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Syria: A Blogosphere Divided

The Syrian blogosphere has been embroiled in a heated debate over the weekend. It is a debate that is quite reflective of some of our modern disagreements as Syrians, over a wide range of basic issues: identity, religion, state and personal freedom.

The casus belli came in the form of a post, by Syrian blogger Ahmad Edilbi, that called for professional hackers to destroy Syrian blogs he deems are “immoral” [Ar]:

فمنها ماكان همها الشاغل التعبير عن حريتها الشخصية (الغير أخلاقية) والتنفيس عن سرائر النفس بإسلوب لا أخلاقي وحتى يصل لمرحلة الشذوذ و الكفر “و العياذ بالله”
[…]
فاسمحوا لي إذا بتوجيه دعوة لك شخص قادر على اختراق المواقع والمدونات بأن يقوم بمراسلتي لإعطائه بعض المواقع التي تحتاج إلى تدمير ..
Some of these blogs were insistent on expressing their personal freedoms (of the immoral type) and venting out their thoughts in an immoral manner, and even expressing homosexuality and infidelity (God Forbids).
[…]
So allow me to invite those who are able to penetrate websites and blogs to mail me so I can send him a list of some of those sites that need to be destroyed.

The post itself caused outrage, and many of the commenters were highly opposed to such means.
The incident, until yesterday, was mostly unknown in the English part of the blogosphere – as language is one of the many lines of divide in the Syrian blogosphere.

The real debate exploded when Razan Ghazzawi quoted the post, and used it in a comparison between Syrian Expatriate, and Local bloggers [Ar]:

اخيرا اود ان اقول, وبصراحة, ان عالم التدوين السوري باللغة العربية يعاني من اشكاليات لا اراها في التدوين السوري الاغترابي. كنت اقرا التدوين السوري باللغة الانكليزية لثلاث سنوات, تدوين الاغتراب, ورغم انني انتقلت الى العربية نتيجة غربتي عن تدوين الاغتراب والمحلي على حد سواء, لكنني لم اقرا اية تدوينة من المغترب السوري -عدا عن مدونة ميسلون -نطقت بهكذا منطق الغائي من قبل, مما يستدعي السؤال التالي:

ما معنى ان تكون اول مدونة سورية تدعو الى الغاء زملائها في التدوين السوري مدونة محلية باللغة العربية وذات خطاب ديني؟

Finally, I would like to say, frankly, that the world of Arabic bloggers in Syria suffers from problems that I can’t see in the expatriate Syrian blogging scene. I have read English-written Syrian blogs (diaspora blogging) for three years, and even though I moved to blogging in Arabic because I felt myself a stranger to both the diaspora and local blogging, I have not read a single blog from Syrian expatriates – except for Maysaloon- that advocated such a dismissive logic before, which begs the following question:
What does it mean to have the first blog that calls for the dismissal of its fellow Syrian blogs a local, Arabic blog with a religious narrative?

The post was picked up by a number of bloggers, and each discussed the incident from a different perspective.

Dania, of My Chaos, discussed what she feels as a religious fever sweeping the society, and in turn, the blogpshere:

I don’t mind it, after all it is freedom of expression, but some of them are sending messages of not respecting the “other” freedom of expression, and more dangerously to attacking other's freedom of expression. Can any one help me out in here to figure this thing out? Is our society heading toward the religious mentality to hypnotize itself out of a miserable reality? Is it systematic? Chaotic? A normal result of giving the freedom of religious organization to move after decades of firm controlling? is it a type of defense system against the global media hostility against Islam?What is it?!

Abu Fares, expressed his own observations on the state of the Syrian blogosphere:

The Syrian blogging movement had started as a secular/liberal outcry in the face of political totalitarianism. The early writings addressed individual freedom and liberty, attacked the unilateral decision making process of the political establishment in Syria and advanced pluralism. Generally speaking, they were mostly written in English. The recent trend, mostly expressed in Arabic, is best characterized as a sweeping current of religious zealotry. These newcomers may or may not openly oppose the political establishment but they share the common vision/dream of Islamic Revival to right what is presently wrong in this country and the rest of the world.

His post attracted a large debate, and around 37 comments, so far.

The debate was further expanded by different perspectives on the matter shared by Dubai Jazz, Abu Kareem, and Ayman Haykal [Ar].

The heated exchange clearly highlights some of the most pressing, and controversial issues that divide the Syrian society. The internet and the implications of such open mediums like blogs, the definitions of personal freedoms, and the concepts of Law and State, between the different ideological currents roughly representing a Secular and Religious outlook for the future.

The exchange also highlights how divided the Syrian blogosphere is, and how isolated each group is. This debate was almost exclusive to the bloggers who are associated with the English-language Syrian blogosphere (except for some comments on Ayman’s post [Ar]), just like the debate that took place around the first post [Ar], was almost exclusive to the Arabic-language bloggers.

