My heart is torn between East and West. I live somewhere between the present and the past. I don't know who I am.
I used to be part of a group of young Syrian activists who translated videos that came out of Syria for human rights organisations and the media to use. We would get raw footage of massacres, shelling, people being tortured and killed and we’d translate them as soon as the people on the ground in Syria could send them to us. I saw things which would have me up all night, unable to get any sleep and questioning everything I had been taught about humanity. Some images still haunt me till this day: a decapitated head, a grieving mother, a child screaming for help. Despite all that, I forced myself to watch those videos, to translate them as quickly as I could so we could share them out to a world which, I soon learnt, couldn’t care less about what was happening in Syria. I couldn’t stop though. I felt guilty every time I thought about quitting, I felt accountable. My feelings were nothing compared to the people who had no choice but to live this grim reality, every single day. The least I could do was to share their losses and grievances so they wouldn’t have to suffer in silence.
Day after day, video after horrific video, I would translate it all. It became an inseparable part of my daily routine and that’s precisely the moment when I realised that I had become completely de-sensitised to the images I was seeing. The dead bodies that used to haunt my nightmares, the sounds of shelling that used to trigger so much anxiety within me were now nothing more than pieces of cold flesh and loud bangs.
I hated myself so much at that moment.
How could I allow myself to become so detached? How on earth did I convince my mind that such images could ever be considered normal? And when was this ever about me? That day, I locked myself up in my room and I cried such angry tears. I cried because I had allowed myself to reduce the suffering of another human being, to de-humanise them so that I didn’t have to feel anything towards them, so that I could selfishly protect myself from all the suffering and torment that they were going through. I knew I had to leave the group for a while. They were really supportive but I still felt so guilty because I had let them down.
I don’t think that I am ready to return to the group just yet but I am looking for other ways in which I can help. I don’t regret ever joining the group, or doing the work I did. On the contrary, this experience has taught me a very important lesson: every single one of us is capable of belittling the suffering of a fellow human being. If we can’t empathise then it becomes too easy for us to ignore the atrocities and pain that many around us are forced to experience. Once you lose your compassion, you lose everything. I learnt that the hard way but it’s a lesson that I’ll never forget.
I guess this message is a comment on the discussion with Abdullah. If so, then I am truly sorry if you think I am against the Syrian people getting justice. My stance on this issue is very clear, even if I lacked the eloquence or the right words to express it during the discussion: I in no way, shape or form support Assad’s barbaric regime. The injustices and crimes committed by the regime over decades now against the Syrian people are truly horrific. There’s absolutely no doubt about it, the regime must go and I am certain that this is what the majority of Syrian people think and want.
That said, you have absolutely no right to tell me (or anyone for that matter) that I am not allowed to express my views on a certain issue or topic just because I am not a member of the nationality/group/party etc. involved. That’s exactly like telling me that I can’t talk about animal rights because I am not an animal. Your problem has nothing to do with my nationality, it’s about your interpretation of what I said. If that’s what you truly disagree with me about, my views and opinions, then argue your point on that basis, not on whether I am Syrian or not.
I have absolutely no doubt insh’allah that the Syrian people will achieve justice against Assad’s regime. They are a brave, loyal and honest people and only with the aid of God alone will they be able to make their cause victorious. Every tyrant and his rule must one day fall and insh’allah this will happen sooner than later in Syria. Regarding what I said about the FSA and people not supporting either side: I’d just like to clarify that these words are not my own. They are the words of many Syrian refugees that I am in touch with and I was simply putting their view on the situation forward. Does every Syrian share that view? Of course not, but I felt it necessary to express a different opinion with regards to what Abdullah was saying in his original post about the FSA. Your point about the FSA keeping its standards high was pretty much the basis of the discussion. As Abdullah points out in the aforementioned post, the FSA “is not a united force with a United Vision, a united leadership, or even a united Structure” and that’s where my issue lies, the fact that it’s so difficult to differentiate between all the different factions which makes it impossible for the standards and manners you mention to be enforced let alone for them to stay intact.
That’s just my view on things but Allah knows best. Thank you for taking the time to send me this message, I really appreciate your view. I just pray and hope that the violence will end as soon as possible and may Allah strengthen the cause of those truly fighting for justice and endow them with patience and fortitude, ameen.
