Weekly Media Digest (17 May)

Curated Reading List


SyriaUntold brings you a new edition of our digest. We want to share with you the features, investigative pieces and long-form essays that we read and thought would interest you.

18 May 2019

('A Wolf Howls: Memories of a Poet' by Dia Azzawi)
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Inside Syria’s Secret Torture Prisons: How Bashar al-Assad Crushed Dissent (The New York Times)

The NYT interviewed many survivors of detention in Syria, chronicling the harrowing details of torture they endured and revealing that death under torture was epidemic and systematic. Despite the Syrian regime denial, the article concludes that torture was a policy that helped crush the uprising.

"In recent months, Syria’s government has tacitly acknowledged that hundreds of people have died in detention. Under pressure from Moscow, Damascus has confirmed the deaths of at least several hundred people in custody by issuing death certificates or listing them as dead in family registration files. The Syrian Network’s founder, Fadel Abdul Ghany, said the move sent citizens a clear message: “We won, we did this, and no one will punish us.”

Gender Justice and Feminist Knowledge Production in Syria (Women Now for Development)

The latest report from Women Now for Development examines Syrian women’s concepts of justice and advance feminist knowledge production. It was written after consultations with Syrian women and female human rights defenders. 

“After 8 years of harsh, bloody and intense military conflicts, negotiations between various political powers invoking “reconciliation” and “justice” appear tense and complex. It is clear so far, despite women’s important social and political involvement within Syrian civil society, Syrian women’s specific roles, positionalities and experiences have not yet been entirely taken into account when thinking of a future Syria.”

The reductive realism of Capernaum (Mada Masr)

Hessen Hossam’s critical review of Nadine Labaki’s award-winning film, which tells the story of Zain; an impoverished boy in Lebanon who takes his parents to court for having giving birth to him despite their situation.

"This is the note the film opens on, after all, and also the one on which it ends: Zain sues his parents for having him and begs them not to have any more children when he finds out his mother is pregnant yet again. The general question of whether it is moral to bring children into such a cruel world is indeed a valid one; antinatalism is a philosophy with a rapidly growing followership. But the film does not really examine the complexities of this position; rather, it comes off as an indictment of the reproductive habits of a particular class, with no insight or depth. And with Labaki casting herself as Zain’s lawyer, who stands up to his parents in court, she makes it inevitable for us to see her — the lawyer and the director — as the self-righteous bourgeoisie, critiquing the choices of the less-privileged echelons of society and simultaneously trying to “save” them from the consequences."

Syrian Detainees: Stripped of Civil and Political Rights (Enad Baladi)

Enab Baladi reports on the plight of Syrian detainees that continues after their release from prison. Countless Syrians are stripped of their civil and political rights, including being denied the right to obtaining a passport, participating in voting, and the right of ownership.

"She explained to Enab Baladi that most detainees, when released, are unaware of the full extent to which they have been deprived of their rights. They only discover this later, when they need to issue a document from a state institution. Some detainees return to their jobs are surprised when they learn that they had been dismissed from their position."

Protests in Deir e-Zor reveal divisions between locals of the Eastern Euphrates and the Autonomous Administration (Syria Direct)

Syria Direct reports on the growing tensions between locals in Deir e-Zor and the autonomous administration, and predicts an escalation in the future.

“The protests highlight the deep dissatisfaction of local residents with the administration of Deir e-Zor, which is run by local councils established by the SDF. The establishment of local councils has been a practice for the Kurdish-led SDF in the areas they have liberated and is in line with their vision of “democratic federalism.” According to the Kurdish ruling Democratic Union Party (PYD), the system seeks to democratize and decentralize authority in liberated areas.”

Khaled Barakeh: Reconnecting the Cultural Fabric of Syria (Vanity Fair)

Syrian artist Khaled Barakeh writes in Vanity Fair about Coculture e.V, an initiative that works to bring together projects aimed at sustaining the culture, identity and dignity of Syrians forced into exile.

“Syrian artists living abroad have newfound opportunities for unrestrained creation. They also face new difficulties. There is a market for Arab artists who deal with Islam, conflict and catastrophe; institutions and funders seek to and are often required to give space and money towards this work. While their efforts to demonstrate solidarity and raise awareness are laudable, with the road to international visibility paved only with this particular kind of narrative, it can be nearly impossible to imagine another route.”

Death Is Hard Work by Khaled Khalifa review – searing Syrian road trip (The Guardian

Lybian novelist Hisham Matar review of Death Is Hard Work by Khaled Khalifa. Matar, whose acclaimed book In the Country on Men chronicled surviving Lybia under Gaddafi as the son of a political prisoner, writes about Khalifa's poetic and horrific tale of love and death set in a Syria torn apart by civil war. 

"Throughout this diabolical road trip, glimpses of the past lives of Bolbol and his family, with all their imperfect and natural dramas, rise to the dark and unnatural surface of the present, becoming deformed and unattainable. Like the father’s body – which, regardless of the cologne Fatima lavishes on it, continues to bloat, growing darker and more pungent with every passing day – the memory of peacetime Syria appears to be decomposing as it gives way to the present inferno, where the “exceptional had become habitual, and tragedies were simply mundane”."

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Illustation by Dima Nechawi Graphic Design by Hesham Asaad