Across the Bay

Monday, March 21, 2005

Syria Exposed, and It's a Funny Sight!

The other day, reader Nabeel turned my attention to a wonderfully funny, insightful, and brutally honest new Syrian blog called "Syria Exposed". Nabeel had said that its author, Karfan (Arabic for "disgusted"), was well ahead of me in the funny department. He's absolutely right, hands down! It's not because of the surgical use of curse words, it's the entire attitude. It's terrific. Here's a sample from his latest post which made me tear up with laughter:

The other day, Karfan was asked by the establishment he works for to “voluntarily” join a support demonstration outside the Syrian Parliament while "King Lion the 2nd" was supposed to give a very important speech. Only Karfan signed in voluntarily; the rest were taken there anyway. Karfan wanted to go so that he would avoid listening to the speech, because all people and employees were supposed to be mesmerized behind their TVs or radios and listen to it. Karfan prides himself that he never listened to, or read, a single word of any of the speeches that our lord "King Lion the 2nd" blessed us with. At the gathering outside the parliament, Karfan spaced out as he usually does in such important occasions trying to recite the full long series of Aassi Al-Hellani's Aala Daloona in his head. This way, he does not have to pay attention to anything said there or to speeches, he only would raise his hand when others raise it and move his mouth in what resembles: Bil Rooh Bil Damm Nafdeek Ya... while actually he is still reciting Daloona in his head. The shouting of the others always covers his muteness.

Read also his very important posts on Arabism and Syrian identity. Incidentally, Robert Kaplan succinctly echoed Karfan's view in his WSJ op-ed yesterday (subs. req.): "Syria's pan-Arabism was a substitute for its weak identity as a state."

I'm sure it's often been said elsewhere, and I think Bernard Lewis also predicted the important role communication technology will play in the movement toward freedom and democracy in the ME, but history will dedicate a place for blogs and bloggers and their role in that regard. Witness the flurry of Lebanese blogs, many of which emerged in the aftermath of Hariri's murder, when many, who had had enough, broke their silence and plunged into the blogosphere. I've mentioned Lebanese Abroad, but see also The Lebanese Bloggers, Beirut Spring, True Lebanese, Thermo Police (for more, see here, as well as the links to other Lebanese blogs in the above-mentioned blogs). Some are expats, others are local.

It gives people a medium to express themselves as individuals, which in places like Syria, is a very important thing. This individuality has been systematically crushed by totalitarian regimes, ideologies like Arab nationalism and Islamism, but also by the intellectual mold found in Third-Worldist Western journalism, targeted by Karfan, and in ME studies in the West. One will remember, for instance, how Kommissar Juan Cole cheaply and venomously cast suspicions on the authors of Iraq The Model as "CIA agents" or "Neoconservative" moles.

These expressions will continue to peck away at the carcass of Arab nationalism, paving the way for more liberal alternatives to emerge and take hold in the local discourse. That's what the future has in store, dictators, clerics and Western "experts" notwithstanding.

Update: Chuck Freund has a brilliant post on Karfan's blog:

The blog has the quality of late Soviet Empire samizdata, especially in its complete rejection of the region's political-rhetorical framework. Not only is the Arabism of "Nasser Don Kichote" a skein of pro-forma lies, according to Karfan, but just about everybody knows it is a skein of lies, especially those who repeat those lies most often. The most effective anti-totalitarian works of the last century were about exactly this issue. The achievement of Vladimir Nabokov's 1959 novel, Invitation to a Beheading, for example, was to portray life under totalist regimes not only as brutal, but also as suffused with falseness. (Nabokov's is also a "funny" work.) Many Arabs long ago recognized the Arabist rhetorical framework as primarily a trap; that ever more Arabs are saying so -- in whatever language -- is a notable milestone.

Josh Landis also raved about Karfan, and elaborated on his dissection of Syrian society:

The part about university life made me laugh as it so true. I lived in the dormitories of the University of Damascus in 1981-1982. They were a microcosm of rural Syria. Damascenes live at home and don’t take rooms at the University City. Every room was a village, where sects and students from different regions rarely intersected. Druze gathered in the Druze rooms, Hamawis in the Hama rooms, Dairis in the Dair az-Zor rooms, and so on throughout the dormitory. When the odd “other” did drop in, the conversation was transformed. It became stiff, polite and filled with banalities. Only when the foreigners left would it return to the ribald and free discourse of companions. Somehow, as a total alien from another galaxy, I didn’t impinge on the planetary action of my floor and hallway. After a time, I was accepted in the various rooms, each its own little planet.

In reaction to Karfan's post on Arabism, Josh writes: "What can one say to this, but “Arabism is D[y]ing!!!”