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Maysaloon

Why Not?

 

Posted: 15 Jan 2016 10:58 AM PST

Switzerland joins Denmark in confiscating the assets of refugees. Why not? Go ahead, take everything. From Damascus to Berlin, the journey of a Syrian refugee, or any refugee, is to be exploited thoroughly. The road to sanctuary, dignity and self respect as a human being lies through a gauntlet of lies, abuse and degradation. Syrians have to debase themselves utterly before they are worthy of pity. Why not? It starts from home. It starts from a country where you are fleeced as soon as you start trying to make a living. As early as you can remember you are taught in Syria that to get by you have to bribe somebody. Nothing is impossible, and when something isn’t working properly, be it a university exam that you just can’t seem to pass, to a job or work transaction that seems to never progress, it’s all about finding the man at the choke point, the man who wants a favour.

In the days when Syrians could, only just, travel the world and return back, they were greeted by the fat security officials at the airport who would single a suitable “victim”, someone with a Syrian passport, of course. It wouldn’t do to show somebody with a real passport, a human being’s passport, how barbaric we are. No, that wouldn’t do at all. But a Syrian or Arab is OK, because he could be exploited.

“Have you any presents for us?” the official would ask, rubbing his hands. If you don’t understand what he means, he’ll make you understand. He’ll um and ah, at the things in your suitcase. “Oh this wouldn’t do at all. Oh this might need to be taxed. Oh this might be banned under the new security regulations”, he’d say. Then, out of sheer frustration, you would pay him. Something, anything. Cigarettes would do, anything. Just pay so you can be on your way.

You leave the stable called Syria behind, and you get people smugglers, you get corrupt soldiers on the border. If you aren’t driving an expensive car and look average, border police make you wait in the sun and keep you “in line” while beating you with rubber hoses – that’s what they did on the border crossings to Lebanon by the way. You make it somewhere else, like Turkey, and you pay somebody to find you a flat, you pay them extra, just a place, any place. They raise the prices. If somebody else pays them more, you get turfed out. Then you have to pay money for visas, for transport, for “arrangements”. It might pay off, it might not. You might end up as fish food in the sea, or your body turns into a leaky bag of skin and fluids after you suffocate in a refrigerator in wheels somewhere on a motorway in Austria.

Why not? Let’s exploit Syrians, everybody else has. These refugees are “rich”, “they have money”. They are all “coming to rape European women” after all. Besides, they have diseases, they “hide terrorists” amongst each other. Why not? Fleece them. Maybe next Europe can start putting refugees in specially walled off compounds, and force them to wear special badges – no, badges won’t do, it’ll be special identity cards or papers. To mark them as special, to watch, to keep an eye on. Why not? A people with no home, no sanctuary, no respect or dignity even from their own, why should anybody else respect them? Why not also force Syrians – because that’s what the word ‘refugee’ has become synonymous with – to walk barefoot across Europe, wearing sack cloth and with ash on their heads? That way everyone can be sure that they really are desperate and worthy of assistance.

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Can the last person out of Syria please turn off the lights?

Thursday, September 03, 2015

It took a dead baby for the world to notice. Wait, I thought it took seventy refugees suffocating in a refrigerator with wheels for the world to notice? Or was it the pictures of babies floating face down in the water that did it? I thought we were at the tipping point when chemical weapons were dropped on the Damascus Ghouta in 2013, and politicians in the Western world wobbled their lower lips as they made their speeches denouncing Assad and calling for accountability. I don’t buy it, and I’m not getting swept away with the optimism and emotion. A few thousand refugees let in through the net aren’t going to fix this problem or make it go away. The refugee problem is mainly a Syrian refugee problem, and it stems from a dictator who continues to use barrel bomb attacks to depopulate towns and villages. Syrians aren’t fleeing because of Jabhat al Nusra or even ISIS. They’re fleeing because they can’t live safely in their towns and villages when there is a constant fear of airstrikes and barrel bombs – the most barbaric of indiscriminate weapons.

