Not Writing About Syria

picture by Paul Klee

I haven’t been writing about Syria at my previous pace. The time is not right.

This is a time for Syrian internet activists, those still surviving, to send us their videos. It’s a time for gathering evidence – although no more evidence is needed.

It’s a time for reporters to write, for committed foreign journalists to smuggle themselves inside and tell the tale. (You could call the murdered journalists martyrs, because they chose to go to a place where they knew they might die, and they did so for the sake of the truth.)

People who have specific human stories to tell should tell them. I hear the occasional story, and I might relay some of them; but I am not there. I am observing from Scotland.

This time is the beginning of a long process of creative mulling for those who will eventually produce novels and films concerned with the tragedy.

Most of all it’s a time in which people scream and suffer and die, a time to wait for the next explosion, or the next kick at the door, or for the return of the rapists, or for the next shriek of pain and humiliation from the neighbouring cell. It’s a time for burying children at night, hastily, in silence. And the suffering continues with glacial inevitability. Fate doesn’t seem to plan an end to it, not yet.

In such a context, I wonder what the use of words is. It’s not a cerebral questioning – I know words have as much or as little use today as yesterday or tomorrow; an unquantifiable amount – but a physical doubt. Words appear as pretty imposters. Today guns speak. Mortars, rockets, Scud missiles, helicopter gunships, tanks, the foul mouths of the torturers, the opened mouths in their victims’ chests – all these speak. To be specific about it, they don’t speak, they act. Trucks and cars. Sticks and whips. The wires which deliver electric shocks. And the men of the armed resistance also act. While the world outside watches and sometimes speaks froth.

The words used by the demonstrators are not drowned out. This is because their words have become deeds. Each sound they make is a defiance – defying not only the regime but the rules of reality as previously established. Each sound they make is amplified a thousand times by their astounding, ridiculous courage. To dare to chant while the killers surround you is to have made a spiritual commitment, or perhaps it is to have gone mad. (Bertolt Brecht says: “He who fights can lose, but he who does not fight has already lost.”)

But the written word, and in English – what use is it? To point out that the regime is barbaric, criminal and stupid? Anybody who doesn’t know this by now, after over a year of slaughter, will never know it. To change the minds of faux-leftists whose compassion ends at the borders of occupied Palestine? Such minds will not be changed. To predict the future? I see no future for Syria. I don’t mean the future is doomed, I mean my predictive powers have frozen entirely, except for the obvious, that there will be blood and chaos so long as this criminal gang remains at large. To discuss whether or not things which have happened inevitably, like the emergence of the Free Syrian Army, are good or bad things? Such a discussion would be an exercise in abstract idealism, and this is not the time for that. People are being murdered, right now, again and again and again.

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