الاثنين، يوليو 23، 2012

The Legend of Karfan and myths about Syria

Karfan was one of the earliest, if not the first, Syrian bloggers in English, and the protagonist of an award-worthy blog about Syria and Arab society in general. Writing in the third person, he painted a rare, unabashed portrait of what it's like for the regular Syrian to live under one of the most murderous, repressive regimes in the region.

His posts (signed by 'Karfan & Friend') are interspersed with countless personal accounts and anecdotes, and are, at first glance, crude, tongue-in-cheek, nihilistic, and very funny (but not the good 'funny'). In many ways, the Syria he describes in his writings bears a huge resemblance to Iraq under Ba'athist rule. He used to blog intermittently from an Internet cafe in neighboring Lebanon, where he made periodic visits in 2005 and 2006, in order to escape the scrutiny of the Syrian Mukhabarat, until he abruptly stopped posting in August 2006 with no explanation whatsoever for his disappearance.

I figured it was somewhat relevant, given the current dramatic situation going on in Syria, to revisit his humorous blog posts. I strongly recommend the whole blog (including the comments) as required reading for anyone interested in Syrian and Middle Eastern affairs. It's actually not really that long (a total of 14 posts), and it serves as an excellent background to understand the present crisis.

In his first post he introduces Karfan:
This blog is by Karfan, whose name means disgusted. Generaly disgusted with life and everything in it. Recently, disgusted with all those who are trying to make a living from giving false and fictitious analyses about Syria and with those who believe them.
He then goes on in his second post to introduce us to the Syrian people. According to Karfan, in reality, there is no Syrian 'people'. Instead, there are:
Sunnis, Alawis, Druuz, Christians, Smaeelis, Kurds, Palestinians, Mad'umeen (the favored ones), Mas'uleen (high governmental people), Bathists, Shwam (Damascenes), Shawaya (bedouins), Numailatieh, Haddadeen, Khayateen (the last three are Alwai tribes), Umalaa (traitors), Sheu'ieen (communists) , Mukhabarat (secret agents), Manayek (dickheads), Kharawat (assholes), etc. That is how we call each other, but in school books, we were told that we are Arabs. Except this fictitious categorization, Karfan never knew what else actually joins these people, but they were there around him and he could easily tell who is who and what to call them.
Syria itself, as far as Karfan is concerned, is a fictitious, manufactured entity that exists only on paper and in school books. He asks himself what is this Syria that is talked about on the news? In fact:
Karfan lived in cities called Tartous and Damascus, and he was told that these are just cities in a place called Watan Arabi (Arabic Homeland). Besides this fictitious homeland, he never knew what else actually joins these cities except the bumpy roads between them. He could see this Watan Arabi on all the maps around him, but never gone to any of the other places that consist this vast land. He was not allowed to go to cities in Jordan or Egypt because he was told they were traitors. He was not allowed to go to cities in Lebanon because he was told there was a war with the enemies. He was not allowed to go to cities in Iraq because his passport bears the seal (Valid to all countries except Iraq!!). Eventually, these "Arab" places became to him, and his generation, as Djibouti and Salvador, mere names.
He describes with distaste the sectarian and tribal nature of Syrian society with the everyday example of the obligatory 'where are you from?' question that creeps into every interaction between his countrymen (very similar to Iraq). Karfan mentions that this is actually a not-so-veiled attempt to determine the sect or ethnic group of the speaker, and he admits that he often trolled fellow Syrians who asked him this question by inventing an imaginary place to confuse them and watch them squirm trying to figure out his background, also adding that this game of 'where are you from?', mastered by all Syrians, is an essential survival skill.

In a similar pattern, his subsequent posts are in-depth examinations and debunkings of what he calls 'myths' about Syria and Syrians, including examples and personal stories in each.

In myth no. 2 "We have an identity," he denies there is such a thing as a Syrian national identity and juxtaposes it with the Syrian regime's 'hammering' about Arab identity and 'Arabism':
Karfan never met a single young Syrian who actually believed in Arabism, in term of believing that we should respect other citizens from what is called Arab World just for the sake that they are Arabs. People who live in Syria never respected each other to begin with for them to respect outsiders. We have been conditioned to say that we want to be united with Arab countries in the Gulf, but call Gulf Arabs Dickheads and have the lowest esteem towards them. We have been conditioned to say that we want to liberate Palestine, but call Palestinians Manayek (Assholes) and treat them badly in Syria most of the time or corner them in dirty areas and speak behind their back as if they are invaders from another planets.
Myth no. 3 is a closer look at Arabism in Syria. Karfan distastefully concludes that it is simply a meaningless term invented by the 'failure generation' of Syrian pan-Arab nationalists and thinkers who left their 'legacy' of Arabism in tons of books that are used by lucky falafel street vendors to wrap their sandwiches with. In addition, he expresses his disgust with foreign political analysts who talk about the 'dying of Arabism' in Syria, noting wryly that it never even existed in the first place.

