Fresh Apricots – A Syrian Prison Story

Jebel Druze – Landscape by Nancy Lindisfarne

Nancy Lindisfarne writes: Last week in Koblenz, Germany, a former Syrian intelligence officer, Eyad al Gharib, was found guilty of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity. It is an important verdict. It has formally exposed the scale, and appalling horror, of the crimes of the Syrian regime.

To mark this moment we are reposting a short story I originally published in Arabic in 1997. I did anthropological fieldwork in Damascus in the late 1980s, and from day one I saw the tyranny of the regime.  But I knew the whole time I was in Syria, and then again when I tried out the stories on friends in Damascus, that for their sake, I could only hint at the fear everyone felt.  As you can see here, the most politically explicit of my Syrian stories, ‘Fresh Apricots’, is little more than a bare whisper about a prisoner who has been fortunate enough to be released from Saydnaya prison.
.
In 1997, Mamdouh Adwan, the Syrian poet and playwright translated into Arabic a collection of short stories I had written after my year of fieldwork. Al Raqs fi Dimasq was published in Syria before an English version, Dancing in Damascus, came out in 2000.[4] But though a bare whisper, I also knew Syrian readers absolutely understood what I was trying to say.

Continue reading

My First Day in Camp with the Piruzai – Afghanistan, 1971

Nancy Lindisfarne-Tapper

My friend Maryam

In 1971 and 1972 Richard Tapper and I lived with Afghan villagers for nearly a year. The Piruzai, some 200 families, lived in two small settlements near the town of Sar-e Pol in northern Afghanistan. They were Pashtu-speakers, pastoralists and peasant farmers, poor people, working very hard to survive in a vicious feudal system.

The people, the setting, and even the division of labour between Richard and myself seemed to conform to every stereotype about the Middle East. There were veiled women, men on horseback, camel caravans, stunning scenery and dramatic lives. These were stereotypes shared by the Afghan officials, politicians and urban professionals we met in Kabul. But the people we met were not two dimensional.

They were warm, funny, clear-thinking and tough. They understood we were doing research – anthropology – insanshenasi – and they wanted to help us ‘write a book’. They wanted their words to be heard and written down. Living with the Piruzai was an immense privilege and our obligation to tell the story of the Piruzai is on-going. Continue reading

Fresh Apricots – A Prison Story

another-prison-image

Saydnaya prison, Damascus, Syria

Nancy Lindisfarne writes: For forty-six years the Assad regime has ruled Syria with murderous brutality. A measure of this brutality was the quelling of a popular uprising against the regime in the city of Hama in 1982. Assad (the father) bombed and killed some 20,000 Syrian citizens. Or perhaps 40,000 – the violence was so comprehensive and effective that it has never been possible to establish exactly how many perished. The massacre in Hama and the violence of the Assads’ secret prisons served to terrify the population and kept people quiescent. Until 2011. Continue reading

Are Syrian Men Vulnerable Too? Gendering the Syria Refugee Response

syrian-family-in-jordan

Syrian refugees in Jordan, 2016

Lewis Turner writes about Syrian refugees in Jordan, He argues that ‘a person is not vulnerable because they are a man or a woman, but because of what being a man or a woman means in particular situations. A refugee response that automatically assumes that women and children are the most vulnerable will do a disservice to the community it seeks to serve. Continue reading

Don’t Bomb Mosul: The Reasons Why

american-bombers-ramadi-october-2015

American planes bombing Ramadi in October, 2015

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale

An assault on the Iraqi city of Mosul by the United States, Iran, the Iraqi government, Kurdish forces and Shiah militias looks imminent. We can expect massive bloodshed and the destruction of most of the city.

Mosul is now held by ISIS. Different estimates suggest that between 600,000 and 1,500,000 people are still in the city. In the last year Iraqi and Iranian forces backed by the US bombs have retaken the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah from ISIS. In both cases, the whole city was flattened by American bombs, and almost all the people became refugees. Those two cities remain destroyed, and almost empty.

Because ISIS holds Mosul, every reactionary power in the world will welcome the bombing. On present form, almost the whole of the European and North American left will do nothing to protest the bombing, and many leftists will support the assault.