I’ve spoken to people in Syria, and they’ve told me they could put up with the odd mortar shell, sniper or tank fire. They could even put up with living in IS areas or living with Jabhat al Nusra, just about, but not a weapon that can flatten an entire building, turning it into a tomb for those unlucky enough to be trapped alive beneath it. Those who come to rescue any survivors become themselves victims with the regime’s “double tap” method, where a second barrel bomb is thrown down to get rid of the survivors. It’s diabolical, it’s perverse, and it is contrary to all morality and logic. This is what’s driving people to risk their lives and everything they have for a better one abroad.

The West lacks the political will to do anything while Assad’s allies back him to the hilt. Yes, foreign fighters have done a lot to undermine the Syrian revolution, but that pales in comparison to the material support given to Assad by Iran and Russia. It took two years for the Assad regime to realise that President Obama is actually doing everything he could *not* to touch Syria, and after that the Russians threw him a lifeline, a way out, from the corner of red lines that he’d talked himself into. The disarmament deal that was supposed to “punish” the Assad regime really just gave him a green light to use all other weapons to brutalise the Syrian people, including his airforce, which is nowhere to be seen whenever Israel conducts its airstrikes inside Syria.

Today Prime Minister Cameron might grudgingly agree to allow a few thousand more Syrian refugees into the United Kingdom, as will Europe, but what will the world do in six months? In a year? How long will these band-aid fixes continue to be applied while everybody shirks their international obligations and does nothing to stop the slaughter in Syria? By doing something, I’m not talking about the meaningless term “political solution”, but taking hard action to stop a dictator’s regime from tearing the entire Mediterranean apart so that he can stay on his throne. Sorry, the picture of a dead baby, however heart breaking, is not enough to sway the world’s conscience into action. People will keep risking their lives in the hope of safety and a better life, it’s human nature.

Made up of bloated corpses, blood, guts, stale semen, decayed food, sweat and petrol fumes, there is a stink rising from our Arab countries, and the world just wants to pinch its nose. The only thing this poor baby might have done is to awaken the fetid consciences of the Arab bourgeoisies, as they tweet their heartbreak over social media from across the Arab world’s glittering capitals. To them, I say shukran for your condolences and your Arabian hospitality. Oh, and can the last person out of Syria please turn off the lights?

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Pan-Arabists and the Iran “deal”

The Pan-Arabists of the Middle East are celebrating the US-Iranian deal along with all the Progressives of the world. Every spin is being put on this deal to make it look like a guarantee for peace in our time, that somehow the Iranian regime’s desire for a nuclear bomb has been curbed. In exchange, however, the world has offered Syria to Iran on a platter. We’re told by reasonable people that of course, “no deal is perfect”. What they won’t say is that the “imperfect” bits are Syria, and that the millions of people who can’t go home anymore, and the hundreds of thousands who have died in the last four years, are directly a result of Tehran’s actions.

I didn’t always used to think like this. You’re reading the blog of a bitter and disillusioned man who once cheered for Hassan Nasrallah during the 2006 war and believed that Tehran’s ‘Axis of Resistance’ was the region’s only hope. I changed my mind because Syrians were being murdered by the thousands, their legitimate claims dismissed, and their uprising brushed off as a terrorist uprising by a tinpot dictator who would not have survived had it not been for the help of Tehran and Hezbullah. The pan-Arabists were blasé about the news. We were brutalised and the world did nothing. We were tortured, and the world did nothing. We were starved, and the world did nothing. The world looked away when Syria started.

Whilst I write this I am thinking about a young Syrian boy I shook hands with in Turkey. Well, we didn’t shake hands. He shook my hands, I shook the stump of his arm because his hands were blown off by a Syrian regime missile strike. The Iranian deal means more bombs, more bullets, and more militias will be sent to Assad, and the easing of sanctions means more money will be used to prop up his economy and keep him in power. That’s why I’m not enthusiastic about the deal with Iran. That’s why I’m angry and biased. I don’t know, maybe I’m not thinking straight; I’m too ’emotional’.

