By Yazan Kherallah, LSA Junior at the University of Michigan.
:A friend of mine told me of this verse recently
“أسير و قلبي في دمشق أسير”
.It means “I walk and my heart is in Damascus, I walk”. I’ve always loved and cherished Damascus. I love its food, its history, its people, and its weather. There’s a comfort of sorts you get when you’re in Damascus. The lazy afternoons on the baranda (house terrace) eating fruits and playing cards, the crowded Souq al-Hamadiyeh (street market), the view from Jabal Qasioun, and the sense of kindred and affection you feel over there all left a strong impression on me. But fate has its ways and since life was hard in Syria, my family decided to move away.
We left fooling ourselves, thinking that going back every summer and break that we could make up for the time we lost. My dad would work to save money, thinking that at some point, he could retire and go back to the life he loved. Jobs and opportunities took us to Chicago, Detroit, Jeddah, and Riyadh. People always commented on how unsettled our lives were. However, it was just the opposite, because although we walked all across the world, our hearts never really left Damascus.
A year into the Syrian Revolution and that poetic verse rings more true than ever, “I walk and my heart is in Damascus, I walk”. I haven’t been back in a year, but my mind is more engaged in what is happening back home in Syria than with anything at hand in the States. My studies are second priority to calling my family, seeing how they’re doing. I often waste hours without noticing going from one article and YouTube video to another. I think of all the time and effort I put into such pity work; how if I could take all the time I spend reading foreign policy articles and joining seemingly pointless rallies thousands of miles away and putting it into actual work helping those inside Syria, how much help I could be.
My heart pains every time I hear of another massacre and another shelling in Homs, Syria and I shed tears for them and myself: For their suffering and misery, and for my imprisonment. They have set themselves free already, facing bullets and fearing nothing but God. I’m still hiding, my heart trapped in Damascus, and sometimes still afraid to take part in protests in a foreign country, thinking that somehow, someone will rat me out leading to Syrian authorities coming for my family.
I’m writing this as a confession as much as anything. Every once in a while I used to post Facebook statuses with links to YouTube videos of the situation on the ground in Syria. A lot of the time I did it out of trying to fulfill a responsibility I felt to those dying inside. The posts were usually graphic, as the reality often is inside of Syria. Once, a friend of mine argued against such posts contesting that they only undermined my cause. That instead of rallying people behind the Syrian Revolution, I am desensitizing them.
I took his criticism to heart and felt that maybe there was some truth to it. Even I, with the passing of a whole year of the Syrian Revolution, started becoming numb. How could you not when news sources become so dry and repetitive? When every day you hear that thirty some people died in scattered areas around Syria. When you’ve seen so many massacres of whole families and signs of torture on children, it’s only natural for someone to numb themselves as a defense mechanism.
Today, I saw a video of 25 children slaughtered in Al-Hola and pondered on whether I should post the video on my Facebook, or at least post the link while disabling the thumbnail. I thought against and for it. What would posting the video do other than be a minor distraction to someone’s day? And so I thought, don’t people already know this stuff is happening? Or is it really fair that I have to be given the choice of either making absent any conversation about my brothers and sisters suffering or desensitizing people? Maybe we should doubt such a dichotomy – that not everyone becomes desensitized when they see real suffering.
I’ve come to think that people are boundless to get numbed, like myself. But my being numb does not mean that I don’t care anymore, it’s just that I am no longer shocked by such scenes. Being accustomed to scenes of misery hasn’t changed what I believe is right and wrong. I still believe that Bashar al-Assad is a brutal dictator and I am still enraged at every massacre that occurs. If I am given a choice of being a little taken aback or being oblivious, I’d choose to be a little unnerved because when I refuse to look for the sake of my comfort, I lose my ability to sympathize with suffering and I lose a bit of my humanity.
In the end, I’ve decided to simply post a link to the Al-Hola massacre. Whether you want to click on it or not is your own choice. I stand by my belief that if you are to truly understand what is happening in Syria, you cannot do so but by exposing yourself to such unnerving realities. The same goes for Palestine, Sudan, or anywhere else in the world. The truth is ugly and whether or not you want to confront it is your choice.