I'll be quick to announce that this post is one of the most contentious pieces I've ever written. Mind you, I stated the above without actually scribbling a single word. Ever since Betty contacted me a few days ago and dropped her heavy load on my doorsteps I've been thinking what and how to answer. I replied privately to her email message and asked her to give me permission to post both her question and my answer. I also wanted her to provide me with some details so that my inherent biases and notorious simplification of grand issues are somehow subdued. She obliged by pointing a mental flashlight toward various obscure corners of her private story. She was abundantly candid about voicing her concerns in a series of pin-point surgical questions. Yet her admirable effort made my task harder. To be, as she expects of me, truly honest, not only am I going to step on a few toes but I might run the risk of paralleling Dr. Phil's patronizing methodology.
I warned Betty from the outset that she might've chosen the wrong person. She offhandedly dismissed my reservation by simply saying: "You being a regular guy is exactly why I chose to speak with you about my relationship".
How do you feel about an American Christian woman dating and marrying a Syrian Muslim man? That was how I came to know about Betty and Mahmoud.
The question cannot be answered in an unfussy manner because it is a combination of several clear and hidden inquiries. Luckily though, Betty is asking about my opinion here and nothing more. So in a way I'm free to say whatever I please, although I will keep it to the very end. The difficult part of the question lies in the fact that it mixes religion and nationality together. This needs a little exploration then adequate explanation. To put Betty at ease I can start right off by saying that it really doesn't matter much whether the Syrian man is a Muslim or a Christian. It matters, however, where in Syria he comes from and what kind of family background he carries on his shoulders. Syrians, Muslims and Christians, are generally more traditional than Americans. This does not and should not have any positive implication or negative connotation to either Syrians or Americans. Our political, social and economic present in Syria is so vague, our future so uncertain we can only look back for reassurance. We feel safe in the pleasant knowledge that we are descendants of great civilizations and that, like a human heart, blood carrying timeless cultures, sciences and arts passed through this land and was diffused again to the rest of humanity. With a little over a couple of hundred years of true history to show, Americans have no choice but to shape their present and invent their future with great ingenuity and resilience without as much as glancing back. It's much easier that an American Christian woman dates and marries a Syrian Muslim man than a Syrian Christian woman doing so. Let's hold on to that thought so that I move to one of your more explicit questions.
How is life for Christians living in Syria? I know they are a minority there, but how are they treated as far as citizens of the country? Are they treated differently? Is the government fair to them?
Life is just about the same for Christians and Muslims in Syria. The government is fair to none. I truly don't believe that Christians are troubled much by their religion. As a matter of fact, it has been easier to be a practicing Syrian Christian than a practicing Syrian Muslim in the last 30 years or so. A devoted and pious Christian doesn't pause any political threat to the authorities and accordingly has been left un-harassed. While civil institutions like the Boys Scouts for instance, founded by Muslims were all shut down, church established societies and activities were not only preserved but as a matter of fact supported. Syrian Christians could be as traditional as Muslims when it comes to the virginity of their daughters and sisters, to answer yet another of your questions. It's generally not acceptable for Syrians that girls lose their virginity outside wedlock (from now on Syrians include Christians and Muslims). That of course doesn't mean that this rule is not being broken or ignored, especially in the larger cities. However, the stand on virginity and extramarital sex in Syria is not that different from rural Greece, Southern Italy or even many parts of Latin America. Clandestine extramarital sex is on the rise. It's not socially acceptable but I'll be a fool not to admit that within 50 years or so a Syrian virgin would be as hard to find as an American one.
Is it religious or cultural influences that are responsible for violence against women in Syria?
Both are, among other factors. We should not ignore the importance of the same causes that inflict the West like socioeconomics and education. Men who are physically violent with women share traits that trespass national and cultural backgrounds. Unfortunately we lack valid social statistics in Syria, not only on this issue but on almost everything else. It is my belief that the numbers, figures and percentages are very similar all over the world with the exception of a very few countries. You should well understand my dear Betty that Syria is not Saudi Arabia. I, among millions of Syrians, could identify more readily with Americans than Saudis. We might not like your current and most of your previous administrations but we also detest their mutated, malformed, and misbegotten form of Islamic theocracy. No! Women are not stoned to death in Syria. Had it ever happened? Perhaps it did: a couple of times in the last 1,000 years.
