Abortion in Syria… under the microscope

A few issues ago – in March – we dedicated our cover story to talk about abortion in Syria. I just found this Arabic article about our issue in all4syria website.

Forward Magazine, March 2009, Abortion in SyriaAnyhow, the stories reported in this article are spine-tingling. As I was giving the article a final look, after Mehdi was done with the editing, I couldn’t help but think about how well-written the article is. There was no ethical stand in the narrative. You as a reader were free to decide for yourself whether you thought the women in the article took an ethical decision or not. Some of them had 10 children and wanted no extra child to burden an already poor family, while others had a dream career to follow and wanted no extra child to impede her ambitions.

Personally, I was never able to have an opinion on the matter of abortion. I feel it’s up to God, He knows what motivates women (and people in general) to do what they do… who am I to judge? I don’t have enough knowledge nor wisdom to have a clear stand about this issue. It seems when it comes to abortion it is a case-by-case topic… it’s never black or white… in any kind of “crime” – if we wanna start by partially calling it so.

Ok, I am done with my dose of monologue for the day,

Ruba

Forward Magazine

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Young electric guitarist from Syria releases album: Luay Rifai

Luay Rifai is one of Syria’s exciting young musicians. He recently released an electric guitar album, dubbed Vital. Forward Magazine featured Luay’s work in our new youth section, Forward Shabab, appearing for the first time this April. Check out this issue of Forward for more… Luay Rifai’s Vital on page 51, under sectionhead “Music Made in Syria…

“Vital” is now available in Damascus – Syria, in the following fine stores: – Al Mahatta (Bab Toma, old damas) – Al Khaimeh (Bab Toma, Qaimaria – old damas) – Anas (Bab Toma, Qaimaria – old damas) – Zannobya (Malki) – ITS (Malki) – Nine (Mezzah Highway) – Nai (Sha’lan) – Cham Center (Sha’lan) – Laser (Sha’lan, Engineers’ bldg) – Ghajarya (Sha’lan)

Forward Magazine, Syria, Forward Shabab, Luay Rifai, guitar

Click here for Luay‘s Facebook Page

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Suggestion Box of Doomed Ideas: Cinema in Syria

 

How are we going to save the decrepit Syrian cinema industry?

How are we going to save the decrepit Syrian cinema industry?

I had intended this for a later post, but I got to thinking about it since so many coffee shops were being overrun by viewers of soccer matches. First, though, some background of the situation as I understand it. In the good old days we only hear about in magazines (like our March 2009 issue of Forward – go check it out!) and old people, movie theaters in Syria were pristine and attended by the echelons of our society, while our artists used the cinematic medium to excellence, expressing issues both deep and entertaining.

 

Somewhere along the line that all disappeared. Theaters became run down as the owners refused to spend the money on renovation, demanding only a pure profit from their continually worsening, decrepit show halls. Attendance was discouraged by the misguided, overzealous rants of the extremist elements within our religious communities, and those who would brave societal disapproval to watch a film were put off by the unsavory elements that came to frequent these run-down halls.

Meanwhile, as theater attendance dwindled, fewer and fewer directors were willing to brave the lack of an audience as well as the restrictive regulations set forth by the Syrian Cinema Organization. Turning more and more to television as an outlet for dramatic release, cinema all but disappeared from the Syrian horizon. Many lament this, but few have any ideas how to change this.

The problem, as I see it, is as follows: first, no one sees the theater as a legitimate arena to hold social functions in; two, because of this, none of the current or potential owners see cinemas as a lucrative investment, discouraging renovation or building projects for these theaters; finally, since directors can see they will have no money and no audience to do any of their projects, they simply won’t waste their time, and whatever cinemas are out there are showing films from abroad.

This is where all those soccer viewers come in. What might not be common knowledge is that, especially in North America, cinemas have a long history of broadcasting sports events (mostly wrestling, but some areas go to live broadcasts of American football games and other sports events). Therefore, broadcasting soccer matches, Olympic events, other sports, and even Bab al-Harra and similar TV programs on a large screen, with good picture and excellent surround sound, in an area with a concession stand only makes sense. Cafés and restaurants have benefitted from it; why shouldn’t cinemas?

