Syria: Of Love and War

Among continuous images of starving children, shelled buildings, and war, several debates find their way today on social media among Syrians and friends of Syria. Of course, the hearts are there, the carefully chosen teddy bear pictures, and the petals of roses genuinely placed or displayed deliberately for a picture to be Instagrammed later. Another strand of the debate is an anti-Valentine's statement, leftist activists and intellectuals rightfully denouncing the commercialization of yet another aspect of our every day lives, love. Responding to that is a few 'moderates' who argue that it can be enchanting to spark your relationship with love; and that there is no harm with Valentine's to be that occasion. Instead of expensive gifts and capitalist tendencies, how about supporting local artists and hand-made gifts. Others call for an attitude of 'loving your partner everyday not just one day,' and some who demand a 'hatred day,' a sarcastic way of asking why a special day for Love with a capital L. An activist posts a photo of Palestine's flag, with the V and L in Valentine crossed out and replaced with a P and an S, above which is a bleeding heart instead of the red triangle.

And then, amidst all this, there is Syria.

As I continue surfing the news, I find an article about some flower shops in Ramallah, Palestine where shop owners decided not to sell flowers in solidarity with Palestinian Syrians in besieged Yarmouk camp. As I had argued in my previous post, today, there are several ways of showing solidarity, of loving Syria today, one of which is moral support -- like not accepting to sell roses, and the other is to take action -- like donating the price of one rose or like doing what you can in support of Syria.

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Photo Credits: WISSAM AL JAZAIRY: PAINTING PEACE FROM SYRIA

In times of revolutions, think about how to revolutionize Valentine for those who believe in it: think about this population as a target audience for the campaign for action for Syria today. Do those who still believe in celebrating love know what is happening in Syria? I wonder. I know that human misery has always existed and that life goes on despite the existence of death, but we live in exceptional times, my friends. Today, we witness the biggest crisis of all time. Today, according to the Violation and Documentation Center in Syria 87,819 people were martyred, of which 64,723 are civilians. Today, we have 48,000 individuals detained, 2,000 lost, and above 1,000 kidnapped Syrians, and these numbers are just those documented, thus remaining undervalued figures. Today, more than 100 individuals have died from hunger in besieged areas in Syria. Those who believe in love should stop and think for a minute: where is humanity? And as Black Eyed Peas put it in their famous song: where is the love?

Valentine's day was initially conceived as a feast in honor of Saint Valentine, a man who is said to have countered the institutions and regimes at his time to organize wedding celebrations for soldiers who were forbidden by the state to marry. Today, in Syria, love is a concept that is distorted. Family portraits are more often than not missing a member, women and men are widowed, and many lovers spend days and nights wondering whether their partners are alive. Romantic love is fighting a long battle with despair, depression and hopelessness in the life of Syrians. You would think what I am pleading for is to think of typical Valentine's day gifts in Syria to be chosen from the following list: bread, food baskets, blankets, wood for tents, milk for children. Wrong, that's what you are if you think this is what Syrians want today. The list goes beyond that: women, men and children's wish lists today are about dignity, justice, and ownership of their country and of their future.

While this might sound cheesy to some, excuse my cheesiness -- I think we should not be bored with talking about the reality. The facts on the ground should never become an over-heard remark or a moment of déjà vu. My point here is, I will not dispute the idea of Valentine. As long as there are some -- and by some we are talking about half of the population of the United Kingdom -- who continue to spend some money (1.3 billion pounds according to statistics only in the UK in exchange of flowers, chocolate, and other gifts) on Valentine's day, then there is room for this cheesy thought. I am not saying it is this or that, I am not saying those who believe in celebrating Valentine's should stop, and donate instead -- although this sounds ethically correct if we want to continue being human. All I am saying is we should start thinking about the core of these holidays. The core is love, and love is an all-encompassing concept. Instead of serving the mass production of greeting cards whose owners are making huge profits on the backs of low-paid workers, let us think about better, ethically superior ways of expressing our love.

Real -- and not commercial -- love is to love one another in every way we can. It is to take a minute and think of the millions of Syrians whose loved ones are detained, killed, or disappeared. It is thinking of better ways of expressing our love to our partners by taking a step towards making this world a better place. While half the world population is talking about love today -- let us remember love in the times of war. Let us think of ways to help one another beyond a teddy bear that will be thrown in the attic or overpriced roses on the 14th which will fade by next week, let us think -- how can we plant seeds of roses for the next generations?