After an inspiring conversation with some activists from the town of Kafranbel today, I decided that as soon as I can go back to Syria I will visit this town and meet its amazing people, who have become a symbol of resistance against tyranny with their creativity and weekly banners.
So I decided to post this message on twitter:
Writing this made me think about all the other things I want to do once I can finally go back to Syria. I actually visualized how it will be, and it felt great after two years of loss, grief and nostalgia. So I decided to ask a few friends to answer that same question: What will you do when you go back to Syria? And this is how the #whenIgobacktoSyria hashtag started.
Two hours later there were hundreds of messages by Syrians living abroad and people who had visited Syria and wished to go back. These are two of my favorite (Syrian humor : ))
Yes, Syrians put ketchup on pizza, sorry but it´s true! Many of the tweets refer to food (Syrians crave their hommos and shawarma and kusa mehshi), the smell of jasmin, the sound of the Adan (call to prayer) and the streets of Damascus, Homs, Aleppo…
Other tweets honor the martyrs and thank those fighting for freedom:
Others refer to the work Syrian expatriates will do in re-building Syria after the regime is overthrown:
And then, Salim Idriss, Chief of the Free Syrian Army, tweeted:
Not only Syrians are longing to go back. Journalist Daniel Neep tweeted:
I´m inspired by all the comments, memories and ideas. Let´s keep working to make this happen. Thanks!! And Free Syria.
Reactions to the Arab Spring and the way strategic powers have tried to profit from changes in the region do not leave much room for trust in governmental support. When we mobilize as citizens, whether it is in Egypt, Syria, Spain or the US, we are questioning the roots of power systems and structures, so it is not very realistic to expect we can go to those same systems and structures for support and solidarity.
We should expect to count on citizen support and solidarity. We have shared this solidarity in a very exciting way, since mobilizations that started in Tunisia spread to other MENA countries and then, with different connotations, to Europe, the US, and the rest of the world. All these movements shared the same hunger for change, for new forms of representation, for a re-definition of the concept “citizenship”.
The differences between demonstrating in a democratic country such as Spain and in openly repressive countries such as Syria or Iran are obvious, and we can all see the repercusions in real-life time. We do share, however, a need for change, a will for change led by young people who do not feel represented by old systems and structures. This can be seen through the new narrative citizens are creating using new media within a context of growing distrust of traditional media.
Even though the common ground is clear and citizen solidarity has helped ignite change throughout the region and the rest of the world, over the last months we have witnessed attempts (media, political) to divide us, to highlight what separates us instead of our bonds and shared values. Some of these attempts to divide us have succeeded.
Syrian activists have seen with great sadness and disappointment how our legitimate reivindications of freedom and justice have been undermined by geostrategic analysis that disregard the repression we have been facing for decades. We have been shocked to discover a so-called “anti-imperialist” discourse that distinguishes between people who have the right to rise against oppression and those who don´t.
Syria has gone from being an information black hole to becoming number one Youtube-video producer in the region. By recording and sharing with the world the events that they are witnessing, Syrians are risking their lives to send an SOS message that no one seems to be listening to, including the ones who have stood against oppression in other cases of human rights abuses. They say the Syrian revolution has gotten contaminated by international interests. Is this our fault? Do Syrians have to deal not only with being bombed, tortured, arrested, displaced, humiliated? Do we also have to be held responsible for attempts by others to profit from our suffering?
Since March 2011 Syrians have been teaching the world a lesson of non-violence. Even though this movement was faced with crackdown by the government and there is now an armed rebellion that emerged months after the beginning of the revolution, non-violence movements and initiatives continue to exist in Syria, facing unprecedented brutality. There are countless examples, the “Stop the killing” movement is just one of them:
Syrian activist Rima Dali holding a "Stop the killing" banner in Damascus
The non-violence movement will continue to lose ground as mainstream media and political agendas focus on geostrategic and military aspects and undermine many Syrian voices on the ground. Syrian voices, MENA citizens´voices, citizen voices all over the world are now easier to reach than they ever were, and yet many continue to look for intermediaries and geostrategic analysis that disregard the Syrian context and dynamics.
