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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Blogging Syria

If you’ve been a reader of this blog for more than a year then you might remember that I wrote a lengthy essay on the occasion of its first anniversary. Two years have passed since I first started blogging but I promise not to make a big deal out of it this time. Instead I will share my thoughts about the phenomenon of blogging, for it still is an infant trend in this part of the world. I will focus on Syria yet it’s safe to assume that my thoughts, according to me, apply to our Arab brothers and neighbors (brotherhood might prove a nuisance and/or a burden to some of them).

Syrian bloggers have persisted because they are reading each other. I believe this is the only reason which has kept us going in addition to “enlightened and/or open-minded” international readers/bloggers. From my own observation during my tenure the number of non-Arabic Syrian blogs has increased moderately then eventually leveled off. The founders have been writing significantly less, if at all. The newcomers are naturally more enthusiastic and prolific, while those like me, who fall somewhere in the middle, are more parsimonious and frugal in the frequency of their postings. In my case, my career has taken a bend and has become more consuming of my energy and more demanding of my time. When I don’t make an entry for over a week guilt creeps up on me. Yet I never felt that blogging is a burden. On the contrary it’s indeed an exceptional delight. Despite very encouraging and sincere words of praise from fellow bloggers my writing is giving ME the greatest amount of joy.

There are many more Syrian blogs being written in Arabic today then say a year ago. They too failed to infiltrate the cultural scene in any significant way. I truly believe that some of the best contemporary writing in Syria is being published on the couple of hundreds blogs out there. When it comes to quality, autonomy, humor, insight and candor we do not have any real competition. Syria in print, be it through droning newspapers or incongruous magazines of various types, is nothing short of pathetic. Only in television drama are Syrian writers excelling and sweeping their traditional rivals into absurdity. Even if we glance at our more “liberated” neighbors’ contributions to the written word or chance to take a closer look at their audiovisual literary and artistic production we find very little to admire. I am not being arrogant but whether we know it or not, we the bloggers are the crème of the crème of the Syrian literary scene today. We still don’t possess a popular foundation, we still do not have a wide audience, we still are relatively unknown but we are IT and we’d better start appreciating our great potential.

Our work has not gone unnoticed as some of us might think. Blogspot was not blocked because two or three bloggers went too far. Blogging was and is regarded as a movement and we are all too aware of how movements are dealt with in the Arab world in general. Any progressive trend will be immediately met by two redoubtable adversaries, the political regime(s) and the religious institution(s). “Progressive” in my last sentence shouldn’t be considered as a mere adjective. It’s irreplaceable in the context of my argument. A spiritual yet humanly void trend is welcomed by the religious establishment and tolerated by the region’s governments. A politically nonsensical and obstinate position or a cowardly reptilian and compromising attitude are not only acceptable by the correlated regimes but are also praised during Friday Khoutbas and Sunday masses. A progressive trend is one which does not appeal to either of these two absolute obsoletes. Blogging as such, even in the presence of political conformists and religious subservients is a tidal wave of unpredictable behavior. Thus and despite various degrees of severity in dealing with bloggers, this emerging group of “intellectuals” constitute a clear and present danger to the torpid Arabic status quo.

In this respect, blogs written in Arabic could eventually instigate much needed social change before their counterparts written in foreign languages as long as they don't approach the reader from a patronizing vantage point. I for one write in English because I believe that my message (for lack of a more appropriate word) should be delivered to others. Even when I dive deep in the realm of the ridiculous or skim the essence of truth promoting Syria and its people, our heritage, our culture, our quintessence is my foremost objective. Syrian bloggers are writing about their personal experiences, their cities and villages, their likes and dislikes, music, love and sex. They are expressing their political opinions and religious inclinations, molding their dreams and ambitions in prose and poetry, voicing their disappointments and brandishing their hopes and aspirations. They are paving the road toward a new form of literary expression while writing about their Syria in a most formidable way. The absence of a large audience is not a true measure of impact and significance as I’m certain that Haifa Wehbeh has more fans and advocates than Marcel Khalifeh does. This, however, doesn’t change, add or detract from the fact that Haifa will eventually look like today’s Sabah while the perpetually limited audience of Marcel would continue to enjoy his unique brand of music.

