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Coalition of Syrian artists: Resistance liberates the imagination from slavery

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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.

Eleanor Kilroy

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21 Responses

  1. Bumblebye on February 8, 2012, 4:25 pm

    On radio earlier i was listening to man from Homs who was preparing for burial:
    a son
    a brother
    an uncle
    a cousin
    a neighbor
    and a friend.

    I know the UN is all about political gamesmanship, but this is intolerable.

    • MRW on February 8, 2012, 5:57 pm

      bumblebye, from MofA’s comment section:

      MSNBC Headlines Story Given to them by A Phony and a Liar:”Rami Abdelrahman” Does Not Exist According to the SOHR [Syrian Observatory for Human Rights]

      MSNBC is headlining a story this morning about the Syrian government “slaughtering” families in Homs (Group: Militia ‘slaughtered’ 3 families in Syria’s Homs) Their entire story is based on information given to them by a fictitious person inside the fraudulent organization the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). According to MSNBC, the person who provided the details of this Assad government slaughter is “Rami Abdelrahman” of SOHR. The only problem is that Rami doesn’t exist. He never did exist. And the person writing under his name is a liar and a fraud and is making up bullshit stories. Who says that? The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says that

      Here’s what the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said about “Rami” on Jan. 17th 2012:

      We would like to apologise for any confusion that you may be currently experiencing with regards to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).

      We would like to take this opportunity to give you some background information for your benefit.

      Firstly, there is NO individual by the name of Rami Abdul Rahman. This is just an alias that was being used by all SOHR members and mainly by the founders of the SOHR when articles were being originally published. SOHR

      Read the whole thing. We react to minute-30-quick-and-dirty reports on the TV or radio and have no way of confirming them. The BBC is pounding these stories late in my night with ‘local Syrian reporters’ who speak impeccable English and spout US/British talking points. I don’t know who to believe anymore, but when the death of 1400 Gazans gets a ho-hum from our press, and they parade out these Syrians murders meant to make me wild with rage, my spidey sense goes all electric.
      There are too many links to add here.

      • annie on February 8, 2012, 8:44 pm

        i don’t believe anything i read in the press about syria. angry arab had a funny tweet about ‘Syrian Observatory for Human Rights’ the other day, i am going to go dig it up.

      • annie on February 8, 2012, 8:55 pm

        Wednesday, February 08, 2012
        The biggest propaganda spectacle on Syria ever

        read it.

      • Chaos4700 on February 8, 2012, 9:46 pm

        To be fair, annie, given that sources I consider reasonably sound and authoritative on journalism — Democracy Now and al Jazeera — are reporting atrocities in Syria, I’m pretty sure they’re happening. And while the real numbers matter for the purposes of integrity and historical accounts, I don’t know that from a moral standpoint we would (or should) really condemn Syria any less if the civilians killed are measured in “merely” dozens instead of hundreds.

        That said? There is no honest motivation to US media’s reporting on Syria. If there were, we’d have been hearing about Bahrain and we’d be hearing about Israel and Egypt wouldn’t be slipping down the memory hole right now.

  2. Rusty Pipes on February 8, 2012, 5:11 pm

    Thank you Mondoweiss for the daily round-up of news related to I/P and the Middle East. At least we can follow the links to a few sources in alternative and international news where we can get nuanced commentary and reporting on the situation in Syria. While here at home, even NPR is quoting as a legitimate source, “the London-based, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights” and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy and its neo-con and neo-lib affiliates continue to wag the dog for intervention in Syria.

  3. MRW on February 8, 2012, 5:45 pm

    How the hell do we know what’s going on?

    Moon of Alabama is all over this story with succinct reporting and credible reports.
    The Western Logic Of Intervention In Syria
    The comments have lots of good refs.

    Libyan Salafis Killed In Syria

    The Syrian Death Numbers Are All Made Up

    Open Intervention In Syria Seems Unlikely

    So is Washington’s Blog highlighted at
    Guest Post: Independent Report Contradicts Western Portrait of Syria
    By Washington’s Blog
    Arab League Report Shows that Syria Has Been Mischaracterized

    Some others from the past
    ‘Israel finger mark over Syria unrest’
    Jan11, 2011

    Wes Clark and the neocon dream

    Faking the Case Against Syria

  4. Daniel Rich on February 8, 2012, 5:56 pm

    Do we really have all the facts so we can judge for ourselves what does happen in Syria? Has anyone read the Arab League’s Syrian monitors’ report ?

    “The report is adamant. There was no organized, lethal repression by the Syrian government against peaceful protesters. Instead, the report points to shady armed gangs as responsible for hundreds of deaths among Syrian civilians, and over one thousand among the Syrian army, using lethal tactics such as bombing of civilian buses, bombing of trains carrying diesel oil, bombing of police buses and bombing of bridges and pipelines. ” – Pepe Escobar

    I, for one, am not convinced when the usual suspects [US, UK, France, & NATO + that rock of democracy Saudi Arabia and cohorts] bang at the gates of liberation with their Libyan Democracy Package V. 2.0.16a. I’m not a fan of Assad nor do I stand at the side of injustice, however, ‘we’ have an appalling track record when it comes to justice for the masses. Ask Palestinians and Tibetans about our righteous course/s.