As people become more familiar with the theater once again, and start scheduling their social schedule around these showings, owners may be enticed to compete in creating the best viewing space. Some tips from North America, once again; many making new theaters or renovating old ones are daunted by the traditional view of the cinema space as a huge hall with closely spaced seating. This does not need to be so. Many theaters abroad are no larger than a big café with a ceiling two stories high, and some have even created VIP viewing spaces, with comfortable chairs with side tables to hold treats bought at the snack bar.

Those saying that will increase cost of the ticket, in some areas this may be a positive. Remember those unsavory characters? Once cinemas are high brow again, they might shove off. That is also not to say that all theaters need to follow this model, but you must be able to cater to every taste, and these smaller viewing areas might be perfect for another idea from the world of theater abroad: Using the hall as a conference space. Business meetings requiring the best equipment for their power point presentations, private screenings of films on sensitive topics, conferences requiring audio visual finesse, and many other events can be held in theaters. It’s simply a matter of marketing and readjusting the image of the theater.

Now it is the turn of Syrian cinematic endeavors, and in this case, this will either require government aid or private philanthropy. As local directors are all TV-bound, and expatriate directors are simply not thinking along these lines, we need to create a draw to bring creative energies to the fore. What better way, then, than an annual international film contest, rewarding the winning project with a budget and a contract to make a film concerning Syria? I would stipulate that the film be a fiction piece, since we already excel in that regard, and since most documentaries stagnate a film contest as well as bring in low draws. Another rule should be that 70% of all production and acting staff be Syrian as well, allowing for an exchange of skills but further ensuring that it is a SYRIAN production.

The projects from the contest could be an excuse for huge red-carpet type premieres that would draw further attention to Syrian Cinema, and promote investment in other Syrian projects not involved with the contest.

Well, that is it for this installment. Remember, please contact us with your comments and thoughts about this doomed idea, and offer suggestions for future doomed ideas that we could look into and write about. Till next time!

The Suggestion Box of Doomed Ideas: Parking in Damascus

Parking in SyriaIn what might become a regular feature of the blog, I start today with a suggestion that truly can only be described as doomed. Not because it’s a bad idea, mind you, I don’t think it is, and I’ve had some support. Simply put, it is doomed because no one will ever, ever take the initiative to put it into action, for a variety of reasons I’m sure you’ll be able to surmise yourselves, once I tell you what it is.

Some background: No one can be unaware of the parking dilemma in Syria. With the lowering of taxes and tariffs on imported cars, as well as the banking sector offering car loans to finance car purchases, the market and streets both flooded with automotive vehicles. Despite the high price of gas, everyone and their cousin got one, two, three cars in appreciation for the prices dropping so dramatically.

The one problem no one seemed to have anticipated was the fact that all these cars would need to go somewhere when no one was driving them. Since underground parking garages were outlawed until relatively recently as they posed a security risk, only a percentage of buildings offer their tenants indoor parking, leaving the streets the only available parking spaces.

As the previously famed wide streets of the new areas in Damascus got tighter and tighter due to all the parked cars, it was clear that regulation was in order. The government stepped up, making certain areas into paid parking only areas, and instructing police officers to ticket people who parked their cars on the sidewalks in some areas, and who even stopped their cars while they were still in it in others. This was all well and good, except for one extreme flaw: The government has offered us no alternative.

A definite air of outrage is in the city: if the sidewalks are off limits, streets are only going to get tighter, since we will all have to parallel park on the street itself. This may look more civilized (definitely so: I used to be mortified when I was in Canada and I would see newly arrived immigrants from the developing world try to park right on the green sod side walks of certain suburbs), but it is less space efficient, and does not take into account that now people need to park further and further away just to park at all.