I’m sorry that Syrians are inconvenient, that we’re not being killed by the right type of enemy for you people. I’m sorry we haven’t received your stamp of approval. Pan-Arabists are cheering a deal with Iran, because, as they keep reminding us, Israel is the real enemy; Palestine the real goal. Never mind the untold misery, guts and excrement that we are being forced to crawl through in the name of this mythical liberation that hovers on our horizon like a promised paradise for the wretched of the world. Syria is “complicated”. Syrians are only to be felt “sorry for”, like the victims of some flood or an earthquake. From your glass towers in Dubai you intellectual pan-Arabists can toast a deal with Iran, and celebrate the fact that nothing has been allowed to deviate your attention from the lofty goal of “liberating Palestine”.

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Mediocrity

Maysaloon

Posted: 11 Jul 2015 02:10 AM PDT

I can’t write. My thoughts are scattered as my attention jumps from one story to another. I read into people’s comments on social media to the n-th degree. I know – not even sure how – where they are coming from when they make a statement about some subject, and that’s when I start to wrestle with ghosts. Start is probably the wrong word. My paralysis is because I am trying to reach the start point, the firm ground from which I can begin pointing out where everything started to go wrong. I read praise for a long serving foreign minister who has just passed away. The only discernible legacy I can make out is that “he was there”. He didn’t do much, but he was around to see stuff happen. So we clap for him because we don’t know what politics is. The only thing we know is mediocrity, so we applaud it as an accomplishment.On the same note we have the Pied Piper of the Middle East claiming that “the road to Jerusalem” passes through the towns and cities of Syria. Where do I start with that? I’ve spent the last hour typing and then deleting pages of nonsense on how wrong, how inconsistent, and how hypocritical that man’s statements were. A liar celebrating a day which is a lie, for a cause which is dead, to a people who are merely animated husks. Why should that bother me? Who was I trying to reach? I can’t honestly say.

We don’t even realise that the Middle East is dead, that there existed before all this noise pollution a region that had a very different view of the world, of its place in it, and a hope for the future that the soldiers killed. We think we have inherited something, but in reality we are all squatters in the mansions of people long gone. We dress up with the clothes they left behind, dine in their halls, and pretend to understand the books in their libraries or the art on their walls, like children play-acting at being adults, but we don’t get it. We have no idea.

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Maysaloon – ميسلون It’s All “Unfortunate”

Posted: 18 Apr 2015 01:48 PM PDT
Welcome to the Middle East, where the only monsters are the ones you bring with you. In the primordial past, in a time before writing became prevalent, maybe our ancestors were trying to make sense of the world and so they created stories that had a beginning, a middle, and an end. They told their children that existence was a phenomenal struggle between good and evil, and ever since then we have been cursed to live that same story over and over. It’s like we have something ingrained within us, and we want to believe. The dictators know that we want to believe, and they feed that story continuously. They give us stories about foreigners coming to kill us, stories about Jews dominating the world, stories about other tribes that can never be trusted no matter how long you have dealt with them. But the dictators are above these stories of good and evil. They stoke the fires, and the region burns long after they are gone.

When I talk to a liar – a person who supports the dictators – they tell me that we should stop looking at the dictator’s actions as good and evil. They tell me that this is not a useful way of understanding things and that we should try to see things from their perspective. The question that begs itself, today as well as four years ago, is why? Why do we need to see things from the perspective of an Assad or a Mubarak or a Saddam or a Gaddafi? Is it so that we can understand that they are just acting out of fear? That they are forced to behave this way? Or maybe it is that they believe they are locked in a never ending struggle with the great enemy abroad? With imperialism or the Great Satan? If so, how is that different to just explaining things as a battle of good versus evil?

