We grow and change. Only the dead-inside and morons don't modify their paths on a journey we had never chosen to take. I am amazed by how much I've altered my perception of my environment and myself since I started sharing my trivial and significant thoughts through writing on an open blog. The last three years have been more pivotal, from an intellectual point of view, than the concerted outcome of almost three decades of adulthood. I have come to terms with the sentient being within and finally accepted matters and issues I struggled to resolve for the greatest part of my past. I was shy, timid and scared to release myself from the claws of indoctrinated teachings, imprinted mores and unchallenged truths. My liberation at last has been my most memorable and satisfying achievement.

In February of this year I came to the realization that I've been consuming my life for the wrong reasons. Consuming, not living, since that's what I think I've been doing for the most part. You know how it is when people decide to stop or start doing something on the occasion of their birthday or the new year. Well, I'm not that kind of man. I never made any resolution and accordingly the positive changes that have permeated my existence since were not planned at all. I looked at myself in the mirror and thought I could do better with my body. I'm eating healthier and putting my muscles to use in a manner that is enjoyable to me. For four months I would start my morning by a forty minute bicycle ride by the sea. My meaningful immersion in music died in the 1980's and I changed that too. I plugged my iPhone and reintroduced myself to old and new tunes. My morning ride became my favorite part of the day. With the advent of July, however, riding a bicycle in Tartous becomes more of an ordeal and less of a pleasure. I'm very uncomfortable in the heat but the positive effects of daily exercise were too apparent to ignore. I put the treadmill that has been laying there like a piece of furniture to good use too. I have to admit that I don't enjoy exercising indoors per say but I've found a way to cheat my brain into accepting this temporary inconvenience. Every day I follow an episode of my all-time favorite TV Series M*A*S*H* on DVD while sweating my butt off. I'm sleeping much better. I'm drinking my beer when I feel like it and enjoying it a whole lot more. I'm looking good (well that's a debatable point) and I've lost 11 kg in the process. I was a chubby 88 kg on my birthday at the end of February and I'm an attractive 77 kg now (again that point is open to contention). In a way I'm a late bloomer. I've just come of age, thirty years too late perhaps, but at least I've shed my inherited shell. I am free.

There's always a downfall though, a catch of a sort. Taking off the ragged robes of social conformity and mental subservience will eventually bring a confrontation with others. By and large I've always been the type who avoids direct hostilities with those I disagree with. But at the same time I can't go along anymore with certain “established” practices. It hurts to keep quiet when bigots and fanatics preach and gesticulate. Whether I want to or not, I'm being drawn into retaliation at least in the form of the written word. Almudawen (Syrian Blogs Community) has just announced the First Annual Competition of Almudawen for the Best Syrian Blogs. This is a commendable effort on their part if it's indeed intended to honor outstanding Syrian blogs, encourage and support a blogging culture and expose the role of blogs in the making and shaping of a civil society in Syria. However, if you read the 5th and last condition for blogs to be accepted in the competition, this is what you'll find (translated word by word): the contents of which [the submitted blog] must not dissent from the accepted mores and morals (i.e. sex through videos or photos, hostility to religions, cussing, swearing and bad taste). Do I take it that it is acceptable for a blog to attack trans-dressers but not Sheikhs and priests? Or, for the sake of argument, is a photo of a random cloud in the sky in the shape of an eye and a comment underneath that this is the eye of God acceptable but not another photo of a woman's perfect behind with the apt remark that this butt is an elegant example of the splendor of creation (if we're so inclined to believe)? I know and very much like two out of the five honorable judges and I'm surprised that they have accepted this sanctimonious condition. In fact I'm certain that they did not. Who in the hell then decided that bloggers/people who are interested in sex, hostile to religion and use the word FUCK casually cannot contribute to the making and shaping of a civil society in Syria? What kind of change are we to expect from an infant blogging movement already enslaved by bigotry and intolerance?

