SPACE has been working since early 2015 to diversify and enrich the discussion about Syria, primarily through giving space to many underrepresented Syrian voices, broadening the set of questions and topics normally associated with Syria and emphasizing the role of democratic actors among the Syrian civil society and intellectual sphere. Looking at the past three years, SPACE contributed to portraying a nuanced and informed picture of Syria in Norway, most notably through our yearly conference The Question of Syria. Alas, since the first edition in 2015 and against our cautious ambitions to work towards a better Syria, the situation in Syria has been only getting worse, on all fronts, not the least, the humanitarian and political ones. Most regrettably, Syrians realize today that their collective and individual agency have diminished through the last few years, and they have become increasingly sidelined on any decision pertaining to their reality or future of their country.
This led to increased cynicism and hopelessness in Syria and worldwide—not a surprising result given the retreat, globally, of democratic values and particularly, the bleak prospects of justice, peace and prosperity in Syria and the Middle East region. The deferred quest for justice in the face of endless streams of witnesses and testimonies challenges the core of our universal, unanimous understanding of human rights.
Against this sweeping feelings of helplessness and fear, we, at SPACE, can only be motivated to further seek hope in mounting layers of despair. The Question of Syria in 2018 takes its cue from the famous last line of the speech of one of Syria’s leading playwright Saadallah Wannous, delivered on World Theatre Day (1996), that “we are doomed by hope, and what happens today cannot be the end of history.” We interpret this statement as a call for action, as an untiring alertness to what dynamics of possibility exist to the struggle for justice, in a world that seems increasingly hopeless.
The Syrian quest for a democratic change despite its repeated defeats, and the pessimism surrounding its future nevertheless carries the labor and the stories of many Syrians, and continues to provide lessons of inspiration to anyone who believes in human rights and freedom.
Over the past three years, SPACE has organized and participated in almost thirty events related to Syria in Norway and Europe, and we are often surprised and grateful for the level of engagement we encounter. Through our dedicated focus on Syrian civil society and Syrian culture, we hope we have been able to nuance the reductive and apolitical media image of Syria as a place of perpetual and incomprehensible violence. It is with this spirit that The Question of Syria in 2018 will pose the question of hope.