Revamping Syria’s creative resistance

These days, we don’t hear that much concerning Syrian civil society and its resilience. Yet, this is something we should care about and we should try to listen to Syrian voices from civil society that have been silenced by the polarization Syrian regime vs ISIS (Da’ash).
I’m proud to be part of a team of committed scholars, journalists and activists who are doing their best to deliver those silenced voices to the general public. Our common project, the web portal on Syrian civil society and emerging creativity  SyriaUntold,  has just been revamped. It has a new look, and contains new features and also a new section which highlights our recent partnership with Open Democracy  “Looking inside the uprising” .
This new section features articles on “collective memory”, “creative resistance”, “emerging media”, and “sectarianism”, a topic highly debated these days in the context of the Syrian uprising
The last article penned by our Mohamed Dibo , “Assad’s secular sectarianism”,  has been widely discussed, bringing a new perspective to a debate which is too often framed by Western media in a very polarized way, i.e. “Assad’s secularism” vs “sunni jihadism”.
We hope that, even such a small contribution as SyriaUntold is, can at least help shed light on issues and perspectives quite often forgotten in the international debate, or lost in the “black and white” frame applied to Syria these days.
We do our best to highlight the efforts and the incredible resilience of Syrian civil society, featuring its defiance and creative resistance.
Please visit the new website , follow SyriaUntold on Twitter and Facebook 
and subscribe to the weekly newsletter. 


Syria Untold at Ars Electronica

Syria Untold, the web aggregator on Syria`s creative resistance, has just been awarded by the prestigious Ars Electronica festival with the honorary mention in the digital communities category.
This is a very important award in the domain of digital arts and creativity, and it`s an acknowledgment of the hard work that the Syria Untold team has been doing since the beginning of our journey in 2012.

I`m extremely happy and proud to be one of the co-founder of this project which is run on a daily basis by a team of talented and brave Syrians who work very hard to collect stories of creative resistance inside the country.
Above all, I am humbled by those Syrians who are still defiant and continue working on creative resistance against all odds.  This award symbolically goes to them.

Syria Untold focuses on this very aspect of the Syrian uprising which is often forgotten by mainstream media. For those who would like to stay updated on the topic, you are welcome to join the Syria Untold weekly newsletter by clicking “Subscribe” on the top left side of the screen here



Syria, time passes…but not youth, beauty, hope

This video came out yesterday from Yarmouk, the Palestinian “camp” in Damascus, which has been bombed and put under siege by the Syrian regime forces.

You just have to watch it and, even if you don`t understand the words (its pretty meaningful title is ( الساعه عم تمشي )”Time goes by”), you will understand what it is about.



You see these guys playing piano and singing in the middle of the destruction and devastation, alone in the middle of nowhere…yet, there is life in there, plenty of life…


Not by chance, I had another powerful life lesson last week when I was in Jordan for the Arab Bloggers meeting #4. There were amazing people, from all across the Arab world; friends that I hadn`t been seeing for an year or more and I have to say that I really, truly enjoyed to spend quality time with them, exchange thoughts, have fun.

But the most striking, powerful thing was to meet Marcell. She came all the way from Aleppo. I guess it was a long, super stressing and difficult trip to get to Jordan. She came with a beautiful smile, tired, wearing masculine clothes. But when I saw her the day after she had her nails done and painted in red, her hair were dark, she was wearing a skirt and a necklace. She was singing and dancing, as if she were going to a party to celebrate her youth.

Marcell doesnt have an easy life in Aleppo. Her neighborhood is controlled by ISIS, she recently lost her mum who was shot “by mistake” at a checkpoint. She is Christian and she is a woman. With a group of friends, all of them activists from the peaceful resistance movement, they managed to rebuild and take care of some schools in the neighborhood.

When I look at Marcell`s eyes I see life. When I look at these guys from Yarmouk, singing with their piano outdoor in the middle of nothing, I see life and hope for Syria. And I wonder why others — international media, diplomats, the people who come at gatherings and conferences saying that “what is happening in Syria is just an international conspiracy” and “Bashar al-Asad is the only one who can guarantee a multicultural and multi-religious Syria”–  cannot or do not want to see people like Marcell or these guys from Yarmouk…


*But if you think that it still makes sense to talk about people like Marcell or Yarmouk`s youth, please have a look at Syria Untold, the web portal which tells about creative resistance and civil society in Syria, both in English and Arabic.




Protests are back in Syria (have they ever disappeared?)

Two days ago, I was delighted to read this article published on prominent New York Times blog “The Lede” under the title of “Syrians protest Assad and Islamist militants”.

The infatigable Kafranbel people — a small village in North Syria which has become famous for its witty satirical anti Assad posters and slogans- made this gorgeous poster about the Syrian President and the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIS) being two faces of the same coin.




But many other activists from different parts of Syria joined the protests against the new tyranny that ISIS is trying to impose in the so-called “liberated” areas.


(Tasqut Da3ysh means: “ISIS should fall”)

A great collection of pictures and videos from the anti-ISIS protests of 3 January 2014 can be found here.

In the last couple of days there has been a media hype about an alleged renewed vitality of the civil society movements in Syria (or at least of those who are not connected to Islamists and Islamic groups), as if they had disappeared from the country long time ago.