1. Let´s listen to citizen voices. To different, diverse citizen voices. Especially to young citizens who are leading movements and changes that the older generations did not see possible. Here are just a few examples of sites and platforms I follow, but there are countless others:
Twitter: @Alexanderpagesy, @syriangavroche, @redrazan, @marcellita, @ana_feed, @yallair7al, @ararmaher (and many many more)
Image from the group of art designers "Syrian people know their way"
2. Let´s silence governments who silence citizens. Governments who kill, torture and silence journalists are not reliable. Let´s not go to them for quotes and insights on how to solve the problems that they created.
3. Language is sensitive. Language contributes to configuring and (de)legitimizing our movements
Dictator vs. president
Thugs / Mafia vs. police / authorities
Assad´s army vs. security forces
Neo-liberal vs. anti-imperialist
Human rights abuses vs. sectarianism and hatred
Revolution vs. civil war
4. Let´s build our own networks
The Internet allows for bonds and interaction that were very difficult until very recently. Let´s use all the tools at our disposal to work together and join efforts. Coordination and citizen bonds have been crucial for revolutions to spread the way they did during 2011.
5. Let´s focus on the universal values our movements stand up for: freedom of expression, social justice, women´s rights, struggle against corruption, non-violence. Let´s not fall into geostrategic traps, let´s run away from the view of the world “in two blocks” (“imperalist” vs. “anti-imperialist”) which does not adjust to our complex and diverse realities. Human rights do not belong to any particular people, group or country, and those who abuse human rights do not either.
It´s my birthday and I have the same birthday wish I´ve had all my life: A Free Syria.
Since it seems like this may take a while, I´ve come up with a smaller birthday wish: To collect money and send it to Syria at these extremely difficult times. To use my birthday to start my own fundraising for Syria.
I have friends in the country, people I trust they will make sure the money reaches whoever really needs it. I also have friends in the rest of the world who stand in solidarity with Syria and would love to help. So what can I do? I can mediate between you guys. Here´s how this works:
Today I opened an account on Triodos Bank (sustainable banking) so that you can make your donation easily. The only purpose of this account is this fundraising: This is the number:
Account: 1491 0001 25 2038245011
IBAN: ES 211491 0001 25 2038245011
On Monday, October 15, I´ll check the account and will transfer the money to different friends who live in Syria. They will make sure this reaches people in their communities, people who are in real need in Aleppo, Hama, Homs, and the rest of the country. If you prefer to make your donation to my friends directly, you can contact me individually and I will give you my friends´ account numbers. However, since their situation is quite unstable and unpredictable I think it´s safer this way.
Once they receive the money I will write another post to keep you updated on where it goes.
How does this sound? So yalla, make your donation and make my day!
Every time I feel pessimistic and overwhelmed by the suffering in Syria, I talk to friends and family who actually live there and I get the most amazing energy from them. They are stronger, braver, more generous, positive and optimistic than anyone I have ever met. Today someone I really love wrote something so beautiful that I have translated it for English readers. Enjoy:
We have become like travellers… with our suitcases always ready. We have learnt what are the things that we really need and we have given the rest away. Since we feel death coming from every corner we don´t keep extra food or money. We share it. We consume less. We waste less. We even walk more to avoid wasting oil, we´re becoming friends of nature. : )
Our relationship with each other has improved, we don´t worry about things we used to worry about before.
I offer my house to others and I may have to leave it any minute, so I keep it clean and neat.
I understand now why some people choose a life of travelling, because travelling makes you see your goals in life more clearly. It makes the world smaller in your eyes, and keeps you closer to God. We´ve learnt the hard way, it´s true, but we finally woke up to what we didn´t see before. We are suffering oppression and poverty, but we´re trying to change the world.
أصبحنا كالمسافرين والرحالة
بما أن أشيائنا في الحقائب دوماً ….علمنا ماهو الضروري منها ووزعنا الباقي…
وبما أننا نشعر بالموت قادم من كل اتجاه …… لا نبقي فائض الطعام و النقود ….إلا و نتشارك بها…
استهلاكنا لكل شئ أقل …… نفاياتنا أقل
حتى أننا نمشي أكثر لنوفر البنزين …. اصبحنا أصدقاء للبيئة
علاقتنا مع بعضنا تحسنت …….. أمور الآخرة هي ما تهم الآن
حتى أن منزلي
أصبح أنظف ….