We have a powerful medium in our hands. We are talented, full of potential and most notably we are not writing to make a living. Not that there is anything wrong with being a professional writer or author but what I meant was that we are writing for the right reason and that is because we love it. We have not made our presence felt yet but we ought to. We owe it to ourselves and to others to make a dent on more than one level. Basically, as I’ve indicated earlier, our complacency is a natural result to the fact that we have no competition in the form of the printed essay. Our government has taken every measure to marginalize us. The vast majority of people and most Syrian internet users are totally oblivious to blogging. This second group, for a starter, should be our immediate target audience. We should bridge the divide between Arabic and non-Arabic blogs and websites. There is a certain trace of suspicion, of aversion, if I may say so, between practitioners of Arabic and non-Arabic writing. Every single Syrian blog I’ve read and followed, with the exclusion of a very few, has something positive within its folds. But here we are, standing on either side of the river bank, too timid to take the first step, the all important initial plunge toward integration. I will be criticizing myself when I say that even the commentators are two distinct groups as I’ve rarely left a comment on a Syrian blog written in Arabic. It is understandable that some of us are masters of only a single language; however, this is not an absolute truth. Therefore, my resolution for this third year is to start getting more involved with blogs written in Arabic. It is not enough that I read them; I should start making a habit of commenting on them as well. I wouldn’t go as far as pledging to write in Arabic one day, although I see nothing wrong with that if a person has the knack, the time and the flair to pursue this ambitious double course.

I will put this matter to rest by appealing to all inactive or dormant bloggers to return. We are up to something and we should make every effort in continuing a very promising endeavor. We, at this juncture, might fall short of making an iconic impact on society but our inner circle is in dire need of both vertical and horizontal expansions. We should write more and to more people. The topics we choose to write about is not what really matters. As long as we don’t intentionally pursue silencing or patronizing those we disagree with we are on the right course. I’m a firm believer that not all words are created equal but in the end every single word counts. To create, to promote to build a body of literature we need plenty of spirit. I see a better future for all of us in blogging and I’m making an ultimate plea to all and especially to those with abundant talents and colorful stories to get into action again. I look forward writing for a third year in a row but more importantly I’m excited to keep reading your fabulous, enriching, inspiring and intellectually stimulating blogs.

Thank you all for being a part of “my” reading conscience.

36 comments:

Arima said...

Interesting post and I must say I agree with what you are saying.
I completely agree that there needs to be a bridge between Arabic and non-Arabic blogs- I fall into a similar category to yourself where I read them but rarely comment. This is because I feel more confident in writing and expressing myself in English.
But surely for you, Arabic must be easier- I persume your education was in Syria and on a day to day basis you commuinicate in Arabic.
To start with I assumed that Arab bloggers were writing in English to reach an international audience but now I'm not sure?

SillyBahrainiGirl said...

Happy anniversary!

Az3ar's Fan said...

Abu Fares:

Do you have links? One of my favorite bloggers is in jail.

Abu Kareem said...

Abu Fares,

Well put, as always. I too have noticed, with delight, the great proliferation of Syrian blogs written in Arabic over the past year. I too am guilty of reading them often enough, but what I have read has impressed me with it breadth of ideas, openness and intelligence. It would be great if we can bridge the divide between the Arabic and non-Arabic blogs.

KJ said...

Due to my unfortunate/fortunate bringing up (depends on how you look at it), I find it extremely difficult to read Arabic blogs because I don't read it well, and when I do I don't necessarily understand it. However, from what I do manage to read/understand I find Arabic posts a lot more amusing and personal especially if they're written in dialect.

I am not pessimistic to say that blogging will eventually cease to exist or that Syrian bloggers in specific will stop writing. On the contrary, blogging is an enormous snowball and (if you watch Ted Talks) you'd realize that the world is slowly, gradually and surely becoming less of a one-man show and more of a people's place.

Yes, the world (politics) is run by monkeys, but everything else is changing into user-created content. Don't be surprised that in a couple of generations we'd have bloggers running the universe!

abufares said...