Well, the news is that they had never disappeared from the ground (although they had a very difficult time especially in the past year, many of its activists having been jailed or forced to leave the country); they had just disappeared from media coverage. There are very few media outlets in the English language which do constantly report about these civil society movements, such as Syria Untold – there is a weekly newsletter you can subscribe here if you wanna be updated on the latest news).

For many Syrians (I would say: the majority), the fact that extremist groups such as ISIS are the product of a well planned strategy by the Syrian regime is pretty well known.


Yesterday Michel Kilo, a Syrian Christian and prominent member of the opposition, wrote on the London-based newspaper Asharq Al Awsat that

“None of the Syrian regime’s achievements matches its fabrication of the fundamentalist-terrorist groups that it pretends to fight and protect the Syrians from”.

To have a better understanding of this, I suggest you to read this article by Dr Mohammed Habash, a religious scholar and a former member of the Syrian parliament. The title speaks for itself: “Radicals are Assad`s best friends“.

Habash evokes the ties between Assad and Islamic movements long before the Syrian uprising: and everything goes back to Iraq 2003.
Reading this article, my memory goes back to when I moved to Damascus, in early 2007. At the time, it was common knowledge that Assad was sending fighters to Iraq. Everybody would talk about this quite openly, even at the bakery: this was sort of a legitimate action, since it was done “against US imperialism”. No mistery that Syrian regime was in touch with extremist groups and was using them for its own sake.
Even Syrian musalsalat are openly talking about this. I hope to be writing more about this topic in the future. Anyway, even mainstream TV entertainment is dealing with it. It looks like the only ones who did not know anything and now look surprised are Western media outlets, and I wonder if this is just a matter of not understanding Arabic or, rather, not wanting to understand and properly analyze the situation…



Back to (online) life

Yes, it has been a while since I last updated this blog, which is really a shame and I do apologize with my readers and with those who kept sending me emails asking questions, demanding advice, references.. However, those who follow my Twitter feed @donatelladr know that I am still pretty active (maybe too active!) in microblogging, especially when it comes to updates on Syria.

It has been a challenging period for me, on a personal and professional level. The Syria situation is so dreadful, and for those like me who still have lots of friends inside, in very difficult conditions, it is not always easy to keep the information flow going. Anyway, there are a number of new, interesting projects coming out of Syria — some of which I have actively contributed to, like Syria Untold, the web aggregator on civil and peaceful resistance movements– . I will blog about it in the next days, inshallah.

On a professional update, it was tough for me but I had to take the sad decision to leave my position as Arab world manager for Creative Commons,  (CC) something that I have been doing for the past five years with passion and enthusiasm. It was one of the most exciting experiences (both professional and human) of my life, and I am very grateful to Joi Ito and Larry Lessig, who gave me their support and a great dose of enthusiasm to start working on building the CC Arab world community back in 2008. Thanks to this incredible opportunity, I had the chance to see a community being born, growing, and developing, with all the challenges, problems and exciting moments that this entails. This coincided with a very interesting phase in the Arab world, especially from 2008 to 2010, when Arab youth, bloggers, activists and tech enthusiasts started  gathering and organizing barcamps, unconferences, geek fests, formal and informal meetings. I feel so blessed to have been part of this very peculiar moment in the history of the Arab world. We toured the region, organized events, peer-produced music and visuals, discussed about technology, life, human rights, planned for a different future of the Region, a future based on openness and sharing.

I still believe that this future is possible, despite the dire circumstances under which the Region lives now. But for me it`s time to move to a different phase, and leave to fresh brains the exciting possibility to continue building open communities in the Arab world. I will surely continue to be an active member of the community. I will never ever leave Creative Commons, which has been my family for so many years; nor give up to the battles for openness and sharing in the Arab world that we have fought and supported. But in the next phase I will be following all this from a little bit of distance, without being involved in the day-to-day operations of organizing and coordinating the community building activities in the Region. In a way, it will be more fun to be just a part of the community and enjoy the meetings and the projects as an active participant rather than an organizer or coordinator. There is an open call now on the Creative Commons` website for a new Arab Regional Coordinator and I hope we`ll soon find somebody to take over this role which requires a lot of responsibilities but it`s also a lot of fun! Please share the call with anyone who might be interested. 

On another note, I have decided to devote more time to my academic research on the Arab world — mostly on Syria, with a focus on media and the grassroots creavitiy in the context of the uprising –. I`ve been offered the great opportunity to join  The Annenberg School for Communication at Penn University as a post doctoral fellow at PARGC (Project for Advanced Research in Global Communication)a new exciting project led by Marwan Kraidy, a Professor of Communication who has authored some of the most important books in the field of Arab media studies (e.g. “Reality Television and Arab Politics. Contention in Public Life“) . It`s great to be joining Marwan and all the other great scholars at Annenberg, and I`m sure I will learn a great deal from this experience..and inshallah also get my book about the politics of Syrian TV drama out..

I want to thank Cathy Casserly, and all my colleagues and friends at Creative Commons for these amazing five years spent together..particularly the CC Arab world community without whom this would have been simply a job, and not a life-enriching  experience as it actually was and, in fact, still is.

And now I promise I will keep this blog much more up-to-date than it was in the past months…