When I read through my list of news articles each day (reading is a strong word, I mostly skim through them nowadays), I group the stories into positive and negative: ISIS lose – good; regime loses – good; civilian casualties – bad. It’s unconscious, because there are things that I care for more than others. I feel, internally, a great anger at the site of barrel bombs being dropped on Syrian towns and cities, as is the case when I watch the victims of the regime’s chemical attacks. I want it to stop, I hope it’ll stop. A part of me can’t accept that something like this can go on without a judgment being called, without a punishment being meted out to the responsible party. I want there to be a hell for the dictators and their followers. I hope that a “good” side will win. I want the side that waves the green, white and black flag to win. I still believe they represent the best – albeit imperfect- hope for this wretched country and whatever is left of it. Does that mean I am locked into a narrative of good versus evil?

Fine, maybe I am. The dictator’s apologist tells me, “Look, there you go again! You’re talking in terms of good versus evil! We’ll never get anywhere that way”. And again I’m puzzled. What on earth does he want? What is it that the dictator’s apologist is really asking of me? Does he want me to stop using the words, “Good” and “Evil”? Or does he want me to stop labelling the actions as good and evil? That’s it, the latter. I think he wants me to stop judging the actions. Perhaps, and here I am thinking for them, they would like me to label these events that we hear trickling out of Syria as “unfortunate”. The word unfortunate takes the sting out of describing the action. They want me to say unfortunate because fortune is a concept that is beholden to no man. That popular saying, “Fortune is a fickle mistress” and all that. It’s basically that there are these winds of fortune that blow in the world, and sometimes they are what we desire, and other times they are not. And when they are not, the dictator’s apologist reasons, then we should label them as unfortunate.

Therefore, it is “unfortunate’ that the dictator had to listen to the advisors who told him that a firm hand was needed, and unfortunate that the dictator’s men were told to fire at unarmed civilians or else they themselves would be shot. It is “unfortunate” that when shooting and tanks and artillery and aerial bombardment didn’t work as effectively as they liked that somebody decided to load chemicals into a bomb and to fire these at civilian areas that had “unfortunately” decided they didn’t want a dictator to rule them anymore. This is the neutral ground that the dictator’s apologist wants us to meet on. The sting has to go, the victim’s condition is “unfortunate” and perhaps something can be done about that later, much later. But for now, we don’t need to point fingers. After all, one series of unfortunate events let to another series of unfortunate events, and since everybody has blood on their hands, then nobody must pass judgment.

This is the same logic a ten year old uses when they’ve been told off about something. The child will try to remove the blame by pointing the finger elsewhere, “Everybody else is doing it”, or “he told me to do it”. And that kind of argument has been used over and over, but not by children, but by dictators and by the people who follow them. These were grown men and women who did, what did you like to call it Mr Dictator apologist? “Unfortunate” things. They did unfortunate things over and over until somebody stopped them and put them in front of everybody and asked them why they did what they did. And over and over, they used the same arguments as guilty children. Isn’t that curious? That dictators and the people who follow them cannot give a grown up, reasonable and rational answer to why they caused these “unfortunate” incidents to occur?

They could argue that if they did not do what they did, that others would have, that this is the way of the world. And I would say you are right, it is the way of the world. We cannot hope to change and eliminate all war, all greed, and all murder from our world. You could say that there is something in the human being, innate, that calls for this. That it has been this way since the time that Cain killed Abel. But then, I would ask of you, aren’t you taking us back to the stories of good and evil? You have told me not to use the words good and evil, and yet you come back and tell me that all these bad things I spoke of are in our nature as humans. And would that not mean that all the good things in the world, like honesty, charity, and love, are also parts of human nature, and that the mixtures of these things are such that some people have more of one part and less of the other, and others the opposite? And if so, I ask of you, apologist to dictators, what do you think you are doing when you support a man who does the things that he does to stay in power? You’ve taken us around in a big circle and we are back to where we began, although we do have a clearer understanding of good and evil.

Evil is not something that exists abstract from human actions, it is our judgment on the actions of other human beings. We call earthquakes, diseases, and floods “unfortunate”, we call the Holocaust, the Armenian Genocide, and the Cambodian Genocide, “evil”. They are evil because these things were thought up and acted upon by men and women – normal, average, even likeable, but they were men and women nonetheless, not monsters. Other people, not saints, not angels, pronounced judgment on the actions of these men and women to hold them accountable. The battle of good versus evil is not something metaphysical, it is not some abstract superstition that is being battled out in the heavens, but of this earth – of our flesh and blood. The “battle” of good versus evil is our struggle with what it means to be human, and the harder you try to escape it, the more embroiled in it you become.

