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Acting “As If”: Symbolic Politics and Social Control in Syria

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 January 2004

LISA WEDEEN
Affiliation:

Extract

The following anecdote was related to me during my field work in Syria a few days after the event allegedly took place:

One day a high-ranking officer visiting the regiment ordered the soldiers to recount their dreams of the night before. A soldier stepped forward and announced: “I saw the image of the leader in the sky, and we mounted ladders of fire to kiss it.” A second soldier followed suit: “I saw the leader holding the sun in his hands, and he squeezed it, crushing it until it crumbled. Darkness blanketed the face of the earth. And then his face illuminated the sky, spreading light and warmth in all directions.” Soldier followed soldier, each extolling the leader's greatness. When M's turn came, he stepped forward, saluted the visiting officer, and said: “I saw that my mother is a prostitute in your bedroom.” The beating and discharge followed. Commenting retrospectively on his act, M explained that he had “meant that his country is a whore.”M's story was told to me by a close friend of M's, one of my most reliable sources for information about Syrian politics, during the course of what would become two and one-half years of field research in Syria. In 1985, while studying Arabic, I lived with a Lebanese family in Abu Rummaneh, an affluent neighborhood of Damascus. In 1988–89, under the auspices of an IIE-Fulbright grant, I lived in the women's dormitories at the University of Damascus, in the Palestinian refugee camps, and in a rented apartment in Salahiyya, a middle-class neighborhood near the center of town. In 1992, I rented an apartment on the border of the middle-class, conservative neighborhood of Muhajirin during a year-long stay supported by a Fulbright-Hays doctoral dissertation fellowship. And in 1996, funded by a grant from Wesleyan University, I returned for the summer and lived in the Institut Français d'Études Arabes de Damas. During the course of my research, I conducted open-ended interviews with over 100 people from diverse generational, religious, sectarian, and class backgrounds. Interview subjects included prominent government officials, leaders and rank-and-file members of the “popular” organizations, peasants, sports coaches, school teachers, principals, entrepreneurs, artists, poets, film directors, economists, historians, and political dissidents.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
© 1998 Society for Comparative Study of Society and History

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