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A World Redrawn: Novelist says Syrians will remain unheard

Maher al-Mounes

Agence France-Presse

Damascus, Syria  /  Mon, June 15, 2020  /  10:06 am
A World Redrawn: Novelist says Syrians will remain unheard

Writer Khaled Khalifa speaks during an interview with AFP at his home in the Syrian capital Damascus on June 2, 2020. (AFP/Louai Beshara)

The novel coronavirus pandemic briefly gave Syrians a sense of belonging to the rest of the world after years of isolating war, Syrian author Khaled Khalifa said.

But the international community is too busy to look their way and the planet will continue to be as barbaric as ever, with no lessons on the value of nature learnt, said the award-winning writer of the novel No Knives in the Kitchens of this City.

Khalifa spoke to AFP in his home in the Syrian capital Damascus, where the government has announced 144 cases of the COVID-19 disease and six deaths in areas it controls.

What has the virus meant for Syrians?

For years during the war, Syrians were preoccupied with their limited world, a world of daily death.

But today their tragedy has become part of humankind's as a whole. They shared in the meaning of fear and death with the rest of the world. 

Today their fear has become communal, shared with others. It's probably the first time that they feel they are part of humankind.

But despite this, we have remained on the margins and our problems interest no one.

The world is too busy with the coronavirus to hear Syrians. Tomorrow, there will be other reasons for it to be busy and unable to hear us. Nothing will change and the war will continue.

What is a virus in war?

Syrians are those to least fear the coronavirus because they have been, and continue to be, bogged down in death, but... the virus has compounded the difficulties of their daily lives.

All burning issues in Syria have remained (burning issues) during the pandemic and will afterwards. We live in a tunnel of perpetual waiting.

One cannot compare the coronavirus to war, as it belittles (the suffering of) millions of human beings. 

We are speaking of a huge human tragedy, 10 years of hardship for a huge group of human beings. What has happened in Syria remains unique in its production of collective suffering.

Read also: 'Humankind' brings out the best in humanity

What will the world look like afterwards?

The world will remain just as barbaric as before the battle against COVID-19 and become even more brutal. It will not change or learn from this lesson that came as final warning that we cannot defy nature.

In the battle against coronavirus, nature is not an enemy but the one attacked. All that it does is try to defend itself. The attacker are the large companies abandoning all principles in the quest of profit.

The third party afflicted along with nature are people who would like life to be more humane.

Who will win this battle? 

Some people say the conflict will intensify in the markets with even greater abandon of values and even more encroachment on nature.

In realistic stories, the good never prevails, it's always evil that wins in the end. But this time we can't let it, because it's clear this will be a last stand.

For 30 years, we have not heard a politician in the world say: "These are our principles." They all say: "These are our interests."

We need to produce new values to preserve humaneness, adapted to all humanity.

How has the pandemic affected you?

The coronavirus allowed me to give wider rein to my imagination. 

Years ago when I wanted to write something very imaginative, I was scared no one would believe it. But now everything will be easy to believe because what has happened was once unimaginable.

I think hundreds of screenwriters are thinking of making films about the coronavirus. But the virus in Syria is different to the virus in America. Even if it's the same illness, its social consequences are totally different.

The coronavirus forced me to think more and ask myself questions we still have not answered.

How did these humans become so selfish? Why is there all this production and waste of resources today? Why is there no justice? Why are murderers living on, protected by bank owners and large companies?

Are we able to build a more humane, less criminal future?

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