In late June, a Jadaliyya affiliate sat with Syrian novelist Rosa Yaseen Hassan to talk about the Syrian revolution. The interview was conducted in Arabic and transcribed/translated into English. This post represents Part 1 of the interview, in which Hassan discusses the nature of the Syrian revolution. Part 2 deals with the nature of the regime's attempts to suppress the revolution. Part 3 discusses culture and culture production in Syria during the Syrian revolution.
Rosa Yaseen Hassan is a Syrian writer and activist. She studied architecture and worked as a journalist. She has published a short story collection, Sama' Mulawwatha Bi-l-daw' (A Sky Tainted with Light, 2000) and four novels, one of which, Hurras al-Hawa' (Guards of the Air, Beirut, al-Kawkab Books, 2009) was longlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction. Her most recent novel is entitled Profa (Rehersal).
Jadaliyya Affilaite (JA): We want to start, if you will, with general observations of the current situation in Syria.
Rosa Yaseen Hassan (RYH): Syria today is in the throws of revolution as I am sure you are seeing on the satellite channels or the media outlets. This is a popular revolution; it began approximately three months ago. It started with a small incident that was the spark of this revolution. This [incident] was the detention of children in Dar'a and their [subsequent] imprisonment and torture over ten days. In the wake of this [incident], the intifada [uprising] began in Dar'a, which is a city in the south of Syria, and [eventually] this [uprising] became generalized across all Syrian areas.
JA: There are some people that say there is no such thing as a Syrian revolution. That there was [instead] something called the Syrian intifada: an intifada for dignity, an intifada against certain practices of the Syrian state or Syrian regime. How do you view things?
RYH: Let me say that it started as an intifada. But today, after three months, after - The revolution in Syria is developing very rapidly. If we take into account that Syria is a security state, and that there were no opportunities for popular activities (or let me say mobilizations) because of this very despotic security grip, this development [of the uprising], I believe, has begun today to become a real revolution. [I say this] because, first of all, it includes most of the Syrian areas, most of the sects and minorities, and is reflected in the social and economic life. Therefore, it has began to take shape as a revolution and not just an uprising.
Perhaps its origin is freedom, to be sure. The first slogan to come out in Dar'a during the revolution was: "freedom freedom." This was the first slogan. It was an uprising for the sake of freedom and dignity but [it has since] transformed into a revolution.
JA: How do we respond to the people that claim that the protesters and the social components of the Syrian revolution lack a practical understanding of what democracy means?
RYH: It is possible that, in general, the Syrian people that came out as part of the revolution do not understand freedom in a legal or intellectual sense. But [they] do know perfectly well that they have been ruled by a decades-long oppressive security grip, that they are very poor, and that there are those that have stolen their wealth. And [they also know] that [they] cannot have the political freedoms [under this regime] that they should, that [they] cannot practice the democracy that they dream of, and [that they] are seeing people enjoying lots of things that [they, the Syrian people,] cannot enjoy. Therefore, by virtue of this thing that the Syrian citizen is feeling, they were able to understand the meaning of freedom, irrespective of whether they were in tune with the legal nuances [of freedom] or not. However, we also observe that this revolution, during the three months (that could if you want be measured as three years), this massive development that has happened has brought society into a new arena. Syrian society is a society that did not talk about politics, did not do political work; it did not engage with it [i.e., the political]. The revolution has politicized Syrian society. Many did not know the Emergency Law or even that there was a state of emergency in Syria. Today, they know. There were a lot of people that did not know [about] the Political Parties Law, but today they know what the Political Parties Law is. The politicization of the Syrian street is the most important, [or rather] one of the most important things, happening in Syria.
JA: So in spite of the difficulties faced and blood shed by the Syrian revolutionary popular movement, can we consider the revolution to be successful to a great extent or only to some extent?
RYH: In my opinion, it has a greater success. Meaning, that its success increases every day. I hope that it remains peaceful, an issue that I stress in the consciousness of the Syrian people, and that it remains attentive to this in protests, slogans, and popular conduct; one that is very beautiful. Today you rarely see sectarian, religious, or inciting slogans and signs. I hope that this remains to be the case. But it is clear that as it becomes more general it becomes more successful.
[Excerpt—See accompanying URL for full original text]