Two Decades of Frustration 1
Growing up in Saudi Arabia, my frustration with religion started at a young age. Although my parents were not restrictive of my opinions, they had always advised me not to express my thoughts in public. Moreover, they had always avoided my questions about Syria. I had many questions about why we had not visited Syria for 7 years, but they never mentioned the “Massacre of Hama” in front of me – EVER!
As a child, and later as a teenager, I had always known things without even asking about them, things about life, sexuality, human behavior… etc., which led me later to believe that I have been always in touch with my previous life. I embraced this idea which contradicted all religious beliefs.
No matter how I remember things, everything takes me back to 1990, not only because of the incident I mentioned in a previous post, but also because my frustration with suppression started that year.
The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 put me face-to-face with the methods of the under-estimated Saudi “mukhabarat” i.e. intelligence agencies. Overnight, everybody turned into an informant. Some Muslim Brotherhood’s Arabs, mainly Syrians and Egyptians, volunteered as spies for the Saudi mukhabarat. Even in the distant city of Medina, the fear of an Iraqi invasion – or even an Iranian one – that was promoted by the Saudi regime to suppress any rejection of the British-American intervention – became the subject of people’s talks and the stimulus of their fears. I remember some of my high school classmates carrying high-tech recording machines to record what teachers and other students said about the “situation”. It was then when I found out that a “private conversation” under dictatorships could never be actually private.
Even the slightest expression about not wanting my own country to be involved in killing other Arabs was dangerous. The frustration grew enormously when Hafez Assad declared his military support of the war against Saddam Hussein, sending Syrian troops to help Americans kill Iraqis.
In 1990, I started reading about sexuality. I was convinced back then that I was born gay. However, loving science, mathematics, and physics, my mind needed some kind of proof that one is born gay, but asking questions about sexuality was not, and still is not, an option since the only answer anyone will get is “it’s haram” i.e. a sin.
Amazingly, with all the questions in my mind about sexuality, I met in 1990 a group of Saudis who were trying to have sex-change operations. The way they looked, spoke, acted and dealt with everything added more questions to mine. Regretfully, I still don’t know what happened to them.
In 1993, I finished high school in Saudi Arabia and I was eager to leave to Syria thinking that life there would be easier. It was to some extent. However, on my first day in the university, registering as a medical student, another kind of frustration started. I found myself asked by another student who was a member of the “National Union of Syrian Students – NUSS”, and of course of al-Baath Party, to sit down and answer a few question, however, very politely.
The student (with a nice smile and a friendly voice): Are you a member of al-Baath Party?
Me (with a smile as well): No.
The student (Looking surprised – the poor thing): Really? Are you a member of any other party?
Me: No. I don’t believe in political parties anyway. I prefer to be independent.
The student (trying to be more convincing): Perhaps you are right, but al-Baath Party is different.
(At this point I was thinking: here we go!)
The student (his tone changed slightly to be more suggestive): Joining al-Baath Party will make everything easier for you later.
(At this point I was thinking: WTF? And not joining it will make my life like hell? Is that what he means?)
The student: There will be many benefits, and it will be easier for you to find jobs later.
Me (trying to be a smart ass): Are you saying it is obligatory?
The student (back to his friendly tone): Of course not!
Me: OK then, I prefer to be independent.
The student (with a smirk now): I told you it will make everything easier, especially that you are coming from Saudi Arabia and that you are originally from Hama.
Me: What is that supposed to mean? Let me rephrase my previous question: Is it obligatory for students from Hama who lived in Saudi Arabia to join al-Baath Party?
The student (aggressively): No, of course it is not obligatory.
(At this point I stood up)
The student (aggressively): But it is better for you. As I said, it will make things easier.
Me (smiling): Well… I never liked easy things… not even at school… I never liked easy subjects… but thanks for your advice anyway.
Back then in Syria, male university students had to have some kind of military training that would reduce their military service to be 24 months instead of 30. Six hours of weekly humiliation between 8:00 and 14:00, and a 13-day summer “military camp” for four years, during which, the above conversation happened 2 times but within “military zones”. Those students, who wanted to recruit other students, were actually informants. Hafez Assad’s regime used to add graciously 7% to their grades if they aided the regime in its hunt for any opposition among students. One of my friends had to run away to Jordan in 1994… I never heard of him afterwards.
