Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

The Surrealism of the Syrian Fear

A boy awaits departure during the release of another group of Syrian families from the al-Hol camp
A boy awaits departure during the release of another group of Syrian families from the Kurdish-run al-Hol camp which holds suspected relatives of Islamic State (IS) group fighters, in Hasakeh governorate of northeastern Syria, on February 20, 2021.  Delil SOULEIMAN / AFP

Osama al-Awabdi

Like love, hate, joy, and other emotions, fear is rooted in human experience, constituting an inseparable part of the character in its psychological and social dimensions.

The Story Begins

For decades, security and intelligence branches have spread throughout the Syrian governorates in an organized manner. This guaranteed concentration of equal adrenaline portions in the blood of the entire Syrian people, because of its fear from security and intelligence agents; that tiny element that arbitrarily unites with your identity, inflicting it with disrepair and damage, despite its villainy and its psychological and moral frailty.

A Particular Unique Phobia

Syrian security and intelligence apparatuses consist of four departments that are independent of each other. The only common factor between these is the fear they inject people with. The autonomy of these departments makes this system unique and particular. Each has its wise leadership. If you think of expressing your mind freely, you will be in danger of dying. You will get to know all kinds of fear, from disfigurement and physical harm to annihilation and extinction. You will become the faithful guardian of fear. When fear overlaps with your genetic composition, having a foul mouth becomes your new social feature. After sitting for unspecified hours in a room inhabited by hostile silence and faint yellow light, waiting becomes an illustration of death. This feeling persists until the atomic security agent comes and tells you your ready unseen metaphysical accusation (weakening the national and patriotic spirit).

Your family is looking for you absurdly, helplessly, and fearfully. No one knows which intelligence department invited you to have a cup of coffee. Every department claims that they do not have you. The helplessness of your family materializes in not daring to discredit any of these intelligence departments.

The Security Agent is a Governmental Employee

You finish your university studies and get a job in an institution or ministry you thought to be a civil one. After a short time, you discover that ministries and institutions are directly or indirectly affiliates of security branches and departments!

An emotional shock hits you when you discover that the security agent is an employee just like you. You realize the clear social difference between the two of you in power and freedom. For that reason, fear increases in your soul and inferiority takes over you. Over time, your inferiority would turn into a socially accepted schizophrenia. As for the security agent, he is that other person who has unrecognizable religion and tendencies. If you meet him by chance, you will undermine yourself. Silence will prevail. It will look like the silence that took over you when you were at the security headquarters.

He is an employee like you. Nevertheless, he receives his salary because he instills fear in you. He ensures that this fear prevails on your son after you. Besides, you will hardly recognize him. He might be your neighbor, the grocer, or your colleague at work. For that reason, the opposer of the regime appeared as a commando hero in the subconscious of the general population, despite publicly calling him an idiot.

The Master Complex

All psychological complexes in the Arab society are being recycled, except for the “Ma’allem – Master” complex, which you can only find in the Syrian dictionary.

The top master is the first man or the president. The first female master is the first lady. An unspecified number of Ma’allem branch out from this first master, with fewer degrees and share Syrian people.

When the security agent becomes the master, he mimics the first master; being his legal reflection in reality. What makes fearing him complex is the power that he possesses. Drawn from the first master, his strength and energy enable him to kick all closed doors with his foot. He gets what he wants!

When a Syrian is the owner of a company or a restaurant, you find all the workers calling him Ma’allem. Even though he is not an intelligent Ma’allem, he feels the power of euphoria.

If the Syrian wants to praise someone during a conversation, he spontaneously throws the word Ma’allem. By this, he forms the ideal communication link with the other.

The word Ma’allem provides you with psychological protection in Syria. When you go to a place on purpose and find it a hostile place, say that the Ma’allem sent you. The other will sink in his eternal spiral of fear. He will try to retract the situation with a quick response. He will do that out of fear that someone will write a report about him to the intelligence forces. That would make him a permanent guest at the security branches, regardless of the taste and aroma of the coffee served to him.

There is no need to give examples. Before and after the war, the Syrian fairy tale is full of stories where Syrians opposed the Ma’allem or his apparatuses. These stories do not go beyond the desire for freedom or the dream of getting rid of that fear. Mostafa Khalifa’s novel The Shell remains the most prominent example with its tragedy. It begins with telling a joke about the Ma’allem during his stay in France and ended with him being a prisoner under torture for thirteen years!

Muhammed al-Maghut, the Model of Syrian Fear Surrealism

In an interview with Al Arabiya TV for the TV program Prison Literature, al-Maghut said the following: “Fear is the loss of freedom. Whenever I hear my door knocked, I feel scared.” He adds: “Like a bulldozer, fear dug inside me when they dragged to the security branch for interrogation. The slap that hit my face was like a break between me and the world. Fear became inexhaustible like oil. Despite the state honoring me, protecting me, and paying me a monthly salary for life, I am still that kid whose knees quiver with feels fear when someone knocks at my door”.

Fear, hunger, and insult were the human rights trilogy of al-Maghut. They were the slogan of his literary and intellectual revolution against the Syrian regime, with its atomic intelligence elements.

Syrian Revolution for Rights or against Fear?!

When the demonstrations started, I told a friend of mine that this revolution would vanish early because the actual history of fear lurks inside the Syrian entity. If it disappears, emptiness and confusion will take over consciousness, and the psychological space to look towards a new horizon is disrupted.

Consequently, the vision will be blurry, and people will search for an alternative that keeps it in its place while obtaining a few rights: “freedom of opinion and expression, worship, and freedom from need and fear.” In a more precise ideological expression, awareness of the revolution and its aftermath is the primary factor for its continuation and success.

My friend replied with the words of al-Maghut: (One wish is enough), the feeling of helplessness that dominated the security and intelligence apparatuses was a convincing psychological compensation, which freed the potential energy of a people who had suffered oppression, suppression, and fear for decades.

Between Certainty and Humor, Syrians Shared their Fear

We may treat fear behaviorally, cognitively, and psychologically. Confrontation or medication are the tools to use when the source of fear is natural. However, fear does not originate from a natural source in the Syrian case. For that reason, Syrians use humor and sarcasm to bear the hardships of their lives and the incidents of friends in the security apparatuses. Personally, anxiety now goes hand in hand with fear in my head, as that atomic security element has fed and guarded the fear inside me for many years, it is my executioner who prevented my suicide, and who I carried and will carry with me. We will not meet and will not part, and we will share what is left of our homeland between certainty and humor, for we are unique as Syrians Who grew up in the republic of fear.

The opinions expressed in this publication are those of our bloggers. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Fanack or its Board of Editors.

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