by Nihad Sirees
Is it possible for the silence and the roar to coexist? The answer is most certainly, yes. In countries ruled by people obsessed with supremacy, authoritarians and those who are crazed by power, the ruler or the leader imposes silence upon all those who dare to think outside the prevailing norm. Silence can be the muffling of one’s voice or the banning of one’s publications, as is the case with Fathi Sheen, the protagonist of this novel. Or it might be the silence of a cell in a political prison or, without trying to unnecessarily frighten anyone, the silence of the grave.
But this silence is also accompanied by an expansive roar, one that renders thought impossible. Thought leads to individualization, which is the most powerful enemy of the dictator. People must not think about the leader and how he runs the country; they must simply adore him, want to die for him in their adoration of him. Therefore, the leader creates a roar all around him, forcing people to celebrate him, to roar.
I had always wanted to explore certain dimensions of dictatorship: the orchestration of such roaring marches and how people are coerced into the streets to chant for the leader under the direction of bullhorns. The leader seeking to cover himself with a roaring halo is not a nice thing to see. Naturally he would only ever do that as a means of covering up and suppressing any other sound.
With this roar he also aims to cover up the violent crimes he unleashes against his rivals in the underground dungeons of the security apparatus, those places located far out of sight but that everyone knows about.
I believe that love and peace are the right way to confront tyranny. Thus I wrote this novel about the dictator whose opponents cannot find any other way to stand up to him but through love and laughter. It is with love that the hero of the story acquires the strength to stand up and confront silence; with laughter that he tears off the frightening halo with which the dictator has surrounded himself, and then subsequently dares to confront his minions.
There is another kind of roar that this author never thought the leader would ever be capable of using: the roar of artillery, tanks and fighter jets that have already opened fire on Syrian cities. The leader is leveling cities and using lethal force against his own people in order to hold on to power. We must ask, alongside the characters in this novel: What kind of Surrealism is this?
As I present my novel to the English-speaking reader, my heart is agonizingly heavy about what is happening in Syria, my homeland.
Nihad Sirees is a civil engineer who was born in the ancient Syrian city of Aleppo in 1950. His other novels include Cancer, The North Winds, and A Case of Passion. He has also written several plays and television dramas, the latest of which, Al Khait Al Abiadh (The First Gleam of Dawn), provides a frank depiction of the country’s government controlled media and has been wildly acclaimed for its boldness and controversial nature. Branded an opponent of the government, publication of several of his works was forbidden by government censors. His subsequent novels were published abroad. He left Syria in January, 2012, to avoid Syrian security services. Since that time he has lived in self-imposed exile in Cairo, Egypt.
This article originally appeared in the March 2013 edition of the Other Press newsletter. Click here to subscribe and to view the archive.