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Monday, September 03, 2007 

Orientalism never died

When westerners come to Syria and 'discover' things about the country that have existed for years.

When we are told how we are 'changing' and becoming like them.

When they talk nostalgically about a past which they have never seen, but which they want to keep us in for their voyeuristic purposes.

Save your White Man's Burden for someone else.

Their women don't wear hijab? They have the internet? Their people know how to use mobile phones? They shop in Benetton?

The truth is, we have only ever been different in your camel-riding orientalist imagination.

Syria has and will always be a backwards country.

It is now trying to make up for lost time, always ending up in the REAR END of the world of civilization.

It's mainly because they Westerners you get are either journalists, Mormon missionaries or oil-company/UN ex-pats. They all go to Syria expecting the locals to be uncultured, illiterate and living in some kind of 1930s Arab backwash.

"Syria has and will always be a backwards country"

Bullshit.

What article prompted this rant? The truth is that Syria has wonderful qualities that we wish we still had - old-fashioned manners, a slow pace of life (that is a good thing)and respect for elders etc. Who are we to decide what constitutes a backward country? British people no longer have time for the important things in life - it's a consumerist, celebrity-obsessed culture. I call that backwards.
Syria, you have many qualities. But you could cut down on smoking and learn to drive properly, and wear seatbelts since cars come with them. They save lives - do you need to be educated to know that?

Thanks Max and Anonymous for your comments.

Max, maybe you're right. Don't forget the foreign language students.

Anon, I'd rather not say which article prompted my rant! I don't want to embarrass him. Talking of poor driving, I think Rime has the monopoly on that particular rant!

I have an odd feeling that you're talking about my blog.

If you are, please read that "Abufares" post again - I think you've misread what I was saying.

In that post, I wrote: A story one might tell about Syria is how it is a country in transition, and that the transition is heading in a Westerly direction. Look, women are wearing make up; people are buying Benetton clothes; men are drinking whisky; Internet cafes are everywhere; the rigid Sunni majority is just clinging to the past, and etc and etc.

However, I’m not sure this is how many Syrians see their country. Take a look at this bitterly nostalgic post from Abufares about the end of traditional values in his home town of Tartous; about the replacement of these old Mediterranean customs with a garish, crude “neo-Islamism”.

--

The key phrases are "A story one might tell..." and "however".

I was making fun of the same Westerners you are, in fact, and was asserting the necessity of listening to Syrians when thinking about Syria.

--

All visitors to any new country will discover things that have existed for years - how else would they learn? If you went to live in England, you would have the same series of realisations, culture shocks, broken illusions, realisations of deeper complexities and so on.

We can at least attempt to talk to each other, write our blogs, and discuss why we disagree. Isn't that better than all Westerners continuing to believe everyone in the Middle East rides a camel?

If you weren't talking about me, my apologies.

--

Daniel
www.suitcasing.com

Daniel,

Thank you for your comment.

My post wasn't thinly veiled enough, and was an angry rant. I'm sorry for any offence I've caused.

The truth is, I read your post as a very superficial 'look at the foreigners' piece. Yes, you said it's 'a story one might tell'. But you were telling it - you as a newcomer to Syria. Even if you accept that's not the Syria that Syrians see.

I love reading blogs by people who have just arrived in Syria. So few people care to read about Syria, let alone visit, so when they do, it's fascinating for me to see the country through new eyes.

To date, your writing has been insightful, and yes, I was shocked by that post. I should've left a comment on your blog, but I thought I'd direct my anger into a more general rant against misconceptions and preconceptions. It wasn't general enough!

If I misunderstood your post, I offer you my apologies.

Sasa.

I also like to see positive articles about Syria. But what about when the writer goes too far?I have in mind the preposterous Washington Post article this summer that states that Damascus is the new Beijing, with all the change and investment? (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/07/06/AR2007070602000.html?sub=new) I frankly don't believe that any of this so-called investment trickles down to normal Syrians. Life is pretty hard for most people these days. I mean, who needs Baby Dior (now at the Four Seasons arcade)? And by the way, more people in the Middle East SHOULD ride camels - much better than gas-guzzling cars Arabs use and abuse so much!

I also like to see positive articles about Syria. But what about when the writer goes too far?I have in mind the preposterous Washington Post article this summer that states that Damascus is the new Beijing, with all the change and investment? (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/07/06/AR2007070602000.html?sub=new) I frankly don't believe that any of this so-called investment trickles down to normal Syrians. Life is pretty hard for most people these days. I mean, who needs Baby Dior (now at the Four Seasons arcade)? And by the way, more people in the Middle East SHOULD ride camels - much better than gas-guzzling cars Arabs use and abuse so much!

Well, it's good to start the conversation, however it happens. Please tell me whenever you think I've got something very wrong. :)

Daniel

Thank you Daniel. And I hope you'll do the same when I do something wrong :)

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  • Written by sasa
  • From Damascus, Syria
  • From Damascus to London via Beirut. Based in and out of the central Damascene hamlet of Saroujah. News and feelings from the streets every day. I'm talking rubbish? Leave a comment. Welcome to the information democracy. See below for info about this site.
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