When women open windows for sunlight
“As a secular woman, I met during the current uprising a number of precious women. They were educated, active and open-minded. These wonderful women were wearing hijab and they were religious; knowing those women made me proud. They enriched our lives. But if we tend to take away these women’s personal behaviors, social practices, religious beliefs and unique interaction with society then this tendency is our passport for our own enslavement.” Samar Yazbek spoke in defense of religious women who are accused of being close-minded by a group of liberals in Syria.
With words filled with hope, writer and documentary filmmaker, Samar Yazbek talked about her tormented country and the status of women there; though she was shut out from her homeland, her homeland was not able to shut down her voice. Samar left her desk in Damascus where she wrote her stories, novels, TV series and documentaries, and went to Paris, but this was not a trip, she escaped for her life, and till now she is still haunted with nostalgia for her country and what she saw before she left. Samar told me that in these hard times everyone has a responsibility to play a role. “Responsibility is freedom, and freedom is responsibility,” she said.
Samar always wrote about corruption in Syria, where she had the courage to go in places others did not dare to get near. Samar has a gigantic will to defend justice and Syrians’ right to be free, covered with a delicate face. She told the stories of people from all walks of life, their hidden desires, their aspirations and dreams, their secret affairs, greed, despair, power and hope. Samar is a phenomenal woman; it is rare to become emancipated from all kinds of restrictions designed by society and government for women in Syria, but she broke free and came under a watchful eye, under scourge and criticism. Before she left Syria, Samar was interrogated in one of the regime’s security centers; she was accused of supporting extremists. The regime’s enthusiasts even wrote infamous poems and promoted them as her work.
Women were always the pillars of her work, Samar was in the frontlines in major women’s rights issues in Syria, and fought to end honor crimes that take the lives of about 200 women every year.
Samar is independent and believes that what we say must be what we do. By breaking through, she wanted to support women despite her prior knowledge that she will be followed; a woman outside traditions and norms is always examined by society and government in the Levant. “I will always stand with justice and human rights no matter what; and by choosing to stand in the face of the Syrian regime I am fulfilling my moral duty as a human being. The ruling family is criminal and history will always remember it as criminal.”
The sky was cloudy; during our interview I sensed her grief and intelligence. Samar won a UN award for her movie “Low Sky”. But at times all her achievements and awards looked like they happened in a far, far past; everything shrunk in front of the tragic present reality. “We lived to see freedom carnivals in the Arab World, we must be grateful for that,” Samar said. Though she wrote about cracks in humanity’s soul and deep rotten corruption, she never expected to see a revolution ahead, maybe a movement of some kind but not this, “epic revolution,” as she described it.
Before leaving Syria, Samar used to meet with activists, and she joined freedom marches in the streets. Standing beside the people made her faith in the average human beings larger than life; she was overwhelmed with their determination to gain freedom and their defiance of the brutality and pain. “Women were exceptional in this uprising,” she answered when I asked her about women’s engagement in the revolution. Samar saw women as a moving force and a main factor in the persistence of the revolutionary action on many levels: political, social, in journalism, literature and activism. She believes that Syrian women’s participation in the revolution was greater than the participation of women in other revolutions in the Arab world; but the regime intends to target women to provoke violence in men and turn their peaceful movement into armed conflict as a reaction to the targeting of women: “Of course the Syrian regime will target the collective conscious of women’s image in the psychological structure in our societies.” Samar is keen to document violations against women in Syria; she always calls activists and people to send her information about violations committed by the regime against women.
There was a brief moment of silence during our conversation, a heavy moment passed when I asked about the future. With brave words and willingness to cross a raging river, Samar accepts the fact that chaos will happen, but anything is better than being a slave governed by dictatorship. She said that if the world does not move soon Syrians will be forced to defend themselves with weapons. Syrians will pay a high tax but the future will be much better for our children.
For Samar, Syria looked very painful from France. Samar is in a continuous state of torment, anger, grief and great despair. Sometimes she loses her sense of time and place. She feels like she is still living in Damascus and never left. On her Facebook page Samar wrote, “Oh yes, the road of democracy is too long, and as women we have to fight for a new civil and democratic country, where we live under equality and citizenship. It is hard but not impossible; for the sake of those who died for us, they deserve it.”
On Sunday the 11th of Dec, Syrian activists announced a general strike in Syria, Samar announced a hunger strike to say that wherever she was, she will always be with her people.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous new media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.