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Syria: A Blogosphere Divided

Categories: Middle East & North Africa, Syria, Development, Freedom of Speech, Ideas, Migration & Immigration, Religion, Technology, Youth

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 [1], that called for professional hackers to destroy Syrian blogs he deems are “immoral” [2] [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 [3] quoted the post, and used it in a comparison between Syrian Expatriate, and Local bloggers [4] [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 [5]- 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 [6], discussed what she feels as a religious fever [7] 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 [8], expressed his own observations on the state of the Syrian blogosphere [9]:

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 [10], Abu Kareem [11], and Ayman Haykal [12] [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 [12] [Ar]), just like the debate that took place around the first post [2] [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.