…. لأني قد أتركه لغيري وأغادر في أية لحظة
الآن فهمت لماذا اختار بعض الأشخاص حياة الترحال، فهي توضح هدفك في الحياة ، تصغر الدنيا في عينبك
و الأهم تقربك من الله
صحيح أننا تعلمنا بالطريقة الصعبة و لكن الله ايقظنا لأمور لم نكن نعيها من قبل ……
لكننا نحس الآن بالمظلوم والفقير
إن الله يدربنا و يصطفينا لتغيير العالم
انتظرونا نحن السوريون …..
Have you heard about Rotation Curation? It is the process of rotating the spokesperson on a social media account. It was originated in December 2011, when a project called Curators of Sweden was launched, handing the official Twitter account @Sweden to a new Swedish person every week. Each person managing the account contributed to manifesting Swedish diversity through their own voice and personality.
I loved this idea when I first heard about it and wished it would spread to different countries and contexts. Now this initiative has reached Syrians and is my turn to manage the collective account @TweetweekSyria. Starting on June 1st, Syrian curators will take turns in managing it, I will be responsible for that during the first week, June 1-7.
After more than a year since the beginning of the Syrian uprising, my personal Twitter account has become mainly devoted to news coming from Syria, where there hasn´t been a single day without a story of tragic death and a story of inspiring courage.
I lived in Damascus in the 80s. I have only returned for vacations since then, but I haven´t forgotten how I went to school dressed in the military uniform children used to wear until very recently. I haven´t forgotten the chants we repeated to honor the leader whom we were taught to view as immortal. I haven´t forgotten the silence and the whispering of adults when children where around. And I will not forget the first time I wrote about Syria, after years writing about everything else and carefully avoiding my father´s country. My country, too. I still have a hard time understanding where Syrians found the courage to break a wall of fear and silence that it took decades to build. My admiration for these people does not fit in a million tweets.
This week the @tweetweeksyria account will be tweeting in Arabic, English and Spanish, probably retweeting in some other (Romanic) languages. Please helps us spread the word about Syrian news so that we can keep attracting more people to the Syrian struggle, which is about freedom, justice and dignity, universal values that we should all defend together. I hope we will soon get to tweet these three words: “Syria is free”.
Meanwhile, here´s the first tweet I will be publishing from the tweetweeksyria account in a few hours:
We will never forget you, Bassel. #Syria #FreeSyria
Why Tweet Week Syria? #RotationCuration is a very democratic experience at its heart. There might be many reasons why such a program is important to Syrians and Syria in general, but the most important is that since Syrians are at the verge of drastic political and social change, we believe that offering a platform to which many people pay attention (Syrian and global citizens) and many Syrians can use to cast their voices and speak their ideas will hopefully be of tremendous value, through social media channels that are becoming mainstream.
If you’re Syrian and have anything that you’d like to say, or know of anyone who’s ideas you want to be heard, click on Nominate a Curator and submit a nominee.
The winners of the Prix Ars Electronica 2012 have been announced : ) You can see the full list of Golden Nicas, Awards of Distinction and Honorary Mentions here. On the Digital Communities category, which focuses on the social and artistic impact of the Internet technology, the winners are:
Golden Nica to…
Syrian people know their way, a digital community of young Syrian digital artists, designers and activists that aim to both gather and provide inspiration for the Syrian struggle for freedom.
Awards of Distinction:
Dark Glasses.Portrait, a Chinese campaign focusing on the arrest of blind civil rights activist Cheng Guancheng that aims to raise awareness about freedom of expression in the country.
When the organizers of the Ars Electronica festival contacted me to ask if I would like to be a jury member for the Prix Ars Electronica, I couldn´t imagine it would turn out to be such an enriching experience. I had already participated on a panel called “Public Square Squared: how social fabric is weaving a new era” at the AEC festival a few months earlier, but it was my first time as a jury member. I joined organizers Ingrid Fisher, Romana Leopoldsecer and fellow jury members Thomas Schildhauer, Wolfgang Blau, Yan Liu and Peter Kuthan, in the beautiful city of Linz for discussions on the projects that had applied in the Digital Communities category. We spent four days going through more than one hundred projects, most of them inspiring, some of them outstanding. Deciding the winners was hard, since all of the projects were in one way or another valuable contributions to their communities.
