The act of forgiving (and forgetting)

wissam al jazairy

Picture by Wissam Al Jazairy

Forgive (Verb):

  • Stop feeling angry or resentful towards (someone) for an offence, flaw, or mistake.
  • No longer feel angry about or wish to punish (an offence, flaw, or mistake).

[Oxford online dictionary]

For six years Assad has waged a campaign of extermination against a people who rose for freedom. His crimes have been so well documented, by both testimony and photographic evidence, that the international community is left in little doubt that this man, and his regime, have perpetrated atrocities on such a scale that they amount to crimes against humanity.

Yet today there are few voices within the international community that are calling for Assad’s departure. The focus is now on regime preservation, ‘stability’ and the ever-expanding ‘War on Terror’. It seems that the crimes of the tyrant can be forgiven, forgotten, erased from history. That he can keep the throne he destroyed a country for.

We shouldn’t be surprised that those in power protect the interests of the powerful. Or that there was never any real support for a popular movement that brought a state to its knees. Even those ‘Friends of Syria’, who spent millions on their five-star conferences as the country burned, were only ever motivated by their own interests and agendas. Welcome to the theatre of the absurd.

But forgiving, and forgetting, are luxuries not afforded to those who have lost everything. It’s much easier to be a ‘neutral observer’ from the outside. For millions of Syrians, the political is personal and the wounds of war will not be easily healed. Memories forged from pain are not so easily effaced.

You forget. The brutality of this regime did not begin in 2011. The totalitarian state was founded by Assad père. It was he who built the Kingdom of Silence and Terror where all dissent was ruthlessly crushed. Thousands of political opponents disappeared into the Syrian gulag. Many never got out. Those that did were often a shell of their former selves, ghosts amongst the living, broken by the torture, by the horror. And then there was Hama, the city razed to the ground in 1982 to quell an insurgency. Thousands – mainly civilians – lost their lives at the hands of Assad’s army. The viciousness of this repression kept Syrians silent, humiliated, until Mohamed Bouazizi – a Tunisian – ignited the hopes of a new generation.

When Bashar inherited the dictatorship from his father little changed except for the cosmetics of discourse. ‘Modernization’ and ‘development’ were the new buzzwords – but the regime kept people impoverished politically, economically and culturally. Bashar’s neo-liberal reforms benefited the crony capitalist class – who amassed their wealth through connections and corruption, pillaging and plundering a country they saw as their own personal fiefdom – holding the masses in perpetual contempt. Bashar had no wish to reform the fascist nature of the Syrian state. Imprisonment of regime critics, torture and enforced disappearance remained wide-spread. Syrians will not forget.

The revolution fostered such great hopes for change. And those hopes were crushed and shattered into a million pieces mirroring the fragments of a bleeding nation that descended into chaos and war. The regime’s barbarisms – and new barbarisms – were unleashed on a scale no one could have predicted and no one could contain. And in the international community’s acquiescence to the Syrian regime’s crimes, obscene levels of violence meted out by a state against rebelling citizens have become normalized. The ramifications will be felt not only by Syrians, but by all.

What does forgiveness look like for a mother who has pulled her child – piece by bloodied piece – from the ruins of her smoldering home? What does forgiveness look like for those who struggled to identify the tortured corpse of a loved one? For those who will now live a life of poverty and exile, severed from their homeland, their memories, and their dreams? Will forgetting come easily? Or will they be consumed by grief, rage and a desire for revenge?

Dreams are haunted by friends and heroes that are no longer here. What were their thoughts in their dying moments? Did they regret daring to dream that the impossible was possible? Did they cry out for their mothers as their bodies were racked by pain and cast aside? How did they feel as they were being brutalized – transformed from a human being – with all their hopes and fears – into just another statistic? Is it possible to forgive, to forget?

There is one thing that unites all Syrians, regardless of their political views: a feeling of immense pain and loss. And no doubt some element of forgiveness will be necessary to heal the wounds of a fractured nation. But it is hard to see how the country can move forward when the man and the regime responsible for this horror remain in place. The political leaders who presided over and directed this descent into barbarity must be held accountable for their crimes. As the slogan has it, ‘no justice, no peace’.

7 thoughts on “The act of forgiving (and forgetting)

  1. Here is an eloquent and moving testimony to the Syrian victims of the monster Assad. We have have followed your informative analysis throughout the painful years of the revolution. You have shone a flickering flame through the darkness. We have glimpsed despair, victory, immense courage, sacrifice, hope, grief and pain. From these salt tears grows strength. Thank you, Leila. It is a privilege to know you.

  2. Really beautiful meditation, Leila, thank you for sharing. Another definition of forgiveness that I like is this: “Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.” I like that it conveys acceptance without forgetting or disrespecting what happened.

  3. Pingback: El acto de perdonar (y olvidar) – Flores en Daraya

  4. Thank you,often Assad pere is forgotten. As someone who never thought justice was incompatible with reality I salute you,

  5. The legacy of the revolution will lay in the future revolutions it will inspire when revolt seems impossible, and solidarity seems nonexistent. It is hard, to look back 6 years ago, and think how practically nothing has changed for the better, and everything has changed for the worse. Sometimes I will just look at the moon, and it burns me to remember looking at that same moon with such indescribable hope from the veranda in 2011, in a home that no longer exists. A land is characterized by the people within it. Syria may become Suriya al-Assad, or whatever the world will want it to be, but Syrians will show that there is life after death, and resistance after defeat. It is hard not to feel this anger and helplessness everyday, at what has happened, to all of us. It is vital to accept the past, but never the present. I do not think I can ever forgive, and definitely I will never forget. I do not think forgiveness is necessarily our responsibility. But in any way, Syrians still exist, and we will continue to remember, and carry on the legacy of that Syria. If a revolution is not built on love, love for one’s homeland and love for one’s countrymen, it is a revolution doomed from the start.

    “إننا محكومون بالأمل، وما يحدث اليوم لا يمكن أن يكون نهاية التاريخ.”

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