Descent into the Syrian Hell: an illustrated imaginary journey into the hell of Syria with invocations from world literature


This is an allegorical imaginative journey into the Syrian Hell, created for the Syrians by their rulers with the complicity of the world. The residents of this Hell are mainly the children of Syria; therefore it is a hell like no hell. It is the innocents who are being tortured in this hell, not the sinners, not the murderers, not the butchers, not the criminals, not the rapists and not the geopoliticians or the regional warlords, certainly not the Security Council. I had to take refuge in other hells in order to create this Hell which mirrors the earthly Syrian hell. Consequently and predictably  I sought the company of Dante, the creator of the Inferno. Throughout this work, Dante was present in my mind and glimpses of his Inferno, the Kingdom of Woe, have illuminated some of my landscapes. At times, prose seemed to me so inadequate at expressing the sacrificial and the fraught, unbearable intensity of the suffering I had to confront, so I called upon Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot, Dante Himself and indeed my own poetry to unlock depths of language not available to poetry. Those quotations were my prayers and my invocations as I moved in the  landscape, real and unreal, of the Syrian Inferno in order to create my protest against all man-made hells, in order to help undo all hells.  The illustrations are based on images of ruined towns and habitats which the Syrian regime has achieved great mastery in producing. This is a long and very intense literary work meant for future publication. 

هذه رحلة خيالية رمزية الى الجحيم السوري الذي خلقه النظام السوري للسوريين بمساعدة العالم. ان سكان هذا الجحيم معظمهم من الاطفال، ولهذا فهو جحيم لا يكاد له مثيل.  ففي هذه الجهنم يعذب الابرياء، لا اصحاب الخطيئة، لا القتلة، لا السفاحون، لا المجرمون، لاالمغتصبون، لا الجيوسياسيون، لا امراءالحرب الاقليميين وحتما ليس مجلس الامن.   وجدتني اضطر للاحتماء بجهنم اخرى لكي استطيع خلق هذه االجهنم التي تعكس الجحيم السوري الارضي. وبناء عليه وكما هو متوقع سعيت لنشدان بعض العزاء في صحبة دانتي مؤلف جحيم الكوميديا الالاهية. لدانتي حضور دائم، حتى ولو كان مختفيا  في رحلتي هذه، ومملكة العذاب والويل التي خلقها تطل علينا بين الحين والاخر. وفي بعض المواقف وجدت ان النثر عاجز عن التعبير عن هول الالم المشحون والعذاب الاضحوي الذي لا يطاق في مشاهد الرحلة، فاستعنت بالادب العالمي والشعر وبمقاطع من شعري من اجل ان اصل الى اعماق لغوية غير متاحة للنثر. وانني في اقتباساتي من الشعراء العالميين احاول من وراء هذا العمل ان ارفع الصوت بالاحتجاج ضد جميع انماط الجحيم التي يخلقها الانسان للانسان وذلك من اجل الدعوة الى انهاء كل جحيم ارضي بجميع انماطه. اما الرسومات والشروح الفنية المرافقة فهي جميعها مبنية على صور الخراب والدمار التي برع النظام السوري في انتاجها.  واخيرا اريد ن اذكر ان هذا العمل الادبي الطويل الغاية منه هي النشر يوما ما.   

Descent into the Syrian Hell 

Plate 1

Plate 1

  World literature has handed down to us accounts of imaginative poetical journeys into the ultimate and the sublime, journeys of bliss and beatitude, in addition to journeys to the  netherworld, to Hades, to hell: journeys of despair, desolation and eternal suffering without redemption. I name but the few, the Prophet Mohammad’s Night Journey المعراج to the Seventh Heaven and the Throne of God; the Arab poet’s, Abu Al-Ala’ Al-Ma’ari’s, literary journey to paradise The Epistle of Forgiveness; Dante’s Divine Comedy, not to mention numerous other myths and narratives describing quests in search of heaven and hell. World literature, moreover, echoes with voices of sages and poets, which speak with the tongues of fire and resonate in the depths of our souls, lingering in our subconscious because in their own way, they also are journeys into the dark night of the soul or into the beatitude of the spirit. When Dante descended into Hell, he summoned Virgil to guide him and be his companion. Why did Dante need the poet Virgil? It is because descending deep into the Inferno is a soul destroying experience which mere flesh and blood cannot endure. The love and compassion of a companion or even the solace and courage that are inspired by poetry can stand between the poor soul and the ruthless tortures of hell.  I strain my ears and soon enough the words of Dylan Thomas (1914-1953), the Welsh poet, reach me and speak for me: 

