Fihmak Kfayeh (If You Know What I Mean) Pt.III

08 July 2016

Maya Abyad

Syrian journalist and trainer, PhD candidate in media.

The first part of this article is available here and the second here.

In mid-2012 events in Syria took a terrible turn, and 2013 is considered by most Syrians the year when the real war started. Especially in the northern regions, clashes escalated into battles, many civil dissidents became fighters, and military terminology became common also within opposition circles.

With time, chaos and need lead to the corruption of many rebel factions. These factions began to face ridicule, just like that of the regime. Some sarcastic terms emerged and broke away with the regime-focused polarization by spreading amongst both its opponents and supporters. New military and political players emerged and they too were included in the new nation-wide wordplays.

Insihab Taktiki: "Tactical Retreat", to some extent, is the opposition’s equivalent of “Maintaining our right to respond”. It is not certain when this term came into use, as it was known before the revolution, albeit not as popular.

The term's recent revival might be traced back to 2012, when the Faruq Brigades were driven out of Homs by the regime and pushed into the suburbs. As they were cornered and isolated in one residential neighborhood and the entire area was subjected to regime shelling, the Farouq Brigades justified their withdrawal with the need to protect civilians. At first it seemed to be a rational decision, so it was called a tactic, rather than defeat1.

However, the regime’s continuous random targeting of civilian areas and the lack of any other rebel tactic to solve this dilemma, coupled with the repetitive use of the term by most groups, gradually turned it into a cynical expression used to mock rebel retreats or possible sellouts. Today the term also refers to someone who wants to avoid an imminent defeat, like quitting a game of cards before their losses get too big.

Saʿet Assifr: "Zero Hour" resembles a final countdown; it first emerged in 2012 from an exhausted armed opposition, and it reflected a desire for a decisive turn of events to bring the war to a conclusion. Rumors of a "Zero Hour" plan being prepared would spread around, mainly targeting Damascus as the focal point of regime control.

Even faster than the regime’s parallel expression (khilset) about the revolution, "Zero Hour" was worn out and turned into a mockery of the idea that any single local military operation was capable of taking down the regime and ending the conflict.

Itharrar walla Ittahhar?: It means "Was it Liberated or Cleansed?". On one hand, the term "liberated area" (mintaqah muharrarah) was used to describe an area free of ground regime forces thanks to armed resistance (air force control always remained, of course). It is part of the narrative that considers Assad forces an occupation against the free will of Syrians.

On the other hand, government propaganda uses the term “cleansing” (tathir) to describe the recapture of opposition areas, which very often includes the eviction of Sunni civilians as a form of retaliation against them under the allegation of supporting armed rebels.

With time, the rapidly changing military situation lead to the coining of the sarcastic question "Was it Liberated or Cleansed?" to ask whose turn it is now to control the said location, being aware that whatever the answer is, it won’t last long.

Annimr Alwardi: "The Pink Panther" is Col. Suheil al-Hassan, who was introduced as the youngest Major General in the Syrian army and a war hero in recent years, with his scorched earth tactics and rumors that he was behind the idea of using internationally forbidden barrel bombs on civilians.

He was nicknamed "the Tiger" (annimr) being the commander of a special unit (the Tiger Forces) in the army. However, his video interviews revealed a very different figure, as he appeared jumbled and incapable of completing a meaningful sentence. Al-Hassan's statements soon became very popular material for ridicule, the most famous of which was: ”The entire world needs first to know the enemy of the world, and those supporting the enemies of the world need to know that they are not from that world.”

After his “tactical retreat” from a rebel counteroffensive in Sahl al-Ghab, Hama, in 2015, the counter-nickname "the Pink Panther" emerged amongst opposition sympathizers as a more accurate description for the grand warrior.

Hodn al-Watan: "In the arms of the homeland" was originally a government propaganda term used to positively portray the decision of a dissident to turn himself over to regime forces. It was often used in air-dropped leaflets over besieged areas to pressure people to surrender during truce negotiations.