Hi Arima
I love it when you agree with me:-) And, I totally agree with your reasons since they exactly match mine.
I have received part of my education in Syria (Secondary school) but that is not enough to make me a fluent Arabic writer. Indeed I use spoken Arabic everyday but I read and write in English mostly, also on a daily basis.
English to me is void of any national or regional connotation. I love its simplicity, its straightforwardness and its ubiquitous accessibility.

abufares said...

Hi SillyBahrainiGirl
So nice of you to drop by and thank you for your wishes.

abufares said...

@ az3ar's fans
The best place to find Syrian blogs is www.syplanet.com .

I liked Esfarjel

http://esfarjel.blogspot.com/

but unfortunately he is not posting anymore.

abufares said...

Hi Abu Kareem
Arabic written blogs have a wider potential audience in Syria and they are more likely to have a much needed impact.
Our comments, in addition to facilitating the exchange of ideas, is a great way to show our support and encouragement.

abufares said...

@ KJ
Your optimism is what I like about you (among other things).
Although I wouldn't want to negate one of the purposes of this post, I too find some blogs written in Arabic difficult to follow.
My plan is simple, whenever a new blog pops up on Syplanet (regardless of the language used) I follow it for a while. I always give the benefit of the doubt to anyone who crosses my path and this is exactly how I approach these budding sprouts. I stick with what I consider the interesting ones and forget about the others. Yet the alienating feeling that 2 separate groups are developing within the Syrian blogging community is not right. There must be a way to get closer and I would like to hear suggestions on this particular point.

Yazan said...

I agree completely ya Abu Fares, I might not share the same amount of optimism on how much we are going to be using this strong medium, but I agree completely on how strong it is, if it is put in good use.

On a side note though, there is an enormous amount of arabic syrian blogs that are not listed on Syplanet. Most of them are on Maktoob and other arabic language blogging portals. Which is a shame, bas, ma tale3 bi el-2eed.

abufares said...

@ Yazan
Unfortunately I never looked beyond syplanet for Syrian blogs.
Today, in trying to make good on my word, I read a few Arabic written Syrian blogs. A disturbing point nagged at me. I felt uncomfortable after 30 minutes or so. I really felt the gap expanding. Logic tells me that they (writing in Arabic) must be more real than me. I only appreciate a few, a very few Syrian blogs written in Arabic but in all honesty I think I might be the outsider not them. A very disturbing thought indeed.

oryxm said...

Very well-expressed, and ingenious, as always, bro!

I'm so proud of you and wish I could have the time and/or effort to create a blog of my own.

Maybe one day, who knows?

Happy Anniversary and many more to come :-)

Sean Long said...

I don't think it's a case of 'more real' or 'less real' at all. As you say, you like writing in English, and you hope to reach some people outside the Middle East.

So it's only natural that you write in English. It's just a difference in scope and intended audience, that's all. There's certainly no need for you to worry about authenticity!

DUBAI JAZZ said...

Abu Fares, I can only second Sean. ..
As much as the capacity of one person could allow, I think you are doing a great job of featuring Tartous, Syria and the Levant for the whole world to see. I think it was mentioned earlier in the comment section but I'll say it again anyway: screw all the tourists' leaflets and pamphlets and screw all the promotion programs ever made about Syria by any official entity; I only need to reference any acquaintance to your blog to show them what the real Syria looks like. Okay; maybe Syria through the eyes of a Tartousi but Syria nonetheless! If that doesn't make your blog complete and your mission statement complete then what else does? :)

As for the gap between Arabic and English blogs…I really don't think there is a gap; it's merely a different scope and different approach. And more importantly, the denominator is different. I even noticed that my own writings in Arabic (in my blog and otherwise) are quite different than those in English even though I don't even come close to your proficiency in English…

And I support your call for the sluggish bloggers out there to get more active (that includes me to some degree, I guesss). ...

Thanks again for the lovely post and happy anniversary : )

abufares said...

@oryxm
So nice of you to drop by dear sis. Please come again and I look forward reading your blog.

abufares said...

@sean long
I think you're right. I might be overstating the significance of some disturbing thoughts I went through during my perusal of some Arabic written blogs.

abufares said...

