by Ghassan Kadi
Syria has never been a perfect place, and probably she never will be. Yet, those who truly love Syria, do not love her because they perceive her as of some fantasy, a Shangrila, a utopia or a paradise-lost. They simply love her because they know the wonderful aspects that the Syrian culture has.
Syrians are humans. Inherently, they are not any different from those who are Portuguese, Chinese or Canadian. If they are different at all, it is because of their acquired cultural inheritance; an inheritance that can have a significant bearing on their thought process, perceiving and evaluating events, and decision-making among other things.
To this effect, ancient cultures have much in common. Syria has been one of the cornerstones of ancient cultures. Long before pragmatism and obsession with economic growth, humans interacted at deeper levels, with valued virtues such as care, hospitality, gallantry, duty, accountability, honour and the like. Some of those virtues, especially in the West, look now somehow archaic and “primitive”, and they can become so when honour gets reduced to something that can be settled in a duel, but such misconceptions do not take from such virtues their true substance.
Those virtues exist in all cultures, even within the most modern of them, the most materialistic of them all, because people will always be by-and-large virtuous beings. However, in ancient cultures, those values are still alive and well and highly regarded.
What makes Syria stand out in the Middle East is the fact that those so-called “old-fashioned values” were well and alive within Syria before the “War On Syria” was launched. The polarization of the rest of the world that followed is still taking shape nearly five years later, and those who are standing against Syria, are giving clear statements about the nature of their own cultures and belief systems.
The reverse can be said about those who are standing up in defence of Syria.
The Russian culture, not quite as ancient as the Syrian culture, stems from the same “old-fashioned values” and remains to be a culture in which those virtues are alive and well. Whilst it is true that Russia has strategic interests in Syria, it is not however by accident that Russia came to Syria’s help and defence.
Syria and Russia are very different at the surface. They have virtually no common ethnicities, and very little in common when it comes to religion, despite Antioch (a Syrian city now in Turkey) being a cradle for Orthodoxy. The cuisine, the language, music, traditional attire, folklore, are all so different, yet at deeper levels, the cultures are very similar.
Syria is having a very tough time at present, and during tough times, one sees the best and the worst; from teen-aged Syrian girls taking up arms to resist invaders, to healthy young Syrian men fleeing to Europe to evade military service. Even worse, we see Syrian young men taking up arms to join ISIS and other organizations against Syria and her national army.
But Syria is still standing, and if she gets defeated, she will be defeated standing. She is still standing because the majority of Syrians opted to stand and to take the fight for better and for worse.
Russia has also had her share of misfortune after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The monumental turn around that Russia made in two decades, a turn around that brought her back from the doldrums of the worst nadir she had for centuries to that of world leadership; and almost overnight. At many levels, the “miracle” is attributed to the genius of President Putin. There is little doubt that without the wise and strong leadership of President Putin, Russia wouldn’t have been able to rise like she did, and as quickly as she did.
Having said that, President Putin couldn’t have performed his “miracle” without the Russian people and the culture that underpins their hearts and minds. Most Russians see him as the embodiment of their best qualities, and reciprocally, he brought the best out of them.
The Syrians who are standing up in defence of Syria are not at all different from the Russians who walked the talk with President Putin and put Russia back in the fore front of world leadership.
The West has become bent on destruction; including self-destruction. The level of citizen happiness and satisfaction is receding to unprecedented lows. Police shootings and public shootings in America are becoming daily events. Europe on the other hand is fostering foreign policies that have clearly encouraged terrorism and which only lead to the rise of ultra-right-wing policies. The sense of national and personal pride in the West is being eroded and there seems nothing on the horizon that can reverse this situation. After all, the “Yes We Can” Obama slogan failed to define who “we” are! The moment he gained residence of the Whitehouse, he and the people were no longer one, and “we” turned into me and you and him.
In contrast, in Russia and in Syria, Presidents are loved and respected. Westerners find it hard to believe this, but they do not know any better. They have lost their confidence in their own leaders decades ago. In Syria and in Russia, the army and the police are highly regarded, the elderly are treasured, and the ceremonies that honour those who have fallen are not mere ceremonial acts performed by officials, they are actions that involve heartfelt work and passion of each and every citizen.
