Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 23, 2019

For Sama

Filed under: Film,Syria — louisproyect @ 6:18 pm

Opening on Friday at the Quad in New York and at the Laemmle in Los Angeles, “For Sama” is a documentary filmed and directed by Waad al-Kateab, the young mother of Sama, a baby girl born during the siege of East Aleppo. Waad was married to Hamza al-Kateab, the head doctor at the only still-functioning hospital–the other 8 had been bombed into oblivion by Syrian helicopters and Russian jets. With his medical credentials, it would have been easy for Hamza to pick up and move to another country where he could have enjoyed a comfortable life with his family. Instead, Waad and Hamza remained because even under the darkest days of the siege, they continued to believe in the original goals of the Syrian revolution, namely to live a life without fear of being jailed, tortured or killed. Like millions of others, they were determined to overthrow  corrupt, mafia-like family dynasty. The film is titled “For Sama” because as Waad says in the final minute of the film, it was worth enduring all their suffering in the hopes that her children and those of other Syrians could realize their dream.

Despite the crushing of the resistance in East Aleppo and the regime’s apparent reconquest of most of Syria, the dictatorship has an uncertain future. In an important article for the New York Review of Books titled “Between Regime and Rebels: A Survey of Syria’s Alawi Sect”, Elizabeth Tsurkov reveals how even the most reliable base of the dictatorship has gotten so little out of this hollow victory:

Although Alawis are overrepresented in the ruling elite, this does not translate into any alleviation of their generally deprived circumstances. Those with ties to the ruling family, whether through tribal or business dealings, are rich, while most Alawis live in underdeveloped villages. Unlike the Sunni underclass, which largely resided in rebel-held territory, Alawis—who cannot afford to emigrate, enroll in university to defer their service, or bribe their way out of military service (or into noncombat posts)—reside entirely in regime-held territory, where the draft is imposed and enforced through routine raids and at checkpoints. “Many Alawites would love to be exempt from military service,” said Kheder, the university student,“but they cannot afford it so they go [and serve].

“The rural areas lost so much,” he added. “Every family hangs the pictures of their martyr with neon lights around the photo. You could count at least ten to fifteen martyrs in every neighborhood of every village.”

Using what appears to be rudimentary film-making tools (a hand-held Sony semiprofessional camera), Waad has made one of the finest documentaries about this generation’s Spanish Civil War. If there is any place on earth that resembles Guernica, it is East Aleppo that was the victim of the same kind of asymmetric warfare Franco unleashed on the Spanish democracy. For anybody who still has lingering doubts about the kind of brutality to which the dictatorship resorted, her footage of aerial bombardment will leave you cringing.

Since her place was with her husband, the sight of the dying and the dead being brought to his emergency ward will also leave you feeling overwhelmed. Most of the victims appear to be children rather than militia members. When a helicopter drops a barrel bomb that spews ball bearings and steel fragments in a 360 degree pattern, it is almost inevitable that children playing in the street will end up as a casualty.

Despite all the suffering, there is a feeling of solidarity and hope that pervades the film as Hamza, Waad and their friends and comrades celebrate weddings, birthdays and other get-togethers that demonstrate their stubborn belief in keeping liberated East Aleppo together.

Waad and Hamza buy a house with a garden in the backyard. When a missile lands next door, the plants he has begun to grow are casualties as well. Seeing the glass as half-full, a necessity for life in Aleppo, he brushes aside the debris and waters the surviving plants. Like their baby daughter, the plants are a symbol of fertility and a better future.

Despite the bleak situation facing Syrians inside and outside the country, “For Sama” is a wake-up call to the solidarity movement that the struggle continues. The film is a closing of the curtain on the last act of the revolution but given the failure of the regime to provide a decent life to its people, even those that supposedly are his main base of support, it is inevitable that a new revolution will arise phoenix-like out of the ashes.

In the press notes, Waad makes her statement:

This is not just a film for me –it’s my life. I started capturing my personal story without any plan, just filming the protests in Syria on my mobile phone, like so many other activists. I could never have imagined where my journey would take me through those years. The mix of emotions we experienced – happiness, loss, love – and the horrific crimes committed by the Assad regime against ordinary innocent people, was unimaginable… even as we lived through it.

From the beginning, I found myself drawn to capture stories of life and humanity, rather than focus on the death and destruction which filled the news. And as a woman in a conservative part of Aleppo, I was able to access the experiences of women and children in the city, traditionally off limits to men. That allowed me to show the unseen reality of life for ordinary Syrians, trying to live normal lives amid our struggle for freedom.

At the same time, I continued living my own life. I married and had a child. I found myself trying to balance so many different roles: Waad the mother, Waad the activist, Waad the citizen journalist and Waad the Director. All those people both embodied and led the story. Now I feel those different aspects of my life are what gives the film its strength.

I want people to understand that, while this is my story and shows what happened to me and my family, our experience is not unusual. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians experienced the same thing and are still doing so today. The dictator who committed these crimes is still in power, still killing innocent people. Our struggle for justice is as relevant today as it was when the revolution first began.

16 Comments »

  1. THANKS LOUIS, I HOPE IT MAKES IT OUT HERE.

    CHEERS, JOHN

    On Tue, Jul 23, 2019 at 11:20 AM Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist wrote:

    > louisproyect posted: “https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vsvBqtg2RM0 Opening > on Friday at the Quad in New York and at the Laemmle in Los Angeles, “For > Sama” is a documentary filmed and directed by Waad al-Kateab, the young > mother of Sama, a baby girl born during the siege of E” >

    Comment by levin1944 — July 23, 2019 @ 6:57 pm

  2. Yeah, it’s just like the Spanish Civil War, if the Spanish Civil War was Franco vs. the Falange.

    Comment by Nothin' But Gravy (@NothingButGravy) — July 24, 2019 @ 5:46 am

  3. No, it was much more like Mussolini versus the Senussi.

    The Senussi or Sanusi (Arabic: السنوسية‎) are a Muslim political-religious tariqa (Sufi order) and clan in colonial Libya and the Sudan region founded in Mecca in 1837 by the Grand Senussi (Arabic: السنوسي الكبير‎), the Algerian Muhammad ibn Ali as-Senussi. Senussi was concerned with what he saw as both the decline of Islamic thought and spirituality and the weakening of Muslim political integrity.