I hope it doesn't take this younger generation as long as it took mine to realize that religious tyranny is as bad, if not worse than political dictatorship. Civil society, my ass.

Immediately after I published this post yesterday, Yazan commented then deleted his own comment. He had no prior knowledge about the 5th and final condition of the competition, he wrote to me privately. However, he wanted to resolve the matter with the guys at Almudawen. He wrote earlier today and informed met that Almudawen has removed this shameful clause and came to their senses (under pressure from Yazan no doubt). I'm glad to hear that he will post about the whole matter on his blog later today as well.

Thank you abu fares for bringing up the issue in such a gracious way, as always!
I've posted, something of a clarification, and a response, here:


Isobel said…
Well, Abufares, I can only really comment on the first half of your post, since I'm not familiar with Almudawen. However, I could say it would be a shame if your blog, and other blogs of value, were eliminated due to these seemingly stringent conditions.

Congratulations on your quest to improve your condition and health! Its remarkable what people can achieve when they put their minds to it. I was mentioning this very same thing in my comment to Omar's post about "Weight Gain" ( Moderation and exercise are key! I wish I could say I live by those words...I have a severe weakness for sweets...but I'm trying!! :) I'm so glad you succeeded!
Gabriela said…
It's so nice to know you decided to spoil yourself a little. Go ahead!
About the downfall you mentioned, you'll always find intolerance and bigotry, no matter where you are or who are you with. I guess it's a necessary (a very regrettable one) part of human nature.
Abufares said…
These are not stringent conditions, these are bigoted dispositions.

As for my quest to improve my condition and health I think i was inspired. February was a beautiful month for me.

Your severe weakness for sweets perplexes me in terms of how I should respond in an appropriate manner. I've been told that I'm very sweet. Is that relevant?
Abufares said…
Oh yeah I'm spoiled and it feels good ;-)

Intolerance and bigotry are indeed prevalent all over but to make an official declaration of it and for others to accept it at face value is simply disgusting.
Isobel said…
Its only relevant if you're normally covered in a thick layer of chocolate...otherwise...I'll stick to my ice cream sandwiches!! lol!! :)
Joseph said…
I loved the Sloggi bum in the above photo. Check these Palmers’ Bums...
I still haven't fixed the bike's front tyre! Shame. LOL

Have a good evening abufares.
Unknown said…
First of all I commend your determination, exercising everyday is a big commitment. I wish I had this sort of discipline.

As for the awards.. I have noticed a sharp change in the Syrian blogosphere from its inception to now. It's a shame to see such rules encouraging conformity and lack or original thought. I would rather see that perfect behind in the picture than a highly photoshoped image of the sun and some clouds.
abu kareem said…
Abu Fare,
I saw your picture on KJ's blog, you are looking downright svelte my friend!

I agree with Omar regarding the change in the Syrian blogosphere. It is one of the reasons I am writing less and less.
Dubai Jazz said…
Never too late for change, Abu Fares! Again, I find it fit to quote Douglas Adams, whose words I think are relevant:

"I seldom end up where I wanted to go, but almost always end up where I need to be."

btw, I'd rather be a juror in an audition for a porn movie than to participate in this farce (best blog award). Let them shove their piety up their collective ass.
Dubai Jazz said…
P.s., by that I don't mean Yazan or Yaman, I'm sure they were unaware of this requisite.
Abufares said…
Thank you for the delicious photo. I felt like a little kid in a candy store. "uuuuuuummmmmmmm, mom can I have them all?"
Abufares said…
Well it really came without determination, commitment or discipline. I think the key is to find a form of exercise that we enjoy. Riding a bicycle to me was just that. It doesn't feel like an obligation at all. As a matter of fact I miss it so much and can't wait for the weather to get milder.

