- Middle East/North Africa
Never has Damascus been so gloomy. A quiet sadness hovers over the streets and alleys. The voices of people are strangulated, broken and oppressed. The sound of a guilty conscience rings in their remorseful voices.
The sound of death drowns out all other noise, creating a miserably hushed rhythm. The faces are somber. Even fights over gas cylinders are noiseless, with people clashing with their hands and eyes. They scramble to get hold of a blue gas cylinder but remain silent as they battle for it.
Only a few cars drive through Omawiyeen Square, which seems deserted like never before. A large screen set up in the square to broadcast programs from the official Syrian satellite channel also seems forsaken, incongruous with the context of time and place, like an ancient relic placed in a museum for modern art.
Passersby no longer pay attention to the screen, perhaps altogether oblivious to its existence. They walk past it without glancing at it. The lights of the houses and restaurants on Kassioun Mountain flicker faintly behind a curtain of darkness.
I feel a lump in my throat as the residents of the city leave and head to Paris, Dubai, Istanbul, Amman or Beirut. Their departure saddens me. Does any city other than Damascus deserve to have them?
Some have given up too early, deserting the city only a few months into the revolution. But they didn’t just pack and leave. They write and talk as though they were still in the city. The people die in Damascus, while they write about their death from afar. Those in Damascus get arrested only for those escapees to narrate stories about their detention from the comfort of their retreats where the air smells sweet, the people feel relaxed, and the streets are clean and bustling with life.
Here in Damascus, the people are dying, while those abroad make demands from their retreat. They call on the people to pour to the streets, to chant, rebel and strike, without feeling the slightest twinge of guilt, or considering how incredibly selfish their calls are.
How could those outside Syria call on the people inside to hit the streets, to embrace death, detention, abduction and revenge?
Some of them appear on satellite channels, well-groomed, profusely perfumed and hair neatly combed to theorize about politics, while others line up in the bitter cold to chant the fall of the regime at the risk of receiving a death shot at any minute.
Some of those who fled the danger will call for the imposition of a no-fly zone over Syria, others for foreign intervention or a hunger strike. But who gave them the right to demand such grave measures, having willingly left the country?
They have the right to escape danger for a while, but having done so, they should no longer ask the brave people who remained to seek death.
Only those angels who refused to abandon the country and chose to stay have the right to decide their destiny. Those who have fled the danger issue arrogant calls for those inside to protest and revolt, in exchange for promises to tell their brave stories and to keep their memory.
Salma Idilbi is a Syrian writer. This article was originally published in Arabic on Jadaliyya.