@Dubai Jazz

Portraying Syria through the eyes of a tartoussi. If i can claim to have achieved this goal, i'd be a very content man. I would love very much that you write more, that's true.
Thank you for your words of praise, you always make me feel good about myself. Perhaps you should try this trick on women ;-) since you're so good at it.

Back to the serious part of your comment. You know what! After I wrote this post and published it, I tried as I said to keep my word and start getting involved more with Arabic written blogs. You put it so well: "the denominator is different". But why is that so? I am a better thinker, thus writer, in English than Arabic. But, although I'm risking a lot with this statement, why do English written Syrian blogs carry more thought and thus better writing than those written in Arabic? May be I should've held my peace and kept this thought to myself because whatever I might add would portray me as an individual with elitist tendencies. But I'm not like that at all. I like to think of myself as a down to earth man. This is again contradictory in a way. If I'm what I claim to be then why is it of any importance to tell the rest of the world about my affinity to being a down to earth man? I must possess a certain degree of vanity to blog in the first place and secondly and more importantly to blog in English.

What I'm saying apply to other bloggers as well. A couple of days ago I commented on a post by our one and only Rime:

http://www.rimeallaf.com/mosaics/index.php?entry=entry080423-102035

and I wrote that I totally agree with her, and I do, I truly do. Yet wasn't I agreeing that the new wave of Englishizing Syria is similarly annoying and patronizing as the neo Orientalists with their condescending attitude?

Karin said...

CONGRATS to your anniversary ... first of all!

I most certainly do enjoy your blog the way it is NOW!! I LOVE your way of narrating, enjoy beyond believe to be taken to those beautiful places you visit, sense their atmosphere, am litetally able to smell the foods and spiced you describe via your descriptions!

Would you start to write in Arabic though - walla .. I'd run into considerable trouble as, you know, I don't master your wonderful language yet!

I wholeheartedly agree to what Abu Kareem stated though ... to make efforts to bridge the divide between Arabic and non Arabic blogs! It sounds like a fantastic idea as nowadays it's all about bridging ... there are too many divides and gaps wherever you look!

You, dearest friend, do a MOST FANTASTIC job and I highly compliment you on that! I sincerely hope you will continue writing your blog for MANY years to come ... reading and dwelling on it as well as looking at all those wonderful pictures will always be the same pleasure for me it is now!

Again .. ALF ALF MABROUK to your anniversary ya Abu Fares!! ;-)

abufares said...

Hi Karin
Thank you for your positive feedback. I don't plan on writing in Arabic at all. I have previously thought that I can make the switch at will, if I wanted to. Now I most certainly know better.
You are one of the first bloggers I started to read and you remain one of my closest friends.

Rime said...

You know Abufares, I read your post the day it came out, then re-read it the next day as I tried to figure how I felt about all of this. Of course I agree with most of your points, and I also was looking for a good explanation on why I've been such a lazy blogger; frankly, I can only bring out my trump card again: baby (now toddler, so I don't know how long I can use this excuse).

This also partly explains why I took so long to reply: when I want to give a proper, toughtful response, I sometimes wait to find a quiet moment. Then, it gets a bit late, so I think the response has got to be really good now. Then it gets really late … and you see where I’m going with this. ☺

I am also guilty of not following Arabic language blogs, but I don't think this is an issue I can do much about, given the limited time I have (like everyone of course). Life has put me in a position where English and French (and the countries where they are spoken, especially France) are intrinsic parts of me, and I need them as much as I need Arabic. I've also developped into some sort of "communicator" over the years, whether in marketing or in writing and broadcasting, so I naturally fell into a little slot of a Syrian or Arab talking to the side that is interested in our region. Clearly, English was going to be the default language.

I think we need to stop feeling obliged to explain why we write this way. I recall an Arabic language Syrian blog which recently provoked our responses, and those of several fellow bloggers, as it posed the question of why we were writing in English. Remember? I found a lot of preconceived, and ill-conceived, judgments, and a rather condescending attitude as some tried to “analyze” why we felt this need to address English speakers, as if we suffered from a delusion of grandeur, and as if the only possible way to blog was in Arabic, to Syrians, period. I was not impressed with the level of discourse, and I am certainly not taking that exchange as being representative, but I found it a poor omen.

