Adonis Diaries

Archive for July 2nd, 2015


The Twin Cancers Destroying the Middle East (and their Dark Origins)…

I wrote dozens of articles and essays on these topics.  A comprehensive essay is always welcomed

Posted: November 7, 2014



This is something I’ve been meaning to post about ever since starting this blog.
it’s a subject immensely important to our current global situation and international climate and it’s an angle largely avoided in mainstream journalism.
It is a fascinating and grim story, spanning the  18century when the British Empire aided the Wahhabi tribes in weapon and money, First World War, the creation of the states of Israel, Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia, and taking in Lawrence of Arabia, the fall of Gadaffi in Libya, the Syria Civil War and Rise of Islamic State, among other things.
It’s a story of long-term manipulation, insidious indoctrination, and secret, ‘mythical’ works of literature.
These two ideologies – Wahhabism in Islam and Zionism which is linked primarily to the Jewish religion – may seem like unrelated  entities on the surface of it…

But these two idealogies are largely responsible for the situation in the Middle East today; a situation that doesn’t just effect the Middle East, but as we’ve seen since 9/11, effects the US, Europe, the West and probably the entire world.

These two idealogies are responsible for and bound up in decades of violence, war, suffering and manipulation.

These two idealogies are flip-sides of the same coin. And these two idealogies can both be traced back to the same approximate era – roughly 200 years ago, even before and during the events of the First World War.

What has been the legacy of both Zionism and Wahhabism in the world?

And what is the truth about their origins?

To begin with, an abbreviated history (for those of you unfamiliar) of the origins of first Zionism and then Wahhabism…

‘Der Judenstaat’, the Balfour Declaration and the Origins of Zionism…

‘Zionism’ is a complicated term to define in some ways, all the more so for the sheer amount of exaggeration and misinformation around on the web.

1. There’s political Zionism, which is bound up in serving the interests of the state of Israel.

2. There’s religious Zionism, which refers to Jewish or Christian interest in the state of Israel in terms of fulfilling Biblical prophecy or “divine will”.

These two schools of Zionism could in some instances be entirely separate; people can be political Zionists without being religious Zionists or even vice-versa (such as Christian organizations who are Zionist for the sake fulfilling perceived Bible texts).


Zionism is just as Christian as it is Jewish

But the point is that the aim of Zionism originally was the restoration of the Jewish Homeland in what was then Palestine; a goal that was accomplished comprehensively in 1948 in the shadow of the Holocaust (though it had its roots as an international movement before the time of the First World War).

Beyond that point, the continued operation of Zionism can be regarded as a political movement aimed at furthering the interests nationally and internationally of that artificially created nation and at ensuring the security and protection of the state of Israel.

Many conspiracy theorists and anti-Zionist commentators also as a matter of course link Zionism – both religious and political – with an altogether-less-reliable concept of a ‘global Jewish conspiracy’ to control the world; as that particular area is more speculative than demonstrably historical, I’m steering clear of it as far as this post

So if we avoid for now any pseudo-history or speculative theories, Zionism in its mainstream form is believed to have originated with Theodor Herzl in 1896; a Jewish writer living in Austria-Hungary, he published Der Judenstaat or The Jews State.

In it he argued that the only solution to the “Jewish Question” in Europe was the creation of a state for the Jewish people (this was decades before a certain someone else came up with their own “solution” to the “Jewish question” in Europe).

Anti-Semitism was so widespread in Europe that Herzl saw the creation of a national sanctuary for his people as the only long-term answer. And so Zionism was born; or at least this is the mainstream version of events – others, I know, will contest that and offer arguments for a much older origin.

Of course if we’re talking about religious Zionism as opposed to political Zionism, then the origin is much older; it didn’t go by that name, but the notion that the land of Israel had always belonged to the Jewish people spiritually or that it was promised to the Children of Israel by the Biblical God is an ancient one (and of course no sound basis for 20th century nation-building).

It was the Colonial Powers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, however, particularly Great Britain, that actively pursued the Zionist agenda under the guidance of powerful and wealthy British Jews such as Lord Rothschild, resulting in the famous Balfour Declaration.

