Syrian Renaissance Darkened by Prospect of War

By Cobban, Helena | The Christian Science Monitor, December 19, 2002 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Syrian Renaissance Darkened by Prospect of War


Cobban, Helena, The Christian Science Monitor


It's past 11 p.m. in the trendy Pitstop cafe in central Damascus. We're in the last days of Ramadan, so the cafe - like the streets outside - is bustling. At the table next to us, two young women, enjoying an evening out over a latte and a traditional hubble- bubble pipe, symbolize the way a new generation of Syrians is creating its own modernity from "Eastern" and "Western" sources.

One of the young women wears the hair-concealing head scarf of an observant Muslim tucked into the neck of her stylish pantsuit. The other, tossing flowing J-Lo locks as she talks, could be either a secular Muslim or one of the 15 percent of Syrians who belong to the country's ancient Christian churches. Young women having a night out together without a male chaperone: until recently, you wouldn't see that in many Arab countries. And in many of them, you still don't.

If there's much that's new in 21st-century Syria, the easy social interaction between local Muslims and Christians, in general, is traditional.

For example, my Syrian Christian friend Mahat Khoury took me to a traditional Ramadan iftar meal at the ultrasnob Club de l'Orient. As we waited at our food-laden table for the prayer permitting Muslims to break their day-long fast, several of Mrs. Khoury's Muslim friends came to greet us warmly. Many of the family groups there had a mix of head-scarved and free-hair women - all seeming to have fun together.

"We really do have a tolerant society," one high government official told me. "The degree of anyone's religious observance, or what particular religion a person belongs to, is really a personal matter. Other people respect that. That's how we get along."

I've been traveling to this lovely city of minarets, nestled between a large mountain and the desert, since 1970. Today, I see Damascus poised on a knife-edge between a palpable sense of new excitement and a strong sense of fear. Much of the excitement stems from the hopes foreconomic and political liberalization sparked by the new-generation president, Bashar al-Assad, inaugurated in 2000 after the passing of his father, the previous president. The fear stems from the prospect that a US-led war on neighboring Iraq would create regional turmoil.

Signs of the nation's renaissance include the adoption of new means of communication by many. There's been a steady growth in Internet access, and Syrian studios now produce a lot of the Arab world's TV programming.

Syrians particularly like watching TV during Ramadan. This year, there was a new series called "Spotlight" that intrigued viewers by poking an unprecedented amount of fun at Mr. Assad. In one episode, he was portrayed as bumbling and wooden at an Arab summit, while his Lebanese counterpart sycophantically agreed with everything he said.

"Suddenly, people are not sure where the 'red lines' on freedom of speech are any more," one Syrian friend commented.

Not all the signs are good.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Syrian Renaissance Darkened by Prospect of War
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?