Ramadan and the Arab Spring

By Paul Sullivan

Ramadan should begin with the quiet of family time in the early hours of the morning. Families should rise to cook the pre-dawn meal called suhur, and pass the hours before the day's fast begins by chatting, telling stories, reading the Koran, and praying. The smells should be of falafel cooking, incense burning, tea brewing, and the motors of cars, buses, and trucks slowly waking. The call to prayer in the morning should be the major sound to echo to the rising sun.

As the day warms, some families would then go about their chores. Others might nap. The children might read the Koran with a father or grandfather, while other adults meet old friends and relatives to discuss the coming days and what they might mean. Those who have jobs would go to work, but maybe with a different sense of purpose. Ramadan should be a time to think about those less fortunate and a time to think about what the month really means: its challenges, joys, and trials.

But for the people of Syria, this Ramadan is like no other. With attacks from government forces not only continuing but getting worse in recent weeks, any sense of normalcy has disappeared. So many mothers and fathers have seen their children arrested, abused, attacked, and killed that it is hard to keep up with the numbers. This is a sad Ramadan for a people who have suffered much in recent days. This time of peace and learning has been transformed into a time of fear.

I fondly remember walking the streets of the Arab world, experiencing the lights, sights, smells, and sounds of this special month. I would wake up and take my early morning stroll around Cairo, Amman, Petra, or wherever I was at the time. I would listen to the city or village life as I walked, making sure to offer the polite greeting of “peace be upon you” to all who passed me by.  Even with my foreign, professorial looks and mannerisms,  I could always expect to hear the usual, “and unto you," in response. One of my favorite sounds was of the drummer in the early morning waking people up for the suhur. But today in Syria, that has been replaced by the much louder drumming of gunfire, tanks barrages, and more.

One of my main feelings about this is bafflement. The other is dismay. The other is an evanescent feeling that within violence and war one can understand the true and profound importance of peace.

Sometimes I wonder what a nine or 10 or 15 year old Syrian boy or girl must be thinking of all of this and how their thinking might affect the future of this country. With a proud and deep history, Syria was once at the very heart of the Arab world. Sadly, with a dictatorship on the ropes, lashing out at its people, it is now making its mark on the world as an example of the Arab Spring gone badly awry.

Now if these young people could only remember this time of their youth as tranquil, listening to the Koran  being recited and explained by their grandfathers and grandmothers; if only they could remember this time as one of peaceful play in the summer time; if only they could jump into streams and lakes and spend time with friends without having to fear whether the next stray bullet was for them. If only this were true, then my concerns about a much more violent, aggressive, and unstable Syria of the future would be less.

But now al-Thar, vendetta, is in the air, and it could be there for a very long time. The psychological toll from all of this could be very high.


Paul Sullivan is a professor at Georgetown University and The National Defense UniversityAll opinions expressed are his alone and do not represent those of the National Defense University, or any other organization he may be associated with.

[Photo courtesy of flickr user zz77]

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