I never liked medicine, but this was the only thing that my parents forced me to do – enroll in the faculty of medicine. 1993-1994 was my first school year at the university. Bassel – Hafez’s oldest son and his named “successor” – died in January 1994. They declared a 3-day mourning period. Universities were shut down for a week. It was the exams month, so I packed my stuff and left to Hama, not to study, but to be able to celebrate.
What a day it was in Hama! People’s faces were different. “At least we will not have another Assad in power”, some said, others said, “Now he can feel how hard it is to lose a son”. The Massacre of Hama had happened 12 years before that. The memories were still vivid. However, it was very dangerous to speak about it. No matter how I tried, not even the people who were the happiest for Bassel’s death dared to mention what happened in Hama in 1982. Back then, buildings’ walls were telling the story people did not dare to mention.
Bashar was sent for to come to Syria later. Nobody took him seriously, and no one thought that such a man could ever reach power. My uncle, who over-ranked and met Bashar in 1994 told me when I asked about how Bashar was, “He’s an idiot!”
Suddenly in 1994, Syrians had their own “Trinity”, the father, the dead son, and the idiot! Their pictures were everywhere – disgusting pictures disfiguring everything in the country. Luckily, they couldn’t paint them on the sky.
The faculty bodies of all universities in Syria were corrupt. In Aleppo, one could actually “buy” his passing marks from the dean of the University of Aleppo for 2000 US dollars. Ironically, buying the classes from each professor or teacher could have cost less.
Adding to that corruption, the NUSS members were desperate to deliver anyone to the secret police. Al-Baath party even offered different kind of “rewards” for informants. All campuses became intolerable. Hating medicine in the first place, I wanted to transfer myself to another field of study, but the rules were being changed each year, making it almost impossible to transfer. I started working, but I kept registering each year hoping that “this year they will allow me to transfer”, until 1998.
1999 was the year of Hafez Assad forth term vote. It was also the year of my first arrest and torture in a Syrian mukhabart prison.
Two Decades of Frustration 2
It was a nice day in Aleppo when a friend asked to meet and advised me to vote the next day for Hafez al-Assad to avoid a worse situation as a university student. That year was my last chance to find a solution to my situation before having to do the military service for 27 months.
I could barely drag myself out of bed the next morning. I didn’t even shower ! Arriving to the Faculty of Medicine “voting center”, I was shocked by the new invention of the University of Aleppo’s Baath Party Branch. Students were leaving the ballot room with a piece of cotton on their thumbs.
It was a small room with two grumpy security police officers, a university lab technician, a female employee, and a table with a cartoon box on its top. I entered the room hastily wanting to be done with the whole thing as fast as I can. I provided my ID card, took the ballot paper and asked for a pen. One of the security police officers asked me why I needed a pen, and arrested me later for insisting to vote in a normal way.
My uncle who works for the military managed to get me out, leaving behind two teeth and a huge amount of blood. According to my uncle, I shouldn’t have taken any kind of stand that could have harmed “his position”, I couldn’t change anything, and Syria would be like this “forever”.
Because of this incident, I stopped trying to transfer myself into another field of study. I just wanted to find a way out of Syria, without having to go to a gulf country where Syrians had the choice of paying 5000 US Dollars to be exempted from the military service. However, things didn’t go the way I wanted, and I became a fugitive to avoid joining the military service. Welcome to the new millennium!
10 June 2000, I was on the phone with a friend, when the Syrian TV announced that Hafez al-Assad died. I remember wandering the streets looking for any kind of opposition to what was about to happen – Bashar inheriting the presidency. “What can we do?” many said. Syria was like a big prison for a few days. Hafez Assad had made sure before he died that the transition would be smooth and with minimal opposition.
Around mid-July, I went to Hama. To my surprise, my uncle told me that I had voted yes for Bashar. When I asked him how it was possible to vote “on my behalf” without having my ID card, he just said, “They don’t care, they just want as many “yes-votes” as possible, even your grandfather and father voted yes”. Knowing that my grandfather died in 1990 and my father died in 1994, you can imagine how I was feeling at that moment.