In November 2008 I wrote about the sharp change in the Syrian blogsphere "Secular Shivers and Religious Fever"

Many fellow bloggers disagreed with me then and considered my generalizations too naive and elementary. Yet here it is, the Syrian blogsphere is divided (mainly) along a line of religiosity and it will continue to do so with the new wave of Neo-Islamists bulldozing their way into their own rendition of a "Civil Society".
I'd rather live under the semi-secularism of a dictatorship than under a Religious bastardized version of a democracy.
Abufares said…
@Abu Kareem

Well I need the women to agree and find my svelteness attractive:-)

The changes we are going through should be a strong motive for you, me and everyone who doesn't agree with "their vision" to write more and more. They are too loud to quietly accept or even ignore.
The least we can do is have our voices heard.
Abufares said…
Yazan and Yaman are the 2 persons I meant when I said (I know and love).
I'm sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were sucked into this or tricked in some way.

I have written to Almudawen yesterday and asked them very kindly to remove my blog's listing from their site. They haven't (yet) responded to my message nor removed my listing. I don't want to be a part of their community that's all. I will wait for a couple of days and hope that they just respect my choice. I would very much appreciate an amicable separation.
Abufares said…
The only reason I can't normally be covered in a thick layer of chocolate is that underneath I'm more "Fire cream" then Ice cream. I will be very messy indeed ;-)
Abufares said…
Dear Readers

Immediately after I published this post yesterday, Yazan commented then deleted his own comment. He had no prior knowledge about the 5th and final condition of the competition, he wrote to me privately. However, he wanted to resolve the matter with the guys at Almudawen. He wrote earlier today and informed met that Almudawen has removed this shameful clause and came to their senses (under pressure from Yazan no doubt). I'm glad to hear that he will post about the whole matter on his blog later today as well.
Yazan said…
Abu Fares,

Thanks for the thoughtful comment, and I'm glad this little episode was undone so quickly.
Yazan said…
Thank you abu fares for bringing up the issue in such a gracious way, as always!

I've posted, something of a clarification, and a response, here:
Anonymous said…
The whole changes idea, I've been struggling with it for about a year or so now. I'm right at the basis of choosing what to do. I'm free to be. Either I'm greedy and want everything or I'm still lost in transition.

Being a non-conformist in such an unexpected way tires me. I too, will find a way soon to pleasure me and bring me to being content with myself/whats around me and how I'm leading my life. I was never a fan of my life leading me. I want to lead it.

I don't agree with the 5th condition but to a different point of view than yours. What gathers us in Almudawen is not our religion but ethnicity. Therefore, whatever is our belief is ours to keep as long as we keep our respect to our beloved Syria even in constructive criticism.

I believe we all have morals. We're all capable of acting human.. and even if some fail, its not our job to change their beliefs. We could just disregard them and be a "civil society".
Katia said…
You tackled this issue so elegantly but firmly, and Yazan solved it like a true gentleman. Bravo to both of you!

As for the subject itself, you said it all: "I hope it doesn't take this younger generation as long as it took mine to realize that religious tyranny is as bad, if not worse than political dictatorship."

Btw... "Well I need the women to agree and find my svelteness attractive:-)"... We do agree ;-)
Abufares said…

I have only to express my admiration regarding the diplomatic way you resolved the matter.
Frankly speaking, I would've not done the same and I'm amazed by your maturity and patience. Perhaps time made me more suspicious than I'd like although I'm certain that what Almudawen did was intentional and with prejudice.
There's a huge difference between Syplanet and Almudawen. The first is an aggregator, no more, no less. Almudawen has an agenda. They have goals and ambitions and a statement of purpose if read carefully it seems nothing short of a manifesto. I still remember that they changed the wording of their statement when they first appeared one year ago. It read something like... Almudawen wants to be the ONLY whatever for Syrian bloggers. They then dropped it to the MAIN blablabla for Syrian bloggers. Now, they did the same not out of intellectual courtesy but because they were obviously cornered.
I can't be as trusting as you are. I've been bitten far too many times.
But congratulations for solving the problem in your own way. Scoring goals is indeed more important than beating the goal keeper.
Let's hope it stays within the bounds of a football game.
Abufares said…
Thank you for dropping by. What gathers us at Syplanet before Almudawen is the fact that we are either Syrian bloggers or write about Syria. No more, no less. Eventually we kind of find each other and might become very good friends or know about each other and continue to lead separate pursuits. There's no problem with that at all.

