The moral dilemmas of Syria's revolution
- 10 March 2012
- From the section Magazine
The rebellion in Syria has forced many ordinary people to grapple with new and ordinary dilemmas - such as whether to put country before friends and even family.
She was drinking Guinness in a bar in Dubai - a Syrian revolutionary on a weekend break, taking time out in the five-star hotels.
Small and smiley, she fizzed with energy as she spoke of the battles on the streets.
She stood out amidst the languorous, slightly drunk expats - mostly men - downing their scotch and beers with half an eye on the rugby match showing on a screen the size of a house.
"I go to protests every day but my husband is more cautious," she said.
"He holds back. We just got married. I thought I knew him but now... I hope I live with him for 40 years and we have children. Maybe. Maybe. But I am not sure any more. I don't know what to do."
A revolutionary dilemma. Here is another.
Again a young Syrian on a trip to Dubai. "For months now I have been in Syria, constantly active on the streets taking pictures and putting them online," she told me.
"When I came here a few days ago, I met up with some Syrian friends who live here. I'd been on the plane so didn't know what was happening. I asked them. They said they didn't know.
"But what's on the news? They said they hadn't seen it today - they only watch it from time to time. They'd been shopping. It was a shock. I am risking my life there. I could just stay here."
She read a text on her phone and sighed. "Another friend has been arrested," she said. She shrugged her shoulders as if it was nothing, but she looked sad and worried.
So did the man who could not go back to Syria for his mother's funeral. Wearing a T-shirt and baggy navy shorts, he might have been a tourist. In fact he was an artist now living in exile.
His images are considered "anti-system" and his name was on a list that meant he would be arrested at the airport.
I met him in an art gallery - a huge warehouse of a room full of pictures of guns and soldiers and one showing a holy trinity - Obama, Ahmadinejad and Bin Laden.
As he talked about his mother, he wept, shook his head and then broke off the narrative, walking away in despair and grief. A lot of Syrians are crying at the moment.
Then there was the Syrian who is still active in Damascus, but has sent his family abroad. A slim, grey-haired man, his lined face an outward sign of the time he has spent as a political prisoner.
Now an opposition politician, his life is clearly at risk. He got his family out but it was not easy. His 13-year-old daughter wanted to stay. He told me how he tried to persuade her she would have to go.
"I said to her we need to get some passports - she asked why. I said maybe we'll go on a summer holiday. But her recurrent question was, 'Why are the other school kids are not getting passports, getting visas and so on?'
"Every time, I made up some reason or another. Once I told her maybe because the others cannot afford to get passports and go on holiday.
"I lied to her. I took up the option of being a lying father rather than being one who risks his daughter's life. And then at home, I would sit her next to me in front of Google Earth, showing her different countries and trying to generate a desire in her to see those places.
"And for some moments, she would say that yeah, she'd like to visit those countries, but the next morning everything changed again. She didn't want to go anywhere.
"When the time came and she had to face up to the fact that she'd be leaving her father behind, she said, 'What will happen to you will happen to me, we're sticking together.'
"And I just paused and thought am I doing the right thing? Is this beneficial for my country or not? Am I under the illusion that I can help my country?
"It's a difficult equation. Am I preferring my fellow countrymen to my own family?"
Finally a cartoonist.
"I first met Bashar al-Assad in 1996 - before he was president - he came to one of my exhibitions," he told me.
"He actually laughed at some of the cartoons - specifically at those targeting security personnel - he had a bunch of them with him and he turned to them and said: 'Hey, he is making fun of you. What do you think?'
"He took my phone number and we met often - twice a week, at times. He admired my courage. He wasn't used to listening to opposing views and wanted to listen to me.
"He would come to my place, I would go to his."
But then a few months ago, Ali Farzat drew a cartoon which suggested Bashar al-Assad was like Colonel Gaddafi. The response was immediate.
They had black sticks. One of them was telling the other, "Keep beating him on his hands, so he cannot draw any more."
"Was it a direct order from the president?" I asked.
"I don't know."
"Would you meet him again?"
"No. I was born to be a cartoonist, to oppose, to have differences with regimes that do these bad things. This is what I do.
"And the doctor says I can be drawing again in 10 to 15 days."
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