The Gray Devil in Me

Courtesy of Senka Sabbagh
Courtesy of Senka Sabbagh

Have you ever loved a woman so much that you thought all other women were an illusion? Have you ever watched the woman you love the most getting raped, every day, without you being able to do anything to stop it?

The rapists vary; brothers, fathers, cousins, neighbors and tourists but the she is the same. They make you question yourself: ‘is it love or do I rape her too every time I touch her?’

She hunts me down every single day. No matter how many borders I cross, she won’t leave my mind. I don’t know whether I’m running away from her or digging my own grave inside her. I wake up every morning, wanting to scream with disgust and contempt for myself — and the whole world.

I push my laptop away – I can’t touch it anymore.

This has been my life for the last five years. It is not good to be Syrian and read every day’s news.

I try to go out sometimes, dine with people and drown myself in beer and Tequila shots. I flirt with girls, so many girls, begging them to take my heart away, to give me a place to belong, a new homeland; to make me forget about my own.

But I fail. Every flirtation ends with me talking about Syria and nothing else. How beautiful she is, how wronged, how misrepresented – how boring. They all leave and I go home alone: to my empty room, my hole in the wall, my cell.

I touch my laptop again. More news, more raping.

Bad news contain stories of killings, bombings, sickening rhetoric and worse. All this depresses me and makes me long for the day I die. It’s easier to live the news than to watch it. When something explodes next to you, when you get detained by the army or the Mukhabarat, or when your family receives threat phone calls from the rebels, you fear for your life and start to think of the people whom you truly care for. You try to think of why your life matters. But not when I watch the news.

When I watch the news, I lose faith in the entire human species.

To make things worse, journalists often give us black and white narratives, making what is already bad look either much worse or too good to believe. If Shakespeare was alive, he would say let’s first kill all the journalists. Syria’s entire war began through the media outlet. It’s still fought there; information war plays a major role in who lives and who dies in our country.

In the beginning, every piece of news drove me crazy but with time I became more disciplined. This is what war does to people. It makes us more pragmatic, crueler. We begin to humanize what we have for long deemed evil. There’s no point in complaining, so we desperately shake the empty-looking glass for it might contain a few drops of water. Often it does but it gets tiring.

It’s easier to take the side that wins the war, and demonize the enemy, even when neither deserves it. The challenge is to have an objective opinion on a whole bunch of enemies, or humanize them, after you’ve concluded they won’t be defeated. You start by tolerating al-Assad and soon the rest follow: Putin, Abdullah II, W. Bush, Obama and Erdogan. Someday, you were in flames every time their names were mentioned but now you fear the vacuum they might leave if they’re gone. Even though they’re not doing a good job, they are at least doing some job.

You detest Erdogan and believe that he’s involved in a new Armenian genocide in Aleppo and Latakia, a genocide that no one talks about, but you still feel relieved when you learn that an attempted coup in Turkey has failed. What future was awaiting millions of Syrian refugees there had that coup succeeded? What future was awaiting the Turks?

You don’t advocate populism but you still refuse the demonization of Donald Trump. You rightfully make every strong statement against the Democratic nominee, but eventually you know that at one point you’ll have no choice but be ready for Hillary. You hope that the Trump phenomenon will get her to change the policies that led us here, just like the Turkish attempted coup should be a wakeup call for Erdogan to make reforms; just like Syria’s war should have woken al-Assad up. Deep down you don’t trust that any of the three will change but hope is all you’ve got left. Otherwise, you need to look for hope in other places, with President Trump, in a military Turkey or in an al-Qaeda-ruled Syria. This is a new world order that you’re not ready for, at least not before it happens.

You still hold strong opposition against all these leaders, enough opposition for their supporters to come after you but not enough for their opponents who will often accuse you of advocating the devil.

But you don’t really mind because not even the devil is pure evil anymore. As far as you’re concerned, you’re trying to understand the devil in you because you clearly are a participant. Every time you took a stance for this group or against that one, for this leader or against the other, you got your hands dirty. Every time you were wrong, you were part of a collective effort that led to human suffering. When you agree with people, you identify yourself with them. You are them, right or wrong.

Now you’re complex. You’ve earned your many gray layers throughout the smell of human blood, displacement, humiliation, prejudice, sorrow, shame, loss, regret, betrayal and forgiveness. You haven’t achieved much, not by a long shot, but you no longer think of yourself as spotless – someone on the “right side of history”, while thinking of the other as the opposite. You’re no longer losing the information war against the white-and-black culture.

This whole process is costly, but it’s worth it. You lose many friends only to gain a few best friends. You lose girlfriends, but you win a family. You lose your audience but you’re now free to speak up. Afraid of not earning enough to pay your rent, you lose comfort, but you live and breathe like never before. You’ve finally learned what truly matters: to be yourself as much as you can, as long as you can.

Call me an authoritarian-apologist or a terrorist-sympathizer; call me an interventionist or an elitist but I am who I am. I am Syrian and I’m not going to apologize for it. I’m a human being and I live in the real world. It’s not perfect and neither am I.

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