I hesitated before writing this piece, because, once again, I was going to write about Syria. If you go to my author page on the Daily Cal website, you would find that 11 of my 14 Daily Cal pieces speak of Syria in some way. So when I sat down to write an Off the Beat, I thought, “Maybe this time, I should steer away from writing about home.” And I tried, but I despised everything I wrote, and it all seemed insincere. So here we are.
About a month ago, I posted a picture on Facebook of a two-year-old that had been found under the rubble of a destroyed building in Syria, four days after it was hit by a mortar and collapsed on its inhabitants. The child’s tiny limbs were as white as the shirt he was wearing, a film of dust coating his frail body, and his face had splatters of blood covering its entirety. “Yay for humanity,” was my caption. An annoyed Facebook friend commented, saying the photo was “a bit much” and that it ruined his morning as he started his day with a cup of coffee. “Oh look a puppy, someone got a new car, dead baby,” he wrote.
I stared at his comment. It’s a real photo: I don’t know how that would be “a bit much.” The fact that his response was annoyance is what should be considered “a bit much,” evidence of that lack of humanity we hear so much about.
I informed him that this type of photo was common on my newsfeed, but that he was welcome to remove me from his if he was worried his mornings would be disrupted.
I don’t speak of home much: my column last semester in the Daily Cal that compared my life in Berkeley with my life in Damascus got more personal than I could have imagined. My friends learned more about my thoughts and feelings on Syria from those pieces than they ever would have from me. And this works for everyone: if anyone wants to know what I have to say, my column will most likely be online for the rest of my life; I will not bother you with the day-to-day updates on which town was attacked and what number the body count has reached unless you ask. Most cannot handle the truth of what’s going on there anyway.
Syria is no longer the new hot issue it used to be; its importance rises and falls according to what new horror is happening at the moment. Its name filled headlines when the revolution started, when Polio was discovered, when chemical weapons were used. Its emergence in news stories coincides with its emergence in people’s thoughts; when it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind. But not for me.
I carry Syria with me. Whether I’m savoring Cheeseboard pizza with some friends, soaking up the sun on Memorial Glade or enjoying the breeze as I whizz down streets during my bike ride home, my happiness is constantly accompanied with a jolt of both guilt and gratitude, a reminder that most of my countrymen and women are suffering as I dwell in my moments of joy. Syria is also with me in my dark times, reminding me that things can always be worse — thinking of the dead child’s small body makes a final seem a lot less daunting. I could push what’s going on back home out of my mind for a while, fully and truly enjoying brunch in the city, staring at Doe’s beautiful ceiling, dancing around the house with my sister. I can sit in class and objectively analyze Syrian politics with 300 of my peers, and I can write a purely theoretical 15 page paper on intervention in Syria. But, come night-time, my thoughts and, consequently, my dreams are filled with the faces of the refugees I met last summer, and scenarios in which my family’s past near-death experiences turn into imaginary funerals.
The war in Syria is the reason I went into Political Science. It’s the reason I decided I’ll be going into Journalism after graduation, and is even the reason I started working at the Daily Californian. My summer plans are shaped by projects relating to Syria. The war has shaped my life goals and dreams, and is the reason I do not think of 9-5 jobs as an option for a future career. I don’t expect it to have this impact on anyone who isn’t from there, but I also find it unacceptable that it only surfaces in people’s thoughts when a new, exciting development happens. Bodies are piling up every day: there’s your new development.
An Iranian friend told me yesterday that we should not wait for war to come to our doorstep before we start sympathizing with others’ suffering. I grew up with reminders from my parents about how much Palestinians have to go through, how war has shaped their lives. Never in my wildest dreams did I think a war would shape mine.
If you visit my Facebook page, you will see my that cover photo is of a revolutionary leader, Abdel Basset Al-Saroot, sitting with his head in has hand in a destroyed building in Homs. His physical exhaustion mirrors my mental one. The caption read, “Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind/ Cannot bear very much reality.” I realize that not everyone has it in them to worry about Syria like I do, to keep her in their minds like I do. But that does not mean that I will stop speaking of her, nor will I stop writing about her. I will keep her in my thoughts, dreams and prayers, every day until the war is over, and then some.