    • Rusty Pipes on February 8, 2012, 9:52 pm

      The Arab League monitors’ report would seem to contradict the artists who signed this statement:

      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.

      No word in the statement about armed thugs in the streets of Homs or their bombing diesel tanks. Are all of these artists named real people?

      • English colleague on February 9, 2012, 10:01 am

        Yes, at least some of these Syrian artists are known to friends here in London.

        See also this recent statement from Palestinian intellectuals:

        Palestinian Intellectuals to Syrian Regime: Not in Our Name!

        …We have recently heard a representative of the Syrian regime at the UN Security Council use the Palestinian cause and its painful and honorable course as cover for its terrifying crimes in Syria. We say to the Syrian regime and its representatives: not in our name, not in Palestine’s name will these crimes be committed in our beloved Syria, oh killers. Do not make our just cause a mask for your inhumane crimes against our Syrian brothers and sisters. It is the Syrian people who have historically adopted our cause, and sacrificed martyrs for its sake, not your regime, of which we have painful memories. We will never forget its role in the massacre of Tel Az-Zaatar in 1976, nor in the terrible assault on the Nahr al Bared camp near Tripoli in 1983, nor the siege of the camps in Beirut in 1985,  nor any of the other acts which have bitterly weakened Palestinian national unity. Do not use Palestine’s name, for it is no longer your winning card…

  5. MRW on February 8, 2012, 6:04 pm

    Here’s some smart insight from “Daniel Trombly, a lowly GWU undergrad International Affairs major.”
    “Syria and Irresponsible Protection”

  6. DICKERSON3870 on February 8, 2012, 6:25 pm

    NAME – The Arab Revolution: “We are Free!”
    ADMINISTRATOR – Richard Silverstein
    LINK –

  7. Bumblebye on February 8, 2012, 7:51 pm

    Completely OT
    I’ve never ever commented at Silversteins site, but it just bounced me as my IP “has been associated with abuse in the past”. It was fine the other day. so how’s that work??

  8. Mayhem on February 17, 2012, 9:01 pm

    It amazes me that the events in Syria seem to be of such little interest to MW members.

    • annie on February 17, 2012, 9:22 pm

      actually syria interests me a lot, i am justextremely weary of the propaganda coming out of the region (or their proxies in london) so i chose not to address it here. if you go to my archives and type in syria, i linked to some threads recently.

    • Cliff on February 17, 2012, 9:56 pm

      MW has covered Libya. Syria as well. Not so much lately, but then again – Phil and Adam are on the road currently.

      More to the point however – why do you care about Syria?

      You use Syria as a talking point to whitewash Israeli criminality.

      Why should an Israel-Palestine blog cover every single conflict on the planet to appease Zionist hypocrisy and cynicism?

      Do you honestly think any non-Zionist believes someone like you cares about dead Arabs?

      • annie on February 17, 2012, 10:41 pm

        More to the point however – why do you care about Syria?

        because all the neocons are doing it.

        have you read this letter to obama for regime change?

        check out some of the signatories, sounds like a who’s who of the coalition authority

        “… The letter was organized jointly by the Foreign Policy Initiative and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, both conservative policy organizations in Washington, D.C. Signees included Max Boot, Paul Bremer, Elizabeth Cheney, Eric Edelman, Jamie Fly, John Hannah, William Inboden, William Kristol, Michael Ledeen, Clifford May, Robert McFarlane, Martin Peretz,Danielle Pletka, John Podhoretz, Stephen Rademaker, Karl Rove, Randy Scheunemann, Dan Senor, James Woolsey, Dov Zakheim, and Radwan Ziadeh, a member of the Syrian National Council. The letter calls on Obama to immediately establish safe zones within Syrian territory, establish contacts with and provide assistance to the Free Syrian Army (FSA), give communications and logistical assistance to the Syrian opposition, and enact further sanctions on the Syrian regime and its leaders..

      • Mayhem on February 17, 2012, 10:44 pm

        Quite simply the scale of the slaughter in Syria is way beyond what is happening in Israel. And I always thought Syria was in the Middle East – remember “The War of Ideas in the Middle East” is the motto here. It seems that because Zionists can’t be readily implicated in the massacres going on in Syria that it is not of interest to people at MW.

      • Chaos4700 on February 18, 2012, 12:05 am

        Quite simply the scale of the slaughter in Syria is way beyond what is happening in Israel.

        Ahem. Nakba denial, right there. I thought we weren’t going to tolerate that shit anymore.

    • Chaos4700 on February 17, 2012, 9:58 pm

      As if there aren’t any articles about it here. Maybe we should right an article about how much in common Syrians protesting for freedom and having the Syrian government use the full might of military force on them is so very similar to Palestinians protesting for freedom and the Israeli government using the full might of military force on them.

      Would you like that? I would, actually. I think that would be the PERFECT article. Let’s talk about who in the Middle East deserves to go on trial for crimes against humanity. All of the criminals.

  9. Mayhem on February 23, 2012, 5:03 pm

    @moderators: Re chaos4700’s outrageous remark that I am professing Nakba denial (unequivocally I acknowledge the Nakba) give me the right to defend what I say.and please stop turning MW into an irrelevant backwater which has only one thing on it’s conscience.

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