Words as Weapons: Syria’s Literary Rebellion
“Now all my lies are proved untrue
And I must face the men I slew.
What tale shall serve me here among
Mine angry and defrauded young?”
-A Dead Statesman by Rudyard Kipling
In only two short years, the Syrian War has conjured some of the most complicated civil and worldwide conflict of the twenty-first century. The rising conflict between the B’aath government and Syrian rebels caused rebels to crave “reforms … allowing political parties, equal rights for Kurds, and broad political freedoms, such as freedom of the press, speech and assembly” (“Arab Spring”). When that did not happen, Syria fell into a violent bloodbath between government and rebels. Since then, the United Nations estimates that over 100,000 have been killed, nearly 2 million refugees have fled the country, and thousands are stuck in the chaos. Amidst this violence and chaos, however, few fail to notice the uprising peaceful movement of Syrian War literature. It is a unifying force for Syria. The literature combines elements of peaceful protest and new emotional vocabulary with intent to spread beyond Syria's borders – not only to end the war, but let others know of its urgency.
When looking at the Syrian conflict, it is important to note the three groups of people in the war: the government, the rebels, and the artists. What makes these artists so unique? To put it plainly, it is that they protest peacefully.
Rebel groups adopt varying ideals: from centralist, jihadist Al-Qaeda-associated groups striving for Sunni majority, to Kurdish protectors, to violent extremist. The largest of these groups (and arguably most moderate) is the FSA, or Free Syrian Army, led by Brig Gen Salim Idris (“Syrian Crisis”). In spite of the many separations between both the government and the rebels, the two groups are becoming increasingly violent. Literary artists are completely separating themselves from these groups. Extensive evidence, eyewitness accounts, and printed proof point to a new revolution of rebellion: Syria’s Literary Rebellion. These brave soldiers of the spoken word are putting their lives on the line through pens and poetry, literature and logic. But the irony of Syria’s national motto, “Unity, Freedom, Socialism,” lingers. How could ordinary civilians rewrite the history of a nation? Through my research, I will examine the context of new Syrian literature and its ramifications worldwide. To further this concept, I will draw parallels with past American Civil War literature. Ultimately, after delving into these topics, I stress the true impact of Syrian Literature with its peaceful attempts at reversing the course of a bloody war.
Proclamations for Peace: The Context of Syrian Literature
Syrians are taking the war into their own hands, expelling a mass amount of new, gripping literature, capturing the hellish, raw emotions and effects of war. Stylistically, a new genre of literature is in the making. Aljazeera references the graphic imagery and stark realism of some of Syria’s new poetry:
“I bandage my heart with the determination of that boy / they hit with an electric stick on his only kidney until he urinated blood. / Yet he returned and walked in the next demonstration… / I bandage it with the outcry: ‘Death and not humiliation'"
-Najat Abdul Samad
Samad uses emotional imagery to portray not only the concept of violence in the war, but its effect on Syria’s budding generation. This not only affects the present, but the future. Syrian poetry utilizes graphic, violent words to display the gruesome brutality and realities of war. Samad ends the poem segment with his "outry" of "death and not humiliation." What makes this poetry so unique is that it is a rallying outcry: involving both poet and reader.
Unlike the religious separation of the rebel groups, Syrian literature is taking a stand on the ideal of Syrian unity, not through religion, but through identity. Author Nihad Sirees wrote the critically acclaimed 2004 war novel, The Silence and the Roar, with similar intentions. His engineering background of education fueled his layered style of graphic imagery and complex, human characters, strung along by political unrest (Irving, Sarah). Ironically, his novel focuses on the creation of a “new city.”
“You can call anyone you want a traitor as long as you're the one holding the pen.”
Sirees credits a sense of control through literature. An interview through the Arab Review explains Sirees’ feelings towards the new revolution of writing:
“I wanted people to cry, or to push them for change when they compared everything with the present. But I don’t believe in adaptations, it’s better to see it as a new way of writing.” With his novel, Sirees’ focus on human, realistic characters call out to the reader to take action. Syrians are not just creating graphic stories; they are inter-weaving cries for help in every word of text. Even in simple poetry, the cries for help are asked in desperate questions (“Take a peek into Syria”).
Will your words bring back my home
and those who were killed accidentally?
Will they erase tears shed on this soil?
-Youseff Abu Yihea