Photos of people who joined the "Dark glasses" campaign in solidarity with blind lawyer Cheng Guancheng, arrested by the Chinese government
During the four days of readings and discussions we took into consideration the impact of the award in the sustainability and scalability of the projects. We also regarded mobile accessibility of the tools and platforms within the growing trend of mobile users worldwide. We looked for innovation, both artistic and technological, and we analyzed each of the projects in relation to their social, political and economic context, since creativity and innovation face more challenges in highly repressive or underdeveloped contexts. Special consideration was given to open source projects and to bottom-up projects emerging from grassroots initiatives and responding to existing local needs.
Image of the touch screen based camera control interface Elphelvision, by Apertus Open Source Cinema
It was not easy, but by noon April 22 we had decided the winners. All of the awards recognized the value of freedom in the projects, one of them through an open source hardware/software initiative that is also a platform for film-makers, creative industry professionals, artists and enthusiasts supporting each other and advocating freedom: Apertus Open Source Cinema. The other awards were given to projects that represent the power of community and the citizen struggle for freedom of expression: The “Dark Glasses Portrait” from China and “The Syrian people know their way” from Syria.
The winners of the Golden Nica do not want the jury members to share their names or identities. “The Syrian people know their way” community has contributors who live in Syria and also Syrians living abroad. One of their digital artists was recently arrested in Damascus for his activism and there are no news on his whereabouts. In words of one his friends:
“He never got the chance to know that we won. He never got a chance to know that his designs are looked at from all over the world while he sits down there in the dark”
This award recognizes the work, courage and creativity of Syrian activists in their struggle for freedom, and is also a symbolic recognition of citizen creativity in repressive contexts such as the Middle East and North Africa.
Congratulations to the winners and to the 12 projects that received honorary mentions:
This post is dedicated to the Syrian people. To all those killed, arrested, tortured and harrassed for demanding freedom, justice and dignity. And very especially to Razan Ghazzawi and the staff of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression.Join the Free the Freedom of Expression campaign on facebook to demand their release and that of all political prisoners.
I´m very excited to be joining this mixture of activists and researchers in Berlin, at one of the largest conferences on technology and society. Over 3.000 participants will meet at this “quality conference with a festival feel”. The list of contents and speakers is impressive.
My talk will focus on Citizen Empowerment against Brutality in Syria. We will see how different forms of citizen expression and creativity are questioning the official narrative in one of the most repressive contexts in the world. I will also participate in a panel called “From Dissent to Disillusionment?: Syria, Egypt, Tunisia – A Critical Assessment of the Media Landscape After the Arab Spring”. The title of this panel is quite controversial and we will start by questioning it, since it seems that it is mainly mainstream media and political representatives that are disillusioned by uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, while activists continue struggling to see the change they´ve been fighting for since the end of 2010. And much longer, since the revolutions did not happen over night, and they probably will not lead to stable democratic societies over night either.
I´ll share more soon. I´ll leave you with a quote shared by re:publica and accredited to Chinese philosopher Kurt Tucholsky:
Those who are open to all sides cannot remain steadfast.
Tomorrow I will arrive in the beautiful city of Linz for the Ars Electronica Prix, one of the most important awards for creativity and pioneering spirit in the field of digital media. Prizes are awarded in the following categories:
I am very excited to be a jury member for the Digital Communities category, which focuses on the social and artistic impact of the Internet technology. I have already taken a first look at the projects in this category and I am fascinated by the level of diversity and creativity displayed by people from all over the world during this time of intense social and political changes.
We will be sharing details on Prix Ars Electronica 2012 winners, winning projects and jury considerations soon.
A year ago the uprisings that had started in Tunisia and Egypt reached Syria. Next week will mark the anniversary of the moment when the Syrian people decided to stand up against opression. In this revolution, Syrian youth have played a crucial role, being at the forefront of the global struggle for freedom and dignity – and its main victims. A few days ago I wrote about this for the Zurich International Relations and Security Network:
In the uprisings that started in Tunisia, spread through the Middle East and North Africa and reached Western countries such as the US and Spain, young citizens have played a key role by questioning the systems inherited from the previous generations and demanding new forms of representation.
