In Conversation – A Syrian Kurd, Part IV: Masters and Slaves

In Conversation – A Syrian Kurd, Part IV: Masters and Slaves

?The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other. Our children see this, and learn to imitate it.?

Thomas Jefferson

?A thief not caught becomes a king.?

Kurdish proverb

Moustafa Mala Bozan is a Kurdish poet and musician from Kobany, Syria. He’s been corresponding online with Wanda Waterman for the past year, during which time he’s been imprisoned, has lived in refugee camps, and has travelled over Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon. Read the first part of this series here, the second part here, and the third part here.

No More Bread!

People the world over are still propagating the falsehood that if Bashir Al-Assad could only be removed from power, all would be well in Syria. Moustafa makes it clear that the problem is somewhat more endemic.

?While in the military service,? he says, ?a strange thing happened to me. Every section had its bosses and among the bosses there was a special mutual respect.

?I had a friend who was responsible for the kitchen. Every day I went to him for special food (bread, eggs, potatoes, and yogurt) for my friends and me. He always made food ready for me because I was in charge of tailoring and took care of his suits.

?One day I went to get the food as usual and found this kitchen boss talking to a soldier who was begging him for a loaf of bread. I was astonished at how my friend behaved; he was shouting in the man’s face:,?There’s nothing here to eat, not even a half loaf! Go away!?

?I picked up my meal (enough for ten people) easily while this one was starving. I shared my meal with him in spite of the anger of my friend.

?I said, ?We are the same?he is serving in the army as you and me, and he is asking to eat, not to feed his dog.?

?My friend got very angry and said, ?If you give him food, never come back here again to ask me for food!? I said, ?Okay, sir, I won’t.? And I never went back there again.?

?Why should there be hungry soldiers in the Syrian army?? Moustafa asks. ?Syria is the richest among the Arab countries, but the state’s treasury is suffering from administrative rottenness. Those with no state officials to support them and who can’t afford bribes will be hungry and condemned as guilty at any moment.?

Oh, My Heart

In the week that the video Innocence of the Muslims comes to international notoriety, Moustafa tells me about a film called Aydil (Oh, My Heart), a documentary by Ziad Kalthoum about Kurdish women who’ve lost husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers during Assad’s reign. His friend appears in it, carrying an oud.

Moustafa promises to send me a copy as soon as they can do a translation, but in the meantime he shares his screen with me and we watch it together. I’ve never seen anything like this film. The cinematography has a strange twilight look, and the voices are rough and real. The faces alone provoke a profound sympathy. In the end their losses trump any gains imaginable, their grief a reality that can never be negotiated away.

I Have Sixteen Slaves Like You

Moustafa sums up the rot at the core of Syrian society with the following story:

?Another event I witnessed was at a traffic jam. An old man was driving a taxi and a lady was driving a sports car. The lady made a mistake that could have led to an accident, and the old man rebuked her. The lady got out of her car and hit the old man violently, saying, ?How can you rebuke me? You haven’t learned how to respect your masters!?

?She slapped him again, saying, ?Do you know I have sixteen slaves like you serving me in my house?? No one had the courage to stop her, but the policeman dared to beg her to forgive the old man. She finally did. I wondered what would have happened to the old man if the lady hadn’t forgiven him. I think death would have been waiting for him.

?The low class and the high class are the matter here, the masters and slaves.?

Finally, some common ground. As has been becoming increasingly clear, economic inequality is slowly destroying the West. Unfortunately the forms it takes are more palatable than those typified by snooty women slapping old men in public; here, the only outcry seems to be coming from the Occupy movement. But as long as we fail to see how Syrians are our brothers and sisters in a common struggle, we will continue not only to fail them as we have done, but also to fail ourselves.