The position of most of the left makes us sick at heart. Do Muslim deaths not matter? Continue reading

Rida Hus-Hus – Holding onto beauty under the Assad regime

 

Lindisfarne0215 (3)

Rida Hus-Hus 1939-2016

Nancy Lindisfarne writes:

The Syrian painter and printmaker, Rida Hus-Hus, died in Mannheim, Germany on the 30 July 2016 at the age of 77. His courage, uncomplicated generosity and celebration of all that was beautiful is to be remembered and cherished. His life drawings and portraits reflected his affection and interest in other people. Through still-life drawing and flower pictures he celebrated the joy of quotidian detail, while his vibrant pastels captured the sweeping landscapes outside of Damasus, and literally painted Syria in a most beautiful light. Yet Rida was also intensely political in the dangerous environment of the Assad dictatorship, and to keep himself sane, and preserve the independence of his art, he lived an extremely modest and cleverly managed life. Continue reading

Oil Empires and Resistance in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria

 

Afghan Resistance, 1842

Afghan Resistance, 1842

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale

This article is about three intersecting wars in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.[1] The bombings in Paris occurred just as we were finishing the piece, and give our arguments here further tragic relevance.

This piece is 25,000 words long, and readers may find it easier to read by downloading the version here: Oil Empires 16Nov2015 FIN5.

It will help the reader to know from the outset where we stand. We want the mass resistance to the Assad regime in Syria to win, and the Russian armed forces and their allies to leave. We want the Americans and their allies to leave Afghanistan, now, completely. We want Assad and the American, British, French and Russian military to stop bombing the Syrian resistance and the Islamic State.[2] Continue reading

Night of Power: A Ramadan Story

Nancy Lindisfarne writes: The lunar month which began in mid-June this year is the Islamic month of Ramadan, the month of fasting and charity. This is a story to mark Ramadan, and one day in the life of Basima. At forty five, she is still unmarried, on the shelf, and as the youngest daughter of a large Syrian family, she has become the sole carer of her elderly, difficult mother.

dervishes

This short story  is set in Damascus in the 1990s, where I did a year’s anthropological fieldwork among well-to-do Damascenes. For me, unlearning academic writing and writing fiction was a lengthy and salutary experience. The impetus came from my anger and exhaustion at countering simplistic, popular stereotypes of Arab or Muslim women and men as fundamentalists, terrorists, or both. My hope then was that the stories might be a way to reach an audience beyond the academy. Continue reading

Thinking about Feminism and Islamophobia 6: The Class Basis of the Taliban

Taliban reader

Nancy Lindisfarne writes: In understanding the Taliban we need to face up honestly to two quite different things. First, the Taliban are on the side of the poor . Most of their supporters come from the poor. The leaders of the Taliban are themselves from among the poor. (In this they are unlike most other Islamist groups.) And when they take power in an area the life circumstances of the poor improve significantly. These are the reasons why many ordinary people support the Taliban.

But there is another truth: the Taliban are also conservative in their sexual politics, and their policies oppress women. This is one of the things most ordinary Afghans and Pakistani Pashtuns don’t like about the Taliban.

Both these things are true. We need to face up to this contradictory reality. So we need to explain the situation in some detail. This post is an academic – but readable – paper explaining the class background of the Taliban. In another post, we shall turn to their right wing gender politics. Continue reading

Thinking about Feminism and Islamophobia 5: Bombs and Drones

American bomber being prepared for flight

American bomber being prepared for flight

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale writeMany people now argue that feminists should support the American and Iranian alliance against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Or they argue that we should support the American and Pakistani armed forces against the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Many other feminists, and many on the left, are confused and unsure. But they also talk as if it was a straight choice between IS and the US, or between the Taliban and the US. ‘Both sides are morally repugnant,’ these people say, ‘but if I have to choose…’

This way of thinking ignores the fact that you are not just choosing between two sides, you are choosing between two ways of waging war. How you kill people is important, and has emotional and political consequences. It matters that American bombing from the air is more cruel, more unequal, kills more women, and kills more children than fighting that on the ground with guns. Continue reading