“To Our Countries” and the Battle of the Syrian Narratives
Since the outbreak of the Syrian uprising, a propaganda war has accompanied repression of protesters, in order to delegitimize them. “To Our Countries”, a song by sisters Faia and Rihan Younan, is the latest – and one of the most viral – examples, one that has not remained unanswered.
“Infiltrators have taken over the country”, “there is a conspiracy against Syria” and “there is no revolution, there is a war against extremism and terror”, were the mottos of the regime when Syrians took to the streets in March 2011. As repression increased against demonstrators and the uprising evolved into a military rebellion, the official propaganda escalated, and it started to permeate much of the international narration of the country.
Today, with Syria mired in a brutal war in which countless geopolitical interests and forces are involved, the memory of the initial peaceful protests seems to have faded. So has the repression by the Syrian regime, diluted by the crimes of Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State) and other extremist groups. Presenting the Syrian scenario as a brutal war with no clear roots, equating the regime forces and those rising against it, has become widespread.
In this context, “To Our Countries” song was welcome by many as an inspiring contribution in a scenario of increasing violence and militarization. The lyrics, which focus on Syria, Iraq and Palestine, dedicate the following thoughts to Syria, home country of the Younan sisters:
Syria… three years and more
of a crazy, selfish illogical war
Three years in which souls, hearts and minds have been destroyed
A war that sneaked through the war without knocking
To settle down in the homes and humiliate their owners
A war in which women and children were sold in slave markets
A war that brought the nation’s mother hearts to tears
and exhausted its men
A war that never knew its beginning
A war that dreams of its end
By taking a closer look at the lyrics, their depiction of Syria frames the country in a war whose beginning is not known, and with no one being held responsible over it. The “slave markets” are a reference to Daesh, while the regime is never mentioned as a force of oppression. Contrary to Iraq and Palestine, which are described as scenarios of liberation from occupation, any mention of the Syrian struggle against decades of dictatorship is absent.
The Syria presented through the beautiful voices of the Younan sisters became more clearly associated with Assad’s narrative once pictures of them attending public events in support of the regime appeared, including photos next to a big portrait of Bashar. Syrian State TV quickly echoed the song’s success, highlighting the large number of visits to the video, which at the time of this article has exceeded one million.
Reaction by Syrian activists needed no further encouragement, and social media were soon flooded with comments critiquing and mocking the song.
“To Our Countries: The Original Version” was the name of the parody created by a comedy group named Technical Step, which quickly became viral. In a two-minute video, Youssef and Mahmoud Bakr, hilariously attired with wigs and makeup, recreate the “To Our Countries” scenario while they list all the mottos repeated by regime-supporters:
A group of infiltrators came to set our country on fire, and destroy it.
They were aided by occupation powers,
to disseminate fear and terror in the hearts of the innocent.
Oh great Leader of our nation. We will support you with our souls and our blood.
The doctor and beloved leader Bashar al-Assad is good,
but the ones around him… are assholes.
This seemingly harmless war of songs is another manifestation of the larger battle of the Syrian narratives: one that points at the current armed conflict avoiding references to its origins or the decades-long system of oppression, versus one that aims to remind the world of the legitimacy of the popular uprising, and the need to get rid of all forms of tyranny.