Syrian Cultures: An American Student Perspective

When I touched down at the Damascus airport in June of last year, it was my first time in Syria. Although it was not going to be my first time living in an Arabic-speaking country, I had been told by my friends that this time would be different -and they were right.

After graduating from college a few years ago, I spent time in Yemen, Egypt and Oman studying Arabic and conducting research. My goal in Syria has been to continue to develop my Arabic skills and to learn something about Syrian culture. My coursework at the University of Damascus has been with the Center for Arabic Study Abroad (CASA) which operates under the auspices of the University of Texas-Austin in the United States. Courses are aimed not only at teaching students Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) and Colloquial Damascene Arabic but also at helping students understand more about Syrian society and culture. After having lived in Damascus for eight months, however, I have become more aware of Syrian cultures than anything else. Our coursework has required us to be in constant interaction with the Syrian population through conducting interviews, attending lectures, cultural events, watching Syrian television series and interning at a local Syrian company (in my own case, working with the Forward Magazine crew). As a result of this regular interaction with Damascenes and other Syrians that live in the Sham, I have been struck by the way people talk about Syrian ‘culture.’ Damascenes are more than happy to help a foreign student like me learn more about Syria and, thanks to them, I have been presented with a massive range of perspectives and opinions as to what defines Syria and its people.

Obviously, I have no intention of listing those various definitions. Instead, I would like to point out an interesting underlying theme present in virtually all of the answers I received to my questions. People almost always divided their answers into sections, explaining that the answer to any given question depends on a variety of different factors, including but not limited to: hometown, religion, socio-economic level, age and gender. In my opinion, this points to a keen awareness among Damascenes of the various levels of their identity. While most Damascenes I talked to envisioned something called “Syrian culture,” they were quick to point out the pluralist elements of Syrian society. Indeed, they seemed proud of how diverse the Syrian population is and saw the cultures of Syria as part of what defines it as a society.

Forward Magazine is Syria’s 1st magazine to adopt a digital version & an online page flipper

Forward Magazine is Syria’s first-ever magazine to become digital. It has adopted an online page-flipper software that allows our readers to flip  thorugh our pages with the same ease and flow as in flipping through a print version. The difference is that all links in the online edition are clickable (URLs, emails, etc); you can also send the articles you like to interested people through clicking on non-image text.

The interactive flipper also allows readers to see the original layout of the magazine, the ads, and most importantly our cool Forwrad Shabab section.

Flip our first such edition  here.

Merry Christmas and a happy new year…

VOTE NOW: Will Golan Heights return with Obama?

"What? Syria?"

How can you allow people, journalists, opinion writers, and decision makers from other nationalities, better understand Syria, to see the true fabric of this society, the different dimensions that this country has, the different kinds of attitudes, mentalities and opinions Syria harbors? The key is: Media & Communication.

Do you think Barack Obama’s Middle East policies will help restore the occupied Golan Heights to Syria?

To cast your vote, please visit . Go to the right-side column to visit our online Polling center.

Forward Magazine will be sharing the outcome with readers in our upcoming print edition (as well as on our website and blog). If you have extra comments you’d like to make about the matter, please do so here, and we will be quoting you in our article-in-the-making about The Golan Heights. We are conducting off-line surveys to complement the off line ones through different mediums.

Why vote?

Our magazine reaches crucial decision-making hubs around the country, the region, Europe and the USA. We believe the media machine elsewhere in the world has smeared Syria’s image for long. Many people (bloggers included) have a defeatist attitude towards an English-speaking magazine published in Syria. Some question English publications by saying things like: “Who will read an English Magazine? How many Syrians read English?”

"How charming? Is it Urdu?" "Huh?"

Aha, well.. The important thing is to have publications that talk to the World, with the same language, professional standards and commitment that other World publications have. Dubai, Amman, Beirut, Cairo (and most of the Arab capitals) have English publications dedicated for creating bridges with the world, communicating the country’s cultural, political and personal stance. Those countries have started with state-owned newspapers that come out in English, and then opened up the market for privately-owned English publications that helped create many mirrors through which the country is reflected. Many state-owned publications have succeeded in creating false images about their country portraying it as a democratic, economically brilliant states – when in reality it is Marshal-Law-ruled with collapsing economies – all because they have started to master the global media game. We, on the other hand, don’t plan to deceive, but to “communicate” and get Syria’s many voices heard.

Western Media

Syria is not one dimensional, it is not backwards, it’s not the tight-fisted, narrow-visioned country that the West portrays us as – in every single news piece about Syria. On the contrary, Syria has a generation of people with great potential, and very plausible achievements on so many fronts – the least of which are cultural. Syrians are misunderstood all over the world. There are world-adopted stereotypes about Syrians (and Syria) that we want to break, influence and change. You can help us get your views across by being part of the change we aspire to achieve. Yes, there are flaws, like everywhere else – local, personal flaws… Those don’t make us the monster that Western media likes to portray us as.

Syrian Flag UK Flag Here is an example of how one blogger’s website is getting Syrian views heard. Sasa, an active blogger, was recently quoted in the Telegraph (one of the major publications in the UK). Click here for more about “Syria News Wire makes it into the Telegraph.”

Wishing you all a good day.

"Can't hear you, dear!" "Excuse me? I don't understand what you're saying?" "What?"

Ruba Saqr (Associate editor-in-chief, Forward Magazine, Damascus, Syria)