Aunt H just gave birth to a baby boy in Damascus, and my mom is happy. This is the first child for her youngest sister, and we’re all happy in the way that tired people are happy. No, I cannot think about being tired – I’m grateful that my aunt has something to be joyous about. Babies, with their tiny fists, are hope for the future especially when the present is painful.
I now have five new cousins that I’ve never met, four of them having grown up in the war. One day (or maybe never) I will go back to Homs with my parents to see the remainder of my family and I cannot even imagine looking at them in the face. I am so sorry Aunt M, of what you must worry about every time little J and H leave the house. Last time we spoke, your voice was 100 years older than I remembered it.
Back in the suburbs, my mom is quick to add, “can’t wait till you have kids” every chance she can, because she is a traditional family values kind of person, and because she is my mom. The idea of having children is so far from my mind, but there is a conversation that I always imagine. If and or when I have a daughter, she’ll ask me “What happened?”, and I’ll know what she’s referring to. We’ll sit down and I’ll tell her the most stunning story I know.
We’ll talk about terrorism, about how Al Qaeda terrorists crashed planes into New York City in the name of Islam and how the world changed. She’ll hear about the ten years of bigotry feeding the idea of the dumb, violent, oppressed Arabs who hated democracy and feel the goosebumps her mother felt when TV screens were filled with waves of Egyptians marching for civil rights.
Then there comes the part in the story where she’ll realize that, despite the idea that human rights and dignity are inherent within each individual and do not need permission to be expressed, the reality is: those in power will not give it up without a fight. The Syrians declared their desire for civil rights and were met with state sponsored guns.
I’ll tell my daughter how words are just air, but sometimes with the will to move waves of people or create illusions potent enough to poison the mind. The Assads understood the importance of words when they labeled Syria as a secular democracy wore suits and kept their faces clean-shaven. They wore suits as an entire generation was killed during the 1982 massacre in Hama, and they wore suits as barrel bombs drop on the city of Aleppo in 2014.