Moreover, when Westerners take to the streets, they often do this in protest against their own governments. They know that their governments do not really represent them, and they therefore regard authority just like a prisoner perceives his warden. However, when Westerners see Russians and/or Syrians parading in the streets carrying posters of their leaders, they think it is government propaganda. They truly do not know any better.
Public property is
sacrilegious (correction) sacrosanct in Russia and Syria; a stark difference from the graffiti-ridden West.
Morally, the West is unequipped to fight ISIS because it does not have its own moral anti-thesis to fight it with. In saying this, we must always remember that the fight against ISIS is not only military. If anything, it will have to be more ideological than military, but the West does not have what it takes to fight either war.
The fight for Syria is not simply a fight for a piece of land. It is a fight for decency and for cultures that uphold the good old-fashioned virtues that have almost totally disappeared in the West.
It is a war that can only be fought by Syrians who uphold the virtues of their culture, by non-Syrian supporters who have similar values, and by other nations who share those values.
It is a war of freedom of thought versus oppression, secularism versus sectarianism, duty versus laziness, respect versus disrespect, standing tall versus begging, enlisting versus desertion, knowing the difference between might and bullying, standing up against bullies, disallowing acts of injustice against those who are meeker, patience, resolve, steadfastness, dignity, pride and a huge dose of humility to cloak all of the above with the necessary human touch that does not allow those virtues to give rise to personal self-importance and egocentricism.
Some non-Syrians have risen to the support of Syria without having the slightest clue who and what they are supporting. Some have done this for reasons of vested interests, but unless those individuals and nations share those very same Syrian cultural ideals and virtues, they will either find out that they had deluded themselves, or others will find out that they have been deluded by them.
It is not by accident that Russia came to the defence of Syria. The similarities in qualities of the cultures are uncanny, and the role that Russia is playing now in trying to keep the West honest stipulated that she needed to make a loud and clear presence in Syria.
“The Orontes flows into the Tiber” was an ancient Roman proverb used to elaborate the then strong ties between the Levant and Rome. In today’s age, the Volga flows into Barada.
Thank you Ghassan for your wise words and insights.
This phrase says all… “It is a fight for decency and for cultures that uphold the good old-fashioned virtues that have almost totally disappeared in the West.”
Thank you for this article. A very important reality that hasn’t had much coverage.
As you say Babushka in Oz that phrase says it all.
There is a pattern to all the countries these groups have attacked – they have a deep culture, history and old fashioned virtues which are being destroyed in the West.
I was discussing with some friends (whose families were originally from the Middle East) last week the destruction of all these ancient cultures with some of the most tolerant; secular and diverse cultures and religions in the Middle East by Saudi/Gulf and Qataris and their cultureless, new, monied, oil rich countries who back Daesh.
Look at some of the countries whose ancient heritage has been destroyed or stolen or they wish to destroy: Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Mali, Iran, Russia, China…..
Looks as though the Russian Orthodox ‘renaissance’ continues apace:
Very nice piece. I’d like to believe it’s true, but I guess only a trip to Syria 10 years ago to experience it first hand, would answer that. I have to think that for the “well off” in Syria this might be true, for those lower in pay, ostracized or discriminated against, as in every culture, not so much.
Ten years ago, five years ago must have been heaven compared to how life in Syria is now, the old cities bustled with life, markets heaped with goods, the old traditions of steam baths and sauna’s were well attended and a respected, natural part of every day life, and those who cared for them, and frequented them, also respected and happy. The valleys between the mountains were carpets of flowers in the spring time. At least, that is what I read in an article in the Guardian by a journalist 5 years ago.
One persons joy is another’s sorrow and despair. For some, gardening, building and nursing are fun, for others a tedium. Millions died in WWI, and Vogue magazine was established (1916), a hundred years of fashion happiness! In WWII women escaped the drudgery of the home and factory, and went off and joined the WRAF and had a great time.
But life seems worse now.