In Myth no. 4 Karfan calls Syrians 'pathetic' because they strongly react to anyone who dares to reveal uncomfortable truths about their society and imagined unity with vulgarity, also responding to detractors in the comments on his first few posts. Included between the lines is a brief introduction to the Syrian leader 'King Lion the 2nd' (Bashar al-Assad), his father 'King Lion the 1st' (Hafez), and his brother 'the White Knight of Tadmur' (Rifaat).

Myth no. 5 is about Syrians' innate fear of civil war and how it was used as a pretense by the Assad regime to hold on to power by convincing Alawites that the Sunni majority is out to get them if Assad ever falls.

Bashar al-Assad's personality cult is closely analyzed, mocked and derided in Myth no. 6, particularly his long-awaited reforms and the part, parroted by foreign journalists, about how he is 'Western-educated'. Karfan relates his amusing theory about the Assad dynasty and gives an example:
Most people know the French "King Louis the 16th" whose head was chopped like a potato by the angry mob. Karfan has this theory that when this king's ancestors started their dynasty, they actually had names: the first King Louis and the second King Francois the third King Charles or something. After a while though, people noticed that there are no differences between those kings and stopped bothering giving them different names. They just gave them the name Louis and numbered them: King Louis the 3rd, the 4th and so on.
And the natural conclusion of his theory:
It took 16 King Louis for the usually-clever French people to realize that these kings will not get any different from one another. Karfan is wondering how many Kings it would take for the dumb-ass Syrians who still repeat Khitabb El-Kassam (the inauguration Speech) to reach the same conclusion, maybe till the King 28th? Till then.. They can wait for the diamond.
Myth no. 8 is a humorous summation of Syria's three-decade occupation of Lebanon, which Karfan refuses to categorize as an occupation, citing stories from his own military service there as a conscript lieutenant and how he was 'humiliated' trying to smuggle back a few cartons of La Vache Qui Rit cheese (prohibited in Syria). He describes Rafiq Hariri's assassination:
King Lion the 2nd's younger brother and his cousin killed one of the past cooperators there, and the rest of the warlords there found this a good opportunity to stop sharing the cake with King Lion and his gang and moved to kick his army out. This assassinated big thief was until recently a very good friend of the Lion's gang. But the rule of all gangs is that no one is safe in a gang. The people in that country are angry at the death of one of their own thieves by Syrian thieves.
The following posts, or myths, deal with Ba'athism, the Alawite sect, the Syrian opposition, expatriates, the Ismaelis (Sevener Shi'ites) of Syria and their antagonism toward Alawites, Syrian economy, Iskandarun, occupation of Golan. His post about Golan in August 2006 was his last, and it was quite obvious that Karfan had a lot more to say before he was interrupted.

Read them all.

Let's hope Karfan is still alive and that he witnesses his countrymen succeed in overthrowing the Assad dynasty and achieve some degree of political freedom very soon.

هناك 50 تعليقًا:

   Lee C.  ―   U.S.A.      يقول...
أزال أحد مشرفي المدونة هذا التعليق.
Zeyad يقول...

Yeah, briefly back in 2005.

   Lee C.  ―   U.S.A.      يقول...
أزال أحد مشرفي المدونة هذا التعليق.
Petes يقول...

I want to know why "La Vache Qui Rit" was illegal in Syria! Because of the association with cheese-eating surrender monkeys? :-)

I wonder were any of his compatriots smuggling any of the Bekaa's famous cannabis and opium? Although I think production was at a low point in 2005.

Or did they find any of Saddam's WMD in the Bekaa? (I doubt it).

Speaking of Iraq, I see scores injured and seventeen dead in multiple bomb attacks. Sounds like the bad old days -- two veggie market bombs, a missile attack on a hospital, roadsidse bombs, attacks on pilgrims in Najaf -- the usual cuddly stuff :-(

Marcus يقول...

Some seriously interesting stuff Zeyad. I think I'll have a go at checking out that blog and reading through it all, although perhaps not all at once.

