Coalition of Syrian artists: Resistance liberates the imagination from slavery

Israel/PalestineMiddle East
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Syrian political cartoonist, Ali Ferzat, his hands broken after he was beaten by Syrian forces, August 2011. Photo credit: Cartoon Brew

An opinion piece, entitled ‘Délivrons la Syrie pour qu’elle retrouve le droit de vivre et de créer !’, was published in the online edition of French newspaper Le Monde at the end of January. Signed by a coalition of prominent Syrian cultural figures, including Ali Ferzat (above), it announced their commitment to a new political order in their homeland. They also declared that Syrian cultural institutions had lost all legitimacy due to their silence in the face of the state’s violent repression of its own people. It is a powerful statement, and one with resonance in other political contexts, not least Israel whose cultural institutions are directly, and through their silence, complicit in the occupying state’s system of apartheid. Below is my own translation of the Le Monde piece:

Deliver Syria so that it regains the right to live and to create!

The first reaction of the Syrian regime faced with a popular uprising was to kill unarmed civilians. Then it announced reforms and killed thousands more people. Unfortunately, the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, cannot reform the dead and bring them back to life. Only a future guaranteeing the cessation of violence can reform life.

Today, when we address Syrians, we do so from a place of contemplation, in order to touch freedom itself. We have all attempted to resist through art and the defence of our freedom of expression, even though the times we are living in crush people before selling them on.

Fate has condemned us to appear like slaves before the mukhabarat (Syrian Secret Services), happy to find there the opportunity to spread their knowledge in poetry, music, cinema and theatre. Some amongst us, if not all of us, have chosen to put down our heads, to take refuge in silence and live with slavery.

Some, if not all of us have initiated a moral resistance that has earned us the sympathy of a majority of Syrians. This victory over isolation has liberated the imagination of artists, besieged for decades by institutions, ministries and corrupt unions. The security obsessed imagination has invented its administrators and bosses, who have sanctified solemn loyalty [to the state] and given it the appearance of lawfulness.

Corruption leads to corruption. Culture becomes an insult, liberty a psychiatric illness. As for the artist, he is suspected of wanting to attack “the art of the people”… Now, it is these same people who are accused of killing without mercy.

Syria is drowning in blood and in hope. Today, Syria reveals two imaginations: the first expresses itself through demonstrations, with the artistic solutions of cinema, but also with its happiness, its irony, its songs, dances and glorification of the beauty of life and liberty. But public institutions represent a menacing shadow, schools become prisons and hospitals torture chambers. The state apparatus, that has denied freedom of expresion through censorship, today attacks the right to life demanded by demonstrators and strikers.

Freedom of expression and the right to life are one. Both are punishable by death and liable to torture. Cultural institutions have lost all legitimacy by retreating behind a wall of silence in the face of massacres and the detention of their own children.

Filmmakers, academics, musicians, women and men of letters are arrested and threatened with death, beaten with electric cables, then abandoned in prison cells… Individuals embodying peace and the civic spirit have been savagely assassinated. The pro-democracy activist, Ghiyath Matar, offered water and roses to the military forces and was killed. The demonstrators’ bard, Ibrahim Qachouch, wrote the song, Syria wants freedom, and they cut his throat. The human rights activist, Farzat Yahya Jarban, filmed the demonstrations, and they gouged out his eyes. Hamza, a boy of 13 years old, was killed and his body mutilated. Hajar, a young girl, was riddled with bullets. Thousands of other people are reported missing.

Today, we are forced to choose between our humanity and a regime that has the blood of Syrians on its hands. Today, we declare ourselves to be on the side of freedom and creativity. We choose a people that has freed itself for the good of all. The freedom expressed on the streets has awoken ours. We cannot bring back to life our martyrs, but we can celebrate their lives and work body and soul with the Syrian revolution, to build a new country where children will not be murdered in the name of nationalist impostures.

The accident of birth has decided our religious or ethnic affiliation, but we are above all human and free… This spirit leads us to the Syria of the future. We want to build a pluralist, democratic state, a state that respects the equality of citizens before a just law. A Syria that is not monopolized by one camp, which does not advance in one direction for the benefit of the few. We hope for a Syria that celebrates the films of Omar Amiralay in a cinema bearing his name.

Defending the lives of all Syrians as well as their freedom is a duty for each human being. We, the Coalition of Syrian artists, announce our commitment in favour of a new political legitimacy in Damascus to liberate creativity and its capacity to question our world, to preserve the independence of our country and obtain, finally, respect for human rights.

Hala Alabdalla, cinéaste ; Reem Ali, comédienne ; Ossama Mohammed, cinéaste, Ali Ferzat, caricaturiste et les premiers signataires :

Ali Ferzat, caricaturiste ; May Scaff, comédienne ; Fadwa Soliman, comédienne ;Haitham Hakki, cinéaste, producteur ; Ossama Mohammed, cinéaste ; Yousef Abdalki, graveur ; Samih Choukaer, compositeur, chanteur ; Fares Helou, comédien ; Nabil Maleh, cinéaste ; Hala Alabdalla, cinéaste ; Orwa Nyrabia, cinéaste, producteur ; Noma Omran, soprano ; Rasha Omran, poétesse ; Hala Mohammad, poétesse, cinéaste ; Hala Omran, comédienne ; Shafi Badredin, compositeur ; Razek – Francois Bitar, counter tenor ; Rasha Rizk, chanteuse ;Sonia Bitar, chanteuse ; Yasser Khanger, poète ; Monir Alshaarani, calligraphe ;Nasreen Aljanabi Larsson, danseuse ; Ramzi Choukair, réalisateur de théâtre ;Azza Albahra, comédienne ; Louise Abdelkarim, comédienne ; Mohamad Abdulaziz, cinéaste ; Thaaer Mosa, cinéaste ; Mohamad Omran, sculpteur ;Khaled Khalifa, auteur ; Rima Flihan, scénariste ; Bachar Zarkan, musicien ;Amal Hwijeh, comédienne ; Darina Algundi, comédienne ; Nidal Al Dibs, cinéaste ; Ghassan Jebai, réalisateur de théâtre ; Kinan Azmeh, musicien ; Jaber Al Azmeh, photographe ; Rasha Shurbatji, réalisatrice ; Osama Choukeir, artiste ; Jihad Abdo, comédien ; Mhammad Hdaki, comédien ; Zina Al Halak, artiste ;
Aliaa Khachouk, cinéaste ; Raghda Khateb, réalisatrice de théâtre ; Raafat Alzakout, comédien ; Reem Ali, comédienne ; Tarek Malas, musicien ; Najwa Kondakji, comédienne ; Nanda Mohammad, comédienne ; Hazar Al Hark, comédienne.

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