I have always been interested in myth for I see life mirrored in myth and myth mirrored in life. My first book was about myths and legends. A myth is an archetypal kind of story which manifests creatively the workings of the human imagination and experience in its attempt to make sense of the incomprehensible, thus transporting on the wings of immortal tales the remote trials, heroic struggles and tragic endeavours of humanity from a deeply buried past to the present day. The gods are but the divine in man or the overwhelming cosmic odds against him. Prometheus, the bringer of light and reason, and Sisyphus, the rock bearer, the astute man who tricked death itself and believed he was cleverer than Zeus, thus rising against the gods and his fate, have been favourites of mine. Sisyphus cheated his fate but Zeus caught up with him and condemned him to carry a huge rock every morning and climb to the top of a mountain with it, only for the rock to slide off his back and fall to the bottom in an eternal re-enactment of having to carry the rock again and again and drop it again and again.
As the Revolution of the Syrian people entered its most dangerous phase, its existential fight for survival, Prometheus began to take possession of my imagination, soon to be followed by Sisyphus. They blended with each other and the two melted into the Syrian Revolution. Love and tragedy resurrected them in my conscientiousness and I became aware of the relevance of their legends to the terrible trials and struggle of the Syrians. I found myself summoning them because the struggle of the Syrian people has given birth to a silent, unrecognized heroism of the human spirit, manifested in physical endurance and the capacity to withstand suffering, torture, hunger and death. All these combined are the stuff of legend. I am not exaggerating, for survival against all odd is nothing but heroism. Only this time it is not gods who are occupying the stage, but women, children, the elderly and the disappearing youths of Syria.
I am talking about the simple innocent heroism of those who have always lived humbly and sought anonymity because of their lack of sophistication and because of their limited lives, lives of almost no opportunities, prospects or means. I am also talking about those men and women of culture, the seasoned and the young, the experienced and the not so experienced because of their lack of years, who followed the Kantian moral law within them and chose a life of banishment inside their own country in order to be with the masses, civilians and armed. They chose to be banished from their homes, children and families and took to no man’s land, living the lives of the dispossessed and the deprived. Among them are some rebel fighters who were forced to resort to the armed struggle in order to defend their homes and families.
The poor can dream too
They all shared a dream, including the people who are not usually associated with dreams, the poor. The disadvantaged, the culturally impoverished and toilers can have a dream too, or are they going to be deprived of dreaming as well? The Syrian people had a dream. Therefore, in the face of doubts, cynicism, incredulity, scant world involvement, the regional and global alliances, I am raising my voice to say the Syrians did have a dream and do have a dream. I go further to say that the dream was and is good despite the countless forces and powers that are trying to divert its course and destroy it. A dream is a thought, a hope; it is but a yearning of the spirit and a blossoming of the subconscious. Though flimsy and insubstantial, it is the cry that emanates from the genes secreted in the human cells and transmitted from one generation to another. A dream is but the desire of existence to be more than mere existence; it is nourished by the overwhelming yearnings for freedom and emancipation, and is orchestrated by life and the desire to live in dignity.
Is the dream of liberty wrong? Is the anthem to freedom to be sung only by the elite countries of the world, the ones holding supreme powers? Do we have races, religions, sects, ethnicities or geographies that are worthy of freedom more than others? Is subjugation in the name of power, whether temporal, political, imperial, or religious the only destiny of a great section of mankind? Should the light be only the possession of the few, the part, or should it be the right of the entire, the whole?
Prometheus, A rebel with a cause
Prometheus, the visionary, stole the fire from the gods and made it the birthright of humanity. Prometheus gave reason to mindless creatures groping in the dark of the absence of awareness. They became conscious and stood up lifting their heads to see a world they were not aware of before. He, a Titan of the race of the ancient gods, thought that human beings had as much right to light as the gods and decided to endow mankind with reason and knowledge. He also taught them how to make things and gave them the arts. His supreme act of courage, his ritualistic imparting of the forbidden knowledge, the knowledge of fire and light, brought upon him the wrath of the gods and eternal punishment. Prometheus rebelled. Compassion overwhelmed him for the creatures the gods created after their own image, the creatures they gave life to but left to crawl the face of the earth in abject ignorance and darkness. What is miraculous about stealing the fire from his fellow gods was that with the fire Prometheus gave illumination and conscious selfhood, thus signalling the birth of reason. In addition, it needed a rebellion against the ordained in order to make public that which was private and introduce the theme of equality into a world governed by domination and exclusiveness.