Bad news from Iraaq today. One Swedish newspaper claied yesterday to have been the most violent day in two years. Not sure if they got it right but it does suck that the country is still so violent.

Lynnette In Minnesota يقول...

Good post, Zeyad. Timely, as Lee says. I will have to check out his site.

...to escape the scrutiny of the Syrian Mukhabarat

I remember Melantrys having a problem with what she called a Syrian "stalker". I often wondered if he wasn't security, rather than some 15 year old kid messing around. This was around the time she was doing posts on her visit there.

Lynnette In Minnesota يقول...

Karfan is still asking: When exactely the heck in the past history did we become "Syrians"? I must have been sleeping then.

lol!

Definately funny, Zeyad.

   Lee C.  ―   U.S.A.      يقول...
أزال أحد مشرفي المدونة هذا التعليق.
Jeffrey يقول...

Yeah, like Lee, I do recall Zeyad writing about Karfan. It's great that Karfan's blog is still up and we can go back and read the entries. One of my favorite blogs -- Iraqi Pundit -- is no longer available. Damn. Just a handful of of Anglophone Iraqi bloggers still posting, it seems.

*

Lynnette In Minnesota يقول...

Hi Jeffrey,

I was going through my blog list at home just the other day, removing defunct sites, and noticed so many no longer there. It's rather sad that many people decided not to keep them up, instead moving to the social media. But I suppose other aspects of their lives are taking precedence now.

I did notice that Sam made it to the US.

Lynnette In Minnesota يقول...

One more and than I'm done for now.

Here's a bit of an update on Khalid Jarrar, and I notice in the comments that Anarki is still alive. But it does appear that Khalid's been hacked recently.

Jeffrey يقول...

Lynnette, I still use the IBC blogroll to take an occasional tour around the Iraqi blogophere. Here's what I found from taking a spin this afternoon. There are six Iraqi bloggers who have posted something in the last three months: Zeyad, Sami (Skies), Touta, Yosemite Sam Hammorabi, Layla, and Mojo.

Personally, I do not like the so-called social media platforms. I tried Twitter for a couple and it sucked bad. As you yourself have mentioned, I believe, there's no possibility for debate on Twitter. Facebook is good for keeping in touch with family and friends -- in a fairly superficial way, of course. Facebook is not the place for a serious discussion you may have with family and friends. Neither Twitter nor Facebook come close to what can you can do with a blog and a good oomments page. Zeyad's blog is a good example of a political, historical examination of the day's events. Touta and Sami are good examples of what I've called personal-diary bloggers, those who focus on their own lives and leave political debates to others. Both forms are great to read and participate in when there are interesting, articulate writers at the keyboard.

*

Jeffrey يقول...

In most of the places outside the US that I've either lived in or visited, national identity has been strong. For example, even though a place like China has multiple ethnic minorities alongside the dominant Han group, all of them cheered for the Chinese athletes at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and talked about their five-thousand-year history as a people. But, as Zeyad and many other Iraqi bloggers have talked about, Iraq, like Syria, is built with a different set of identity priorities, it seems. Their nationhood goes back about a hundred years, not five thousand. Karfan is eloquent (and funny) when he pierces the concept of the Syrian identity. Zeyad has written about the tribal nature of people living in what is called Iraq today. Who ya gonna call when trouble knocks? Tribe or nation?

So is it necessary to have a national identity? Maybe not. The Jarrars, for example, seem to operate just fine without a stable national identity, moving from one Arabic-speaking country to another, from their house in Jordan to their house in Iraq -- wherever there's money to be made.

Still, for Zeyad, no matter how diaphanous the concept "Iraqi" may have been for him while he was in Iraq, in San Antonio, when people ask him about it, he's going to have to say, "I'm Iraqi."

*

Lynnette In Minnesota يقول...

Funny you should bring up identity Jeffrey, I just finished Myth 9 on Karfan's blog and copied this bit over:

After all, people need to belong and have an identity, unless they want to end up like him; a senseless sarcastic gloomy bastard that doesn't care if the whole universe collapses tomorrow. No one believes in the Arab identity joke anymore and our Kings have made all efforts to erase and destroy any attempt of creating a Syrian Identity that gathers all of us. Eventually people find that those stupid sectarian and religious identities are the only way to belong. If the Smailies for example do not believe they are only Smailies and act like it, then what is left for them to believe or belong to? Nothing, either that or the Karfanian way; but it is not fun to be Karfan, believe me.

