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No Literary Awards or Medals from Tyrant!
By Elie Chalala
On May 6, Mouin al-Bayari, a frequent contributor to Al Hayat newspaper, published a column "Zakaria Tamer...the Award and the Criticism." Zakaria Tamer is a prominent Syrian literary figure, widely read and translated. Alongside his work as a journalist and editor, he has written stories and is known for his satirical style. Given his humble background, Zakaria’s work is often preoccupied with social and economic themes.
The two were recently brought together by a post made by Tamer on his Facebook, in which he voiced some very harsh and sarcastic criticisms of Syrian president Bashar al-Asad. Bayari cited the following from Tamer's post: “Is the current Syrian president aware that Syrian mothers do not give birth to children only to have his assistants kill them, so that he can hasten the establishment of the Republic of Graves, which is likely to replace the Syrian Arab Republic?" Tamer adds, "the so-called Bashar al-Assad wished to visit the Golan Heights as a liberator," but apparently lost his way and instead visited the neighborhood Baba Amr in Homs as if it was a Syrian liberated territory." This seems to have encouraged Bayari to demand that Mr. Tamer renounce the medal given to him by Assad in 2002 (the same medal given to another Syrian novelist, Hanna Minah).
But Mr. Bayari has a point: if the value of the medal in question is based on the assumption that the president was honoring the artist’s creativity and contributions to the culture of his society on behalf of the Syrian people, the validity of such and assumption is at the very least questionable. Considering the mayhem that the president has visited upon those very same Syrian people, his right to bestow honors on their behalf would seem to be up for debate. Perhaps Bayari is calling upon Hanna Minah to return his medal, as well? At the same time, Bayari commends the Egyptian novelist Baha Taher for returning the Mubarak literary prize he won in 2009, at the beginning of the Egyptian revolution, without even waiting for Mubarak to be overthrown.
Bayari also has criticized the Egyptian intellectual Jaber Asfour, who received the Moammar Qaddafi prize and then later attempted to justify it by promising to donate it to the Libyan people. Asfour has lost much credibility as a result of this justification, and the shallow reasoning offered for the Qaddafi Prize is as unconvincing as the argument he offered for accepting Mubarak's invitation to join his cabinet in the early days of the revolution only to change his mind later on. But Bayari really goes too far in introducing Mahmoud Darwish's acceptance of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's medal when he makes the problematic claim that, had the Palestinian poet lived longer, he would have turned it down. Ben Ali was not Qaddafi, and Asfour did not have to wait until the outbreak of the Libyan revolution to discover that Qaddafi was a tyrant. And it is no apology to make the observation that Ben Ali, for all of his authoritarianism, was essentially a junior tyrant compared to Qaddafi and Bashar al-Assad.
Zakaria Tamer is certainly not the only Syrian intellectual who has been called upon to denounce the massacres that have befallen the Syrian people over the past 14 months. Many others have chosen to be silent, and they cannot be excused. They are not simply private individuals; they are public figures, whether they accept this or not, and the creative works they authored were read by the Syrian people. The very least they can do in honoring the more than 12,000 martyrs is to tell the whole world that no honors or medals can be accepted from their killers.