Do not go gentle into that good night

Rage rage against the dying of the light

 They come to my mind because of the anguish that consumes me as the dark Angel of Death stalks the cities and towns of Syria, hungry and ever hungrier for more lives to claim. They come to me because I am angry and my anger has the colour of hardened Damascene steel. My soul rages with the raging poem until I embody it and raise my voice of thunder: people of the world, artists, poets and writers rage rage against the dying of children, the dying of their light. Rage rage against the dying of cities and towns whose roots are as old as time itself. Rage against the extinguished dreams, the burnt-to-ashes-chants of freedom, the violated hopes and yearnings in the bleached skeletons of the dead young men and women of Syria.

  Suddenly other poems crowd in my mind. They gleam illuminating my journey as I travel in my mind into the dark night of Syria. T.S. Eliot’s Waste Land with its final message of peace reverberates, as if it was preparing me for the horrors to come.

Shantih Sshantih shantih

Peace  Peace  Peace

Perhaps I need to start with peace in order to strengthen myself against all that is not peace but its negation. I live in Wales therefore I cannot visit Syria in order to bear witness in the body. Helpless, I take a decision to travel in the imagination, to leave the physical being behind and conjure a dream or use dreaming to leave the body and allow the spirit, while the light is fading away, to grope for its destination: Syria. I did this once before when my mother was dying and I could not go to see her. I travelled to her in the spirit and laid flowers at her bedside.   I am on my way. The sky is still full of stars, an endless immortal immensity of stars. But among the stars linger millions of lights like candle lights of every colour and shape, rhythmically pulsing. They remind me as I whirl among them of Vincent Van Gogh’s starry nights. They are the lights of the living souls below, glowing with energy, hopes and passions. But my joy in these kaleidoscopic lights begins to dim ominously because the nearer I approach Syria, a multitude of lights starts to fade away and die out, some suddenly and some lingering for a while before fading away completely. No wonder in this, I reflect, for I am on my way to the Syrian Hell.  My descent begins. The nearer I approach Syria of the sorrows, the more I think of Dante’s Inferno and unforgettable images of his great work begin to crowd my imagination until his journey converges on mine. There is a difference though: the hell Dante created was formed in the imagination and poetry gave birth to it, while the Hell of Syria is man- made and is no child of the imagination. Moreover, it is a hell imposed on life, on innocence, on nature, on the good and the bad, on freedom, on the dreams of the youths of Syria, not a hell reserved for the sinful after death, where only the wicked, the sinful, the depraved and dissolute  congregate. I tarry a little, held suspended above the Syrian mainland in order to read what looks like letters forming words struggling to materialize, words of congealed blazing smoke gathering below me:

Through me you pass into the city of woe: Through me you pass into eternal pain: Through me among the people lost for aye… All hope abandon, ye who enter here.  (Dante Alighieri)

Plate 2

Plate 2

Dante of the Inferno, I would rather descend into your visionary Hell than to the more formidable terrifying Hell of the imposed reality of nihilistic man.  Where shall I go first?  The Hell I am seeking spreads north south east west across Syria. The Hell I am seeking has dissipated geography and dismantled time to reach backward and forward temporally and physically. Perhaps it is only  fitting to start with old Mesopotamia first, beginning with Deir Ezzor, then moving to Raqqa north before heading west to Aleppo, and to Idlib. I am in all of them. I am in Homs, Hama, Banyas, Aleppo, Rural Damascus and Daraa. O Hiroshima, you come to my mind. The landscape of ruined demolished burnt out charred  houses and gutted streets stretches choking the skylines under a sky of cast lead, ruthless like a biblical sky of pestilence. By the rivers of Syria, nay, buy the man-made concrete deserts of Syria and the rivers of melted concrete, I stand like a worn out pilgrim and cry: Let me penetrate the heaps of broken steal and cement, let me penetrate the dusty rubble of the mounds of annihilation, and reach down below to the shattered ominous unhallowed graves of the innocents; let me kneel down and pray. I never thought before that buildings can have souls and memories stored in every corner, that they can cry and lament.   The ragged emptiness all around me starts gradually to be peopled with the spectres of unfinished burnt out thoughts, phantoms of bygone crooked feelings and apparitions of twisted laughter and scorched smiles.  I tremble and shiver as a sound track begins to be played in the depths of the ruins, creeping upward and downward , atop the gaping windows, along the smashed walls, through the splintered wounds of darkness: children chattering and singing, mothers calling, fathers admonishing and lovers sighing. I invoke a poem I wrote in order to listen to my own voice:

 Cities of rubble debris wreckage

Of rubbish and broken homes

Pasted with remains

With the white bones of children…

Cities of smoke and melting concrete

Forging against the nothing of emptiness

Sacrilegious sculptures hewn out of terror.

Have pity cry the wraiths of the dead

Release us from this broken bondage

Even shadows can yearn for wholeness.

We wander holding ghostly children

And linger in shadowy rooms

Whispering to shadowy companions.

(Alisar Iram)


Plate 3

Plate 3

To Aleppo I must go now. Here, it is not heaps of broken concrete that must break my heart, but masses of decimated history, ravaged by fire, by bombardment and rockets, and by mortar and artillery shelling. Aleppo, Syria’s Arab Islamic history lies dissipated and buried at my weary feet as I venture into the Old City. The splendid calligraphy and meandering arabesques, carved in wood, marble and stone that used to adorn your mosques and old khans , The lofty facades, the ramparts and tall minarets and the domes of light, have all  gorged the bellies of fires with the demise of the word. Aleppo, behold how your old gates, your Great Mosque, your finest Medieval souks bustling with merchandise, textiles, intricate gold jewelry  rare carpets, manuscripts, artifacts  antiques and a lot more, more than the memory can dictate, behold how they have toppled, reduced to dust and ashes. Arches, stone, marble, wood, pillars and old houses, crafts and the craftsmanship of accumulated times immemorial were swallowed by the fire Leviathan that Assad had leached and will be forever enshrined in his Hell, in memoriam to the rule of the savage.

Plate 4

Plate 4

Cities crackling baking raging

Into the nights of nothingness

Into the torched dawns of annihilation

Proclaiming the time of the beast

Announcing the apocalypse

The undoing of ten thousand years of civilization

Alisar Iram


O Aleppo, I shall never walk through your meandering winding rambling alleys, stopping suddenly to catch a glimpse of an ornate gate opening to a courtyard redolent with the perfume of jasmine, showing glimpses of carved friezes and lentils hanging over windows or nodding under arches. I shall never see the lofty facades of your famous Khans or those magnificent honeycombed cross vaults, rising above the monumental arcades,  meandering and continuously unfurling, here into a khan that looks like a dreamy forgotten palace and there into a peaceful slumbering mosque, hording treasures that devotion wove meticulously. It must have been like walking in a gigantic cathedral with mazes and secret passages waiting to surprise you at every bending. It is all gone now and only heaps of shattered broken well-wrought stone pile endlessly, holding remnants of toppled or shelled minarets, torched souks and devastated houses.  The Great Mosque blocks my vision as my eyes linger achingly, lamenting the golden grace that was and the clear- cut effortless beauty which has clung to pillars, arcades and  handsome spiritual spaces. I turned my face and averted my eyes in order not to gaze at the stony grave that was the lofty majestic minaret of the Great Mosque, one thousand years old but claimed by nihility.

Plate 5

Plate 5

 To Carthage then I came

Burning burning burning burning

O Lord thou pluckest me out

O Lord thou pluckest


(The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot, (1888-1965)

In the heart of darkness and man’s cruelty to man, amid the entombed remains of cities and towns, I strain my ears to listen to a haunting airborne elegiac strain, sighing in the dead stillness. The Queen of Carthage’s, lament washes all over me and the accompanying tragic music of Purcell rises and falls, taking up the theme of mourning and mingling with the maternal lamentations of the Syrians ascending up to the mangled skylines:

…darkness shades me,

On thy bosom let me rest,

More I could, but death invades me;

….When I am laid in earth…

Remember me, remember me…

( Music by Purcell)

