Relearning Patriotism the Syrian Way

Tuesday, July 5, 2005 | Damascus, Syria (map)

The Presidents al-Asad: the fearless leader at right, along with his predecessor and father
A belated "Happy 4th of July" to everyone back home. A few friends and I celebrated last night with some beers and wine, just sitting on one American girl's rooftop looking out over the neighborhood. Here in Damascus, the weather is beautiful at night; it always cools down to about 70°F/21°C, with a great breeze, so it's very pleasant. No fireworks though.

On this occasion of great national pride back in the US, it's worth mentioning the strange ways in which Syrians express their own peculiar—and largely artificial, I suspect—patriotic zeal. Patriotism in Syria is required—not everyone really wants to have a picture of President Bashar al Asad in their living room, in their shop, in their classroom. But such is the cult of personality that the regime has built up—fail to worship the dear leader enthusiastically enough, and your life will be made very difficult.

The regime's protectors and enablers are all around. Members of the mukhabarat, or secret police, are easy to spot. In every city bus, and on every street corner, they're the guy with the pistol tucked into his belt. They don't wear uniforms—just slacks and a button-down shirt, aviators, and a handlebar mustache—the same as every other tough guy in the streets. But they're watching and listening—and armed—and they don't want you to forget it. I certainly had a shock when, bleary-eyed on the bus ride to morning classes, I noticed the guns for the first time.)

So to celebrate my patriotism the Syrian way, I probably should have fired my rifle into the air, proclaimed aloud my love of the homeland, then cursed Bush and Israel. Insha'allah one of them would have been hit by the falling bullets. Praise President Bashar! (scoff...)

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