A Song of Lament for Syria

In Aleppo, a city famous for its love of music, the bombs are drowning out the songs.

Comments: 25

  1. A similar story appeared about music in Mali. The difference is that in Syria we are the ones supplying the al Qaeda bombers.

  2. Spot on.

  3. Really I am sorry for your mother . I know she is now in heaven . Also, I feel a big pain about your country . Hope one day all are going to be well and perfect for your people . Your writing touched my heart so much .

  4. This is one beautiful article, by one heck of a writer. As the Arab world implodes, one country at a time, it is truly heart rending.

    During the early and mid twentieth century Damascus and Cairo were very different than they are today. There was free and open discussions in the cafes. As in Europe during this time frame, women organized salon groups to discuss the issues of the day without fear of harrassment from militants. The veil was uncommon in the big cities. Radical imams were in short supply, and people moved around freely and unintimidated. Great writers such as Taha Hussein and Naguib Mahfouz (nobel prize winner) were adored by the multitudes.

    All that is gone now. The Jihadists and dictators of the region will not permit certain kinds literature to be published, and any display of interest in women's rights, gay rights or compromise with Israel is taking a risk that could be fatal.

    Libya has disintegrated into feifdoms, Egypt is ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood and the cause of human rights, women's rights, and minority rights (Coptic Christians) have suffered a deadly blow.

    Syria faces two possibilities. If the Assad regime prevails, it's back to the brutal dictatorship. T On the other hand, the Islamists are now in the vanguard of the revolution and probably account for the majority of the foot soldiers. If the rebels win, the result will be at least as bad for human rights.


  5. Interesting. The man who became my father-in-law, when I was introduced to him the first time and he knew that his daughter wanted to marry me, didn't ask me whether or not I liked music: he asked me how many goats I owned. He was a holocaust survivor. His wife, another survivor, didn't really need to explain to me that he really only wanted to know how I meant to build a prosperous life with his daughter when I wasn't even Jewish (an issue, as you might imagine). I accepted both the question and the unneeded interpretation, and did my best to answer these concerned parents.

    So many things separate us. Then, so many things are similar, as well. The author describes a traditional arrangement in Syria that I'd bet very few New York Times readers suspected existed in Syria before reading this op-ed piece, assuming, as most of us probably do, a society highly proscriptive of such arrangements. Eye-opening.

    But this is a lament indeed; and, given the realities of Syria, even after Assad, with so many contending interests and all of them armed to the teeth, it's not likely that Ahlam will soon, if ever, again hear the sound of music and singing. We all grieve for her.

  6. Praying that the insanity will end, and that music will prevail for the good people of Syria.

  7. This breaks my heart. I have collections of Syrian music and wonder if the musicians who play so beautifully are ok, or if their marvelous talents have been wasted and crushed by war.

    What are we humans doing? It is senseless. We have it in us to invent the oud, then we crush it with bombs.

  8. When the first bombs fell on Aleppo, my heart cringed that it would not escape with its history and its cultural wealth, past and living. A sadness only music can convey and will it lose that too?

  9. What a beautiful piece. I am so sorry the world has forsaken Syria and I hope that you will have peace and music again.

  10. The world weeps for Aleppo, but what can we do? Even my friends from that city are confused. They are fighting friends and allied with enemies.

  11. Three guesses as to how much music there will be in Aleppo if the extreme Sunni factions in the opposition get the upper hand. Probably the same amount of music as was in Taliban ruled Afghanistan.

  12. What a beautiful, moving, and sadly elegant piece. Thank you for sharing with us.

  13. Beautiful but sad article..

  14. So many contending groups fighting for control and all of them Muslim... This will not have a good outcome.

  15. Thank you, Nihad Sirees for this evocative essay, beautifully written.
    I look forward to further study of your work as well as the history of Aleppo,Syria.
    May you your family stay safe.

  16. We read news reports of the breadline bombing. It seems cowardly and viscious, not at all a respectable military operation, if there is such a thing. This article brings a human aspect to the bare news reports. It is tragic that Syrians have come to this level of conflict, under a regime that plants snipers to shoot people on their way to buy food.