   Bearing Witness  Another morning is heralded, and as I wake up, it dawns upon me that it is yet another day of sorrow. I try to dodge the task I have set for myself: bearing witness. Sweet life pulls me in the direction of my art, to images of beauty and harmony, summoning me to that world which is the negation of all horrors and all woes. Never the less, I force myself to turn away from the beauty of the world in order to proceed towards the valley of the shadow of death which the regime of Syria has engineered for the people of Syria. My spirit sets forth hailing the road to Syria yet again. The screams of women and children engulf me and I fall into the abyss of Hell amidst the thick clouds of bombardment, artillery and mortar shelling, while missiles randomly plummet down like meteors that were engineered in the deepest part of hell. The dense smoke of burning homes and carbonized bodies spirals manically atop the tidal wave of sulphur and carbon. Screams erupt then fade away only to rise again, screams of terrified women and louder piercer screams of demented children. Screams, then more screams. I stand in the eye of the storm for I do not know how long until those who have survived begin to collect what they could and join their neighbours in a weary dusty exodus, seeking safety in the unknown:

Behold the modern day Golgotha

The hill of skulls

Rising and still rising

Atop the cracked cities of Syria

And I shall show you a thousand Christs.

Staggering under their crowns of thorn.

They hug their torn children

The heat blinding them

The bombs of the executioner

Mangling slicing disfiguring

Alisar Iram

Plate 6

Plate 6

I fly and find my way back to the ruins I have left back before, dragged by a compulsion I cannot explain or comprehend, chained to the wrongness by an unfathomable guilt and atonement syndrome, seeking catharsis but finding none. As I gaze at the ruinations, petrified and suspended in time, the seasons begin to pass in front of my very eyes.  I see the merciless heat touch the exposed bent jagged steel enforcements with the blazing noon sun, while the melting concrete hisses its torment in waves of profane heat.  I see the unburied bones get bleached and transparent, dreaming of release. Then I see the rains fall, washing away the congealed blood and the traces of the crimes committed against those who were once alive in the ghostly gaping homes. The rains are soon replaced by icy freezing winds bringing in the snows. The snows fall gently like compassionate spirits and linger in their pure dazzling whiteness to cover with the invisible geometry of their soundless dancing flakes the black black deeds of the evil men fighting and killing in the name death.

The snows kept falling falling

I heard their whisperings

Mingling with the murmurs of the ghostly crowd.

Softly the snow glided and covered

Softly softly it crept upon the devastations

And a sleep like no sleep called the names of the dead

 (Alisar Iram)

Plate 7

Plate 7

As the snows recede, I see the earth underneath the broken landscape call upon its life forces to heal the wrongness above. Moss begins to creep upon the scorched sculptures of sacrilege, tenderly spreading its velvety cloak to hide the naked horror.  Shoots of bright green begin to crawl upon the structures of hell, edging their way into crevices and holes, inching their passage into the core of the earthly hell to claim for the earth that which man had so wantonly destroyed. The stabbing sheets of ominously cascading concrete begin to disintegrate into lime as the green creepers begin to fracture their solidness and drown their horror.  All that destroys life and innocence is my enemy.  All that unmakes, all that reduces into nothingness, annihilates or obliterates, is my foe and my slayer.  All that which negates existence or smothers the life forces of man and nature, is my eternal adversary and my everlasting opponent. Alisar Iram

Plate 8

Plate 8

 The Homes of the Halflings  While in Dante’s Inferno, Hell is layered and the descent is broken into stages and the tortures of hell are designated according to the enormity of the sins committed, In the Hell of Assad, there is only the one universal , uniform, unvarying, unwavering hell of nemesis, retribution and  annihilation of all that lives. The mostly poor and dispossessed are either dead in this hell or dying, are either murdered or being murdered.  This is a hell like no hell. It is the innocents who are being tortured in this hell, not the sinners, not the murderers, not the butchers, not the criminals and not the rapists. Be brave my spirit and let us travel to the lands of the Halfings,* to where the children of Syria cower in caves, in make-shift shabby flimsy shelters, under the bare skies or in shacks and tents. Alas, there is no Gandalf the White to send his flight of eagles to lift Frodo and Sam to safety. Evil Mordor has killed the birds of the sky and nothing flies but the machines of death and destruction. I catch glimpses of children of all ages, some toddlers, some no more than babies, some older but still too lacking in years. I have not thought that so many are walking on crutches or are in wheelchairs, having lost a limb or two. And there were those without hands or arms, and those with damaged eyes or with severely scarred faces and bodies, ravaged by fire or the exposure to shelling and bombardment. I halted to reflect: the children of Syria have been slain, butchered, tortured, raped, buried alive under the debris of their own homes, orphaned, uprooted, surrendered to starvation, deprived of schooling, abandoned to the streets and crime or robbed of their innocence. What else, O what else awaits them?

