In Praise of Love
To Khalid Khalifah, in Damascus.
A few days have passed since you left Cairo to return to Syria, where new, much worse volcanoes of blood have erupted. Before you left, did you think to yourself, should I stay in Cairo? Did you consider a life for yourself outside of Syria? Were you surrounded by fear as you returned to a land that was still aflame?
- “From Egypt” attempts to draw a cultural map of Egypt and the Arab world by profiling the artistic, literary, and political issues that affect the region via on-the-ground coverage of current events, publications, and the fight for freedom of expression.
- Hamdy El-Gazzar is an Egyptian writer and one of the 39 young Arab writers included in the Beirut 39 Project. His first novel, Sihr Aswad (Dar Merit, 2005) won the prestigious Sawaris Award, and was subsequently translated by Humphrey Davies (Black Magic, AUC Press, 2007). His second novel, Ladhdhat Sirriyya (Secret Pleasures) was published by Dar al-Dar in 2008. He is currently working on a third novel.
Not at all, my brave friend. What I saw in your eyes and on your face was only deep sadness for your people, whose blood has been shed like the rain that waters the Syrian land. But we did not discuss this. Rather, our conversation was punctuated by smiles and laughter. We did not pick at the open, bleeding wound that is the situation in Syria.
The matter will end when the time for it to end comes, but how? And at what price, my friend?
Five years ago, an hour after we met at an airport in Chicago, we went our separate ways, despite having been scheduled for the same flight to Iowa City. I left you behind in Chicago, sorting out legal issues with Homeland Security. I had no clue what to do or how to help you. Later on, when we met up in Iowa, you were mad at me because I didn’t try to stay behind with you. And here I am after years of friendship, once again finding myself to be the person who cannot help, who cannot stop the brutalities that the tyrants are committing, who cannot prevent the loss of innocent lives.
“Rescue my people” was the message that you called out to writers around the world. You’ve spoken out everywhere and through every medium and spread awareness about the fact that your people are being slaughtered. This was a message to everyone that the people of Syria are helpless and silent, that people need to speak up, and that the world should listen to the tongue of humanity when it speaks.
Unfortunately, our voices are mute. No one is bothered by them. This world has no conscience my friend, but we must continue to plant the seeds of conscience with all the strength that we have, in the manner that our ancestors before us did. Perhaps it will grow on this land one day.
Forgive me. I am ashamed of my silence tonight, my helplessness, and the bitterness of constantly thinking about you and the thousands of victims in Syria. Blood has become a normal sight on our TV screens, as if it is a fictional performance. People have become so desensitized to images of murder that they have lost touch with humanity.
I give you my best regards.
You and all the people of Syria deserve peace, freedom, and human dignity. While this is available elsewhere, you have remained on the land that you grew out of; you’ve stayed despite the massacres, the snipers, and the death that glares at you from every possible direction.
All the free hearts of this world are with you. Those who have the ability to speak up should not remain silent. To hell with the conscience of a world that sleeps while innocent lives are taken.
With our blood alone, we create freedom. So stand tall my friend and may you live to write work that is even more powerful than what you have already written. Write a new novel, perhaps one entitled In Praise of Love.
With all loyalty,
Cairo, August 4th 2012
Khalid Khalifa is a Syrian novelist and a screen writer. His novel In Praise of Hatred deals with the brutality of Hafez el Assad’s regime in Syria.