A few months later, Bashar started “implementing” his so-called reforms, which I called “the foundations of the new wave of massive corruption”. However, one of those allowed me, having spent my childhood out of Syria, to pay the exemption fee and gain my freedom. Having a boyfriend who had moved to Jordan a few months earlier, I paid the 5000 US Dollars and moved to Jordan wanting to be away from political activism and just have a “normal life”. It was my convection back then that the whole world was ruled by a bunch of idiots – George W. Bush, Saddam Hussein, King Abdullah of Jordan, Mubarak, Ben Ali, Bouteflika, King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, Syria’s own idiot: Bashar … etc. However, bad habits die hard – I just found myself drawn to the cause of all Syrians, Palestine.
Even though I am 100% Syrian, I have always had the belief that all Arabs should be Palestinians at heart. I grew up with Palestinian friends whose parents and grandparents were there to tell us history stories we couldn’t read about in books. Despite the fact that Palestinians are the majority of the population in Jordan, Palestinian refugee camps there were sometimes in a worse condition compared to those in other countries. Moreover, it was highly dangerous to be involved in any kind of activism in Jordan. I kept my opinions to myself, and decided to watch the idiots and lament.
One day, near the Shabsough cafeteria Down Town Amman, I saw people running trying to find some TV screens. I didn’t realize what was happening, but I tried to have a glance. I thought it was another Israeli attack on Lebanon or Palestinian territories, but it was New York – it was 9/11.
Most religious Jordanians were/are Salafis. Suddenly, Osama Bin Laden was the new hero for those people. Another idiot figure was symbolized by a group of common idiots to be believed in as the enemy of the rest of the idiots whom the common idiots had hated for a long time – quite an equation!
I was out of business with those bearded idiots for rejecting violence. Unfortunately, they were my target clients, and they literally controlled the market. Most of them were merely using religion to gain more money for themselves from the rest of the common idiots. However, I was fired!
Finding another job was easier than I thought. Yet, I kept thinking of going back to school since I was in the region where even a forged university degree was more important than real experience and good knowledge. I managed to get myself back to a high school exam in Syria while still living in Jordan. Three years later, I couldn’t handle the pressure of studying away from my university and having to travel for exams every few months, and neither did my relationship of nine years. I came back to Syria in 2005 with a broken heart and a new hope.
After five years as a president, Bashar al-Assad proved to be the idiot my uncle said he was, especially with the way of handling the aftermath of the assassination of Rafik Hariri. Having always wanted the Syrian Army being pulled out of Lebanon, I became a frequent visitor of the country. Lebanese suffered many losses before seeing the Syrian Army and the Assads’ photos out of Lebanon. Being finally able to see an “Assad-photo-free Lebanon”, I wondered how much we have to lose as Syrians before we gain the same victory for ourselves!
In 2005, the respect I had for Hassan Nasrallah – for freeing South Lebanon from the Israelis in 2000 – turned into despise especially when he opposed his own people and stressed that the Syrian regime and Bashar al-Assad were his allies. “A hero” turned into another idiot, which is always expected in politics. However, “the July War” was the point where Nasrallah turned into the murderer who provoked a war that resulted in the deaths of Lebanese civilians for what seemed to be a distraction from the political loss his “party” was suffering in Lebanon. Moreover, in 2007 and 2008, Hezbollah proved to be nothing but an outlaw Islamic armed group when they engaged in an armed struggle with other Lebanese. This thought was/is considered by the Syrian regime as treason.
I managed to learn from my experiences that it is useless to fight alone the fierce machines of oppression. Therefore, I worked hard and succeeded. I had my own apartment and what I convinced myself to be a “good life”, until I saw a Tunisian guy on the news shouting with joy “Ben Ali escaped… Ben Ali fled the country!”
2011: A cancer patient mother, a sick beloved nephew, a country in transformation, an idiot on rampage, over 5500 civilian deaths, activism on many levels, and increasing homophobia. It was the end of two decades of frustration, but not with homophobia!