Speaking up after decades of silence
After more than forty years, most Syrians had grown used to viewing the Baath regime as an oppressive, yet unquestionable, power. There was an attempt to overthrow Hafez al-Assad, father of the current president Bashar al-Assad, in the city of Hama in 1982. It was so violently repressed — it led to the slaughter of 20,000 people and became one of the single deadliest attacks of an Arab leader against his own people — that a whole generation was traumatized and subdued into political paralysis. Since then, no attempts to ignite an organized reaction against one of the most repressive regimes in the world have succeeded.
It took another generation and the revolutionary trend sweeping the region for Syrians to take to the streets to demand freedom, justice and dignity. Young people in Syria led the mobilizations for change, just as they did in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. They envisioned a future in which their voices would be heard, and they used new tools and channels to share and spread their hopes of transforming their country into a place respectful of everyone´s rights.
New spaces in the land of state-controlled media
Despite minor improvements in the last decade, the majority of Syrian mainstream media are still owned and controlled by the government; foreign journalists are virtually banned from entry. Tools provided by the internet have allowed citizens to create their own narrative however and share real-life events with the world, in real time. Internet media and platforms are flooded with images and videos taken by protesters (mainly through mobile phones), then shared by citizens and media worldwide.
Facebook pages such as “The Syrian people know their way” showcase a collection of creative examples of graphic design, posters, photos and videos produced by young activists that aim to reflect the spirit of the revolution and provide further inspiration for the on-going struggle. Aware of the importance of icons and visual representation, they combine their designs for blogs, websites, posters, banners, with the promotion of effective methods of peaceful civil resistance against the regime´s brutality — without engaging in militarization.
YouTube popularized what has now become the anthem of the Syrian revolution, “Irhal ya Bashar” ["Bashar, get out"]. The song by Ibrahim Kashoush encourages the Syrian president to leave office, replete with provocative lyrics and a catchy dabke beat. The government first tried to stop it by silencing the singer: In a symbolic and macabre response to Kashoush’s chanting, the singer was found dead on 5 July 2011, his throat cut and his vocal cords ripped out — a clear message to anyone willing to speak up.
Although Kashoush may have been killed, his voice was not silenced. The song became even more popular, with demonstrators singing it in Syria and abroad. It ignited a strong reaction to the on-going repression and drew even more international media attention to the Assad regime.
To counter online opposition, the government used the internet for its own purposes by lending support to pro-regime hackers. Syria´s Electronic Army, a group of hackers acknowledged as a positive force by Assad in a June 2011 speech, took over certain Facebook pages — such as those belonging to presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Barack Obama — and flooded them with comments like, “We love Bashar al-Assad”. In order to try establish that nothing terrible is happening in Syria, the government has also accused international media of fabricating content and claimed YouTube was the epitome of “the West’s moral bankruptcy and cooperation with terrorism”.
Despite attempts by the government to delegitimize and criminalize them, Syrian activists have nevertheless managed to attract global attention to their struggle — and it seems that they are winning the media battle, after decades of silence.
Mobilizing “the silent majority”
Social media platforms, particularly YouTube, are being used by young Syrians to try mobilize what is known as “the silent majority”: other Syrians who are still afraid of speaking up. A widely-shared video called “What are you afraid of?” shows a teenager talking to a young man sitting in the dark. The first one lists the reasons why the other one might be afraid, and encourages him to take a stand:
Are you afraid of the Security agents? Believe me, they’re afraid of you. If Hamza and Hayar who were kids are not afraid, will you be?
Are you afraid of sectarianism? We are the country of love and coexistence and peace… We have rights, and we will take them!
What are you afraid of? Your country is calling you, your country is calling you!
If we, the youth, do not fight for change, who will?
Do you like living like this? Do you?
Now we have a chance to change our future.
Bloggers and online activists such as Hussein Ghrer have also called on Syrians to take a stand against repression: “Silence doesn’t serve us after today. We don´t want a country where we get imprisoned for uttering a word. We want a country that embraces and welcomes words.”
