From the Heart of the Revolution: Syrian Intellectual and opinion maker Yassin al-Haj Saleh, Part 1

When people think of Yassin al-Haj Saleh, they think of the intellectual who enriched the Syrian experience through writing about history. His friends complain about him before his rivals do, due to his rigorous intellectual criticism of their ideas. But it is better to allow Saleh, who has a unique experience inside the Eastern Ghouta in Damascus Countryside, to introduce himself.

Q: How are you Yassin? How do you feel in this place?

 

A: I feel hot, it is too hot in here. Living in a besieged region is a hard experience, especially when you are not from the region and you are not so young. It is somehow reminds me of living in a prison. The similarity lies in the ambiguity of your destiny, the hardship of the living conditions and the fact that in both cases the end is unknown. The important difference now, though, is that my partners are many, and among them is Samira who joined me one month after I came to Ghouta. Life is nicer and easier in her presence.

 

Q: You wrote in your last message to intellectuals of the world that you went to "liberated" Eastern Ghouta, leaving Damascus, because it had become “suffocating” What did you mean and why did you leave?

 

A: I stayed in Syria to be close to the ground events. During the months preceding my departure last April, my residency in Damascus became useless if this was my goal. I felt as if living in a bubble, moving carefully and in small circles. I was almost outside the country but without the advantage of being safe, which living abroad provides. Today it seems to me that I should have left Damascus earlier, before the end of last year. In Ghouta, or in any other place outside regime control, you gain many new experiences; things you have never could have known or imagined, complicated situations that cannot be explained, or their significance summarized. Reading about what is happening here cannot be a substitute for living it. However, there are details of this new experience that we can read about, beyond all our available theoretical references, that reveal Assad as outside any national or humanistic laws. The problem I faced in Damascus was the lack of new experiences. I cannot understand how knowledge can be attained by talking about knowledge, without being open towards the sensory world, without involvement in new experiments in life, thought and writing. That said, I don’t intend to reside in a specific place, I will try to move as much as possible in this torn country.

 

Q:Why did you stop writing in newspapers and magazines, in fact, at all?

 

A: Before I could leave Damascus, writing was becoming harder and harder. I began to have to force myself to write essays. Years before the revolution, I used to write two or three essays weekly, without any trouble and often with joy. A year after the revolution, this became increasingly difficult. My ability to give an overview of the increasingly complicated Syrian situation was decreased, and so was my satisfaction with what I was writing. Over the course of the revolution, it became harder to keep a routine. There was the personal suffering because I was living in hiding, there was an increasingly narrow space for experiments in Damascus, and there was a mental and psychological exhaustion because of the death of so many people and the destruction of so many lives. Writing should be renewed to respond to the challenge of all this blood and drama. I also have to be renewed. Nothing renews when you remain in your place. There should be an interruption to allow any kind of refreshment. The ongoing developments in the revolution, especially the religious and political phenomena, challenge me personally, both mentally and physically. It takes time and effort to fully comprehend what is happening and respond in a productive manner.

 

Translated and edited by The Syrian Observer

 

 

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