The British made war-time promises during World War I to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Although mass Jewish immigration to Palestine began occurring after the First World War, it wasn’t until after the Second World War and the Holocaust that the agenda was comprehensively fulfilled.

Among many others, the prolific writer, researcher and speaker David Icke has written extensively about ‘Rothschild Zionism’, so I won’t get into that here, but simply advise you to seek out Icke’s works if you’re interested (he is the authority on that subject).

Another cornerstone of Zionist lore is the fabled book, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, believed to be the blue-print for the ‘global Zionist conspiracy’; we’ll come back to that later in this post.

Despite Britain’s official actions, however, neither public nor government opinion was unanimous in its support for the excessive commitment made by Britain to further the Zionist agenda.

Winston Churchill, in a 1922 telegraph, is recorded to have written of “a growing movement of hostility against Zionist policy in Palestine,” adding that “it is increasingly difficult to meet the argument that it is unfair to ask the British  taxpayer, already overwhelmed with taxation, to bear the cost of imposing on Palestine an unpopular policy.”

This disapproval of political Zionism has continued for all the decades since and is even more widespread and vehement today than it was a century ago. While much of this is also bound up in anti-Semitism and anti Jewish propaganda, a lot of the opposition to Zionism is also from respectable, reputable sources.

Gandhi wrote in 1938; “Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs…. The Palestine of the Biblical conception is not a geographical tract.”

And contrary to the view propagated by some that anti-Zionism is ‘anti-semitism’, Jewish speakers have at various points also spoken out openly against the Zionist agenda; among them, (Rabbi) Elmer Berger published The Jewish Dilemma, in which he argued that Jewish “assimilation” was still the best path for Jews in the modern world and not the segregation and siege mentality of the Zionist state; in his opinion Zionism itself was simply resigning to the prevailing racial myths about Jews and playing into them.


Orthodox Jews protesting against Zionism.

In 1975 the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution that designated Zionism as “a form of racism and racial discrimination”.

More contemporaneously, in 2010 the former BBC and ITN journalist Alan Hart published Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews, while famous atheist-in-chief Richard Dawkins said in an interview (speaking about Zionism and the ‘Jewish Lobby’ in the US); “If atheists could achieve a small fraction of that influence, the world would be a better place.”

This is just a fraction of stated opposition to Zionism by ‘reputable’, ‘respectable’ people; I reference all of that here to illustrate the point that anti-Zionism isn’t just the preserve of ‘anti-Semites’ and ‘conspiracy theorists’. And again, let’s bear in mind the substantial number of Jews also opposed to Zionism.

It couldn’t be denied, even by the most ardent Zionist supporters, that the influence of political Zionism along with many of the actions/policies of the State of Israel have, aside from the long-term oppression of the Palestinian people, contributed massively to the polarisation of the Middle East and the growth of radicalism. The same can be said of the influence of Wahhabism in the region.

Wahhabism, like Zionism, isn’t some centuries old, time-honoured religious sect, but a relatively new political idealogy.


The Advent of Wahhabism, the Birth of Saudi Arabia and the (Insidious) Spreading of the Message…

The modern roots of Wahhabism can be traced to Najd in Saudi Arabia and the 18th century theologian Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab.

Far from being regarded a legitimate interpretation of Islam, al-Wahhab was opposed even by his own father and brother for his beliefs. But the movement gained unchallenged precedence in most of the Arabian Peninsula through an alliance between Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab and the House of Muhammad ibn Saud, which provided political and financial power for al-Wahhab’s idealogies to gain prominence.


Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab.

This alliance gave birth to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; following the collapse of the (Turkish) Ottoman Empire after the First World War, the Sauds seized control of the Hijaz and the Arabian peninsula and a nation was founded on the tenets of al-Wahhab – the state-sponsored, dominant form of Islam in the birthplace of Islam.

My initial interest in this area of Arab history admittedly began fifteen years or so ago via the David Lean epic Lawrence of Arabia, starring the great Peter O’Toole. Through a love of that 1963 film I read first T.E Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom and then read several books concerning the exploits of T.E Lawrence and the Arab Revolt during the First World War, as well as the Sykes-Picot Agreement (referenced by today’s Islamic State/ISIS in its ‘manifesto’) and the actions of the British and French Colonial governments in regard to the Middle East after the war.