As I walk on any street in Damascus I can tell within minutes that we are a very diverse people with the influences of many cultures, trends and degrees of religiosity shaping our national identity. So who is to say that our writings must not dissent from the accepted mores and morals? Who said that it's OK to defame the political establishment but not the religious authorities? Is this the civil society they dream of and advocate? What's the point? Why bother change? Why do we even have to replace bad with worse?
Who decided that being a religious Syrian is better and more honorable than being an atheist Syrian. Or being a Hijabed girl better than a woman wearing revealing clothes?
WHO can give himself or herself this right?
A blogger should write freely as he or she pleases. As long as they don't try to shove their sense of morality up our ass I really don't care.
I'm so certain that many fellow Syrians have checked this blog of mine once and never returned. I've done that so many times. This is all normal. I have no illusions whatsoever that blogging will bring us closer together. It will only show how wonderfully varied we are. And that by itself is the best we can ever hope for. The day when each speaks his or he own mind without political and/or RELIGIOUS persecution.
Abufares said…
I tackled this issue as I only know how. I won't stand still if people step on my toes.
Yazan did a great job indeed and made us all proud. I hope his commendable effort was worthwhile.
And, thank you for the compliment on my sveltenes... it means so much more to me ;-)
Anonymous said…
Well, oh well you will have to post a picture of the new svelt you! Ahum!

77kg is more or less 169 lbs right? I can not remember your weight about 28 years ago???

In any case, I'm sure you look very good. You know, your beautiful mind is more importnat than your "fisique". I do undesrtand the need to feel better healthwise and the boost of energy after doing excersise is always great. That's why I swim my 2,000 meters 3 days of the week.

About the rest, you are correct to expose Almudawen. The "tiny print" on the rules is usually forgotten by most, and always very important. I'm glad your friend had a positive impact on the rest of the Jury and was able to change their minds!


w.b. yeats
Anonymous said…
Dear Abu Fares,
I am in no way za3laneh minnak, It's just that I've been in Damascus for the past 8 months and I haven't called and I feel bad about it. I was in a depression phase but I am ok now. I finished my thesis and my defense is in couple months.

I missed you, when I am done with my defense I plan on visiting Tartous. Will call you to set a date.

I have two complaints if I may about this post: first you assumed that it was Yazan who put pressure in order for almudawwen to remove the fifth condition,but Yazan explained that the decision was made due a consensus among the committee. This assumption suggests that Almudawwen people don't listen to others' suggestion, and won't consider change unless under pressure, which I don't think that's the case. and it did prove it wasn't the case.

second, I am not sure if words like "tricked" or "sucked into" are the best way to describe or assume what happened, or even help with lessening the gap among us as bloggers. Omar explained that he listed the condition the last minute, which I agree he shouldn't. Nevertheless, Apart from my personal friendship with Omar, I wouldn't assume "bad faith" from people especially if that might reflect the whole blogsphere. I know Omar, he's a great guy, I mean it, and I am not defending him but I am trying to lessen the misunderstanding among two great men.

What I am saying dear Abu Fares, is that after the whole homosexual discussion on the blogsphere, I personally want to reach out than isolate myself within a certain circle of like-minded bloggers. It's not challenging enough mo hek?

These are Syrian bloggers, and I myself was wrong enough to treat some of them the way I did,and I wish we do have "good faith" in people who are part of our community. It's something to criticize someone and another thing to use words that might offend them.

Seriously, Abu Fares, I think there is one person in this blogsphere who is close-minded, arrogant and rude,Almudawwen has its issues, and they will listen if you speak to them.

sorry for the long comment, and looking forward to a kas 3ara2 with you!
Anonymous said…
One last thing, about the "agenda", yes they have an agenda, that's why Omar asked Yaman, Yazan, Maha and a foreigner to be part of the committee ;-)
Abufares said…

You're always welcome to this blog and to Tartous along with your friends and the friends of your friends, Omar included.