You don’t want me to use the word “evil” for certain actions because you won’t be able to face yourself in the mirror. If you’re going to be ugly you want the whole world to be ugly. If you can’t have something you’ll burn it before anybody else does. That is what it all boils down to, and that is why you’re not a man, but a spoilt child that needs a good smacking. You and your dictator.

Somebody Interviewed Assad. Chill out.

Many people I know were quick to jump on Jonathan Tepperman’s throat because he interviewed Assad. The interview itself was remarked upon widely for the insane comments that Assad made, completely divorced from reality and quite clearly an attempt to portray himself as a reasonable, sensible man that the West can do business with against ISIS. The result of this interview, however, was very different; Assad simply came across as deluded or a pathological liar, something that was confirmed by Tepperman himself when asked about his impressions of that man. So the crisis is averted and we can all stop beating ourselves into a social media frenzy.

There’s a strong tendency amongst Syrians supporting the revolution for group think, and we need to stop that. It doesn’t help our case, it doesn’t help Syrians, and it just alienates people who might be trying to help us in their own way. Not everybody needs to have exactly the same view. We don’t all need to have the same friends, talk the same way, and use the same language. I myself find plenty of pro-revolution Syrians who use ridiculous terminology and say the stupidest things when referring to the Syrian conflict and I bite my tongue and shut up because it’s negative and counter-productive. That’s the price I’ve agreed to pay for supporting freedom of speech in Syria, I’m learning to deal with the fact that stupid people will say things and other people will agree with them sometimes. We all just have to have believe in each other a bit more. I want Assad’s regime to be dismantled, and while I do worry that the world is forgetting us and that it might even forget about the horrible things that his dictatorship has done to Syria, I also know it is enough that I won’t forget.

 

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US Strikes In Syria

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, 2014

Since 2011 Assad has progressively escalated his war against the Syrian people. His regime set the daily killing quotas, they escalated from small arms fire to tanks, cannon, rockets and airplanes. As the days turned into weeks and the months turned into years we were subjected to the same diatribe demanding that innocent unarmed people die for the principles of those watching them from a thousand miles away. Anybody who thought otherwise was dismissed as a warmonger. The chemical attacks came, and still the world did nothing. Then ISIS emerged, it almost overran the north of Syria before the Free Syrian Army along with Jabhat al Nusra pushed it out, and it went on to overrun most of Iraq. Then the world took notice but that was only because ISIS were about to commit the mother of all massacres against the Azidis of Iraq. Nobody complained about the airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq. Today those airstrikes began in Syria, and like earthworms after the rain the people who were silent before have now appeared and are able to speak.

Now they wring their hands in anguish. They pray for Syria. They wish there was another way. They worry about the innocents whose lives would be lost if the US led strikes against Syria materialised. Maybe to them a death by a US made bomb is a far worse fate than being killed by a Russian made one. So they shake their heads, “No, this won’t do at all. It is one thing to watch a country bleed white over the course of three years, but to have the United States cauterise the cancer that is ISIS immediately, well that’s just outrageous”.

There’s only one reason why the United States is bombing ISIS in northern Syria, and that’s because the Assad regime gunned down innocent protesters in 2011. In his first speech after the protests in Deraa, and when his regime could no longer pretend like nothing was happening, he ranted and raved about a terrorism that didn’t exist in Syria yet. He warned, no he threatened, that Syria will turn into another Afghanistan. He abandoned the north east of Syria, he struck oil deals with ISIS, he deliberately avoided bombing their headquarters whilst raining his wrath on the parts of Syria in control by the Free Syrian Army. His army obliterated parts of Homs, and eviscerated Aleppo, in a scorched earth policy that his soldiers spray-paint christened as “Assad or this country burns”. If there is anybody who holds the moral blame for all that has befallen Syrians since then, it is this bankrupt regime and its Russian and Iranian backers.