The setting up of the House of Saud as the royal family and the establishment of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia occurred despite the fact that agreements had been made during the war to endorse and support not the Saudis but the Hashemites.

It was the Hashemite Arabs, not the Saudis, that had launched the Arab Revolt against the Ottomon Turks and had been the most involved in the campaign. Yet it was the Wahhabi-inspired Saudi faction that gained the real power from the post-war situation.

The reason I bring all of this history up here is to point out that the Wahhabi-inspired Saudi Royal Kingdom that the Middle East has been subject to in the passed century wasn’t the sole – or even the legitimate – claimant to that immensely privileged, immensely powerful, position in the region.

burningbloggerofbedlam-kingabdulazizbinabdulrahmanal-saudKing Abdul Aziz bin abdul Rahman al-Saud (Saudi Arabia).

And what has been the legacy of this Wahhabi-inspired Saudi Arabia and its influence? Well, the influence on Arabia itself and much of the surrounding region is incontrovertible.

Aside from the fact that the Wahabi doctrines have been a major influence on extremism, Islamism and terrorism (Osama bin Laden himself was a Wahhabist), the idealogies have been methodically disseminated across the Islamic world for a hundred years via Saudi wealth funding ‘education’ and religious literature to universities and mosques everywhere from Egypt and Iraq to Pakistan and Indonesia.

Worse, the Saudi-funded dissemination of Wahabist-inspired propaganda has for a long time been spreading beyond the Middle East and into Western societies, especially the Muslim communities in the UK.

A recent two-year study conducted by Dr Denis MacEoin, an Islamic studies expert who taught at the University of Fez, uncovered a hoard of “malignant literature” inside as many as a quarter of Britain’s mosques.

All of it had been published and distributed by agencies linked to the government of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

The leaflets, DVDs and journals were full of statements that homosexuals should be burnt, stoned or thrown from mountains or tall buildings, with adulterers and apostates (those who try to change their religion) proscribed a similar fate.

Women were portrayed as intellectually inferior and in need of “beating when they transgressed” orthodox Islamic codes, while children over the age of 10 should be beaten if they did not pray.

Half of the literature was written in English, suggesting it was targeted at younger British Muslims who don’t speak Arabic or Urdu. The material, openly available in many of the mosques, openly advises British Muslims to segregate themselves from non-Muslims.

This isn’t new information, of course. Investigative journalists have uncovered similar things on numerous occasions, while people who’ve actually grown up within the Muslim communities have been aware of such ideas and literature for a long time. Saudi-funded Wahhabist literature can be cited as a major influence (though not the sole influence) on the indoctrination of young British men alienated from mainstream society and on the seduction of men into extremist organisations like Al-Qaeda and ISIS the world over.

Worse in places like Pakistan where, unlike in the UK, most young men aren’t privileged with access to a high standard of education or to reliable sources of public information but do have plenty of access to religious schools and mosques, many of which teach from Saudi-funded literature.

Yet while the likes of Afghanistan and Iraq were subject to invasion (and the latter to deliberate destabilization), and the overthrow of the governments of Syria and Libya (two countries that had little, if any, influence on the growth of global Islamism or extremism) were openly encouraged and aided by the major Western governments, Saudi Arabia – no doubt partly due to its wealth and value to the US and its allies – has never at any point been subject to any threat or been held to international questioning over the cynical and methodical dissemination of extremist doctrines across the Muslim world.

World War I, the Wahhabists, the Hashemites, Lawrence of Arabia and the War in the Desert…

Going back to the First World War and history, it’s worth reminding ourselves again that the Saudis weren’t necessarily supposed to be the rulers of Arabia.

The Hashemite, Hussein bin Ali, was the Sharif and Emir of Mecca from 1908 until 1917. The Arab Revolt of World War I consisted of Transjordanian tribes, along with other tribes of the Hijaz and Levant regions, fighting against the Turkish Empire on the side of Britain and her allies.

The revolt was launched by the Hashemites and led by Sherif Hussein of Mecca, not by the Saudis or Wahhabists. It was supported by Britain and the World War I Allies, who used the momentum of the Arab nationalists (who wanted independence) to further the broader war effort against Germany and her allies.