Once upon a time, night had been his friend.
Underneath her cloak he would sit and watch the city. If the city slept, night was his comrade and his companion. She was his armchair for reflection, his schoolbook, inspiring him with lines of poetry and undiscovered treasures of imagination.
And if the city was alive, if she danced to the tunes of a wedding, burst with the beeps and bustle of traffic, winked at him with her lights; she opened for him the doors of discovery, curiosity, and adventure. His heart raced with the music, his feet itched with delight and longing. The shop lights would beckon at him as he pictured chicken on rotating skewers, the knife coming down on them gently. The quick wrap of bread by nimble fingers. Saha- good health- move on. What’s your order?
Often he would sit on the roadside with his friends, wraps shared between them. Meat and yoghurt sauce lingering between their teeth. Pass me your unwanted pickles, fat Hassan would laugh. But most of us liked our pickles anyway. The stones are gathered. Who can flick the farthest? Giggles and banter replaced by concentration. Sharp, successive flicks- the sounds of “chinks” recoiling against the wall. Hassan as usual not getting very far. We gather to survey the results, negotiate stones, and take our positions once again. Pause, as a family decide to walk past.
This was the night. It was life and bustle, peace and discovery, friendship and comfort. And that night was no more.
She had disappeared into history books, stacked away in an unknown classroom. She was a dream no longer sought. Her memories were numb. His eyes did not search for her. His arms did not seek her embrace.
He stood outside in the darkness. A sharp wind tugged against the tents. Stones scuffled beneath his soles, welcoming him with a familiar pierce. The hot air dried the sweat of a nightmare off his face. Around him, behind him, he heard soft sobs, muffled cries, heavy breathing, and an overwhelming silence. The silence of uncertainty, of fear.
The vast sky could have meant endless horizons… but it didn’t. Its twinkling stars may one day have spoken to him, but tonight they did not seem to know him. Its sea of blue could have been the ink of his imagination- his poetry. But all he saw was blackness and rejection.
Not peace, but turbulence. In his heart. Its rapid beatings brought back the flashbacks of his nightmare, of things his young eyes should not have seen. “Hassan, is that you?” Hand sticking out of rubble, as if waving… but ever so still. Like when they performed a play at school and that Mahmoud, ever so brilliant at acting, kept the audience on their toes and brought tears to the mother’s eyes as he lay dead in pretence. But this time… this was real death? Not an actor on the floor in a school hall who would get up and laugh at the end of it… but someone who would remain still… forever. Hassan was forever still.
Another jolt, another memory. A terrible sound- like a thousand trays had crashed to the floor. And flashes of light that made them run to their mother. Feelings he did not know, could not describe, were pulling and grabbing at his throat. Why was he shaking, shivering, his flesh jumping, crying ecstatically? O mama, what are these sounds? O Mama, save me!
This now was the night. Not friendly beckoning lights, but images of fire raging angrily in his face. No sound of music or life, but memories of explosions- of screams from hell. Night was his sister’s hollow eyes. Night had destroyed his home, stolen his brother. Night was Hassan’s white face, sometimes asking for pickles, bursting into a smile, and then forever remaining still.
Night fought with his head: tumbling images, tightly wrapped emotions, till exhausted, he sunk to his knees. I don’t know.
I don’t know.
What would Mr. Ahmed say? I can’t even write poetry anymore. Hassan… why is your face so white? Why did you wave at me if you weren’t going to come back? Why didn’t you hide yourself underneath all that rubble? Night… why did you betray me?
And like he did in every night… he released. To horror’s indescribable. To miseries far reaching. A sticky wetness spread into his trousers as he pulled himself together and sobbed his shame into the night.
And night, powerless, wishing she could reach out and bring back their days of happiness… cried out in anguish and sorrow at what humanity had made of her.
But humanity, dumb and blind, never heard her.
By: Amal Saffour studied English Language and Literature at Kings College London and thereafter did her PGCE at the Institute of Education. A qualified teacher, she recently left teaching to work in a Syrian Human Rights organisation, as well as the charitable sector. As someone who loves and values the power of words, she blogs her poetry and reflections at www.homeboundblogger.wordpress.com, with plans to develop it further. Amal was also Vice President of FOSIS between 2010-12 and has been active in community and youth work in the UK.