As for ticketing people simply stopping in certain areas, the police have taken this to extremes, I believe. I have had to apologize to friends who dropped me off on the few occasions I go to the Forward distribution offices in Marjeh Square, as simply stopping to let me get out of the vehicle is all the provocation certain police officers need to swagger over and start registering the vehicle’s information.

So, this is my doomed suggestion, which I came up with while sitting in Costa Abu Rumaneh one day. There are certain government owned buildings that either serve no purpose, or are redundant within the same area. To me, I feel that since the Dar as-Salam and Adelah Bayham girl’s highschools are so close to the Sati’ al-Hassari school, that Sati’ can effectively be vacated and transformed into multi-level parking for the entire area. The government would make money off the project, selling hourly, daily, and monthly subscriptions. Resident’s of the area would finally have a place to put their car overnight, and since Abu Rumaneh is a bit of a restaurant district, people looking for a place to park their car will suddenly not have to walk millions and millions of miles to find a spot (I exaggerate only slightly: It really has become more efficient to simply walk or take a taxi to these restaurants).

The few objections I have been able to come up with for this scheme are: schools are already overcrowded, and the government may not have the funding for these kinds of projects. For the first, I only suggested Sati’ in this one case because it seems redundant in the area. It can be any old government building that is not being used to capacity or full efficiency. I also think that, if a lot of schools get torn down for this purpose, public schooling could be part of the decentralization happening in Damascus anyway. Perhaps the money gained from these parking garages could supplement the building of schools away from the downtown area, and children could be bussed there. The new building projects could be designed as schools to begin with, rather than converted residential buildings as they are now, and those about to complain that the bussing is inefficient probably don’t realize, or conveniently forget, that the students are already being bussed in to these schools. They’re already riding the bus, let them ride it away from the center of town.

As for the second, since the government already owns the buildings, and since they are already making money off the other Syria Park projects already in effect, I don’t see how that’s a valid argument. For the sake of not dismissing it completely, though, here is my solution: Bring in the private sector. The government can license these private companies for the projects, therefore maintaining control, and it could be a new avenue for investment for private businessmen, one that would serve an already established need.

Well that is it for the first installment of the Suggestion Box of Doomed Ideas. Let us know what you think of this one, and perhaps email your other doomed suggestions to the blog, and we’ll write up another installment.

Forward Magazine sponsors concert by leading Syrian pianist Ghazwan Zerkli & The National Symphony… on Dec 30, 08!

Ghazwan ZerkliThe Syrian National Symphony Orchestra is joining Syria’s most-acclaimed pianist Ghazwan Zerkli & compatriot conductor Missak Baghboudarian in a unique concert tomorrow, Dec 30 2008, at Dar al-Assad for Culture & Arts (The Opera House).

Starting at 8:30pm, the concert is sponsored by Forward Magazine, and organized by Damascus 2008 Arab Capital of Culture.

Hurry up and get your tickets by calling 011-9350 (recommended), or get them at the door if tickets are available by then (less recommended). For information in Arabic, click here.

Merry Christmas, Syria!

By mere chance I arrived in Bab Touma yesterday when a parade of Santa Clauses of every age, size and height were marching the streets of Assa’ (2assa3) market and Bab Touma’s plaza, in celebration of this year’s very merry Christmas. I felt so lucky when I asked the taxi driver: “what’s going on, is this a demonstration for Gaza?” (I had to drag myself over there after work for a meeting I wasn’t too keen on attending, having been too beat to move). “It’s the Kashafi,” he answered. Of course I didn’t understand what he meant; that was my first time ever around this kind of scene. But of course I understood what was going on from the visual effects that became clearer as we entered Bab Touma plaza. The loud drumming, the red costumes, the obvious vibes of joy enter your heart immediately and you find yourself secretly sending your love to baby Jesus. Al salamu 3alaik ya sayyidna 3eesa al masee7. Merry Christmas, Syria!

Syria: A European Arab Country?

So if Syria is to belong to another group other than the Arab World, would it be Europe, or Asia?