2696397T.E Lawrence (“of Arabia”).

The definitive chronicle of the revolt was written by T. E. Lawrence who, as a young British Army officer, played a key liaison role during the revolt. He published the chronicle in 1922 under the title Seven Pillars of Wisdom, the basis for Lawrence of Arabia.

Lawrence himself was of course was one the most fascinating and iconic figures of the twentieth century; and while the Seven Pillars of Wisdom can be questioned for accuracy in some regards, even his detractors and enemies couldn’t refute the vital role played by the Hashemites in the revolt and it is a fact of history that the British government of the time promised the Hashemite Arabs far more than they delivered after the war.

In September 1918, supporters of the Arab Revolt in Damascus declared a government loyal to the “Sharif of Mecca”. Hussein had been declared ‘King of the Arabs’ by a handful of religious leaders and other notables in Mecca. And after the Turkish Caliphate was abolished, Hussein declared himself Caliph, “King of the Hejaz”, and King of all Arabs (malik bilad-al-Arab).

However, Hussein was ousted and driven out of Arabia by the Sauds; a rival clan with whom the Hashemites already had bad history, having earlier fought against them due to radical religious differences (primarily the doctrines of al-Wahhab). Though the British had supported (and utilised) Hussein from the start of the Arab Revolt, they decided not to help Hussein repel the Saudi attacks, which eventually seized the key cities of Mecca, Medina and Jeddah.
The hope of a Hashemite-ruled Arabia was gone, though Hussein continued to use the title “Caliph” even in his exile.

burningbloggerofbedlam-kingfaisalwithTELawrenceEmir Faisal bin Hussein, king of Syria and Iraq, with T.E Lawrence second from right.

In the aftermath of the war, the Arabs had found themselves freed from centuries of Ottoman rule, but instead were then under the colonial rule of France and the United Kingdom (despite British war-time promises that this would not be the case). When these colonial mandates eventually ended, the sons of Hussein were made the kings of Transjordan (later Jordan), and Syria and Iraq.

However, the monarchy in Syria was short-lived, and consequently Hussein’s son Faisal instead presided over the newly-established state of Iraq.  (The highly educated Syrians were not about to consider a monarch)

But these were mere conciliatory offerings compared to what had originally been intended and desired by the Hashemites; it was the Saudis who were the real winners, being installed into a powerful kingdom that has lasted to this day and shows not the slightest sign of weakening.


“The Memoirs of Mr Hempher” and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion

Zionism and Wahhabism have both demonstrably been divisive, destructive forces in the region (and beyond). Zionism has led to the plight of the Palestinians as well as ensuring that the modern State of Israel is perceived in an entirely negative way and is the least popular nation on earth. While Wahhabism has inspired an immeasurable amount of extremism, terrorist idealogies, indoctrination and the toxic polarisation of societies.

We can look at the influence of Wahhabism in the world at this stage in time and legitimately call it a ‘cancer’. But what about at its root? What about the source? Given the prevalent view in conspiracy theory lore of the “Zionist conspiracy” behind the Balfour Declaration and so much of what has transpired since, is it possible that Wahhabism, which began to gain momentum at around the same time, was also something much more than it appeared to be even at the time?

Is it possible Wahhabism wasn’t the product of some quaintly rustic Arabian desert preacher, but something far more cynical?

The Memoirs of Mr. Hempher, The British Spy to the Middle East (also known as Confessions of a British Spy) has long been regarded as a forged document; the document, purporting to be the account of an 18th-century British agent, “Hempher”, of his instrumental role in founding Wahhabism as part of a conspiracy to corrupt Islam, first appeared in 1888 in Turkish.

It has been described as “an Anglophobic variation” on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.


Most conspiracy researchers know about the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which was regarded as blue-print of the perceived “Jewish conspiracy”. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, like Confessions of a British Spy, has long since been dismissed by mainstream sources as a ‘forgery’ or hoax.

The Protocols has been widely translated and disseminated and is still regarded as factual and historical in much of the Muslim world, informing a great deal of the prevailing Middle-Eastern view of “the Jews” and “the Zionists”.