Plate 9

Plate 9

Mordor, though, cannot stop the flight of spirits and my spirit is on its way to bear witness. I kneel by the cradles of babies with tiny stumps weaving in the violated air heart-rending frantic alphabets of irredeemable childish losses. I press on, having seen and born witness for a world that does not wish to see or comprehend, a world engaged in polemics and shameful manipulative calculations about what might be or might not be, astride the corpses of children.   We put children to bed, read stories to them, tuck them in and kiss them good night entrusting them to the land of dreams, whereas the lost children of the Syrian Hell  are entrusted to the wild beasts, the graves, to torture, starvation and the refugee camps. We have lost thousands of children.  Where are they? For pity’s sake tell me where they are, and why we are not looking for them, even to give them final kisses in the jaws of death, even to collect their torn limbs and bury them? How many five years old, seven years old, 10 years  old; nay, how many infants, toddlers, babies have gone astray in the valleys  of death, have gone missing, are not to be found under the rabble  or  in the jungles of cruelty, invisible to the conscience of man and his civilized world.  Lead us, terrible Hell, to where our children will never rest, to where they wander in an unknown limbo, destined never to be found never to be cherished never to be embraced never to be kissed good night in the long night. There is something terribly wrong here. The death of all these children is weighing too heavily on my spirit and conscience.  There is something I should be doing, but I am not doing. There is no excuse for me. I haven’t tried enough.  I have given up too easily like thousands of others and acquiesced to merely playing the role of the observer. Yet the relentless terrible feeling that somehow, by perhaps, some disjointedness in time and space, I have become an accomplice to the murderer, a partner in the crime persists. But where is the enemy who slew these children? And who is the enemy, the enemy who shaped and created this Hell?  You might ask these questions because you cannot imagine an enemy from within, an enemy born and bred with the fathers of these children, a father himself.

Plate 10

Plate 10

Dante’s Inferno rises again in my imagination. Terrible as its woes are and the images of suffering it depicts, I find it easier to bear and try to escape to it yet again, seeking the company of the great poet as he writes:Here sighs and lamentations and loud cries were echoing across the starless air, so that, as soon as I set out, I wept.  Strange utterances, horrible pronouncements, accents of anger, words of suffering, and voices shrill and faint, and beating hands-all went to make tumult that will whirl forever through that turbid, timeless air, like sand that eddies when a whirlwind swirls.” (Dante, Canto III, Inferno). At least there are no children in Dante’s hell, but in this hell of Assad, it is the children who are writing it with their blood and suffering its darkest chapters and inscribing the most terrible indictments to the human race.   My feet drag me against my will, forcing me to take an unfrequented path through lush wooded hills, thick with pine trees and green unspoiled groves echoing with the song of birds.  At the foot of the hills, sliding into the green valleys below and nestling among the trees, I see villages and habitats. This is a lovely place to linger in and have a rest, breathing deeply the scent of pine and cypress. But I do not tarry. Moving closer, a white village falls within the range of my vision, a deathly white village. A village seen yet hidden, as if engulfed by one gigantic snowy white coffin, as if shrouded by death itself. The children, I whisper, where are the children what happened to the children and where does this ceaseless sobbing, as if intoned by countless young voices come from?

They are there under the trees crying

They are there not up the trees laughing

Among the apples and the olives because

They are there piercing the dominion of death sobbing,

Death itself cradling the newborn and the infants lamenting

For it was not for this capturing of baby souls

That he was bidden to come and collect.

Death gapes at the wrongness of it

As if time has stood still frozen in pain

As if the earth shifted lost for a while

Alisar Iram

 Plate 11: Bayda massacre. This image borrows from Picasso’s war images

 I depart trembling and shedding my burning tears, my weeping rising to join the universal weeping of a people lamenting the passing away of the child. Suddenly I feel I cannot breathe any longer for the blight of Assad has killed the air of Syria, even as his hell, literal and moral, is spreading  and swallowing  more and more of Syria while claiming its trophies of destruction. In the thickening light, the atmosphere begins to choke with sinister smoke:

  Do I know that

Darkness is unmoored

And is hoist

And is pitched


Raw and sealed

In the upper air

Do I know that

Night has perched

Laughing softly that

Night has arched

Chuckling softly that

Night has plunged

Ravishing the great dome?