Perhaps this is a more legitimate question to be asked by Turks about their country, especially with their bid to join the European Union.  However, this is a question that is being asked today about Syria, and from foreigners that come to live here.

One of them is Gautam Mukhopadhaya, India’s Ambassador to Damascus. Last night there was a farewell dinner in his honor. In response to an eloquent speech by the hostess Massa Hamwi, Gautam spoke about his stay in Syria and his “attachment” to the country. Syria for him was an undiscovered place. Syrian culture was so unique in every aspect of it, starting from food and not ending with art and literature. He then concluded with something that I wrote about couple of times before but never with the same clarity of expression. For Gautam, Syria represented the best of the Arab/Islamic culture, and the best of European culture. If used well, that can be a winning combination.

In many ways, that is true, and indeed, I for one believe in it. A while ago, I’ve jotted down some thoughts that seem proper to share at this time:

My country is at the heart of the world. I hear from visitors often they in Syria they feel at home. Much of that is due to the fact that every person will find a Syrian that looks like him. Syrians are not the product of today, or of the turbulent 20th century. We are a blend of civilizations that have triumphed over their ethnic or religious identities to form one nation. Our Arab identity is flavored with a rich Islamic culture, a proximity to Europe, and a nucleus location that connects the East to the West. The contributions to humanity since the beginning of time made by people that call Syria home are too many to count. And above all, we boast of an overwhelming youth majority in our population that holds the keys to both crisis and solution. We need to leave no stone unturned in our attempt to enable our youth, to have a present and a future, and to create prosperity for themselves, their families, their nation, their region, and indeed their world. With the current circumstances, it is much easier for our youth to be part of the crisis though. The one question that occupies me: how do help them become part of the solution.

Another question would be: if we are to draw a road map of the way forward, what would it be.

 

Education is the key it seems. Education, whether at school or university, has to be an all-embracing experience that makes them aware and able of the opportunity to put what they have learned to use. When they have come to a point where they are mature and capable of making their own decision, we want them to choose to be positive and assertive in Syria, not be that elsewhere, or be passive and submissive. We want them to follow in the traditions of their forefathers and become the self-consciences entrepreneurs that are agents of change and progress in all walks of life, from medicine to technology; from music to sports, and from business to philanthropy.

But education alone is not the way to make the young generation part of the solution. We should not allow for our educated youth to get frustrated with an inability to use their qualifications to create prosperity right at home. That would only be a deeper crisis.

Reforms in Syria have to touch all the economic, societal, and participatory intersections to help our people find opportunities, create opportunities, and make them sustainable. The reform effort cannot be restricted to the government’s back office, but to bring into play as equal partners in development both the private sector and the civil society. The three together are creating Syria’s renewed social capital, one that will not only reduce financial poverty, but will also enlighten the soul, and restore a deserved and much need meaning of human values, often lost in the quest of needs and wants satisfied by money.

And indeed, Syria cannot continue to be known only as one of the oldest countries in the world;

We are old an old country that have new people shaped by the globalization of knowledge and technology. By virtue of that, these people are citizens of the world, just as much as they are citizens of Syria, the ancient nation. In many ways, Syrians have not thought of their country only as place they call home, but also a meeting place; a refuge; and a hub where ideas, resources, and goods can be exchanged in a free and just manner. They have believed in partnership as a means for creating added value, sustainability and growth. They have believed in equality and solidarity as their social capital—an infinite resource that maintains social stability in the tides of crises hitting everywhere in the world.

Yes, Syria has one of the world’s lowest ratios of college graduates per capita, and that is our biggest challenge now. There is a huge gap between the supply and demand side of the job market; low skilled labor is abundant, while human resources with the right skills and qualification are scarce. But to go with education, we probably need a judicial system that gives people a sense of security, which is at the core of any sense of belonging even the sternest patriot would have. Education can flourish on a level playing ground, and prosperity cannot be created or sustained without both.

Until then, both Asia and Europe have moved far ahead, and we are short of living up to the great legacy of the real Arab/Islamic culture.