When I assumed that Yazan was tricked or sucked in I based my assumption on my knowledge of him. There was no way on earth he would have accepted that 5th condition. As far as I'm concerned nobody who accepts/dreams of/promotes the democratic process accepts such a biased condition. I respect Omar in the sense that he went ahead and stated that he did that alone without consulting with the others. But, in my opinion, he was wrong to do so. On his blog one can write whatever one wants. It's his personal space and no one has the right to object. However, Almudawen is a public place, a civil aggregator of Syrian blogs, or am I wrong? It's for all Syrians, not for religious Syrians. Again, am I wrong? His personal belief, which I respect as long as he keeps it on his blog, has no place in a public forum.

Was I harsh when I stated that Yazan has exercised pressure on Almudawen? Yes I was. Why? because it was my opinion that (on my blog) I should challenge a "civil aggregator" which didn't abide by the rules of the game. I never attacked Omar personally since I don't even know him. You of course know me enough to realize that I'm not that kind of person.
It is my opinion that Almudawen was wrong when the 5th condition was added.

Be that as it may, I cannot harbor bad feelings toward anyone. So you can imagine my attitude toward an intelligent blogger with a blog titled "The Harbor = Al Marfa'a". Like I know Yazan, I also know you and I'm sure when you say that Omar is a "great guy" you truly mean it.

I already disagree with you on several issues (didn't you know that?) and I'm also aware that I presently disagree and will continue to disagree with Omar on other issues as well. That should not, however, be considered as an obstacle in extending our hands to each other anytime. He might think that I am a dinosaur and I might think that he has crossed the line between personal opinion and civil obligation but we can always sit down and enjoy a glass of... tea together.

He might never come over this blog again so I don't mind at all if you convey my message to him. It was never personal. He has a cause which he strongly defends and I have a different cause which I strongly believe in and would do anything in my capacity to defend as well.

The Arak, we can drink alone you and me ;-)
Abufares said…
And Razan,
whose agenda???
Abufares said…
@w. b. Yeats

I'm exactly like I was 28 years ago except perhaps a little more handsome.
Time and love have matured me gracefully like the best of wines :-)
Anonymous said…
I see! I see...

“Love of beauty is Taste. The creation of beauty is Art.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

U have evolved into a priceless art masterpiece

: )

w.b. yeats
saint said…
Hey abufares, due still have the Bigfoot account?
Ah my friend ... just went to jarofjuice (KJ's site) to see the pic! my friend you look great!

I am a fitness "fanatic". I am at the gym twice a day 5-6 days a week. I go for cardio before work and do weights at lunch. I rock climb, am learning to scuba dive and snowshoe among other activities.

I believe very strongly that a fit physical body does help promote a healthy mind and thus, creativity. The Greeks had it right way back in ancient days when the Olympics were created.

I do ask you to please read the cover story of the times. It’s very “Michael Moore” in it’s one sided approach to the issue. I will give you my analogy that you will understand better after you read the article. I think that it’s like shampoo and conditioner. Shampoo (food) all alone will clean your hair but using conditioner (exercise) will take it to a entire new level.,8599,1914857,00.html

As for the rest … I can’t comment really. I am blessed to live in a country that - although hypocritical with regards to certain issues and hiding behind the face of political correctness to avoid facing the class problem and underlying racial issues that still exists among other things - I admit that it’s nothing compare to what you live on a day to day. The nature of my blog shows that tolerance is something we have and likely take for granted. But don’t be fooled. Bigotry in the US is a huge issue. Not long ago a friend of mine had his blog shut down by a puritanical American run company, Small minds are all over. Look at facebook … they even encourage you to report (squeal) on people. If you don’t like it? Go away! Ah - this rant my need to wait…. My date awaits!
Anonymous said…
Your comment back gave me a vibe of misunderstanding. I agree to what you have said. In fact, I am not Syrian by blood. I was just born & raised there and love it with the warmth of a thousand suns. So, yes for diversity!

