al-Ša‘b al-Sūrī Wāḥid (The Syrian People Are One): Syrian Artists and Intellectuals against Sectarianism

in La rivista di Arablit, a. V, n. 9-10, dicembre 2015, pp. 87-105.

The prolonged violence in Syria since 2011 has unveiled the truth on a number of social issues among which sectarianism plays a central role. Any discussion on the topic was silenced in the past, but the explosion of sectarian-based hatred has sparked a serious reconsideration of the phenomenon. This contribution aims to show, firstly, how the coexistence of different religious and ethnic communities in Syria has developed, especially in the last decades. Secondly, it will try to underline the role played by the al-Assad (al-Asad) family’s government in exacerbating sectarian hatred through its policies, like and more than previous regimes did. Finally, it will stress the need to recognize and freely speak about the colourful composition of Syrian society in order to switch the discourse from a sectarian perspective to a communitarian one. In order to deal with these points, this paper will introduce the reader to some excerpts from different kinds of literary expression which all deal with the issue of sectarianism in Syria. After a brief overview on the ideas of three leading intellectuals of the nahḍah (renaissance), al-Bustānī, al-Kawākibī and al-Rīḥānī, the paper will move to recent years and consider four works. Two of them, i.e. the novel Lā sakākīn fī maṭābiḫ hāḏihi al-madīnah (No Knives in the Kitchens of This City, 2013) by Ḫālid Ḫalīfah  (1964) and the series of comics for children “Tīn Bāl” (The Fig Tree which is Naturally Watered by Rains, 2014), describe the sectarian situation before the start of the uprising. The other two, the diary Taqāṭu‘ nīrān  (Crossfire, 2012) by Samar Yazbik (1970) and the oral stories of Ḥakawātī Sūryālī (Surrealist Storyteller), depict the development of sectarian discourse during the revolution.

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Arturo Monaco | Dottore di ricerca in Civiltà, Culture e Società dell’Asia e dell’Africa, presso il Dipartimento Istituto Italiano di Studi Orientali – ISO, Sapienza Università di Roma.