Secular writers and researchers, including the likes of David Icke, also believe the Protocols to be a genuine, factual book and not a hoax at all; someone like Icke cites the nature of global events in the passed century-plus as supporting evidence for the Protocols validity, given how much of it is claimed to correlate to what was written.

Those who refute the validity of the book, however, cite it as a massive contributing cause of anti-Semitism and ‘Jew hatred’ in Muslim societies and beyond, not to mention the notorious book having been a recurring theme in the Nazis anti-Jewish world-view.

Unfortunately the Nazis, like many in Muslim societies today, were intemperates, incapable of separating ‘Zionism’ as a political force from ‘Jews’ as a race; the reality is that, if the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is/was a legitimate historical item, the Zionism it depicts is no more representative of Jews as a people than Wahhabism is of the global Muslim community – which is to say that only a relatively small percentage of Muslims in the world are knowingly agents of Wahhabism, and likewise in regard to the Jewish community and Zionism.

But conspiracies of the kind we’re talking about operate at an insidious, often unperceived, level; that is to say the number of Muslims and the number of Jews unknowingly subject to Wahhabism and Zionism respectively is much higher.

But what of Confessions of a British Spy? Is it mere coincidence that both these political idealogies, both originating around the same time, both of which have ensured the long-term toxicity of the Middle East, both also happened to have books claiming to reveal their true origins and agendas – both of which were later dismissed by mainstream commentators as ‘forgeries’?

Was Confessions of a British Spy telling the truth? Was Wahhabism founded by outside agencies as a long-term plan to ‘corrupt Islam’? Is it just a coincidence that this is EXACTLY what Wahhabism appears to have done over the course of a century – corrupted the Islamic religion to the point where it is now widely regarded by many non-Muslims as a source of evil and ill in the world? Islam, let’s remember, wasn’t always regarded with the kind of stigma it now has, but rather the opposite.

Islamic societies are historically perceived as having been intellectually and even scientifically enlightened at a time when Christianity in the West was characterised by inquisitions, torture, mass persecutions, execution pyres and utterly ridiculous doctrines and proclamations. Historical accounts tell of the brutality of Christian Crusaders and the comparative nobility of Salahuddin and the Muslim armies.

The slow degradation and polarisation of Islamic societies is something that has only been happening in the last hundred years or so (as the growth of Wahhabism has done its work, like a slow-acting virus with a long incubation period). And it’s only in the last ten to fifteen years that the influence of Wahhabist doctrines has become a prominent international issue.

In regard to Confessions of a British Spy being a hoax; maybe it was. But you’d wonder why someone would create a hoax document to slander a then-minor religious sect that wouldn’t have any great relevance until almost a century later?

Note: I failed to copy the link that I received for that essay. May the author link me back.

 Syria has been hung, drawn and quartered: The Crossing

As she sits at a cafe table in the 7th arrondissement (Paris) – elegant and intense, waving around a Gitane cigarette for emphasis – it’s hard to imagine a more Parisian figure than the writer Samar Yazbek.

Except that she is speaking to me mostly in her native Syrian Arabic (we use an interpreter). And for all her wit and charm, the stories she is telling me are horrifying.

Over the past few years, Yazbek has been an eyewitness to the unfolding chaos and misery in Syria and she can’t stop telling me about it – sentences tumble over one another and my questions are constantly interrupted by her flow.

The drama of the situation is heightened by the fact that our conversation is taking place less than 10 minutes’ walk from the Syrian embassy in the rue Vaneau.

Yazbek was born in 1970 in Jableh, a small coastal town. She also lived in Latakia and Raqqa, now the headquarters of Isis.

When Yazbek was growing up these were gentle and tolerant places. Although provincial, her early years were far from parochial – she recalls her rebellious adolescence reading Virginia Woolf and wishing she was Mrs Dalloway. Such literary precociousness is hardly surprising, given her family background.

Samar was born into an Alawite family, both cosmopolitan and privileged. The Alawites are the small but powerful minority sect that has effectively been the ruling class in Syria since the time of French rule, which finished in 1943.

(The French mandated power over Syria and Lebanon relied on the policy of divide to rule, as most colonial powers, and encouraged minorities to support its dominion. The Alawite didn’t fully cooperate with the French occupation)

The Assads are also Alawite, which means that Yazbek’s revolt against the government is also seen by her enemies as a double betrayal of her religion and class.

