On the Verge of a Nation's Breakdown

Samar Yazbek's Memoir Chronicles the Syrian Uprising

Verbatim Memoir: Many of the interviews carried out are so gripping they are reprinted in their entirety.
Getty Images
Verbatim Memoir: Many of the interviews carried out are so gripping they are reprinted in their entirety.

By Jo-Ann Mort

Published November 24, 2012, issue of November 30, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

Yazbek herself was taken, blindfolded, by the security apparatus to a prison where they showed her a cell — as a warning. She recalls: “I saw three bodies hanging in the middle of nowhere, but I couldn’t understand how. He moved me even closer…. My stomach started to seize up. The three bodies were almost naked.… Suddenly one of the young men sluggishly tried to lift his head and I saw his face in those dim rays of light. He didn’t have a face: his eyes were completely shut. I couldn’t discern any gleam in his eyes. There was a blank space where his nose should be, no lips. His face was like a red board without any defining lines — red interspersed with black that had once been red.”

On another prison trip, she was stripped nearly naked while her captors beat a prisoner in front of her in order to frighten her. After months of intimidation — visits to cell blocks, physical harassment, phone calls, her Facebook account hacked, leaflets calling her a traitor distributed in her home town of Jableh — Yazbek was warned by a senior military officer that her file was being handed to the “grunts” who would take care of her. Frightened for her daughter, she made the difficult decision to flee her homeland.

Yet, even on the same page where she describes her reluctant decision to leave, Yazbek also reports half a million people on the streets protesting in Hama alone and claims that “the organization of the local coordination committees and the Federation of Coordination Committees take intelligent steps that reflect a deep consciousness among the young people in organizing an uprising, rising to the occasion and guaranteeing its persistence.”

Wondering throughout where her fellow intellectuals are, those who “remained on the sidelines, panicked and afraid,” she writes: “I am armed with nothing but my conscience. It doesn’t matter to me whether the coming period brings moderate Islam and all they say comes with it. The faces of the murderers don’t matter to me, and neither does all the talk nor all the lies. … I have seen the children of my people fall one by one like unripe peaches from a tree.”

Yazbek insists that the Syrian uprising is a revolution of people who “wish to liberate themselves from their humiliation,” a revolt of “simple, ordinary young people. They didn’t have any extremist religious views and I saw secularists among them.” But in recent interviews during a U.S. tour, she warned of the influx into Syria of extreme Islamist elements who weren’t originally part of the revolution. Whether those who started the uprising succeed or whether other forces triumph, there is no way of knowing. Meanwhile, for those of us helpless on the sidelines, this book is critical reading to better understand the Syrian catastrophe as it continues to unfold.

Jo-Ann Mort writes frequently for the Forward about Israeli and Palestinian issues.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.