I like the title of this article, how about,
The Volga flows into Barada,
and quiet flows the Don
maybe i will add some more lines, famous or not, in the course of time…
Uh huh where public property is sacrosanct….yup no need for those class struggles here that revolution has been fought won lost and won again…..uh hu. We fight for higher values here……uh huh. Those in the West that know that this anti-imperialist struggle can go no further than a call for justice are less deluded than the writer. Nothing would go further to prevent world war three than for a socialist revolution to take place in the USA where the only “revolution” taking place is the inforwar libertarian’s fighting for private property rights. And in the Donbas who other than farmers and miners took up the task-oh here it is anything but a class struggle as well. Don’t let that dangerous idea get out….not in America and certainly not in Russia. oh no oh no….Yet they are one and the same struggle carried out on two different fronts…….how can this be?
So you have a problem with teaching kindergardners about masturbation and anal sex, supplying grade-schoolers with birth-control devices, and pimping high-schoolers out to local “work farms”.?
You just hate us for our freedoms.
A striking essay on a unique moral and cultural congruence between two nations, that I appreciate, Mr Kadi..Thank you.
“Public property is sacrilegious in Russia and Syria; a stark difference from the graffiti-ridden West.”
The words “sacred” or “revered” would make sense in that sentence. “Sacriligious” (profane or insulting to religion) means the opposite of what you wish to convey, I am afraid. In context, however, your intended meaning is clear.
I have been to both Syria (in the 1950s) and Russia ( late 1990’s early 2000s and 2011) and have added your thoughts to my memories and understanding of both nations.
@very little in common when it comes to religion, despite Antioch (a Syrian city now in Turkey) being a cradle for Orthodoxy.
I beg to differ. Could you really think that the fact that “the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch” (Acts, 11:26) is of little consequence? That some of the greatest and beloved luminaries of Orthodox Christianity were Syrians (John Chrysostom, John of Damascus, Ephrem the Syrian) counts for less that vapid “deep-level cultural similarities”? That Antioch Patriarchy remaining a staunch pillar of Orthodoxy in a world infected by Islamism (which is a complete negation of the Orthodox Christian culture of Syria) and heresies which were a betrayal (very much influenced by Judaism) of the same Orthodox Christian culture of Syria, is somehow less important than a shared with Russians loathing for graffiti vandalism of public property (I guess that here is a typo: “Public property is sacrilegious in Russia and Syria” – I think you rather wanted to say that it is “sacred” – graffitis are sacrilegious then).
I fully agree with you that: “The fight for Syria is not simply a fight for a piece of land. It is a fight for decency and for cultures that uphold the good old-fashioned virtues that have almost totally disappeared in the West”. And this is precisely the Orthodox Christian culture (in its own craddle, BTW). True Orthodox around the world honor their ancestors in faith wherever and whoever they are. Our “ceremonies” for the dead have been written by Saint John Damascene!
It is not by accident that Russia came to the defence of Syria. It was a Christian obligation (that the ‘West’ has abandoned for long, at least since it abandoned Syria to their Islamic tormentors to turn against its own Christian (Orthodox) brothers). “President Putin couldn’t have performed his “miracle” without the Russian people and the culture that underpins their hearts and minds”, right. The “culture that underpins the hearts and minds” of the Russians is Orthodox Christianity.
Ghassan ! That is such a truthful article…I loved it, and sent it to all my friends..thank you and have a great year, with Intibah….
To understand this, one needs to be familiar with both Russian and Syrian Culture, not Arab or Islamic cultures, which are vastly different from the former. Ghassan Kadi gets full credit for making this very, very clear. Thank you.
‘Syria has been one of the cornerstones of ancient cultures. Long before pragmatism and obsession with economic growth, humans interacted at deeper levels, with valued virtues such as care, hospitality, gallantry, duty, accountability, honour and the like. Some of those virtues, especially in the West, look now somehow archaic and “primitive”…’
James Howard Kunstler has something very similar to say in his blog (apologies to JHK and readers for such a long quotation, but it’s all of a piece). http://kunstler.com/clusterfuck-nation/pretend-to-the-bitter-end/
“…most of the activities on-going in the USA today have taken on the qualities of rackets, that is, dishonest schemes for money-grubbing. This is most vividly and nauseatingly on display lately in the fields of medicine and education — two realms of action that formerly embodied in their basic operating systems the most sacred virtues developed in the fairly short history of civilized human endeavor: duty, diligence, etc.
