In a conversation with a friend I once expressed my grief over soldiers in the Syrian army. His reaction was surprising. Even though he knows very well I am against the regime, he made me feel as if I was Bashar al-Assad himself, that I had personally participated in the regime’s killings. I tried to explain myself. But he insisted on demonizing everyone even if only slightly connected with the regime.
What had happened?
One summer, I passed one of the large checkpoints at the entrance of Damascus and noticed a group of soldiers standing in the barren land about 100 meters away. Wearing nothing but their underwear, they were bathing under a large water tank. They did not care about the passing cars and buses. They just rejoiced in the cold water, escaping the deadly heat.
It made me smile at that time. Yet, at the same time I felt pity and sadness. My friend considered my pity a kind of betrayal. Am I a traitor?
The question “Which side are you on?” may be a simple one in other parts of the world. But in Syria it is very complex. It is a question that determines one’s destiny. A wrong answer may mean death.
It is a question that prompts secularists to recite verses from the Quran when facing ISIS extremists. It is a question that prompts opponents to speak of “Mr. President” in the presence of Syrian security elements. It is a question that startled me when I faced a man of whom I did not know whether he was an opponent or an agent.
And so I said: “God guides the mind. I am the gray amidst a black and white world.”
There are many people like me, accused of being gray, accused of betraying all parties. The gray people are the ones who did not join any party. As none of the parties met their ambitions. They are the ones who fled both the murderous regime and the opposition. They fled alongside the lost intellectuals and other victims of the regime, the Islamist and the contract killer.
Others opposed the regime. But that did not satisfy the opposition, as they did not glorify the opposition. And when I talk about the opposition, I do not mean the people who actually revolted and got killed. I mean the opposition sitting behind their computer screens, handing out “proof of patriotism papers” as they seem fit.
If I were asked today who I am with, my answer would vary, depending on where I am and the people I am with. It is not a cowardly act to protect one’s body and soul. Courage is ignorance and recklessness in the face of a certain killer. My close friends and coworkers know I am opposed to the Syrian regime. But because I do not show my affiliation in public, mainly out of fear for my family, some people are suspicious of me. Some have even called me a coward.
Others try to lure me to take a stand. One person is convinced I am with the opposition, but he does not have proof. Meanwhile, I could swear he is a snitch, just waiting for an opportunity to hand me over to Syrian security.
Hence, I long hesitated to write this article. I may not be very clear. And my phrases and humanity may betray me. But we are sometimes forced to choose “gray,” which in Syria generally means betrayal.
In Syria, you must be a killer or be killed. This is what every party expects of you. And within this logic no one can be a killer and a victim at the same time.
Have you spent your life without touching upon politics? All you will know is the Baath Party and its immortal leader. When the opposition arrived upon the scene, it could not achieve what we all wished for. And our land became an arena for the world’s major powers to exploit and expel us day after day.
Can you imagine the disappointment that afflicted us? Is seeing reality from more than one angle an act of betrayal? Have our rosy dreams of revolution and freedom blinded us and made us turn each other into the “new lion”?
I often think of those soldiers with their slender bodies, under the tank, the water pouring out onto the ground. I think of the days they spent waiting to finally be able to shower in the open air.
I think of them because of my friends, who had to do military service, who had no choice, who did not have the luxury to leave or emigrate. One of my friends might have been standing among those soldiers.
Do I have the right to grieve for them?
Or does that qualify as treason too?
One writer I know was accused of being gray, as she did not show her political orientation on her Facebook page. She also happened to have published some of her texts on a website supporting the regime. At the same time her work was published on an opposition website.
Is the situation definitely related to practices? Will the situation be undermined if reality forces us to remain silent? Should we all die stating our position without it changing anything?
No one knows how the other feels inside, in the middle of a real fire, facing injustice, oppression, humiliation and hunger on a daily basis, unable to do anything, unable to say no.
They want us to become superheroes. But we are not. We are human beings. We fear, hesitate, and dream. But the dream has cost us. More than we ever could have imagined.
This state of extremism is omnipresent in Syria. It has many voices, calling for the extermination of all opponents and their cities. And all opponents call for exactly the same.
As the people of this cruel country, we are unequivocally aware of the amount of pressure and danger imposed on individuals. Idealism does not exist in the world of Syria.
We must realize that Che Guevara is not Syrian. Not because there is no or cannot be a Che Guevara among us. But even if a Che Guevara comes among us one day, and wishes to change reality, Syrians will realize that the confrontation is not just with the dictator … and that the hope for change is fading day by day.
One day, perhaps, I will reveal my real name. And then, perhaps, people will realize that being “gray” only means being human and rejecting injustice in all its forms.
One day, perhaps, “gray” will be the only color, the one color that looks tenderly at a defeated rebel and, with the same expression, eyes the soldier who just reached 18 and was mercilessly thrown into the front line.