While on the motorway from Damascus to Latakia I tried to see if I could go half an hour without seeing Bashar’s visage. I lasted 30 seconds.
I find them fascinating, not just the proliferation, but the variety. Bashar in a suit, staring into the middle distance, Bashar in military uniform and aviators, Basher with Daddy Al Assad, Bashar flanked by Daddy Al Assad and the late Basil Al Assad. There’s enough material for a whopping thesis on political photography. Interestingly, Egypt which has a similar political set up, does not have the same love of presidential portraiture.
Syria differs from Egypt in other ways too. The poverty is not so glaring, but then neither is the wealth and the foreign investment. Money speaks quietly, and usually in Arabic, as Syrians don’t care for English that much.
When I mention Syria to other Muslims, they often sigh romantically, picturing some mystical land of Islamic scholarship. The truth of course, is some what different.
We tut tut about Muslim majority countries and their failings to be as Islamic as we’d imagine ourselves to be if we were the religious majority, but I think if I lived full time in most of these countries, I’d want plenty of escapism via satellite television too.
I compare the U.K with Egypt and Syria (as these are where I have visited). It’s not that the U.K has greater luxuries, in fact it’s the boring everyday elements. Reliable utilities, Universal health care, public maintenance of amenities, being able to achieve most administrative tasks without having to spend a whole day queuing for some man to blow smoke in my face and be wilfully rude and unhelpful.
And yet, one also has to see the benefits Islam has brought to these societies. Most of the population has been spared the evils of alcohol and gambling, which maybe explains why even the poor areas, don’t look like something out of Dawn of the Dead, as they do in the U.K.
I still feel like Islam is such a gift to the world, but I’m at a loss at to the best way to make it shine.