It is part of the patriarchal narrative the regime employs to portray itself as the loving, but disciplinarian parent of the population, who welcomes back into his arms his prodigal children. Knowing the hell that awaits them in reality if they do return into the regime’s hands, the dissidents now resort to this term ironically to reaffirm their opposition past the point of no return.

Qat’ Khatt Ezzerbeh: That is to say "The Zerbeh line’s cut". Zerbeh is a small town near Aleppo where the main power transmission plant serving the city of Aleppo is located. Electricity goes through Zerbeh from government-controlled areas in the central Hama governorate. Its strategic significance means that it is constantly disputed between the conflicting parties.

Gradually, this disrupted line has also become an excuse to disguise corruption-induced power cuts, in parallel with the rise of war profiteers who sell batteries and generators.

Under a mostly corrupt establishment like the Syrian one, reports about Zerbeh are now met with the same distrust as the official weather reports did during pre-2011 summer seasons, when the regime hoped to attract tourists to Syria by denying escalating heat waves. Zerbeh line cuts have become the mocked symbol of the endless and wasteful war for profit.

La Yumatthil al-Islam al-Haqiqi: It means "Not Representative of the Real Islam". The bloody crimes committed by the self-declared Islamic State (IS) and other extremist groups under the pretext of Islamic devoutness have prompted a huge defensive wave in the Muslim world. Floods of self-detaching initiatives have been carried out to debunk IS’ religious arguments.

More importantly, the insistence that these extremists are unrepresentative of the billions-strong Muslim population of the world has dominated the narrative in an effort to distance them from the majority. But this insistence has also sparked endless debate over who could be a legitimate representative: The fact that there is no papal-like authority in Islam to reconcile disputed matters among Muslims has led to a line of belief that just as "terrorists" cannot claim to represent the diverse religion, this also means no one else could, either.

Thus the term became popularly used to its contrary, as an argument against the issue of representation all together, as well as to criticize how the problem of Islamic fundamentalism is being denied by mere de-categorization (i.e.: "this is not the real Islam").

Al-Qalaq wil Bankimol: "Concern and the Bankimol". After five years of empty words and little help from the United Nations and its Security Council to the systematically targeted Syrian population, the UN became a popular topic of jokes.

Some of these gags have been about the UN secretary general Ban-Ki Moon and his repetitive expression of “concern” (qalaq) regarding violations committed in Syria. Therefore, the term “concern” became the ironic equivalent of a complete lack of empathy or action.

A photoshopped image of a medicine packet labeled Ban Ki-Moon (rhyming with the popular Paracetamol) went viral with its medical function stated as “guaranteeing a constant sensation of concern”.

Rayeh Al Maʿouneh: "Going to the Donation" means "going to work". With most businesses and work opportunities lost in the war, many people came to rely on donations to make ends meet. The few that do manage to keep or find a job earn barely as much as the value of aid rations.

While inflation exploded and the currency dropped to about one tenth of its original value, salaries have not increased by more than a third over the past five years. So now while some would go out looking for aid sources, others go to work. The latter might cynically call their work a "donation" to highlight the almost inexistent financial reward.

Bintizar Annayzak: "Waiting for the Meteor Rock". Several years prior to the emergence of the American Giant Meteor campaign in 2016, this term became popular in Syria with its roots in the famous Samuel Beckett play (Waiting for Godot).

The prolonged and increased violence pushed many Syrians to flee their neighborhoods, cities or even Syria altogether in search for better alternatives. The journey was never easy and too often they found themselves facing new hardships they couldn’t always overcome wherever they went on the planet.

With the conflict’s stalemate, searching for a better situation has started to feel like a mirage. Thus the meteor that hits planet earth and ends human existence has become an allegory for a desperate solution that Syrians await to no avail.

[Image taken from the video "The Pink Panther [Speed Painting]" - 28-4-2015 - (Natha Zahn/CC BY)].

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Illustation by Dima Nechawi Graphic Design by Hesham Asaad