    From 1902 to 1913, the Senussi fought French colonial expansion in the Sahara and the Kingdom of Italy’s colonisation of Libya beginning in 1911. In World War I, they fought the Senussi Campaign against the British in Egypt and Sudan. During World War II, the Senussi tribe provided vital support to the British Eighth Army in North Africa against Nazi German and Fascist Italian forces. The Grand Senussi’s grandson became king Idris of Libya in 1951. In 1969, Idris I was overthrown by a military coup led by Muammar Gaddafi. The movement remained active in spite of sustained persecution by Gaddafi’s government. The Senussi spirit and legacy continue to be prominent in today’s Libya, mostly in the east of the country.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Senussi

    Comment by louisproyect — July 24, 2019 @ 12:51 pm

  4. Did the Senussi chop off heads and lock up women?

    Comment by Nothin' But Gravy (@NothingButGravy) — July 25, 2019 @ 7:39 am

  5. No, but ISIS did. If you think that ISIS was part of the Syrian revolution, then you are a bigger schmuck than the average troll that shows up here.

    Comment by louisproyect — July 25, 2019 @ 1:38 pm

  6. Thank you Louis for the information about the Senussi reform attempts. The timing of the Senussi reform efforts is actually close to what was happening in Iran around the same time. In 1840s, a reform movement started in Iran (in Shiraz to be exact, where the now-famous wine comes from), called the Babi movement, which later formed the basis of Baha’i religion.

    Their leader, Bab (real name: Ali Mohammad Shirazi), had many ideas to reform Islam in Iran, and his teachings included: “advocating of the cleanliness displayed by Christians, the non-cruel treatment of animals, the prohibition of beating children severely, the recommendation of the printing of books, even scripture …” [source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bábism%5D

    I will repeat what clearly needs to be repeated: Islam has as many different varieties as does Christianity, some of them in complete contradiction of each other.

    People who paint all Muslims as head-choppers are a bunch of racist assholes who should kiss Trump’s ass for bringing back Islamophobia to the level of state-mandated ideology of the United States of America.

    “Nothin’ But Gravy” dude: You are nothing but a racist asshole. Go love yourself!

    Comment by Reza — July 25, 2019 @ 6:33 pm

  7. “People who paint all Muslims as head-choppers are a bunch of racist assholes who should kiss Trump’s ass for bringing back Islamophobia to the level of state-mandated ideology of the United States of America.”

    Yeah, I didn’t do that. Obviously I was highlighting the difference between the Senussi and ISIS/Al Queda.

    I know there are a lot differences in Islam. There’s also a lot of differences in insurrections. “Fight the Power” feels good if you don’t give a damn about what comes next.

    Comment by Nothin' But Gravy (@NothingButGravy) — July 25, 2019 @ 9:48 pm

  8. ““Fight the Power” feels good if you don’t give a damn about what comes next.”

    People in Russia who led a socialist revolution didn’t have a clue (nor gave a damn I suppose) that, down the road, they’d be stuck with a Stalinist nightmare. Was their revolution wrong?

    Comment by Reza — July 26, 2019 @ 1:24 am

  9. BTW … sorry for the dead link above …

    The correct link to Babism is: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bábism

    Comment by Reza — July 26, 2019 @ 1:30 am

  10. “People in Russia who led a socialist revolution didn’t have a clue (nor gave a damn I suppose) that, down the road, they’d be stuck with a Stalinist nightmare. Was their revolution wrong?”

    Al Nusra and ISIS aren’t bolsheviks.

    Comment by Nothin' But Gravy (@NothingButGravy) — July 26, 2019 @ 5:51 pm

  11. What is this fixation on ISIS and al-Nusra? Why don’t you find a blog to troll that is pro-ISIS or pro-Nusra? This is getting tedious.

    Comment by louisproyect — July 26, 2019 @ 6:33 pm

  12. It’s not like there are other choices. You’re buying an Ahmed Challabi fantasy.

    Comment by Nothin' But Gravy (@NothingButGravy) — July 30, 2019 @ 1:15 am

  13. “It’s not like there are other choices.”

    That’s right. In the Middle East, we only have two kinds of human beings: 1) head-choppers who want to enslave all the women and 2) dictators who bring stability … sometimes. If only the head-choppers would let ’em.

    Yep! That’s us sand niggers for you. We don’t have no liberals. No democrats. No socialists. No social democrats. No labor activists; no women’s rights activists; no human rights activists. And did you hear about our first-responders? Even they turn out to be CIA agents sowing seeds of sedition in support of head-choppers. Man, we’re so fucked up!

    Not a single person among us wants to live in peace, prosperity and freedom. Forget that; we hate peace, prosperity and freedom. We avoid freedom like plague. Peace? Who needs that? Prosperity? That’s for sissies. We should be bombed back to the stone age.

    The ‘unavailable’ choices exist only in your vacant head.

    Comment by Reza — July 30, 2019 @ 7:11 pm

  14. The only spouting racist garbage is you.

    Comment by Nothin' But Gravy (@NothingButGravy) — August 3, 2019 @ 1:01 am


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