While the bloggers may not represent a true quantitative image of the dynamics of the Syrian society, they do represent many of the colors and currents that are flowing, and clashing in that society.

24 comments

  • and i’m really happy that you have moved this globaly.
    i’d like to say something, accepted or not , this is how i see it..
    -a question:
    is the only form of deleting ” the other” , is only preformed by inviting the hackers to give a hand in deleting them?

    يعني : ، عندما أرفض متابعة أو حتى الدخول بنقاش تحت شيء كتبته بدعوى أن الأخر لم يقرا المكتوب جيدا.
    و عليه أن يُعمل فكره جيدا مرة أخرى علّ الحظ يحالفه و الوحي يقف معه في هذه الدقيقة و يلهمه المقصود من وراء تدوينة ما!!

    و من ثم ألغي ميزة التعليقات تماما
    ماذا يدعى هذا؟
    اليس هو شكلا أخر من أشكال الغاء الآخر؟؟
    أليس شكلا من أشكال” الغاء زملائها في التدوين السوري ”

    يعني يا سادة لم تهاجمون مانادى به أحمد أذا كنتم تقومون بالوجه الأخر لما يقوم به؟؟
    من يريد أن يعظ ، فليكن من يشعل الشمعة و ليس من يطفأها!!

    قرأت تعليقات عقبة ، وانا اتفق معه تماما.

    تمنياتي للتدوين السوري بالبقاء و أن لا يتهني نهاية المنتديات المأساوية.

  • Since I started blogging about 3 years ago, and also during my non-blogging period since last year, I realized the divide in the Syrian blogging. I wrote about that, but not explicitly. The problem that we are facing is not only some guy – the open invitation to destroy others pages-but a real tendency in the Arabic mind to generalize all ideas.

    The problems with the first blogers is that they have their own virtual life, that does not relate to reality in any aspect. They all present noble ideas, but not practical solution, because I think when we blog, we do not search for solution. Unlike the new fundamentalists blogging that have a plan, a plan for spreading a certain ideas. In that process, all other ideas must be destroyed. For an extremist, the other does not exist, the other must not exist, so I do not understand the surprise that most bloggers have. Oh, you did not see it coming. How could we miss all the hints, the several bloody attacks in Damascus, the economic inflation in Syria, the debut of many fundamentalist leaders, “Bab Al-7ara,”Turkish Series, the gap in freedom between many places in Syria-like bars next to mosques and churches-, the increasing percentage of veil users, and the increasing percentage of western style.

    The problems just moved from the main stream to blogging, and it was in many discussion forms all over the Internet, just go to youtube, and search for hatters videos-between Christians and Muslims, and between Sunni and Shi’ite-the number is surprising, at least it was for me.

    No solution unfortunately.

  • Omniya,

    Are you truly comparing the active advocacy to destroy other people’s medium of expression. Hack into their blogs or cut their tongues. To Someone who chooses not to speak to you?

    I will not speak for Razan, but she is still a part of discussion and she is leaving comments and discussing the subject on other blogs.

    I have the right to choose not to go into a dialogue if I think it is inappropriate. It is what the internet and the blogging culture all about, true free exchange of ideas. If you read something that you are uneasy about, you can either engage them, or walk away from it. And in that same sense, I can either reply, and choose to ignore, if that is what I deem appropriate. But to compare that to actively shutting people up, is outrageous.

  • على كل الأحوال الشكر لكطل من علق (مع أو ضد)
    ولكن أتمنى لو أن بعضكم اطلع على التعليقات لو قليلاً لأنه سيكتشف ما مغزى التدوينة المطروحة

    لقد قام المعلقيين بإضافة تدوينات جديدة من خلال تعليقاتهم
    فلن استطيع جذب الاهتمام إلا بهذا الاسلوب !!

    لن افسر كثيراً ولكن اعتقد أن من ينظر للأمور على أنها دعوة فليفهمها كذلك ولكنني مازلت احتفظ بهذه التعليقات التي تقوم بإعلاء الحرية ومقهوم التدوين .. فلقد جعلت جميع الزوار يتفاعلون ويعبرون عن رايهم ولم أغلق التعليقات كما جرت العادة مع بعض المدونين ..

    شكراً سيد يزن على طرحك للموضوعوأقول لك أن التدوين باللغة العربية لايعاني من أية اشكاليات كما تفضلت !!
    ولكن على مايبدو انك تعاني من اشكاليات في فهم هذه اللغة!!

