The 28th September 1982 was a dark, dark day for many of the women in Damascus. On this terrible day Syria’s President Assad’s brother Rifat dropped a thousand lady paratroopers over the city. Their armor for this military exercise included sticks and blowtorches. They had no business with the men, only the Muslim women in hijab (the veil). One by one the women were stripped of their hijab by force and the hijabs burnt with blowtorches. So appalled was President Assad by this mindless act that he himself sent the paratroopers down again the next day, this time armed with roses. Doors were knocked on and each woman in the city given a rose, a peace offering.
The women found themselves humiliated beyond imagination, their entire existence and belief system compromised by this devastating attack. For a Muslim woman the wearing of the hijab is more than a mere dresscode. The hijab is a symbol of respect, an acknowledgement that the body underneath was created to be sacred. To be stripped of the hijab means to be stripped of all integrity, all sacredness, all holiness. The women were confused and traumatized … one day all they were humiliated in the worst unimaginable way possible by one of their own, only to be offered a simple rose as an apology the next. They were told to wipe this from their memories, it is done with, over and to be forgotten. If only it were this easy. These two days of Blowtorches and Roses have stayed in the memories of the women of Damascus and the history told by word of mouth ever since.
Is it not interesting that we are genuinely shocked by stories such as these, feeling sincere sympathy and empathy because we can easily see ourselves in this situation whether we agree with the Muslim dress code for women or not. We take up pickets and shout slogans of abuse and the rights of women and all sorts of other causes and we make ourselves heard loud and clear. We become the victims themselves by association and we fully use situations like these to prove the point of our own issues and campaigns.
At the same time we ourselves walk around with Blowtorches and Roses in our own hands very often. We ourselves send mixed messages more often than not and then we are surprised when others shy away from us or remember the seemingly most unimportant details about our relationships with them. Of course we do this ever so elegantly. Sometimes we give the roses first and then we torch and scorch afterwards, depending on the results we want. On most occasions we sugar-coat our Blowtorches and give them lovely sounding names and our roses carry thorns but they are the ‘rewards’ we give. Of course we do all of this with a smile and call it ‘for the greater good’ of a situation and we fool ourselves by not noticing that we manipulate people and events with our Blowtorches and our Roses.
Society is in a big way to blame, I agree. We are so used to receiving and sending mixed messages that we do not even recognise it for what it is any more, so we see no harm in it anymore. We have become so used to mixed messages that we do not even know how confused we ourselves have become. This honestly gives us no excuse at all. We should be aware of our own agendas and lives in such a way that we can recognise the difference between mixed messages and honest ones and try and find our way nevertheless.
If our aim is to confuse and degrade and claim power this way, then we should walk with our Blowtorches and our Roses by all means. If however we are serious about the respect we show others and making an honest difference to the lives we touch every day, we need to embrace Honesty, Faith and Sincerity first thing in the morning every morning and send those messages as the only ones we deem valuable.
Peace and Sincerity be with all of us, today and always. By Annalie