- Reimagining the Syrian Revolution
On March 15, 2011, after forty years of atomization and apparent acquiescence to tyranny, Syrians together said "No" to injustice. Overnight, silenced citizens who had not trusted each other were thronging the streets. The wall of fear had cracked, and the people celebrated, singing and shouting for the regime to fall. President Bashar al-Assad's men went wild. Marshaling Syria's awesome airpower, they bombed a mostly unarmed citizenry, and they threw dissidents into prisons where, without habeas corpus, they were tortured and killed.
Yet the demonstrations continued. In The Crossing, her memoir of three forbidden trips back into Syria from her exile in Paris, Samar Yazbek recounts a period of random violence against the revolutionaries. Awed by their resilience and bravery, she writes that they "didn't give in. They weren't afraid of being overwhelmed, or of the shelling, or of being killed, and they continued to defend their homes, even when their ammunition ran out."1 Having stood up to the dictatorship, the revolutionaries refused to return to their former state of passivity.
Today, despite spiraling violence and the international agreement that what we are witnessing in Syria is a civil or a proxy war, many Syrians continue to believe in their revolution. So what is this revolution that inspired dreams and hopes in the wasteland of today's Syria? Over the past six years, Syrians—including those who used pseudonyms in their interviews with Wendy Pearlman for We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled—have continued to affirm their faith in the revolution.
Rima told Pearlman in the fall of 2012, "Syrians defeated the regime the moment they went into the streets. We will not allow anyone to steal our dreams again."2 In Antakya, Turkey, in September 2013, Khalil, a Free Syrian Army commander who had defected from the Assad army, assured Pearlman "the revolution will not give up," even though he acknowledged that personally he had "reached a point of despair."3
In a 2014 interview with Akram Zaatari, Charif Kiwan, the spokesperson for the emergency cinema collective Abounaddara, insisted on the persistence of the revolution:
[W]e don't feel we are dealing with a war. We are dealing with a revolution. [End Page 269] I don't know what revolution is; I can't explain what it is, but we have the feeling that we are in front of huge breakdowns, ruptures, something very violent and also very beautiful. So, we cannot qualify this. We accept the idea that it is a revolution.4
Two years later in 2016, Abdul Rahman told Pearlman "we come from the revolution and we still support our revolution."5 Imad explained what had happened to the revolution: "Media has tied the revolution to terrorism … in this way the revolution gets buried. It's getting lost … and that alone is a crime against everything that has happened in Syria."6 Marcell in Gaziantep told Pearlman, "To me, the revolution is like a child with special needs. I believe in it and can't abandon it."7 The revolution is something violent and beautiful and vulnerable, which the revolutionaries themselves did not fully understand but to which they were fully committed. This commitment testifies to a remarkable ability to hope for a better future beyond the terrors of the present.
While the revolutionaries have not yet eliminated the Assad dictatorship, they have exposed its brutality to the world. Artistactivists have organized collectively to make sure that the dynamic of the revolution survives even if only for the time being online. The more ferocious the repression—and it was and still is vicious beyond belief—the more people join the opposition. Some fought for this new order by demonstrating in the streets and exposing their bodies to lethal danger. Some produced a form of creative resistance. As is often the case, before the politicians and the scholars can respond to burning questions, artists and writers discern answers. Art, Michel de Certeau writes, is "a kind of knowledge that operates outside the enlightened discourse which it lacks. More importantly, this know-how surpasses, in its complexity, enlightened science."8 I...