In Damascus, War And Shame Conquer Love
DAMASCUS — Last month, I was in a bar with a friend, and I met a nice guy who, a long time ago, I knew only by name. We exchanged numbers, and after a couple of random meetings I could sense his interest in me, and his willingness to take things further.
I'd love to have a partner and a happy relationship, regardless of where it might go. He is an educated writer, artist, a feminist – in short, a perfect fit for me! Except for one detail: He used to be strongly loyal to Bashar al-Assad and his regime. He was fiercely opposed to the revolution and would defend the regime in any way. No wonder we never crossed paths: We had different circles of friends and acquaintances; We lived in different worlds.
When I finally asked him about his views on the current situation in our country, he told me: "Only when the war reached my neighborhood in 2013 did I realize that both sides were liars. Today, they both mean nothing to me." He was very aware of my political views and my history with activism, so we didn't take the conversation any deeper.
We never talked about it again, avoiding any "bad vibes," but I must say that his words stuck in my head. They resurfaced every time I pictured us together and left me with no choice but to erase that picture completely.
After five years of living in these circumstances of war and political conflict, I have reached a point where I can easily be around people who may not share my way of thinking, but only if the meetings are occasional and never last too long.
With this man, I simply couldn't reconcile the idea that he had been so loyal to the regime and so misled. I couldn't see where his educated brain and artistic soul were back then. I simply couldn't take it further. After three weeks of dating, I called him, and we met for lunch in a restaurant near his workplace. Although I spent hours before our meeting rehearsing the speech I was planning to give, all I managed to say was: "I can't see us together. I am unable to start any relationship in the current period. I have tried but we can't be anything other than friends." I couldn't tell him the real reason.
He smiled and gave me that look, the one full of anger and questions. But as we continued to talk, I eventually told him the real reason: that the problem was a moral one. I apologized if this seemed immature. He expressed his disappointment, but we ended up shaking hands and kissing goodbye.
Sense of shame
Now that I think about it and put myself in his shoes, it seems unfair to judge our relationship according to his history. But the Syrian revolution has been so deeply ingrained in us that we can no longer deal with it as a mere difference in political opinion. We carry a deep wound and an overwhelming feeling of shame towards our friends who have died or gone missing.
My whole mentality is based on these facts, on what I have seen with my own eyes, so there is a huge part of me that this man can never understand. This same reasoning applies also to me in some way; I will never be able to understand how he still has respect for certain regime leaders and can defend their actions.
I haven't heard from him since our lunch. I don't regret anything I did. I know my actions weren't heroic, but they raise questions that we will all someday have to think about. How will any one of us manage to move beyond the war? I don't think I ever will.
*Farah (a pen name) is a young Syrian woman who lives in Syria's capital city Damascus with her family.