Prometheus is part of our collective subconscious and collective memory. I believe he is one of the greatest rebels of humanity bridging the rebellions of earth and the rebellions of heaven. Lucifer rebelled too but for his own selfish motives while the rebellion of Prometheus was pure and noble. It is greatly symbolic and remarkable that humanity in its remote history made stories and myths of all that is unique, noble and heroic, of all that is divine in the human nature and all that is base and perverted too. Intuitively the human race always knew that the higher values and ethics and the lower urges had to be immortalized as stories and fables and transmitted from one generation to another in order to edify and become vehicles for cognition. it seems that what mankind cannot say in the available modes of expression, they say in myth because in it the unexplainable becomes clear and the agonizingly absurd or surrealistic is resolved into a tale that mankind will repeat again and again until there comes a time when they have evolved enough to unravel it.
I am dwelling on the nature of the rebel and rebellion because rebellion is this fight that never attains its true rest since it only rests to resume the fight again. What the world never seems to understand is that what is happening in Syria is a rebellion whose roots go hundreds of years back. The accumulation of inherited tyrannies: political, social, economic, intellectual and religious, not to mention colonial, have been creating subterranean pools of unrest in Syria and the Arab world at large, lurking and gathering force until the day of eruption. Make no mistake, this revolution has been brewing for hundreds if not thousands of years.
What first resurrected Prometheus out of the depth of my subconscious and made me return again and again to his myth and find out about what has been written about him was the example of a friend who chose, Prometheus like, to light his torch for the culturally impoverished, assigning for himself a position among the poor, the deprived and the marginalized. A living Prometheus brought the mythical Prometheus into my life and way of thinking. Then other silent unsung heroes began to appear and we started to become aware of them walking and working with the distressed and tending to the very injured and the dying, helping, nurturing and assisting; among them doctors, nurses, aid workers, civilian activists. Human Rights campaigners, mothers, women and young people, even children despite the terrible risks of missiles, bombardment and the barrel bombs.
To dispel the darkness we need the Promethean fire
Perhaps when the darkness intensifies to universal darkness, the spirit yearns for the impossible, not only yearns but starts to weave out of its Promethean self visions of the future because life is stronger than the murkiness of death. While Syria was being dragged to the abyss by the converging powers of greed, geopolitical ambitions, despotism and an ethically neutralized world, all of these factors combined, acted as the magnetism which was pulling the Syrians into the abyss, yet in a strange unremitting fashion it was also heaving them into the very centre of being and the existential struggle against the forces of annihilation and the extinguishing of civilization. Nothing is purely one thing. In the crucially tragic battles of nations, the stage becomes heaven and earth wherein war, the present temporal, the past historical, politics and ethics, good and evil, the powers of reason and enlightenment versus the powers of darkness and the loss of reason, myth and reality fight a deadly battle of survival. On the point of extinction, all that is dark is released but the purest and the brightest of light is released too. The soul tries to find refuge in God, in myth, in poetry, art, music and literature because madness and the surrender of reason swarm to attend it like the sentinels of hell. But the man under the debris, the woman imprisoned in shattered concrete and the lost child in the wilderness of destruction have only love and pity to save them, therefore those who are lifted from under the piles of rubble by the arms of compassionate teams digging them up, mostly with their bare hands, rush to carry their surviving children in their arms and hold on to them unwilling to part with them ever again lest horror replaces the child in their arms.
I think people who had lived through WW2 would have understood what I am saying. They would also understand why I am having problems with reality, unable to unravel the convergence of times as the gates between past, present and future are penetrated and a country lives all its history as if it were in a moment. The Mongols, the destroyers of civilizations, the wreckers of cities, the killers of hundreds of thousands are upon us once more. Syria is being sacked and its thousands of years of history are being laid to waste. Barbarism chokes the air and blasts the land. What will the millions of fleeing devastated children do? Amputated emotionally, psychologically, not to mention often mutilated physically, they have become the tramps of the globe. If you need to shine your shoes, if you need your garbage to be removed, if you need your streets swept look for dirty hungry shivering young Syrian children.
To survive we need the Sisyphean endurance
Armed conflict combined with the deadliness of the wars of dogmas and the riotous anarchy of hackneyed sacred ideologies are being resolved in Syria with barrel bombs, missiles, massacres, chemical weapons, severe obsolete implementation of a tailored Shariaa, meant to be as barbaric as can be in order to enforce obedience and fear. Therefore, in view of the fact that the Syrians have tried, what I might describe as, the red Armageddon of Assad, the yellow death of Hezbollah, in addition to the black plague of ISIS, I am sure by now they do know what they do not want. Assad is the way to hell and ISIS is the way to damnation. The Syrians do know now what it means to embrace or be subjected to the way of violence and be the target to the evils of fanaticism. Syria is all but gone, run over by the red death of fabricated secularized tyranny, steeped in a religious mythology of ancient wrongs and grudges on the one hand, and the black death of fanatical Islam, jumping out of the cemetery of extinct theological rubbish to levy taxes and appropriate public wealth. Yes, I believe the Syrians know now what they do not want, for they cannot want this naked horror, this obscene terror.