Syria is as safe as America is to you. I could've told you that Syria is much safer, which by the way is true. People, regardless of their nationality, could walk the streets of any Syrian city at any hour, day or night, without fear of being physically assaulted. You might, as a woman, hear stupid and harassing words of alleged admiration in certain instances on a crowded street in Syria but they wouldn't be more than what you'd expect to hear had you been passing by a construction site full of working men in Manhattan.
I know of several successful American-Syrian and European-Syrian marriages. I also know of a few that ended up in divorce leaving behind embittered children. I have previously written about my views regarding some requisites of a successful marriage (Asking for a Hand). I will probably write again and soon on the same subject. When a rare inter-faith marriage does take place in Syria it usually is a great success. The couple has defied all odds, taboos and norms and they could've only done so through unbending love to each other. Yes, I know of several cases of Syrian Christians and Muslims intermarrying and leading very happy lives with or without the blessing of their families.
Generally what is the Syrian view of Americans and America?
This post will be read by other Syrians who might agree or disagree with me. They can do you a great favor if they comment on your questions and my answers and share their opinions with both of us. I have repeatedly stated that some of my best friends are Americans (Memories of America). I like some Americans as much as I like some Syrians. I also dislike many on both sides. Generally speaking though, Americans as a group are closer to my heart and mind than many other crowds. My extreme dislike, disappointment and resentment, however, are directed toward American foreign policy and the injustice it keeps inflicting on people all over the world. What this current American administration did to Iraq and its people is not to be taken lightly. What successive American administrations did to the Palestinians is a shameful act, a crime against humanity. They may have not been the direct perpetrators but they were accomplices to the Israelis all along. History, eventually and even if written by the winners, will not neglect to condemn the atrocities and absurdities committed by American forces for the alleged protection of the freedom of their homeland. On this particular point, the majority of the 6 billions humans living on this planet agrees with me. Syrians, like many others, are intelligent enough to distinguish between the actions of the American government and the American people. We, in Syria, are suffocating from lack of political freedom and a total absence of free press. You, in America, are drowning in the mediocrity of your incongruous democratic system and the deception of your biased media. Finally Betty, and as far as your direct questions are concerned, you wanted to know why I write in English. In order not to repeat myself, let me direct you to this old post of mine, titled appropriately enough (Why Do I Write in English).
Now comes the simplest yet most difficult part of my task, to give you my personal opinion about your relationship with Mahmoud. You have given me some private details which should remain so. I have asked you to tell me where Mahmoud comes from and a little bit about his family background. This is where I'm going to step on toes as foreseen in the beginning of this long article. The cultural difference between Mahmoud's background and the average Tartoussi's, between Mahmoud's city and Tartous is as huge as the difference between Tartous and New York City. You see Betty, Syria is a jigsaw puzzle of miniature mosaics. Unlike the United States where conformity bridges the distance between Henderson, Louisiana and Chicago, Illinois, Syria is very much varied and diverse. Where Mahmoud comes from is a world apart from mine. I have been there and cannot convincingly say that I can survive in that part of Syria for over 48 hours without a major nervous breakdown. I am being territorially chauvinistic I know but I owe you the obligation of speaking my mind. Mahmoud might be able to adapt and live happily in America but the opposite is not true, in my opinion. You will not be able to live in Mahmoud's town as a married woman without giving up a part of your identity, if not all. I know of many Americans who live permanently in Damascus and are very happy. Damascus is a wonderful metropolis and so is Aleppo. But I really can't see an American man or woman living in Tartous happily for the rest of their lives. There are a few of them in addition to Westerners from other nationalities by the way but they are the exception rather than the rule. You would not stand a chance in Mahmoud's town, of this I'm most certain.
I hope I didn't bore you to death. I tried to be as brief as possible with very little success evidently. Give yourself and Mahmoud a chance. Don't think of him as a Syrian or as a Muslim but just as any ordinary guy. Is he Mr. Right? Is he the one whom you truly love and desire? Do you see yourself spending the rest of your life with him and growing older together? Does he make you laugh, does he make you happy, does he make you think? Do you miss him when he's not around? Is he the one you want to see in the morning, every morning? You alone have answers to these questions. You should also keep in mind that divorce has unfortunately become an acceptable option regardless of culture, nationality or religion. If you approach your relationship in any other manner you are very likely going to be disappointed.
I wish you the best of luck and thank you so much for confiding in me.