“I’ve offered predictions for many a year that this consortium of rackets would enter failure mode, and so far that has seemed to not have happened, at least not to the catastrophic degree, yet. I’ve also maintained that of all the complex systems we depend on for contemporary life, finance is the most abstracted from reality and therefore the one most likely to show the earliest strains of crackup. The outstanding feature of recent times has been the ability of the banking hierarchies to employ accounting fraud to forestall any reckoning over the majestic sums of unpayable debt. The lesson for those who cheerlead the triumph of fraud is that lying works and that it can continue indefinitely — or at least until they are clear of culpability for it, either retired, dead, or safe beyond the statute of limitations for their particular crime.
“Of course it says something about the kind of society we’ve become that such racketeering has become so normative and pervasive, and that evading responsibility for its consequences has been elevated to a sort of enviable skill-set. In fact, the art of evasion has taken the place of what used to be called honor. We live in a low time that honors only low men”.
Saker….I like calling you thus ….have been reading you for a long time …never had the courage to address you like I am doing now ….I am 81 yo an kind of tired of this sh….ty world ….Putin made me revive, become young at heart ….thank you for brin ging to us authors like Ghassan Kadi …. we in Brazil have “milions” of sirian offsprings ….and sirians have mingled and interbred in a such a way that we have “zillions” of Brazilians with some “sirian blood” ….Sirian and Lebanese are a important part of our society here and we are proud of that ….Ghassan, beautiful …. may Him (whatever we cal Him) bless you ….Saker, keep up!
I would like to add two things here: the common denominator between Russia, Balkan Countries and Syria is Byzantium. Syria like some of the Balkan countries managed to survive Turkish influence.
West can not fight Daesh, because it created and controls Daesh.
A very beautiful and touching article, Saker, I appreciate it enormously. Thanks so much, I can’t imagine what is necessary for a renascence in the West of those virtues which you enumerate and which should be innate … but unfortunately seem now extinct over here..
“If they are different at all, it is because of their acquired cultural inheritance; an inheritance that can have a significant bearing on their thought process, perceiving and evaluating events, and decision-making among other things.” But they are also different genetically and phenotypically too. Genotype and phenotype influence things like “thought process, perceiving and evaluating events, and decision-making” among other things. The nature-nurture debate is a false dialectic. Bother are mutually interactive: Culture influences genes and genes influence culture. The denial of human biodiversity of one of the key ideological instruments used by the Empire to wage its wars on humanity.
On pride and honor:
“It cost to be at first with the wild woman. Heal the wounded instinct, banish naiveté, and over time, learn to know the deeper aspects of the psyche and soul, retain what we have learned, not to deviate, manifest clearly what we represent, all that requires unlimited and mystic resistance.
When we ascend from the underworld after having carried out some of our tasks, from outside may not notice any changes, but inside we have acquired a vast and femininely wild nature. At first glance we remain friendly, but below the skin is very clear that we are no longer domesticated creatures…..”
Women Who Run With the Wolves
by Clarissa Pinkola Estés
On culture and values:
“While much psychology emphasizes the familial causes of angst in humans, the cultural component carries as much weight, for culture is the family of the family. If the family of the family has various sicknesses, then all families within that culture will have to struggle with the same malaises. There is a saying cultura cura, culture cures. If the culture is a healer, the families learn how to heal; they will struggle less, be more reparative, far less wounding, far more graceful and loving. In a culture where the predator rules, all new life needing to be born, all old life needing to be gone, is unable to move and the soul-lives of its citizenry are frozen with both fear and spiritual famine.”
― Clarissa Pinkola Estés, “Women Who Run With the Wolves”: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype.
Thank you all for your kind comments, remarks and criticisms. I must confess that I didn’t think that this article would attract as many readers and comments as it did. I was pleasantly surprised that many share with me the vision of the magic that unites Russia with Syria. It’s such a wonderful warm and mysterious feeling that makes me feel at home in Russia, amongst Russians.
A piece of great writing and the truth.