    However, this is not the U.S.'s fight. We should provide every possible humanitarian assistance. But we learned in too many countries, that our involvement does not make things better, causes additional problems, and makes us hated. Sad as this article is, it should not sway us to add bombs and armaments where there already are too many.

    Syria has a deep, beautiful, and persistent culture. Present conflicts also are an expression of Syrian culture. Syrians must work this out.

  17. How long will the Syrian genocide continue? Nihad Sirees's song of lament for his heart's home, Aleppo, is deeply moving. The music has stopped and the tyrant Bashar al Assad is massacring his own people in Aleppo, Damascus, throughout the bleeding country. Thank you, Nihad Sirees, for the beautiful love story of Ahlam and Hameed and the banat ishreh of Aleppo. Happy memories of happy times that have disappeared from your beloved country.

  18. Sahar Issa I really enjoyed this artical for a couple of reasons: on a personal level it's one of your highlighted achievements to write at a famous newspaper. The second to invoke the point that Aleppo is not a source of news of Al-Qa'eda, it is the city of all kinds of love and music. Thanks Nihad.

  19. There is something inhuman and inhumane about any faith or ethnicity or race or gender or politics that has the crude crass selfish gall to judge others and ask "Am I my brother's keeper?"

    So beautiful. So human.

    "No man is an island entire of himself"

    And we see in the mirror and hear "... for whom the bell tolls.." if only we look and listen very carefully.

  20. Lebanon 1975->

    Syria 2011->

    "Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it"

  21. The curse of ghosts, long dead and calling for vengeance.

  22. Thank you for giving us a hint of how Syria used to be--the true nature of Syria. The only images many of us hold is a place of desperation, war torn and war weary. May the darkness give way to light and the sounds of battle and bombs give way once more to the sounds of violins, song, and joy.

  23. War dehumanizes the other side. Both sides are then dehumanized, and this reverberates through the world. You have humanized that country, which is only seen through the chaos of war now. This is magnificent.

    Foreign policy calculus during war is probably unavoidable in an outside country, but really, truly, potentially, we are all Syrians. Making Aleppo come alive for the world as a place where human beings live with all of their creativity, hopes and dreams...I can only hope it moves those whose hands are on the levers of power to figure out a new response that can deliver a much different resolution than what now seems inevitable--
    Music is the language of the world.

  24. The human cost of war's savagery is incalculable. I wonder though, the timing of this article. It seems that a grand bargain may be in the offing on Syria w Russia on a Chechen crackdown due to the Boston bombing. WMD provides the reason for Russia.

    The facts are so far that a chemical agent was found on 30 bodies and on the ground. Just one question. Who uses chemical weapons to kill 30 people? Answer, no nation would. Show me more actual data, newsmedia, and I'll go along, But I'm very cautious about being triggered into military action by WMD. Particularly a minute dose that killed 30 people in a war with 70,000 dead already. Sorry.

    So I'm left wondering why this hagiographic mediation on the musical culture of Aleppo appears now? Am I supposed to be aroused in sympathy to support military action by the U.N. or the West or unilaterally by the U.S. now? From everything I read, I can't see a possible good outcome in Syria - no matter what we do. So, that being the case, I say we stay home. Asylum here for those who aren't partisans, sure, we should increase it as all nations should - that is the best multi-lateral response. Let those who want to kill each other in war stay there.

    If we haven't learned the limits of our interventionism over the past 12.5 yrs, what have we learned?

  25. I can't help but draw a parallel between Wladyslaw Szpilman, the masterful pianist who survived the Holocaust, and this story. With that parallel, I am reminded that the only reason that the Jews in Europe weren't entirely exterminated was the involvement of the United States in WWII.

    The United States often chooses the wrong side under the guise of "spreading democracy," or "liberating a people," but it is vital to keep in mind that we can do an astounding good in the world.

    In Syria, the issue is not whether the rebels' or the regime's political views are correct, not which religion is valid, it is not even about democracy. It is about eliminating the murder of the innocent. The United States needs to take a stand on that, a stand for the thousands of deaths which continue day to day. If our foreign policy isn't inextricably connected to protecting the innocent, then we are no greater morally than we were under Bush.