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Syria is falling apart without American culture

April 21st, 2009 · 17 Comments · Culture

Syria’s young people NEED American culture to breathe. That’s the bottom line of this opinion piece by some foreign visitor.

Here are some of the most patronising paragraphs:

“Less fortunate young Syrians who [didn’t go to the American School] used to look forward to movie night at the Cultural Centre every Wednesday. There they would watch a free screening of an American movie with themes such as African American history and women’s suffrage. When I lived in Damascus I used to attend as many of those as I could. Movie night was a refreshing two hours of enriched entertainment in a city where American culture is hard to come by.”

You what?? American culture is hard to come by?? Has she not walked down Qaimariyeh lately? Every single American film you can dream of is on sale there. In many cases, it’s available before it’s even released in the States.

“when I took my MacBook to the Inhouse coffee shop in Malki, one of the few places with wireless internet, I was still forbidden access to three out of five sites before I gave up in frustration.”

Where to start? First, get out of InHouse, and experience the real Damascus. Then get out of Maliki and meet some real Syrians – I’m sure your chauffeur can introduce you to some. And use proxies like every other person with a computer. Even the InHouse staff could’ve showed you how!!

And InHouse may have been one of the few places with wireless internet five years ago, now it’s hard to find a cafe WITHOUT wireless internet. It’s more common than it is in London (honestly!!).

(And when exactly was this article written? InHouse in Maliki shut down six months ago.)

“During my visit I was quickly reminded of that sense of isolation that creeps up on the mind after landing in Damascus. The foreign press is still censored. It arrives three or four days late, the time it takes for censorship authorities to translate and read it all.”

Maybe someone needs to introduce her to the Guardian website, or how about BBC World Service Television. These things are not available to the visiting foreigner who just can’t survive without access to the civilised world. Oh yes, they are. Whoops.

And anyway, what’s life like nextdoor, in Lebanon. The foreign press is TWO OR THREE DAYS LATE IN BEIRUT!!!!! And that’s without censorship.

And it’s littered with factual errors:

“The authorities resented [the American School] because it was the only school in the country that did not teach its Syrian students the Syrian curriculum alongside its own.”

In fact it DID teach large parts of the Syrian curriculum, all in Arabic.

She discovered all this without speaking to a SINGLE Syrian (notice the lack of quotes in her piece). Maybe she couldn’t find her way out of Maliki without an up-to-date copy of the Guardian.

But at least she found happiness on her way out of the country. She likes Damascus International Airport. I couldn’t be bothered to find out why. But let’s hope she had a one-way ticket out of the country.


17 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jad // Apr 21, 2009 at 8.51 am

    Dear Sasa,
    Apparently she didn’t visit Damascus at all, I think she wrote her article sitting at some Starbucks in Dubai/LA and using her imagination…what a dump article she wrote!

  • 2 Maysaloon // Apr 21, 2009 at 11.09 am

    This is just the kind of person I like to tear to shreds…metaphorically of course…

  • 3 Orientalista // Apr 21, 2009 at 1.36 pm

    Hahaha! The Syrians are crying out for Hollywood, cause it’s not like you can’t buy the DVDs or turn on one of the MBC channels to get all the Americana you need.

    And speaking of factual errors, she says the average monthly salary of Syrian is less than 200 lira (or $40 US). Not only can she not find out what the average salary is, but she can’t do simple currency conversions.


  • 4 Jillian C. York // Apr 21, 2009 at 6.30 pm

    Oh man. She refers to those who don’t attend the American school as:

    “Less fortunate young Syrians who attended public school”


    But moving on, Internet penetration in Syria is not at 3%, it’s at 17% (according to the International Telecommunications Union, the only experts on such matters –, although home access remains very low.

    How did this woman even get published? I ought to submit a rebuttal based on my own recent week in Damascus.

  • 5 Jillian C. York // Apr 21, 2009 at 6.33 pm

    I meant to add…I found the entire Season 5 of CSI: Miami for like the equivalent of USD $15…didn’t buy it (would’ve probably had it confiscated upon arriving in the US), but just to prove her wrong about the lack of “American things” – I saw it not once, but like three times on one street.

  • 6 Sasa // Apr 21, 2009 at 6.50 pm

    I did contact them yesterday. They need to publish a clarification – there are too many factual errors all through this.

  • 7 Sasa // Apr 21, 2009 at 6.55 pm

    And I can see where she’s got this average wage of $40 ( but that is WEEKLY, not monthly. Oh for god’s sake.

