|A fruit seller and his tea, July 2005. Hama, Syria.|
The Syrian case is particularly troubling to me. That's not because, after a summer of Arabic study there, I pretend to know the country, its people, or its politics well. Rather, it's because I have never genuinely loved a place that was not my home the way I loved Syria. Nowhere else have I met
people so eager to know me, to hear my story and to tell me theirs, to explore the novelty of our mutual foreignness and revel in our many similarities.
Today, the Syrian government is hell-bent on crushing the revolution that it created through decades of repression. In the last few days, the regime has redoubled its brutal efforts, hoping to break the collective back of the protesters. Ground zero in that effort is, of course, Hama. (In 1982, the current President Asad's father faced a nascent rebellion in Hama; he responded by barricading all the roads leaving the city and ordering his artillery to bombard it for three weeks straight, killing tens of thousands.) Of all the cities I visited in Syria—and I visited most of those that have been in the news these past weeks—Hama stands out. While the central Syrian town's natural beauty and timeworn sights are spectacular, I remember Hama most for its inhabitants.
In my memory they are uniformly effusive, generous, and warm, but in truth I hardly knew the people of Hama. Today, of the many good-hearted people I met there, I can only remember the names of a few. But when I read the news of the bombings and the shootings and the shellings, I can still recall their faces.