We stand there, close to each other. We raise our heads high, with our eyes fixed upon the Syrian flag hanging on the middle of the column in front of us. We are wearing our full military uniform — the oily suit, the clean black shoes, and the long black socks, with our belts tightened to our waists. We stand there with our hands lowered down tight. Then the military trainer raises her hand and all the teachers look at the column. A student pulls the rope tied to the flag, raising it slowly, while we all stare at this piece of cloth as it rises.
“A Damaging Year for Children” was the title of the report issued by UNICEF in 2014. Anthony Lake, the executive manager of the organization, pointed out that, “about 7.3 million children were affected by the conflict in Syria, and about 1.7 million of them are refugees. According to the UN, there were about 35 attacks on schools during the first nine months of the year, which led to the death of 105 children, with 300 others injured.”
UNICEF and other organizations concerned with children and their rights seem unaware that all the years under Baath [Party] rule were destructive for children. We [children] were “the pioneers of the Baath,” soft dough for its ideology, future soldiers for the next mill. We were all children of Baath. “March for the Baath, march for victory.” We have memorized our fate by heart: “Our feet are fields, our roads are factories.” In that early age when memory begins to form, it formed delusions that grew bigger than our dreams and the dreams of the Baath party itself.
We were young soldiers, singing altogether that, “We are peasants, workers, and the strong youth, we are the fighting soldiers and the voice of laborers.” I look at my friend who had the flu. She tried to clean her nose quickly, for she must stay still. She coughed, she coughed again, then she took out a handkerchief and wiped her face, and continued to sing ardently and with a strong voice, “From the roots of earth we have come, from the heart of pain we gave sacrifices, we were so generous.” Then she coughed again.
Thus, we were pushed to believe, not in the important real things, but in fake things like homeland, nationality, and land, which were portrayed as a “necessity” for our existence. The necessity to create a national imagination, to be always ready to sacrifice for these necessities — and to die for them — were necessities imposed by the dictatorship of the Baath.
The generations of Baath grew up with a strict behavioral and mental model based on the famous “stimulus – response “ rule and all its subsequent variations. It is clear that the connection between the “stimulus” we were exposed to and the “responses” they provoked would eventually lead to a structural disorder affecting the collective perception of the public. Thus, repeated stimuli like “Baath principles and delusions” would be able to provoke undoubtedly typical perceptions, which became involuntary and impulsive for the people of the Baath party. Understanding those words we repea — or were forced to repeat — is not really important. This creates an ambiguous world where people are like programmed machines, united in form and function.
In the speech patterns of the Baath party there is something very dramatic. The phrase from one Baath song, “We gave sacrifices,” becomes a compulsory action when needed. It is a compulsory phrase that prevents Baathist public — its fuel — from having the chance to consciously analyze the phrase. Thus, these patterns appear in casual and separate forms, as if they come from other worlds, and as if they were made especially for us — we, the fuel of the delusionally ambitious projects.
The Baathist songs are facades that warrant careful consideration. Baathism depends on the present tense: “Baathism is immovable, it is immovable on the battlefield. Go forth, unite the free people, unite this great people, walk ahead, Oh Baath, to the free, honorable future.” This makes whoever listens always alert and ready, as if they were in an actual war.
Thus, every word in these songs like “Revolution, the free people, We, Arab Youth” are considered vocabularies that aim to build the grand structure of “The Baath” and the the grand principle to “Raise your voices and say Long Live the Arab Baath.”
If we considered this song from a functionalist perspective, which consists of a source and a recipient, then the recipient who comes second would be the people, while the Baath would be the source, the fixed and permanent component. For over 51 years, the Baath tried to make people see less than what should be seen. In the visual scene, there is no place for meditation or contemplation, only for the mass components of the scene itself. But this scene doesn’t reflect a thing about this isolated country, which grew more isolated the bigger its delusion and the alleged heroism of its soldiers, young and old, grew.
After we had finished our homework, my three brothers and I sat down waiting impatiently for the cartoon time on the Syrian channel. Channel One and Channel Two were the only channels on TV back then, but sometimes we would receive the Israeli channel.
“Sangokushi” or “ Earth Falcons,” as it was called in Arabic, was the first cartoon. Its theme started to play with the words, “The honor of our country is more important than us or our thoughts at any time. The honor of our country is our land, it is more important than me.”
My kid sister would stand like a soldier singing the lyrics “We have vowed to be dedicated and to fight together. We have vowed to raise the banner of redemption. We promise to be stronger than our enemies, we would sacrifice our souls for the sake of our country.”
“We have vowed to raise the banner of redemption. We promise to be stronger than our enemies,” this is how kids were unconsciously dragged by the Baath party to believe that fighting for the country is a virtue. The Baath made “the Homeland” an overwhelming imaginary symbol of glory, happiness, and the continuous victory over real and imaginary enemies. A “homeland” was this charming mixture of contradicting feelings of a gloomy reality on the one hand and and a happy imaginary home invented by Baathist imagination. This is the same system used for saluting the young cubs (young soldiers), and for raising a kind of a collective intimacy.
This intimacy began to disintegrate and finally exploded when the minds saturated with principles of the Baath — the parental protective party — realized that all of these principles and beliefs were merely delusions. This forced perception had been used to alter the people’s minds. It was a strong set of pliers used to keep these minds locked into the historical period during the colonization of the the Arab world. This world demonically turned into “a field of battle,” a field to fight the windmills of a colonialism that no longer existed. This perception was what prevented people from realizing the bitter situation in which they were living. It discussed all kinds of colonization, except that of the Baath.
The Baathist necessity for nationalism, which was imposed on the people, turned into a necessity for freedom, a necessity for power. Now, the vocabularies relating to sacrifice, battle, and struggle tend to demolish the grand principle of the dictatorial Baath party. This is clearly observed in the slogans raised by the Syrian revolution like, “The Baath went crazy when we called for freedom,” and “to heaven we go, millions of martyrs,” or “death is far better than humiliation.”
Young men walked out of Baath schools into the streets of their homeland, took off their military uniforms, got rid of the Baathist slogans, and marched toward the cracked statue to bring it to the ground.
Baathism has been toppled in today’s mentality, Syria is no longer the same. But it seems like we need to work harder to continue this project of freedom, to destroy Baathism inside the homogenized minds of our own people. To completely topple Baathism inside the minds it had occupied without giving a good reason for it would drive some people out of necessity to establish their own new, cloned Baath.