it is a skein of lies, especially those who repeat those lies most often. The most effective anti-totalitarian works of the last century were about exactly this issue. The achievement of Vladimir Nabokov's 1959 novel, Invitation to a Beheading, for example, was to portray life under totalist regimes not only as brutal, but also as suffused with falseness. (Nabokov's is also a "funny" work.) Many Arabs long ago recognized the Arabist rhetorical framework as primarily a trap; that ever more Arabs are saying so—in whatever language—is a notable milestone.

It's too bad that many of the references on the blog go without any set-up exposition. Many English speakers by now know that "assad" means "lion." Fewer, however, are likely to know what's pointed about describing life under the Syrian Baathists as "40 years of Bil-Rooh-Bil-Damm . . . " (That's the start of a common regional chant pledging one's "soul" and "blood" to some person or cause; Karfan is dismissing official Syrian political life as consisting of endless, mindless sloganeering.)

The blog is supposedly written "from a nearby country" that the author often visits, but he predicts that "the geniuses of the uncountable mukhabarat organs of our lord 'King Lion the 2nd' will sooner or later track me down." Out of regard for their friendship, the author has promised not to reveal Karfan's name "until after the fifth slap on the face."

Link via Across the Bay