Yesterday Tony and I went on a really lovely date. It was one of those beautiful, still, early-summer nights, where sunset fades gently into a blue velvet canopy of stars spread out brightly over a calm sea. We were sitting beside a fountain just outside the walls of the 15th-century Hammamet Medina. The antique streetlights cast a warm glow over the walls and falling water. It felt like a picture out of the Arabian Nights. I couldn’t help but think back to Syria, and my first experiences in the magical world of mosques, minarets, and medinas. It’s a world rocked now by the winds of change, punctuated sharply by the iron-clad pounding fists of despots.
I don’t ever watch T.V. at home. But when I’m out and about, most places, including all restaurants and even our neighborhood fruit stand, have televisions. More often than not, what’s on is the news, which invariably features protests. The surreal thing is that it’s often not possible at first glance to tell which country I’m watching, or what month the event portrayed occurred, until I catch a glimpse of someone waving a flag. Even then, countries still agitating for freedom often use the flags and slogans of those who’ve already been successful, so Tunisian and Egyptian flags still appear in protests in other countries. Sometimes the footage really is celebratory flashbacks to the Tunisian or Egyptian revolutions. But usually it is demonstrations happening today in Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, or maybe Libya.
My heart jumps when I see a Syrian flag waving over a street full of protesters. I can’t bring myself to check the news about Syria by choice more often than once every couple of days. The news is always bad. It’s like watching an awful accident happening in slow motion, with nothing you can do to prevent it. The Syrian government yesterday shut down most of the internet in the country (government websites are still active), a large portion of coverage from the nation’s one cell phone provider, and water and electricity to dozens of towns involved in the protests.
Friday is always the bloodiest day of the week. This has been true in Tunisia and Egypt as well. Things happen on Friday in the Middle East. Everyone leaves the mosque together after the noon service, which more or less marks the beginning of the weekend. They pour into the streets to protest, and then the army starts shooting.
This week, despite the government’s desperate measures, some of the largest crowds yet turned out to protest the torture and killing of a 13-year-old boy in a Syrian prison. Graphic photos give me nightmares, so I didn’t look at the videos and photos that have been widely circulated via facebook and twitter. Hamza al-Khateeb (please be aware that the NY Times article I linked to is disturbing enough without photos) disappeared at the end of April, and spent a month in prison. His parents had no word on his whereabouts until his body was returned to them last week.
What were you doing when you were thirteen? What is your thirteen-year-old doing now? Shopping at the mall? Going to school? Listening to music and hanging out with friends? I think of that boy and his parents, and I don’t know how to reconcile the normal life of a young teenager with the reality of theirs. It’s hard to believe that we live in a world where a thirteen-year-old can be tortured to death. I guess for now we can only hope for a time when funerals like these will be a thing of the past.
photo credit: I did it myself. What do you think?