Syrians have had three years of this murder. Three years of his apologists using smoke and mirrors and every trick in the book to paralyse the international community and prevent it from doing anything about the barrel bombs and the chlorine bombs dropping on the heads of civilians. Again and again the spectre of Iraq is raised, not so that anybody can learn anything, but to frighten anyone from action, however much needed, to help Syrians. The anti-imperialist camp must, at any cost, oppose intervention in Syria and they are pathologically incapable of comprehending its necessity. Others will get on to the moral high horse and say that strikes on Syria will lead to innocent lives being lost. Of course, they don’t seem to mind much that the very next day those lives could be lost either by an overzealous ISIS fanatic enforcing his apocalyptic vision of a utopian society, or that death could come by Assad’s barrel bombs or rocket attacks or air strikes. No, for that they can only offer the potential victims a lot of moral anguish, hand wringing and anxiety as they are crushed between Assad and ISIS. Heaven forbid that anybody interfere, that anybody try to do something.

Last year many of those same people cheered with joy that strikes against the Assad regime were averted after he used chemical weapons against the Syrian people. Since then the death toll in Syria has risen to over 200,000. But they have nothing to say about that. They’ve been too busy spending the last year basking in the warm glow of their own self righteousness. Since then Assad and his Shiite allies have managed to push back the Free Syrian Army (without ever challenging ISIS seriously) and ISIS has emerged from a fringe lunatic group to a lunatic messianic state controlling an area larger than the size of England. The non-interventionists are responsible for this turn of events, and they are responsible for the rise of ISIS. They offered no solutions, only obstacles. They don’t have a position you can criticise. They just insist that nobody have a position either, that Syrians die for the principles of somebody else; somebody who can rubber-stamp the revolution and say, “Yes, you’re a bonafide revolution and we approve of you”, and say to them, “We will sing your praises in post-graduate Middle East courses across the Western world for all time, and write books about your sacrifices”. 

The fact is non-interventionists have no right to talk about who may or may not get hurt in Syria, to pretend to be concerned for the innocent, and they have no right to hold the moral high ground after the debacle we’ve seen in Syria for the last twelve months. This is a disaster, step aside and let someone do something about it.  

Syria : Life After Theory

I felt a sense of sorrow seeing the Syrian regime soldiers being herded into the desert by ISIS. They were stripped of their uniforms and weapons. In the video they looked naked and weak. It wasn’t without a sense of irony that I recalled similar videos of Syrian civilians being herded off a bus, naked, hands tied and blindfolded as they were rushed off to whatever horrors lay in store for them. But I can’t bring myself to mock. I can’t look at a human being getting degraded in that way and not feeling something. Isn’t that why this whole affair kicked off? Wasn’t our outrage and horror at the way protesters were being treated the reason why we all broke the fear barrier and spoke out?

I can feel empathy for the regime soldiers, though perhaps less for the hardcore of the regime itself, and I’m free to do so. There is nobody compelling me to, and I feel no worry about holding my opinion, which is something that a pro-regime Syrian could never do. They can feel outrage only for certain victims, certain injustices, and certain types of suffering. And now that this ISIS has reared its head, what? Do we abandon everything as a hopeless dilemma? As a choice between two barbarisms? Between bearded and non-bearded butchers and torturers? No, I choose instead to believe in our decency and kind heartedness. Since the start of the Syrian revolution I’ve felt a resurgent humanism in my thinking and understanding and it tugs away at my feelings constantly. I know I’m not alone. It’s there if you look for it within every Syrian person who took the difficult and frightening first steps to stand up for what they believe in and say no to injustice. We had to overcome obstacles at every level to do that and anybody who hasn’t gone through that wouldn’t understand. Instead they would hide behind lofty talk of geo-politics and “great games”. But the dusty narratives about colonialism, post-colonialism, occupation and liberation are no longer relevant, if they ever were. There is something stronger, more powerful than all of that, and it’s something I choose to believe in.