In the Middle East for centuries it was really your tribe or religion that you identified with. It was only fairly recently that the concept of a national identity was created, and that by foreigners to the region.

What Karfan was saying was rather sad, actually. If he were still around I'd want to tell him that anytime he wanted to pledge allegiance to our flag, and the
Constitution for which it stands, he would be welcome to call himself American.

Lynnette In Minnesota يقول...

I've visited Mojo a couple times recently. He seemed to have lost his motivation to blog. That's a shame as he is a good writer and has been known to have topics of interest. Most recently a post on global climate change.

Lynnette In Minnesota يقول...

Okay, actually it reads "republic" for which it stands, but I was taking "poetic license". ;)

Night all.

OmarVio يقول...

When you say not the good funny, you are almost implying he was cheesy or painfully unfunny to the point of becoming funny. HE WAS HILARIOUS. Dark funny is still good funny.

rahul يقول...

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kidsmissouri يقول...

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Lynnette In Minnesota يقول...

OmarVio?

As in the OmarVio who seemed to takeover Abbas' blog?

Hmmmmm....

   Lee C.  ―   U.S.A.      يقول...
أزال أحد مشرفي المدونة هذا التعليق.
Zeyad يقول...

Hey h8er, when are you going to post something on that dead blog of yours?

Jeffrey يقول...

Mr. Z, nothing more will ever be posted over at IBC. (Hey, who's that clapping back there?!) Iraqi Bloggers Central is still up and it will remain that way, a five-year chronicle of Americans and Iraqis getting all up close and personal in the blogosphere. I go back and read old entries every now and then. But five years was long enough -- no question about that. It was a hell of a lot of work for me, CMARII, RhusLancia, and Mr. Ghost. My hat goes off to all who try to blog, no matter how long, five months or five years.

Anyway, by 2009, the Iraqi blogosphere was already dragging ass, so it was a good time to call it quits. During those five years, though, there was a lot to be learned. What did I learn? People don't really change that much, I guess; me neither, truth be told.

I still have my favorite bloggers, one of them being the inimitable Shaggy. My introduction to his corpus: Shaggy Daze.

Hey, how do you like the heat down in Texas? How does it compare with Iraq? I imagine it's nice to have power for the AC 24/7. I have old friends living in Austin, so I've been down during the winter break.

Well, you're probably a real hybrid American by now, right? Like the rest of us.

*

Jeffrey يقول...

Lynnette,

I think Mojo just hit blogger burnout, especially about Iraq. Understandable.

I guess there's even something called commenter burnout. I don't see Bruno here anymore. Maybe, due to the downturn in the economy, he lost his job at the factory (and free internet access). Or maybe he was fired because they realized he was commenting all the time at Zeyad's instead of actually working. Zeyad should have to pay some kind of compensation to Bruno, if that's the case. It's only fair.

*

Zeyad يقول...

Ah Jeffrey, my comment was directed at Konfused Kiddo who reinvented himself as Omar Vio. I prefer Texas to NYC for alot of different reasons, although NYC does have its positives. I actually like the heat (never enjoyed the snow over there) and as you mentioned, the electricity is a blessing (we still have the occasional outage to remind us ofhome)

Zeyad يقول...

Btw, the Iraqi blogosphere in Arabic has far surpassed the English one and is anything but dragging. The Arabic bloggers are much more representative of Iraqi society in general and come from all walks of life compared to the few butthurt elite Sunni bloggers of the early years, lol.

Jeffrey يقول...

Zeyad, that's great news about the Iraqi blogosphere in Arabic. There were a lot of very fine Anglophone Iraqi bloggers, but the limitations were obvious. Much better that you cats are conversing in your mother tongue.

Hey, so Omar Vio is really Konfused Kid? Did he begin blogging in Arabic? By the way, of the Anglophone Iraqi bloggers from the old days, how many have moved over to the Arabic Iraqi blogosphere? Are the numbers of bloggers similar to the population of Iraq? What is it? 70% Shia? 30% Sunni elitists, as you say?

NYC, from a Midwestern perspective (born and raised in Iowa), really doesn't get very cold and only gets a little snow. Lynnette will concur. In NYC, your face never freezes and most of the time I never even wear gloves. By the way, I also know a lot of Nigerians who like Texas for the same reason you do. The heat reminds them of home.

*

Lynnette In Minnesota يقول...

*sigh*

Well, you could have told me, Zeyad, when I asked earlier about Omar Vio! I even emailed Mel to check up on him because I was worried he was dead or something!