However, I don’t think that our English blogs are part of this new wave of “Englishizing” Syria, or that they are neo-Orientalist or condescending (at least not by default). In my opinion, we are neither like the “Englishizers,” as we do not pretend to speak to an initially Arabic-speaking readership (whereas the others are speaking English to Arabic speakers), nor are we like the Orientalists, because we are writing about ourselves, and not pretending to pontificate on other cultures.

Do we need to justify what we do to anyone? I think we’re doing just fine blogging as we wish, to whom we wish, and when we wish. Which means you and I agree.

With my apologies for the length of this response.

Yazan said...

Abu Fares,
Stating a personal generalization based on preference and personal experience does not make someone an elitist. I didn't hear you say English blogs hold more thought, rather, Syrian blogs written in English seem to offer more substance, which i agree with. For a multitude of reasons, that have [I think] very little to do with the actual language.
Because of my field of study, I spend at least 8hours/day online, with very few exceptions, I can safely say I read every single post that appears on Syria planet, and yes it is a trend I have noticed. Arabic blogging has not yet made a real impact. But again, a year ago, I could not count a single quality syrian blog written in arabic. Now, I can name a few right on top of my head.

I don't think it's our role as bloggers to reflect the "general image" of syrians, including the language. I will not write something that I don't believe in, just because 90% of syrians do. On the contrary, the most important message we can send, are self-portraits of us the individuals. And one component of this self-portrait is our process of thought, hence, the language we use.

Anonymous said...

How can you assert that "some of the best writting" in modern Syria is on blogs? I mean what are you comparing these blogs to?

Thank you.

abufares said...

Rime & Yazan

I think I needed words of reassurance from close friends which you two happen to be.
The self-doubt phase is behind me now. Yet I feel glad that I had it as it implies that at least I still possess the ability of self-criticism.
I never thought for a moment that we are in any way similar to neo or old orientalists. However, I felt the presence of the gap. Some Arabic-writing Syrian bloggers resented foreign-writing Syrian bloggers while we, in general ignored them. This what I believe to be wrong. Although many of them might be masters of more than their native language we can never be sure. However, we are certain that the vast majority of us, foreign-writing Syrian bloggers do read and understand Arabic. That's why I reckoned that it's our role to take the first step and participate in one way or another.

You two are among the bloggers I consider to be writing much less than you ought to. Both of you are extremely talented and your blogs are written and read with vigor. Kind of like a luscious ice-cream or a much deserved glass of cognac.
Rime is my primary source of political analysis (and once you get to know Rime, dear reader, you would enjoy her writing even if it were about crochet and needle work). Well come to think of it, Crochet is certainly more exciting a topic than new-baathists yet I not only read Rime's words but truly analyze them afterwards.
As for Yazan, a man of your age with such exceptional abilities and gifts is wrong not to write more often, much more often that is. When I stated that Syrian bloggers are defining the new literary scene of the country you were on my mind because you have time on your side to make that dent.
Again, thank you both for being a part of what I call my "reading conscience". I don't miss a word you write and I'm extending my appeal beyond you both to the others who are making the Syrian Blogsphere one of the most delightful places to visit inside and outside the country.

abufares said...

@ anonymous

I wrote:
"I truly believe that some of the best contemporary writing in Syria is being published on the couple of hundreds blogs out there... Syria in print, be it through droning newspapers or incongruous magazines of various types, is nothing short of pathetic."
I'm clearly comparing blogs to newspapers & magazines. Syrian Blogs to Syrian Newspapers & Magazines.

Yazan said...

You're words flatter me ya Abu fares, more than I deserve.

I admit, I have been a bit of an absent blogger. I had a very rough last term with school, and needed the two months holiday to regain my balance, because I have a do-or-die battle with credits this term. So I wasn't in the perfect place to write, I preferred keeping myself busy with reading the wonderful things other bloggers are writing and trying to amplify them through other projects I'm a part of.
I have been nonetheless pining to start writing again, and receiving comments, it's one of the small pleasures in life that I miss at the moment. So, I promise I will be writing more often, once I get the rust out of my keyboard :)...

cheers my friend.