For the past few years, I have cycled past this place almost every day on the way to my office, noting the anti-Assad graffiti and the occasional obliteration of the official signage, depending on the Assad regime’s fortunes in the war. The only constant has been the unmarked cars with blacked-out windows that stand guard.

Today the signs are back, declaring that this is the Embassy of the Syrian Republic. As we sit and chat, Yazbek is all too well aware that these are people who would kill her if they could.

This is mainly because of her long-standing opposition to the Assad government before the uprising of 2011 and her activism during what she still calls, with shining eyes, the “Revolution”.

Now she is even more of a target with the publication of her latest book, The Crossing: My Journey to the Shattered Heart of Syria. This is an account of what happened when Yazbek returned to Syria, making an illegal crossing from Turkey in 2012.

This was the beginning of several visits – each more dangerous. Yazbek was not only wanted by the Assad regime, but as she travelled through what had once been her native land she became a suspicious character in the eyes of the jumbled-up brigades of rebel factions.

I begin by asking why she put herself in such danger. She looks puzzled.

“I was not frightened for myself. Not at all. Why should I be so? This was my homeland. This is where I had grown up. I spoke the languages, I knew the people. What did frighten me as time went on, and as I made more trips, was the way everything I had once known in Syria was being turned into something else, something I didn’t quite recognise. This had once been a cosy place, a place of traditional loyalties and hospitality. But now the people have been scarred and mutilated. I don’t know whether it will ever go back to what it was. That is what Assad has done.”

One of the problems she faced as she journeyed through Syria was to disguise her origins when confronted by non-Alawites – the Alawites are not only considered as pro-Assad but also as Shia infidels by Sunnis. She learned to shift her accent around whenever she became the object of suspicion: “I am from everywhere,” she said to one surly fighter who questioned her background.

“But this is true,” she said to me. “Above all, I am Syrian and it is only now that the war has deepened these sectarian divisions that were never there in this way when I was a girl. I can still remember when Syria was a true country of the Levant, as was Lebanon, with all religions and groups part of what it means to be Syrian.

Now it is as if you can only be Syrian if you are Sunni or Shia or whatever. From the outside, the Syrian war looks like a battle between dictators and people in revolt – which it is – but from the inside it is like a family conflict, with all the bitter hatreds that you can imagine that come to the surface.”

She reserves special contempt for Isis, whom she describes as an occupying army of foreigners, and then corrects herself and says they are more like a group of thugs and bullies.

In The Crossing, she notes with anger the Yemeni, Saudi, Somali and Chechen faces that man the Isis checkpoints, harass Syrians and have turned a place such as Raqqa into a hellhole. “I can remember how it was,” she says, “and now it is something dehumanising, disgusting. You have a generation that is being lost to this cruelty.”

She is especially angry with young Muslim women who have travelled from the west to join Isis.

“Of course I am a feminist,” she says, “and what they are doing is sending the condition of women in Syria back to some terrible place. But also what they are doing is to ‘Orientalise’ Syria – these young girls are Muslims but they are creatures of the west. They know nothing of Syria and its ways. But they love the fantasy of the virile Arab warrior on a horse with a gun.

This is a cliche and a fantasy and they come because it’s erotic and exotic – they are bored in the west and they need to rebel. But they do not understand Islam or Syria and that they are making things worse for the women who live here.”

One of the most gripping sections of the book is a conversation between Yazbek and the “Hajii’’, a commander of the Ahrar Latakia (Free Men of Latakia) battalion who had spent his life on the move, living between the Turkish-Syrian border and Syria’s coastal strip.

Yazbek and the Hajii are from the same part of world but now they couldn’t be further apart. Depressingly, the Hajii says the conflict in Syria is now a religious war that will last decades and where genocide is a necessary weapon of war. “Are you a murderer?” she asks him. “Yes,” he replies unhesitatingly, this son of a taxi driver. And he will commit more murders. “I won’t kill you,” he says. He tells her to stay away from this “vile war” and he pities the future for all Alawites in Syria.

There are other grim stories.