About morals, I never thought you deviated from them. Being expressive doesn't mean of lacking morals.

I'm coming to Syria end of September. I've only went to Tartous once in my life. I was very young and don't have much recollection. This year, I will enrich myself with the lands and sea of Tartous. "As a blogger", you've made an imprint and will definitely be on my mind :) cheers!
Abufares said…

I have privately replied to your message. Be well.
Abufares said…
Thank you for stating the obvious (that I look great:-) lolllll.

Bigotry is the same everywhere. The problem with all bigots, however, is that they always think that they are unique. The most tragic manifestation of this vile human illness is when bigots from two different religious pursuits come face to face and kill each other, all in the name of God.
Should I give examples? I don't think so.
Abufares said…
My morals are the healthy offspring of my human conscience and the splendor of nature. They are not the misbegotten brood born to fear and submission.

Syrian morality is a result of thousands of years of civilization. It is as varied as we are. Islamic morality is an integral and very important part of our identity but is not the only one that's all. Spirituality is a wonderful experience but has nothing to do with the running of a nation unless all constituents are of the exact same conviction (The Vatican for instance). Syria is neither the Vatican nor Saudi Arabia... THANK GOD :-)

September and October are beautiful here in Tartous. I will be more than honored by your visit. Please let me know so that I can Oum Bil Wajeb.
Anonymous said…
teslam abufares, kelak zo2 :)
Antonio Tahhan said…
keep doing what you're doing, abufares - with the exercise and the blogging :)
Abufares said…

I have every intention of doing so and not stopping.
Thank you for your kind words of encouragement.
Karin said…
It takes a lot of determination and dicipline to do what you did ... CONTRATULATION!! Just don't be too strict with yourself but I guess there's not much danger (you know how to enjoy!)

About the other issue ... I absolutely agree with you! Tolerance & freedom of speech and expression are values need to be granted in a society, anything less is unacceptable.

Spirituality is something wonderful and precious and nothing's wrong with expressing it on a blog the way you do. You said THANK GOD Syria is not Saudi Arabia nor the Vatikan ... yea - THANK GOD INDEED!!

Will you follow me to Albuquerque? I'll take off on the 21st (work-assignment) and plan to blog a LOT about my experiences. I briefly posted about it ...
Abufares said…

It was inspiration more than determination really. It still is.

You know what I find strange Karin? You would expect people who are prosecuted because of their religious or political beliefs to appreciate freedom of speech and to be more open minded. It's surprising that although they are still, with the rest of society, suffering from political tyranny they are already scheming on how to implement their discriminatory policies against those who do not share the same set of values if they ever climb the power ladder.

While you and perhaps many others can relate to "my" spirituality, to them it's total blasphemy. It's a take it or leave it proposition with them. Take it all or shut-up. Their way of life, their inherited beliefs are somehow holier than the everybody's else. All by virtue of birth. Truly sad.
Karin said…
"Take it all or shut-up" .. shut up?? NEVER!! I'm with you Abufares!
Anonymous said…

Anonymous said…
Anonymous said…
Anonymous said…
I was re-reading your blog, and my daughters asked me why was I reading something that had a picture of a girl's bum so prominantly exposed... Je!

I said a I have a wierd friend, but he is a good writer.

: )

w.b. yeats
Abufares said…
@w.b. yeats
Are you sure you were reading my post and not gazing at the girl's bum?
You're not getting kinky after all these years, are you???
Anonymous said…
Kinky?! ... mmm, I think I have not reach that stage yet! : P

Carlos will be the first to find out, but I promise to let you know too. Ha, ha

w.b. yeats
jimmy said…
wlek yo2borne rabbak ya abu fares!
Abufares said…
Thank you for dropping by and for you heartfelt encouragement.
I really appreciate your support for freedom of expression.

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