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Narratives of Fear in Syria

  • Wendy Pearlman

Scholarship on Syria has traditionally been limited by researchers' difficulty in accessing the reflections of ordinary citizens due to their reluctance to speak about politics. The 2011 revolt opened exciting opportunities by producing an outpouring of new forms of self-expression, as well as encouraging millions to tell their stories for the first time. I explore what we can learn from greater attention to such data, based on thick descriptive analysis of original interviews with 200 Syrian refugees. I find that individuals' narratives coalesce into a collective narrative emphasizing shifts in political fear. Before the uprising, fear was a pillar of the state's coercive authority. Popular demonstrations generated a new experience of fear as a personal barrier to be surmounted. As rebellion militarized into war, fear became a semi-normalized way of life. Finally, protracted violence has produced nebulous fears of an uncertain future. Study of these testimonials aids understanding of Syria and other cases of destabilized authoritarianism by elucidating lived experiences obscured during a repressive past, providing a fresh window into the construction and evolution of national identity, and demonstrating how the act of narration is an exercise in meaning making within a revolution and itself a revolutionary practice.

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