(with, of course, all due respect to mr. e e cummings)

Friday, August 19, 2011

Valuating the Truth

Somebody asked me the other day whether Syrians who voice support for their current government really do like it.  I had to say and still have to say that I don't know.  I'm not there, but even more than that, when I was there, I didn't know.  It's probably a mix, like anything else.

The thing about an environment in which you don't know who to believe or who is listening is that it cheapens the truth.

Syrians grow up with the knowledge that the Western superpowers are not that hot on them and don't share many of their national goals-- the return of the Golan, for one.  In addition, Western media sources don't have the cultural background, connections, and sometimes even the linguistic skills that local ones do.  This is a serious problem in a context where connections (wasta) are everything.  The bottom line is, too, that most media are banned in Syria.  So much for Syrians believing what the Western media reports.

Then there's the Syrian official state media source, Sana.  I think it is safe to say that everyone is aware, at the very least, that Sana comes from a difference point of view than does the BBC or AFP.  Maybe Sana reports the absolute gospel truth, fact for fact.  Maybe it doesn't.  But given the choice between repeating what Sana says, be it even that there is no poverty in Syria, and repeating what alien sources say, what kind of choice is that?  You may mistrust both.  Both probably misrepresent events in one way or another, whether on purpose or not.  But repeating the reports of one flags you as suspicious and repeating the other makes you and your family safe.  It may even get you promoted.  So what's to choose?

On one level, it doesn't matter if what you're saying is true, because it won't be either way.  It doesn't even matter if you believe what you repeat.  It only matters that you don't needlessly endanger yourself or the people you love.  Remember this when you wonder why people everywhere don't speak out on behalf of the oppressed.

This is why the courage shown by those who speak or act out in Syria and in similar situations around the world is so shocking and amazing: it's illogical.  It's pinning your hopes on the fact that the truth is attainable and worth attaining, even if you don't know where it is or if anyone else is after it, too.  It's rejecting all the half-truths that offer support and striking out into darkness in hopes of something better being within your grasp before you are lost.  It's declaring that you deserve a third choice.  Ultimately, it's rejecting the paradigm of despair and fear that tells you that truth is for safe people somewhere else, while you are best suited only to getting by.

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