Yazbek tells of a young man who refuses to rape a girl on the orders of his senior officer. His genitals are shot off as a military punishment. Everywhere Yazbek goes she meets ordinary people whose everyday sense of morality is similarly undone by random but regular encounters with horror. One of the most devastating aspects of the book is that she is constantly aware that, not too long ago, this was a country where people lived ordinary lives.

Her technique is to let people tell the stories themselves, and to this extent the book recalls Anna Funder’s Stasiland, an account of how a country can go mad under the burden of lies and the promise of violence. In Syria right now, however, the violence is not just a threat but an ever-present reality.

Yazbek makes the point that this is only partly about geopolitics – from Isis to US foreign policy, Syria is being used as a laboratory for experiments in how to destroy a nation. On the ground, as she explains in The Crossing, the result is to break human beings, literally and metaphorically, into pieces: “Syria will never be the same again,” she writes in the epilogue. “It has been hung, drawn and quartered.”

The Crossing is not simply reportage or political analysis. It bears comparison with George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia as a work of literature. Yazbek is a superb narrator who knows how to pace her text, craft dialogue and convey a universal sense of grief; this is how she crosses the line from journalism to high literary art.

When I put this to her she blushes and lights another Gitane. But she is not falsely modest. “Certainly I wanted to write literature. For one thing, so much is written about Syria that it is easy to be bored with war stories, but I think as well that only literature can convey the complexity of what is happening there.”

I mention Orwell and Kafka. She admires both but Kafka in particular is a model. “What is happening in Syria is like being trapped down a deep, dark tunnel where you can see no way out. I had hope in 2011 – I believed that we could change ourselves and our lives – and now every time I have been back it has got worse and so quickly. But with massacres every day, on all sides, what can you expect? It’s not politics, it’s not religion – it’s something worse – pure hatred.”

Yazbek has written novels and poetry and was a TV presenter in pre-revolutionary Syria.

In 2010, she was included in the Beirut 39, a group of the best writers in the Arab world under 40 chosen by the Beirut Hay festival.

In 2012, she shared the Pen Pinter prize, with poet Carol Ann Duffy, for her book A Woman in the Crossfire about the early days of the Syrian civil war.

The Crossing is a different kind of book, however – it marks a sea change in Yazbek’s thought. “I want to believe still in hope,” she says, “but now I wonder if I really do believe in it.

I have seen such destruction that it’s hard to believe that anything good can come out of it.

I feel like I have been dropped from a cloud into a deep abyss. My idea has always been that a writer has to write about change, has to be part of change.

That is why I went back to Syria two years ago – it was an obsession. Now I have another obsession – that murder is happening in my country and I can do nothing about it.”

Yazbek is now truly in exile in Paris and she finds it painful. If she ever goes back to Syria, it will be more dangerous than ever before and she is reluctant to chance her arm more than she has to. For this reason, she misses Syria more than ever.

“When I was young, I dreamed of travelling the world. I thought that where I came from was small-town, and I wanted to be glamorous, cosmopolitan and intellectual. I dreamed of Paris for example. But now that I am here, it is beautiful but it is not the same thing. I am in Paris but all the time think of Jableh, Latakia and all those other places.

“I did not choose to be an exile – that is the difference. I did not come here to be an artist but because I was thrown out. That’s something that wounds you. It’s very hard.”

She is now 45 and feels that she has a different perspective on her writing and the terrible landscape that she covers.

“I never meant to write this kind of book or be this kind of writer. But now I can’t get away from it.”

Although it is probably not be what she intended, it may be that Samar Yazbek has written one of the first political classics of the 21st century.

The Crossing, translated by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp and Nashwa Gowanlock, is published on 2 July by Rider (£20).

Click here to order a copy for £16. Samar Yazbek will be reading from The Crossing on Saturday 25 July at the British Library, London, and taking part in a discussion about freedom of expression in the Middle East, Speaking Truth to Power, at the Free Word Centre, London, on Thursday 23 July.

Andrew Bossone shared this link ‎Hay Festival Beirut
From exile in Paris, Samar Yazbek has written a powerful and moving account of her devastated homeland.
Here, she tells how she risked her life to cross illegally…




July 2015

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