Ghrer, like many other bloggers and human rights activists, has been arrested twice by a regime that considers freedom of expression a threat. His detention sparked outrage among fellow bloggers and activists, who issued a joint statement that summarizes what Syrian activists stand for and the threats they face:
Hussein was detained because this regime fears freedom. Words are Hussein´s weapons, and ours too. We want these weapons to break the silence. We urge you to raise your voice for Hussein´s freedom and all prisoners of conscience in Syria.
Although Syrians have been paying a very high price for their agitation, citizens have continued to create their own narrative with tools provided by the internet. The gap between the state-controlled narrative and that of the population is growing wider and wider because of the hard work and sacrifices of Syrian activists.
Syrians opposing the regime are aware of the state narrative and have counteracted it through powerful online means. Another song, “We want to fill the dungeons”, created by a group of activists who call themselves “The Strong Heroes of Moscow”, addresses the propaganda that floods Syrian media with pointed lyrics:
We will fill the dungeons and pack the prisons for the Assad nation. No freedom, it´s all nonsense, it´s all a conspiracy that comes from the West.
Who said “God, freedom and nothing else”? We will shred them like lettuce.
They´re just a million infiltrators, they are not the majority.
Your media performed its magic and exposed the Salafi terrorists.
Your name raises us on high, even if your people die of hunger, we´ll elect you for life.
The state narrative mocked in this song contrasts with the revolutionary narrative that Syrian youth have broadcast, focusing on demands for freedom, anti-sectarianism and non-violence.
Non-violent resistance inspired the Syrian uprising from the beginning, but it has been met with arrests, torture and bloodshed. 26-year-old activist Ghiath Matar from the Damascus suburb of Daraya — dubbed “the Syrian Ghandi” — was known for leading the initiative of facing security forces with bottles of water and flowers. He was hunted down and tortured to death on September 10. The Syrian Local Coordination Committees issued a joint statement that mentioned the dream Ghiath had died for:
Ghiath and his friends in Daraya were advocates of non-violent struggle. He believed that a free and civilized Syria can’t be realized except by Syrian men and women in their peaceful struggle against the violence of the regime, with all the love they have facing the speech of hatred, by refusing to be like the butcher or use his tools.
How much more can Syrians endure?
Young Syrians once believed in peaceful resistance, but the brutality of the regime against unarmed demonstrators has clashed with their dream of seeing the country transformed into one where fundamental rights are respected. Youth unemployment was already among the highest in the world before the revolution, and six times higher than the rate among older adults; the lack of opportunity had forced thousands into emigrating. Now, after a year of crackdowns — and with the country on the verge of economic collapse — young Syrians find themselves trapped between unemployment and death.
Thanks to content uploaded by activists being widely shared, their struggle can be followed by citizens all over the world – and, for the first time in decades, there is near-worldwide solidarity with the cause of the Syrian people. However, without unified international pressure, young Syrians will be alone in facing a regime that has driven its own people to despair. The world needs to do more than watch the bloodshed in real time.
As massive demonstrations take place all over the country demanding the end of Syrian president Bashar Al Assad’s regime, Syrian state TV reported a suicide bombing in the Midan neighborhood of Damascus on Friday, January 6.
International media have quoted Syrian state TV saying “immediate information indicates that a suicide terrorist blew himself up at a traffic light in the Midan neighbourhood,” but regardless of who is responsible for the attack some of the images show clear evidence of fabrication.
On this video that shows what is allegedly the crime scene, a person holding a microphone is suddenly seen on camera placing plastic bags beside a patch of blood on the ground. What is a reporter for Syrian TV doing moving stuff around at a crime scene? The way the presenter becomes speechless when she notices is priceless:
This other video shows what are allegedly the first images of the attack. The text below the images says “We apologize for the ugly scenes” as the camera shows corpses, people screaming and a man saying “See? This is the freedom they want”. But what´s shocking about the video appears during the last seconds: Two men from the security service hug, one apparently wounded, but right before the camera shuts down they separate and stand up with a “we´re done filming, right?” gesture.
Fabrication is not new in a country where the government owns the media and bans international journalists. Two weeks ago the Syrian government blamed a similar bombing on al-Qaeda, including a fake statement and website which initially fooled international media to report the story of the Muslim Brotherhood claiming responsibility for the bombings. Syrian blogger Anas Qtiesh wrote an excellent post about the findings that clearly show that the fake statement and website were easily traced back to regime affiliates.