The Mukhaberat took one of my friends the other day. Ironically he’s an Assad supporter, but he’d quarrelled with his girlfriend and wanted to give her a kitten to make it up. Syria is littered with street cats and he’s a student, so buying one seemed a bit silly. Perhaps in hindsight not quite as stupid as getting himself arrested, but when he saw a big cat entering an old, disused building he didn’t think it overlooked a security building, he thought maybe the cat was so big because it had kittens. He vainly hunted cats all over the building, including on the roof, where he was spotted by security in the building over the road. When he got out he found his comrade had already been nicked and the police were waiting for him.
The police were unconvinced by the cat cover story and took him to intelligence, where the officer started insulting and threatening him. Syria’s take on good cop/bad cop is for one to ask questions and the other to stop the suspect answering so the interrogation wasn’t going well. The situation deteriorated when it turned out my friend has misplaced his ID card, a criminal offence here. He explained he hadn’t got a new one as he needs to go back to his village near Homs. The situation deteriorated further (full stop) my friend has a smart phone, stuffed full of music and videos, so the higher ranking officer went through it. He found a sermon by an Alawi sheikh, but didn’t understand what it was. The lower ranking officer is, like my friend, Alawi and recognised the ‘secret Alawi thing.’ He asked what my friends’ sectarian allegiances are. The big officer went ape shit when my friend said he was an Alawi; according to the big officer Syria is non-sectarian and whingeing Alawi rich boys shouldn’t expect special treatment. The Alawi officer was apparently worried that the Sunni superior would discover all sorts of Alawi secrets on the phone, as was my friend. He started desperately trying to prove that my friend’s merely an idiot, not a security threat, they discovered Alawi friends in common 0fs9 Syria might not be sectarian, but my friend was soon allowed to call a mate to bail him out.
His girlfriend was unimpressed. He was badly scared. The guy who did the bailing was furious about going on record as the friend of someone who’s criminally stupid. There is no kitten. Life continues, watching Al Jazera is less argumentative.
I haven’t blogged recently because I’ve been having a great time in Lebanon, where it snowed too much to ski. Mine and my friends perception of Lebanon is dreadfully warped by only visiting from Syria, the Lebanese don’t consider their country a beacon of freedom and functionality. The Lebanese, however, don’t live in Syria.
When you leave Damascus for the countryside you get off the serveice and suddenly realise how fresh and clean the air is. Mentally leaving Syria has the same effect. You could never appreciate how bad things were hear until you left. In December, which I spent in Jordan, I was absolutely amazed by how easy it is to buy books; I saw everything from the Torah to Mine Kamp in shop windows. Here bookshops deal almost entirely in Islamic, text or English language, books. There are only ever a handful of novels, and they’re almost always the same few. The Lebanese and Jordanians are educated, Syrians are taught to fear. Syrian English has a verb unknown to native speakers -to stupidize. It’s pretty self explanatory. They use it to describe what the government does to them. It tells you all you ever needed to know about Syria.