Out of the darkest bottomless hell, Dante emerged to see above the stars. Will Syria now look out of the bottomless pits of its despair to cry out that it is freedom, life, the liberation from theological and temporal despotism, the light of sanity and reason, Human Rights, justice and democracy are what it really wants. All the roads are booby trapped now and dynamited except the one road towards emancipation. For this to happen, the Syrians need the Promethean to guide and the Sisyphean to inspire yet more endurance while they continue to roll up the rocks of suffering up the mountains of sustained onslaughts and battles of attrition, as waves after waves of the Syrians die in vain as if death has become their sustained way of life. This relentless imposed endurance of the terrible, these loads that keep multiplying, spelling futility and the absurdity of more endurance in the fight for survival against merciless overwhelming odds, they need to be rationalized, more importantly redeemed, in order for the people to believe that tomorrow is another day. The vulture of violence and despotic cruelty which devoured the liver of Prometheus savagely every day is devouring the Syrians too. This undeserved arbitrary punishment is upon them and can only be defeated by Herculean might, physical and spiritual. The vulture must be defeated so that the Promethean, the light of mercy and redemption can have dominion, so that Christ can redeem.
The Savagery and the Compassion
I simply do not know how the Syrians can go on, day after day after day with so much suffering, with so many deaths? The world either has no pity for them, or its pity will not extend to real action, except for the humanitarian efforts which founder on the ruthless manipulations, Stallings and continuous calculating disruptions of the Syrian regime. The Syrian cities big and small, with the exception of smaller Damascus, have become wastelands of debris and wreckage cradling the houses of the poor , as well as the great landmarks of civilization that were the monuments to hundreds of years of labour, endeavour, ingenuity, art and accumulated struggle to tame the environment and create sustainable urban centres. Many ways of life and old cultural traditions have vanished for ever as they were fed to the fires of insane bombardment and shelling. Some cities and towns have lost from 20% -80% of their mass, including Homs and Aleppo, the biggest and arguably the greatest of the Syrian cities.
The souls of the Syrians are drunk with pain and they have emptied the cups of suffering to the last dregs without exception: women, children, old people, prisoners under torture and refugees. I do not know what makes them go on, how they can encounter that which slays patience, demolishes, even annihilates courage, dissipates endurance, faith, hope and sanity itself, yet rise every morning and drag themselves to continue along the roads of thorns, bearing witness, carrying their children, covered in grime and bleeding, crossing deserts, boarding unseaworthy ships, dying of thirst, or starving, simply starving to death slowly, harrowingly in their besieged towns and villages. I am still speaking about the faceless millions, predominantly women, children and peaceful civilians. Are they different from other human beings, are they made of tempered steel that our planet earth cannot forge? Are they made of rocks that fire cannot melt and blood cannot drown? What gives them this strange, this uncanny strength to just fall and rise then rise and fall only to rise and fall again? Who are they and what are they that can gaze at death and say: stand aside for you have no dominion here and you will not prevail over us.
There is much talk now on the Revolution pages of Facebook asking us as Syrians and a nation to examine and analyze our savagery and recognize the horrors and evils within us. In the way of self criticism, it is declared that we are sectarian; we are violent people; in each one of us there is a dormant killer, a potential flesh eater, a rapist and a wrecker. Fine, let us gaze at our ugliness, put our cruelty under the microscope, dissect our treachery and our latent hatreds and contempt for one another as individuals, sects, beliefs, ideologies, etc. But I ask, is this the whole story? Is this the story of us, the narrative of us, the sum of our parts? Are we such ogres, ghouls and creatures of horror? Is there nothing else there? If we see only the monsters and the monstrous, we gradually become monstrous. The war has broken our minds and souls, leaving us with very little strength to confront and vanquish the creatures of nightmares. But I and many people like me, who are blessed with double vision, see other things too, many great and noble things in this broken nation of ours and those broken people of ours. I see great acts of sacrifice and great acts of heroism. I see the beauty of the common man and woman as they labour day and night and every hour and minute of the day and night to save, to heal, to bless and nurture while barrel bombs are dropped over their heads. I see such strength in them; I see such humanity in them; I see such compassion and mercy in them as to enrich the human race for a long time to come.
Our people are still there and will be there after all is said and done. They are still decent, they can still thank God devotedly for the little He gives them or for nothing because they are that kind of people, the people who can bless and thank for the very little . Do you know how much heroism and greatness of spirit it takes to be grateful for almost nothing? No, this is not self debasement or loss of dignity and integrity. It is the adamant unflinching desire to live despite the nothing. I love you our people as you are reduced to beggars and forced to starvation and the shattering beyond shattering. You are not evil or ugly. You are not ferocious or violent by nature. You are beautiful my people.
© Alisar Iram
The image of the old man and pigeons is borrowed from the Revolution pages on Facebook.
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