*frowns at Konfused Kid*

So I suppose you too prefer warmer climes?

Weather wimps! There's something to be said about the bracing effects of having your face freeze into whatever expression you were wearing last. Possibly why we practice smiling a lot. Although I suppose that could be a little scary after awhile...

Lynnette In Minnesota يقول...

Jeffrey,

Even Bruno must have been finding it difficult to come up with ever more outlandish conspiracy theories. Or possibly his personal stalker finally reached his house. :)

Yeah, Mojo has kind of hit a wall I think. The Iraq war was a huge motivating factor, it's hard to transition to more staid and mundane topics. It's almost like a faint echo of how people feel who have been living through it, when they start coming down off of that adrenaline rush.

Personally, while I don't want to go back to the number of hours I used to spend reading and commenting on blogs, I still find things, and people, that I care about in the virtual world.

Lynnette In Minnesota يقول...

Lee,

The Republicans are going be visibly and vocally unhappy ‘bout this for several days in a row now.

They are the opposition to the current administration, that is their natural state.

Lynnette In Minnesota يقول...

Zeyad,

I see you took off your Twitter feed.

Marcus يقول...

I've kept reading the Karfan blog posts and this one really is significant:

http://syriaexposed.blogspot.se/2005/03/myth-no-7-alawie-is-still-religious.html

I'd urge ya'll to read it. Of course I can't vouch for it being correct but to me it does seem so.

Also it sort of explains how locked in the people of the Allawi sect in Syria is with the regime there. They expect way worse if the regime goes down - and this I have read in other media as well. Horrifying, but interesting none the less.

   Lee C.  ―   U.S.A.      يقول...
أزال أحد مشرفي المدونة هذا التعليق.
Marcus يقول...

Lee: "And yet you were less than impressed when I made just this point several days ago."

I was? I have no recollection of such a debate at all. Quotes would be appropriate here I think.

   Lee C.  ―   U.S.A.      يقول...
أزال أحد مشرفي المدونة هذا التعليق.
Lynnette In Minnesota يقول...

One might have expected they'd have learned something...

They didn't seem to learn much from the debt ceiling cliffhanger.

Lynnette In Minnesota يقول...

Okay, Zeyad, never mind. Twitter seems to be back. I swear I wasn't imagining things!

   Lee C.  ―   U.S.A.      يقول...
أزال أحد مشرفي المدونة هذا التعليق.
   Lee C.  ―   U.S.A.      يقول...
أزال أحد مشرفي المدونة هذا التعليق.
Synik يقول...

Lee nobody cares. Romney or Obama you're screwed either way.

Bruno يقول...

[lynnette] "Even Bruno must have been finding it difficult to come up with ever more outlandish conspiracy theories."

So, how's them secret weapons labs at the bottom of lead-lined wells doin'? Did y'all manage to save us from the world-destroying, drone-delivered, thousands of tons of WMD's yet?

LMAO

Marcus يقول...

Lee: "And yet you were less than impressed when I made just this point several days ago."

Me: "I was? I have no recollection of such a debate at all. Quotes would be appropriate here I think."

Lee: "I can do that."

When you said I was less than impressed I thought you meant I wasn't agreeing, or that I argued against it.

You expected me to be outspokenly impressed with your sharp analysis. OK, I was less than that.

   Lee C.  ―   U.S.A.      يقول...
أزال أحد مشرفي المدونة هذا التعليق.
   Lee C.  ―   U.S.A.      يقول...
أزال أحد مشرفي المدونة هذا التعليق.
Lynnette In Minnesota يقول...

*shakes head sadly*

I was wrong, like kudzu he never gives up.

In my own defense I did not invoke his name first.

Lynnette In Minnesota يقول...

I suppose this means that if we experience significant inflation, then our supposedly low government interest rates are gonna jump right along with it.

And yet, Krugman is advocating more government spending. Perhaps that says something for his concern over the short term problems the economy faces.

   Lee C.  ―   U.S.A.      يقول...
أزال أحد مشرفي المدونة هذا التعليق.
Bridget يقول...

"I prefer Texas to NYC for alot of different reasons,"

I understand perfectly! :):):):)


"although NYC does have its positives."

True dat. Great place to visit.

Bruno يقول...

"given their shared proclivity for arguing for the sake of having the argument rather than for the sake of actually having a point"

:*D

Save me from this nonsense.

Musa Kocaman يقول...

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