It is the Syrians inside Syria and those Syrians who are refugees or displaced who convey the sufferings of all Syrians, whether they are writers, creative artists, or people who are unknown. It is the pictures of the people tortured to death released by CNN and the Guardian newspaper that conveyed the reality, without addition or exaggeration.

We have swapped roles. Most Syrian writers now live abroad and enjoy at least the basic necessities of life. They live in houses, however small those houses might be. They have roofs over their heads that are not in danger of being bombarded and are not likely to fall on their heads at any moment. Most of the intellectuals and the elite do not see from close up what is happening in their country, so how can they write about what is happening? Is it fair to steal the stories of those heroes and write them up in cafes or at home, shedding tears – to then return to the normal lives that most of them lead?

Cover of Wannous' "Dunkle Wolken üver Damaskus" (lit. Dark clouds over Damascus, published in German by Nautilus))
Dima Wannous is a well-known Syrian TV journalist and writer. Her book Dunkle Wolken über Damaskus [Dark Clouds Over Damascus] on the pre-revolutionary period in Syria was published in German by Edition Nautilus in 2013. She currently lives in Beirut.

And what about all those talented and respected directors who have been living abroad since the first months of the revolution? They have made films that have been highly acclaimed and won prizes at fancy international gatherings, even though not one reel was shot in Syria! They have made their films in the countries where they have sought refuge.

Films based either on the testimony of people who have fled the destruction and the shelling and become refugees, or made by editing clips together from YouTube, filmed by non-professional activists or citizen journalists and then leaked to the Arab or international media in order to reach the largest possible audience of viewers and decision-makers.

It is these activists, who dare not reveal their names, who are the real heroes; they are the ones who pay the price for staying inside Syria and exposing themselves to danger. Their right to appear in public and exhibit their work is forfeit. Meanwhile, directors abroad use this footage and tour the world and festivals, wallowing in the applause.

Self-imposed abstinence

In short, I find myself unable to write and my imagination refuses to function. I make do with watching and trying to take in what is happening. I anxiously follow the news, the stories and the cruel and gruelling experiences that the majority of Syrians are going through.

But I am not part of the majority and I do not claim to be part of it. I will not write about people if I have not lived among them, if I have not felt the same fear or heard the same sounds of bombing or weeping or screaming at the emptiness around them.

I will not write about a country I have not visited for more than two years. It′s true that I haven′t visited it because I can′t, but in this case my imagination seems to be inadequate.

I can′t imagine the sufferings of others and write about them when I have chosen to leave, when I could have sacrificed my son and my family and stayed, despite the fear and the anxiety. I know that what I say may be cruel and masochistic but, as long as I am far away and my writing is not based on a lived reality that smells of death and fear and the clouds of smoke that drift across poor Syria, my imagination will remain deactivated.

I will spend a long time looking for another space in which to live outside the world of writing, until I can go back to where I belong – to where I long to sleep.

Dima Wannous

© Goethe-Institut 2016

Translated from the Arabic by Jonathan Wright

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