  • 8 Roqayah // Apr 21, 2009 at 7.27 pm

    Smallah lol one of the most pathetic articles I have come by today in regards to M.E culture/society.
    Oh those poor less fortunate unWesternized Syrians lol

    If the only thing she liked about Syria was the AIRPORT then you know that:
    (A) She went to Syria with her eyes/ears closed
    (B) She’s slightly xenophobic in regards to being open to culture that isn’t completely laced in ‘American-ism’

    I for one love Syria and my family in Lebanon travel there once every year :)

  • 9 Mia // Apr 22, 2009 at 5.35 am

    Amazing. That article was perhaps one of the worst written and under-researched articles I’ve ever read.
    Whoever wrote that article obviously knows nothing about Syria or Damascus, or the people that live there either. It sounds like they just wrote this article out of pure hatred and a need to rant.
    Let me tell you something, to wheoever wrote that article. Syrians are PROUD of their culture. They embrace their traditions, their culture, their history. And sure, the regime may be a bit corrupt at some point, but who the heck is America to criticise? Last I know, its human rights treatment isn’t exactly the best. Why don’t you just ask China? I’m sure they’d inform you pretty well. Not only that, but Syria, and Syrians too, don’t want to become ‘Americanised’. They want to become more modern, definitley. But Americanised? Don’t make me gag. If you’re so sure that these poor, Unwesternised Syrian youths are dsperate for Americanisation, then may I ask why you never backed all of your claims with evidence? Did you interview even ONE Syrian youth? From the lack of accuracy in your article, it’s pretty obvious you didn’t. You want to say something, then back it up. Don’t go making assumtpions.
    And last, I’l just add one thing. If Syrians NEED American ‘culture’ to breathe, then explain to me how a population of 19 million is surviving?
    If you truly want to get the feed on Syrian youths, then I’d advise you to actually go to Damascus, Syria, with OPEN eyes. Don’t just make assumtpions. And for the love of God, why don’t you actually TALK to Syrians? I’m sure they won’t bomb you with a rocket or something, sweetheart.

  • 10 Sarah // Apr 22, 2009 at 10.21 am

    Oh my god. This is horrifying.
    Here’s one “journalist” who I sincerely hope gets banned from coming back into the country.

  • 11 Jonathan // Apr 22, 2009 at 1.57 pm

    These are the type of articles that force me to answer the same banal questions whenever I say I’ve studied in Syria:
    “Weren’t you afraid?”
    “Do they have internet?”
    “Are the streets paved?”
    …??? ????…

  • 12 Jillian C. York // Apr 22, 2009 at 2.26 pm

    Sarah, I beg you, please start submitting opinion pieces.

  • 13 Loulou // Apr 23, 2009 at 8.38 am

    I totally agree with all the comments already made and I wanted to stress again that this article is one of the most disappointing and poorly documented I have ever seen.
    Along with what has been already said, I have some comments of my own:

    Firstly, the American school is not the only one that did not teach the Syrian curriculum: there are the French School (which teaches the French curriculum) and the Pakistani school (which teaches the English one) and both are still open.

    Secondly, she made it sound in her article that the American School is not a profit-making school! Thus, how can she explain that the yearly tuition fee is more than 10,000$, especially given the fact that (according to her) the average wage of a Syrian is 40$/week? I think that’s a little hypocrit…

    Thirdly, if she thinks that American culture is hard to come by, can she explain James Bond’s movies or (now showing) Jim Carrey’a movie in the cinema?? And as some people already said, she should have gone to Qaimariyeh and could have seen how accessible “american culture” is!

    Finally, she assumes that Syrian youth is deprived of English and computer skills but have she talked to a real Syrian or saw the myriad of institutes that exist and teach these skills?

    I’m well aware that every country has negative and positive sides but every criticism must rely on good arguments, proper documentation and real facts, which is absolutely not the case here!

  • 14 sunbula // Apr 23, 2009 at 10.38 am

    she doesnt even complain about things that should actually be criticized in syria, cos she never bothered talking to any syrians or stepping out of maliki. and what is this pathetic product placement for macs she is doing?

  • 15 pamela // Apr 23, 2009 at 3.25 pm

    Why should anyone presume “American culture” is superior to Syrian culture ? therefore the poor Syrians must be disadvantaged ? If by culture we include tv and films, I would rather watch a Syrian tv series than any American one (except scrubbs) the actors look like real people -not models -and the story line is usually fascinating.
    Its a bit arrogant of the writer to make presumptions about Syria and its people , they,ve had “culture ” for thousands of years , prehistoric through all the near east civilisations , whereas America is still a baby , if America is around in 5000 years I,ll believe the writer!!

  • 16 Abdo Bouabdo // Apr 28, 2009 at 11.39 am

    We allow them to feel this way about us, it is our fault. Because a “nobody ” American from Billings Montana, a red neck, a shit kicker is treated like royalty in our region. We got to stop doing this

  • 17 Paul // May 1, 2009 at 12.14 pm

    I have to say as a foreigner in Damascus and on Malki, the original article was so badly researched that I assume this reporter actually wrote it at the airport.

    However in the interest of accuracy, InHouse Malki very much exists, InHouse by the American School closed.

    The staff at Malki are excellent and I just wanted to commend them here.

    As an expat who returns to Damascus every chance I get, I would like to add the attractions are the Syrian hospitality and the culture. However I would suggest the “reporter” actually try a true Syrian coffee shop, perhaps in the old city for culture.

    On the computer question, has the reporter ever tried to get a table at Costa? Oh yeah the nearest one is near abu Rumaneh, a little far for our intrepid reoprter.

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