Az3ar's Fan said...

Abu Fares,

Fouad has been freed.


freefouad.com

Az3ar's Fan said...

http://www.alfarhan.org/archives/11

Rime said...

My dear Abufares, now you've added even more pressure and the guilt about writing will increase. Thank you for your kind words which I am sure are not entirely deserved, but which I will choose to believe. I can only promise that I will do my best to persevere.

Yazan, yes you are missed and I also wish we'd hear more from you, but you have a rock-solid excuse. At least we get to meet occasionally on various blogs, especially when hosted by our favorite Tartousi!

I am delighted to hear that our fellow blogger Fouad, from Saudi Arabia, has been freed.

abufares said...

Az3ar's Fan
Great News and thank you for the wonderful link to this great post by Fouad...

لماذا ندون؟
يوليو 15, 2007

1- لأننا نؤمن بأن لدينا آراء تستحق أن يسمع لها. وعقولاً يجب التوقف عندها.
2- لأن المجتمعات لا تتقدم إلا عندم يتم إحترام رأي أفرادها. ونحن نتمنى التقدم والرقي لمجتمعنا.
3- لأن التدوين هو المنفذ الوحيد لنا. فلا إعلام حر مفتوح لنا، ولا يسمح لنا بحرية التجمع.
4- لأننا نريد أن نخضع آرائنا للنقاش.
5- لأننا نفكر.
6- لأننا نهتم.
7- لأن التدوين أثر بشكل إيجابي في المجتمعات الأخرى ونريد أن نرى نفس النتيجة في مجتمعنا.
8- لأن التدوين هو إنعكاس لحياة أفراد المجتمع. ونحن أحياء.
9- لأن التدوين يلقى إهتماماً متزايداً من قبل الإعلام والحكومات. نريد منهم أن يستمعوا لنا.
10- لأننا لا نخاف.
11- لأننا نرفض عقلية القطيع.
12- لأننا نرحب بتعدد الآراء.
13- لأن الوطن للجميع. ونحن جزء منه.
14- لأننا نريد أن نصل للجميع.
15- لأننا نرفض أن نكون صدى.
16- لأننا لسنا بأقل من مدوني المجتمعات الأخرى.
17- لأن نبحث عن الحقيقة.
18- لأن ديننا يحثنا على التعبير عن الرأي.
19- لأننا سئمنا نفاق الإعلام السعودي.
20- لأننا إيجابيين.
21- لأن التدوين هو أداة يمكن أن يستفيد منها المجتمع بقوة.
22- لأننا نتأثر ونؤثر.
23- لأننا نحب وطننا.
24- لأننا نستمتع بالحوار ولا ننفر منه.
25- لأننا صادقين.

لماذا تدون؟

abufares said...

@Yazan & Rime
You're certainly most welcome. What I wrote is the least of what comes to mind.

Anonymous said...

you are right in your comparison with newspapers. But blogging is not better than books.

[ j i m m y ] said...

thanks for the excellent analysis there abufares.

as a faithful yet rather silent reader of middle eastern blogs, i must say i am proud of the quality of many arab and english blogs out there. but i find it unfortunate that regional blogs are generally bundled on premises of nationality. a paradigm i would definitely wish to break have i had the knowledge and the time. it's never too late anyway.

syrian blogs in general have succeeded in shedding a fascinating light on the beauties of syria as a nation and on its regions, something few arab countries have managed to achieve (at least to my knowledge).

thank you and all the other syrian bloggers for feeding our appetite for more amazing little syrian secrets.

abufares said...

@jimmy
Thank you for your very encouraging feedback.
You're absolutely right. Blogs are indeed bundled per region but this is an inherent issue in blogging. I mean they will have to be grouped under a heading of some sort. I try my best to diversify my blog reading but I'm afraid that there's never enough time. I enjoy what I read tremendously and I agree with you that Syrian blogs, in general, are quite good and of a high standard.
Again, I must thank you for your visit and comment. Please come again.

sunbula said...

could someone try to work on a post that tries to compile all the blogs written by syrians out there?

Макс said...

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