    ملاحظة: اكتب باللغة العربية لعدم قدرتي على توضيح ما أريد باللغة الإنكليزية

    شكراً

  • Yazan:
    first the above comment is not critisizing anyone in particular, so i am not waiting for any blogger’s clarrification, not coz i don’t not want to hear it, but coz he/she is free to think and do what he/she suits him/her better.

    second, i don’t see any “outrageous” in my comparison, and allow me to say that this is a so heavy voc to choose in describing it. you see it that way, simply i don’t. i believe the two actions are for the same coin.

    actually the “outrageous” which i see is this wave among the syrian bloggers, which started like two or three years ago, of ignoring each other trial to understand each other , every one is just trurning his/her back, repeating this “stylish” sentence of “oh sorry Sir, you didn’t “read” what i have wrriten, maybe next time!”

    i’m not against your free of choice to speak or not to speak, to choose to exchange ideas in a dialogue or not to , to close your comment tool or not.
    this is your choice ,and of course you’r totally free.
    but i categroize closing the comments tool ,for example , under “a form of deleting the others’ possible choice in expressing their mind up in what you have written.”
    so you don’t point at others who are seeking the same goal of ” deleting the others’ choice in expressing their mind up ” coz eventually you are doing the same but with a different form.

    beside, (using your words): the blogger Ahmad didn’t even “actively shutting people up” he has just spoken up his mind , why are you denying him this right of” true free exchange of ideas” which “the internet and the blogging culture all about”?
    or coz his ideas – which were not translated in to action – do not suit the picutre which i enhance in my mind about the way “ideas” should be, then i have to critisize or attack him?

    i thank your time.
    Regards

  • Yazan,
    What Omnia is saying is not outrageous in the slightest since it seems you wish for yourself what you deny to others as we saw so eloquently in your comment on the cited Abu Fares post. You could easily have chosen to engage or walk away from the discussion on the matter too, instead you join the mob in baying for the poor man’s blood and likened my arguments to the smell of excrement. Since my blog is mentioned in the post by Razan Ghazawi, something I had not noticed previously, I think it is only fair for me to be allowed some measure of a response.

    From the outset, I choose to respond here because her blog is notorious for the dismissive logic she herself sermonizes about. A fact, she has only enabled comments in the past few days, in all likelihood hoping to capitalise on the traffic this inane “debate” has generated. Another fact, she did not link to any of the sources she quoted from initially and only did so when this was brought up in another blog’s comment section. I attribute these all to a struggle between the writer’s impulsive desire for self-publicity and an inability to rationaly debate and discuss any topic with someone she does not approve of or with.

    In the hope of seeing this response posted, I trust you will find this post conforms with your posting regulations as it does not contain hate speech, obscenity (such as you used yourself against myself) or personal attacks. I only include facts and direct accusations based upon these same facts and on arguments. I challenge anybody to dispute this, in spite of the little time or interest I have in getting involved with this equivalen of a petty fight behind the bike shed.

  • Omnia, you said that you wish for the Syrian blogosphere not to end tragically like forum?!
    “تمنياتي للتدوين السوري بالبقاء و أن لا يتهني نهاية المنتديات المأساوية.

    Dear, the discussion that is still going on Abufares’s blog and apart from very few comments that were defensive in a dreadful way, I think the discussion was so interesting and intelligent, I don’t see how this could hurt in any way the Syrian blogosphere, it is fine to disagree as long as we respect each other’s freedom of speech and don’t take it into personal level…
    In my opinion such debates and discussions should be encouraged and been given the space to be productive and creative.

  • Thanks for bringing this conversation out, Yazan. I’d be interested to hear more about this.

  • Omniya,
    Let us go through your post one by one, starting at the very end.
    I did not deny Ahmed his right to say whatever is on his mind. I did not at any point tell him to shut his blog. I read the post when it was first posted, and I walked away after I saw that many people have said “much” of what I would’ve liked to say. He’s still publishing and his comment here is only a proof.

    Omniya, Ahmed called for hackers to destroy blogs he didn’t like, and I called that outrageous, but at no point tried active, called or even mentioned the fact that he deserves not to blog. How is that equal?

    Again, I will not speak for Razan. I personally have never moderated or deleted a comment.

    Nonetheless, Your blog is your own personal space, you can use it however you want, you can write whatever that comes up to your mind, and to close or not the comment section is also a part of that space. When I feel uneasy about a post, I, having my space can express my “outrage” (since this seems to be my favorite word today) about it. How are you denying me my voice if you close the comments section?

    I honestly can’t see the relation.

    Nonetheless, I agree completely that there is a trend for more isolation, and I agree that it beats the point in blogging. Nonetheless, I personally feel that the medium expresses itself too. What I mean is that the Syrian blogsphere is still very young, and it is still in the forming stages, there will be a lot of clashes ahead (just take a look at the history of egyptian blogging) but as long as we have joint portals, we will be bound to reading one another and discussing certain issues, and clash over what’s under discussion and what’s not. But for now, this is the dynamics that are at play. Interaction is inevitable, and just like natural selection, the blogs that choose to stay isolated, will be just what they chose, Isolated.

  • أحمد,

    بغض النظر عن رأيي الشخصي, رزان غزاوي هي من كتبت عن مشاكل التدوين العربي في سوريا. أنا جمعت ما كتبه بعض المدونين عن الموضوع.

    http://razanghazzawi.com/2008/11/19/20081119/

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