There were cornfields, olive groves, orchards and animals grazing. There were hills here where the wind played. Where are the trees and groves and the green earth? Where are the olives and the orange and the apple trees? Where are the people and their houses? Where are the children and their innocent laughter? As I drag my weary steps, forcing myself to wander through the shrivelled corn fields and scorched arable lands which used to grow some of the best cotton in the world, I whisper like a distraught apparition: they have killed the earth in Syria. There is nothing but dust, endless dust:


What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow

Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,

You cannot say, or guess, for you know only

A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,

And the dead trees give no shelter, the cricket no relief,

And the dry stone no sound of water….

What is that sound in the high air,

Murmur of maternal lamentation

Who are those hooded hordes swarming

Over endless plains, stumbling in cracked earth…  

( The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot)    

 If only there is water, a pool of compassion and the milk of human kindness. Water, the third of the elements, is also dead in Syria. It has become the watery graveyards of the slain youths of Syria.  Do not ask me what the rivers conceal; please do not let me bend my head forcing my gaze to fall among the defiled receding waters?   For they conceal corpses, I tell you. Young men, entombed in water, gaze upwards at the silent heaven with watery unseeing eyes. Water, the beginning of everything living has been conjured into the semblance of death, ending everything living. Air, earth and water are dead in Syria. But the fourth element lives and multiplies: Fire is alive in Syria.  Hail to the day of fire and wanton senseless destruction. Fires rage and blaze devouring history, women, children, men, food, sustenance, medicines and the hopes and lives of the dispossessed. The Syrian regime will leave nothing short of ensuring that the forces and means of life which sustain and nurture are extinguished. Blasphemy….this is sacrilege…..this is profanity!!

Plate 12

Plate 12

Go on my soul. The journey is almost ended but not yet. Look for the children once more. Those whose parents and siblings met a violent death. They huddle in the corners wailing and wishing for death. They are ridden with guilt because they live. Many of them are running from one place to another in circles, carrying their younger siblings on their backs, dazed, lost, disoriented, without memories: homeless, fatherless and motherless. If this be Hell, then where is Satan and his role in all this? This is primordial naked evil. No this is conscious evil, evil aware of itself. Satan stands aloof washing his hands again and again, averting his face.

 Will all Neptune’s ocean wash this blood

Clean from my hand? No this my hand will rather

The multitudinous seas incarnadine,

 (Shakespeare, Macbeth)

  The Limbo, the Land of Oblivion:  al-Mansaat* Conjuring the Shakespearean Incarnadine crimson sea which all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten, with my soul fraught with the wailing anguish of the unredeemed spirits of the victims, I struggle to free myself from my trance-like posture induced by a crushing overwhelming sense of responsibility, the responsibility of bearing witness and the responsibility to speak out for those who died unjustly by violence. This is Limbo, the place of Oblivion, the forgotten nameless homeland of the nameless; a world parallel to our world, yet has been severed from geography and is suspended like an anomaly in the slumbering conscience of humanity.

Plate 13

Plate 13

With stumbling feet, I move gently among the debris and the rubble feeling that I ought to tread softly on the wounded land among the scattered remains of the ruins. Then, as the twilight gathers, incorporeal phantoms begin to people the miles upon miles of cities, towns and villages which fell under the ax of reckless, whimsical obliteration. The phantoms spiral and whirl, bound to wheels of tortuous re-enactment of their suffering and deaths. Suddenly all around I seem to hear moans and plaintive sorrowful whispers.  I strain my ears to understand the unearthly pleas of the pitiful shadows and shades haunting the twilight: tell our stories to the world, do not let our voices die with us. Each one of us has a tale to tell and each tale is the receptacle of the collective memories of the people who inhabit it. Remember us. Do not let us die again and again. We were born, we were children and we laughed in the sun. Now there is nothing left of us but our shattered bones. If they can remember us with compassion and pray for us, if only they can say that we have lived, that we have been murdered, we might at last find peace instead of roaming the nights and haunting the days.    While their whispers follow me, growing fainter and fainter but with an urgent passionate intensity lingering in their wake, fragments of a poem I wrote come to me:

 Shape me, cries the formless devastation

Remake me, wails the scatterings

Raise me, howls the shredded concrete

Reroot me weeps the trees in their ashes

Remember me moans the marble, the stone the basalt

Remember remember remember us

Call the lost dead in their lost dreams

Cities of smoke (Alisar Iram)

Plate 15

Plate 15

As I hesitate once more in the land of the forsaken, unable to depart, pulled to the scene by unseen imploring hands, hypnotized by unspeakable grief, extracts from an article written by my friend the writer Yassin Al Haj Saleh begin to illuminate the deepening darkness gathering around me, as if wishing to make me understand the plight of the forgotten: Oblivion is a country, a condition and a political entity. It is the country of public forgetfulness, the land where you are abandoned, of no consequence, unremembered and ignored…it is the homeland of those whom nobody mentions, whose existences is overlooked  while they suffer and die in silence. It is in particular the limbo of those who are despised and tortured in the context of the public space without witnesses, without narratives and without recognition…Oblivion is the result of deliberate concealment and the annulment of the right of speech and visibility….In the world at large there is a glaring gap in the global memory and the will to remember or be reminded. The world harbours deserts of forgetfulness and obliviousness.  Our country [Syria] where the alphabet was born is one of these deserts.* The Place of Forgetfulness is this pitiable Limbo of the tormented souls calling for justice and clamouring for their wasted lives to be remembered and for their deaths to be made meaningful. They “are those who are not saved even though they did not sin”.They wish to be named in order to claim that they have lived in life and  that they have died in death. How can they die, they who have never lived or just barely lived? How can they die, those who are denied the peace of the grave because they were never buried or partly buried? I stand frozen to the spot, unable to move forward or backward. How did Dante come out of his Hell? Perhaps I can do the same in order to return:

The leader and I by that hidden way entered to return to the bright world; and without care for having any rest we climbed up, he first and I second, so far that I saw some of the beautiful things that heaven bears, through a round opening; and thence we came forth to see again the stars.

Inferno, Canto 34, lines 133-139)

 I gaze at the heavens above me, reaching up to the stars, willing them to illuminate my darkness. My soul strives very hard to leave behind the Kingdom of Woe where rules the Emperor of Woe*, held in the grip of his dark murderous self. I climb the steep ladder to the stars and fly away, but the tragedy of Syria continues and my spirit continues to hold it in my awareness. I shall bear witness till the end of my days. I shall remember in order to redeem myself and strive to redeem the fallen. I shall cherish the memory of the dead and pray for the living so that compassion, endless universal compassion will prevail, so that grace will enfold so many unknown graves, so many mutilated children and so many lethally wounded spirits. I shall in the most sacred place of my being hold on to bearing witness until all hells are undone.

 Compassion, rise and let your mercy like no mercy

Your unimaginable tenderness

In the folds of infinite gentleness

Enfold this scene of ruin

This Limbo of no return.

 Let love shine

Like the sun like the moon like the stars of the Milky Way

Let the forsaken, the forgotten lift their heads up and see above them again the stars.

Alisar Iram

Plate 15

Plate 15

©Alisar Iram 21 May, 2013  

  • Dante, Inferno, Divine Comedy
  • The Halfings, Mordor, Gandalf, Frodo and Sam belong to the fantasy novel:  The Lord of the Rings By JR Tolkien (1892-1973).
  • Al-Mansat is a word and a concept derived from an article by the Syrian writer Yassin Al Haj Sleh, entitled The Syrian Mansat (Land of Oblivion), 17 January 2012. This article caught my imagination and inspired my last chapter of this name.
  • The Kingdom of Woe and the Emperor of Kingdom of Woe are mentioned by Dante in Canto 34 of the Inferno.




About alisariram

I am an artist, a writer and a researcher. I know Arabic and English . I am interested in music and art of every description. I like to describe myself as the embodiment of a harmonious marriage between two cultures which I value and treasure.
This entry was posted in Alisar's notes and articles, Alisar's poems, Art, Article, Images, Inferno, suffering, Syria, Syrian people, Victims and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Descent into the Syrian Hell: an illustrated imaginary journey into the hell of Syria with invocations from world literature

  1. Pingback: Compassion invoked to seal the Syrian tragedy with grace | alisariram

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