Fatima’s Head

Ziad Majed

It is hard to imagine what happened to Fatima,* and it is hard to describe the silence that engulfed the witnesses of her death. I think the artistic works on Facebook that restored her head and depicted a rose garden or the moon or the sun have tried to compensate for that terrible silence and ease the pain of Fatima and her loved ones and all of us together. 

What can be done to a Syrian child who “lost” her head?! And what can be said to a girl sprawled in her dress on the ground, arms spread wide, her small, drooping shoulders clinging to the wall directly?

Fatima Maghlaj did not understand what happened to her; she was headless all of a sudden. In an instant she lost the ability to dream and focus. She was paralyzed. She wanted to feel the dryness of her throat and ask for water. She wanted to call mother or father, but she could not make the words with her tongue and she could not find their picture in her memory. She tried to look around her to reassure herself that she was sleeping in a safe place to wait until these strange feelings of emptiness had ended. But her eyes and eyebrows and eyelashes were out of reach, scattered in the emptiness of the cold room. She found nothing but a tuft of hair that her mother had combed in preparation for her uncle’s wedding that evening.

Fatima’s head flew.

It did not dislocate like the surrealist would have it do.

The head was just plucked out by a shell without even a moment to say goodbye, to apologize for the necessity of carrying with it her words and songs, her smiles and tears and somnolence. But Fatima surrendered to a state of unconsciousness, to the death of her imagination and the end of waiting for presents and a school book bag.

She knew that she did not have the ability to do or say or wish after her head departed, after her body was left parentless, resigned, waiting for the warmth of the earth.


The tyrant likes people without heads.

He likes them without voices and dreams and plans. He sees them merely as hands clapping and ready to kill for him, merely as feet walking behind him to their death.

The tyrant likes children without heads.

For within their heads ideas have no fear and words are never suicidal. Fatima’s head was teeming with colors and laughter. So he tore it out.


It is necessary for those people silent before the destruction of Fatima’s head to grope for their heads every day. To grope for their children’s heads. To remember the maroon hair and white teeth and eyes looking for joy that melted, not letting the smooth, small body to collect them and restore its youthfulness. 

Fatima is a child who epitomizes the Syrian tragedy today, and her beheading is a daily death that affects tens of Syrian men and women who suffer before the bystanders of the world, before the passive and complicit, the indecisive and impotent.

Fatima’s death haunts thousands of her companions in Syria. There is no salvation for them or cure within the shadow of death other than seizing freedom for their country, reflecting their hopes and desires. There is no salvation except in toppling the tyrant’s regime and in regaining some of the pending justice of Syria and in the world, which has been a helplessly watching her for decades. Only when that terrible explosion that left a little girl headless in a Syrian village becomes a distant memory with no probable tragedies like it that threaten the souls of Fatima’s brothers and sisters…only when Fatima’s death becomes a story that is told tenderly about a girl that redeemed the future of the children of her country with her head will Syria find salvation.

*Fatima Maghlaj was a Syrian girl who was killed in Kafar Awid, in al-Zawia Mountain district, when it was bombed by a regime military aircraft. Pictures and videos of her body decapitated were shown online.

Translated from the Arabic by Joseph Sills.

This essay appears in Al Jadid, Vol. 17, no. 65

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