Breaking knees from 2008 and a Syrian boy in Aleppo, 17 April.
© Dimitar Dilkoff / Your Middle East
Breaking knees from 2008 and a Syrian boy in Aleppo, 17 April.
Billie Jeanne Brownlee
Last updated: April 28, 2013

Did this Syrian writer predict the war?

Banner Icon A short story by Zakaria Tamer that foresaw the Syrian war, its divisions, cruelties and our indifference, has caught the attention of Billie Jeanne Brownlee.

Is it possible that a story written before the Syrian revolution can recount the cruelty of images that on a daily basis are being recorded from Syria’s war? And how can it foresee in such a clear way the indifference with which the international community looks at this human cataclysm? Is it simply because we are all predictable beings in the end?

The fictional story of the Syrian war is a short story, a pearl of wisdom written by the Syrian novelist Zakaria Tamer. The author, internationally known for his breathtaking narrative style and sarcastic language, condenses into bits of writing social and political issues of the Arab world and of Syria in particular, with a crystal clear critical analysis of circumstances and behaviors. 

The short story at hand - taken from the collection Breaking knees from 2008 - is a metaphorical tale of a fight between two neighborhoods which had once lived peacefully side by side, sharing mosques, cafes and markets. Then suddenly a quarrel between the two neighborhoods bursts into flame and endures with unprecedented peaks of violence every lasting day. The fuse that lit the revolt, a frivolous comment on women’s costumes, is forgotten with time while the fight continues. Hate seems to enrage the spirits and spur violence from each side.

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A man representing an internationally known organization (the United Nations though not explicitly mentioned in the text) comes to resolve the fight and bring peace to the region. This man grants interviews to important TV channels, organizes events and builds his house on the border between the two neighborhoods, nothing more. The fight finds an end when the women of the two neighborhoods secretly meet and with a wise strategy manages to appease their men by spreading false but peaceful words.

The similarities with the Syrian war are numerous. First the outbreak of violence between the two neighborhoods resembles the ongoing hatred that is taking place in Syria, which is lining up brothers and sisters once united by the same culture and history, but now divided according to religious, ethnic or political belonging. The Syrian revolt is no longer a fight between the will to hold on to power or the will to reach a freer and more democratic state. It has become a fight between ideals and most of all it’s a fight against fear, the fear of the unknown, the fear of a new domination, whatever it may be.

What is more dramatic is that this fight is leaving behind women and children, as in the most recent massacre of Jdeidat Artouz, in the outskirts of Damascus. Divisions are not just between Syrians within the country, divisions are within Syrians abroad, those belonging to the Syrian National Council and who are supposed to lead the political transition. And to make matters worse, divisions seem to characterize the relationship between Arabs across the region, with countries such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia supporting a variety of “terrorist” groups fighting the regime with the aim of establishing an Islamic state. Meanwhile, Hezbollah troops receive backing from elsewhere to do what they can for Assad.

Among all these divisions, we find the non-alignment strategy, or rather the ineffectiveness of the United Nations that, just like in Tamer’s short story, is unable to find a political solution to the conflict. The question now is whether the real “peacemaker” will also decide to terminate the mission and leave Syrians to destiny?

Billie Jeanne Brownlee is a PhD candidate in Middle East Politics at the University of Exeter. The views expressed are her own and do not necessarily represent those of Your Middle East. She also wrote The revolutionary taste of Arabic coffee.

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