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A Protest

We are about to reach Trafalgar Square. The day started off cloudy but by the time we arrived to the protest the sun was beating down on us through a patch of blue sky that had been emptied of clouds. Dozens of green, white and black flags – the flags of the Syrian revolution – waved and rippled in the breeze. When we got there we saw a man in a werewolf mask posing with some people and their camera. He had a placard and it said something about Assad the killer who used chemical weapons on his own people. He had ketchup smeared on his hands – that was supposed to be blood. A small group of people stood dejectedly, listening to people making statements through loudspeakers. There was a woman who regularly appears at the London protests with two crutches, I don’t know who she is, and she had placards with pictures of dead Syrian babies hanging from her neck on her front and back. She looked like a walking billboard that hobbled from place to place. Her whole manner reminded me of the beggar women in front of the Friday mosque, after prayers, waiting for the more charitable worshippers to drop some alms and save their eternal souls. The group formed a semi-circle around the speakers, and placards and Syrian flags were being held up, not facing outwards, but inwards. It seemed to sum up the whole mentality of the protest. Every now and then one of these Syrian dinosaurs would take a picture with their smart phone, the whole thing seemed an exercise in vanity. Garish, cringeworthy photographs of dead Syrian children were festooned everywhere.

A man held the microphone and started addressing the small gathering while bewildered tourists looked on at us. He said things about chemical weapons, about butchers and about savagery, all with the most appalling English. He pantomimed some story about a child that had lost his parents, again in the most awful English, perhaps expecting that he was tugging on the heart-strings of the listeners and passersby. Instead it was off-putting and would have bordered on the comical were the subject matter not so serious. It was a silly performance and the people standing there were starting to get tired. Thinking to energise the crowd he started to chant some of the tired and stale slogans that have been copied wholesale from pro-Palestine demonstrations, “Free, Free Syria!”, “From the river to the sea, Syria, Syria will be free!”, and the utterly uninspiring and unimaginative, “Syria, Syria don’t you cry, we will never let you die!”. These were empty and hollow chants that most of us were too tired or disinterested to repeat. Then a young Syrian dressed like Tony Montana with a white shirt, wide collar, and a velvet black blazer, all with slicked back hair to complete the Mediterranean-villager-in-the-big-city-for-the-first-time look, started to do a version of the Syrian “Arada” but in English, and it was cringeworthy. More tired chanting, more terrible English. Walking around the small space we had cleared was the man who had been pantomiming earlier, egging people on as if he was managing a rock concert. The whole exercise was uninspiring and left us feeling deflated and underwhelmed.

There is a generation or type of Syrian that might be living in England, but has never left Syria, and has never grasped that their way of viewing things, and what they take for granted, might not be shared by the people they now live amongst. That talking about paradise, angels, virgins in heaven, and children floating up to God, does not really make an impact with a largely secular society that views most religion – and especially Islam – with a mixture of distrust and distaste. The peculiar way this older generation portrayed the suffering of the Syrian people was a cringeworthy and pitiful affair, undignified and cheap, as if the world had to be begged to do something about the carnage in Syria as an act of charity than the international, legal, and moral obligation that it really is.

We were then told that we would be marching to 10 Downing Street to observe a minute’s silence for the victims of the chemical attack. The man picked up the microphone and began yelling angry chants through the amplifier at an uncomfortable volume. The crowds avoided us while we cringed with each yell. We walked past the horse guards and even the horses were getting panicky. Somebody eventually lowered the volume, thankfully. We passed a group of people who were protesting the war on Gaza. Cheers of “Free, Free Palestine” drew a response from the walkers on the other side, and several people there decided to join us, many looked at us indifferently. A naive air of camaraderie sprouted for a brief moment between the two lost causes, and then we moved on. We stood in front of 10 Downing Street and the man stood on a small wall and spent ten minutes shouting at people through the microphone to prepare for the minute’s silence. Eventually we managed it. When it was done we put down the placards and everybody hurried off, eager to be done with this business. Next year I expect we will find fewer people commemorating this awful anniversary, if at all.

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