Among the exiled A reading of the book: Gates of the Land of Nothingness, by Syrian novelist Samar Yazbek

Among the exiled A reading of the book: Gates of the Land of Nothingness, by Syrian novelist Samar Yazbek
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Enjil Al Shaer

We did not inhale the smell of cinnamon from the words of Syrian writer Samar Yazbek1, and she did not touch with her palms the basil. All her hands and feet touched was clay2, Syrian-wired with human blood and other human remains. This time, she did not tell a story from her own ideas and fertile imagination, she told us a story she really lived with true heroes in the North of Syria. I touched the pain of her story, I imagined her hopes and I entered her gates one by one in a land that was violated, the sanctity of human beings was lost and humanity was exterminated by the hands of its Sultans, until I reached the land of nothingness.


The writer says:

“There is no champion but death. No stories are told by people but of him. Everything is relative and possible, except the absoluteness of death’s championship, or a moment outside the context of time, which is the moment that we cross the barbed wire at night. We wander into the wildness, where young men dug a gate for our passage, we were running then, but walk slowly sometimes. That moment swaying in the question of oblivion and home, there on the barbed wire, there were bodies coming out of the darkness suddenly, we walk like the blind, a shoulder brushes another, we hear a voice that says, “Good evening.” A voice fades, and another comes, as if we were black cats, but our eyes do not shine, the border distance, which Syrians disappear into at night, is not big anymore, people come in and go out, they cross the distance at the peace of night.” - Gates of the Land of Nothingness, page 14

Only a Syrian can cross the road to their own Syrian-ness under the wing of night, disguised to their existence, afraid that this existence would take the bus of death scheduled on the daily life time table.

We start to tell the tale, extending to Atareb and Taftnaz and Kafr Nabl, to the Turkish borders and vice versa, to the story of children who have been displaced and killed, to detentions and death under torture, to the hunger and thirst of Syrians.


There is no room for interpretation or narrative or allegorical language to beautify terms and manipulate labels. Here, the truth is constant, but its bitterness drives one to rage and pain, each at a time. And one wonders another time: why all these brutal practices from a Syrian against the human Syrian?

“The demonstration in ‘Binch’ is empty of women, and there are flags that had, “ There is no God but God and Muhammed is the Prophet of God.” I was alone among men; they were looking at me strangely. I met some young men, they were very polite, they sang and clapped, then a Sheikh came and spoke (…) I asked a woman who was observing the demonstration from her home: we used to participate in demonstrations, not anymore, our men fear the bullets and the bombings. (…) they come at night and first at dawn they shoot and run, children, elderly and women die mostly, the families and brigades do not tire of the fighting. ‘This is our destiny’ the young men say in ‘Binch.’” - Gates of the Land of Nothingness, page 17

I did not see a face of an unveiled woman among them. This is part of the traditions of this place, they follow Islamic practices, and I stood in a demonstration as the only unveiled. But when we moved between villages and towns I wore the veil so as not to attract attention.

Here the author went to describe the Hijab that it is just not a piece of cloth to cover the head only, it is the veil of mind and knowledge, an ideological veil placed by the Sharia and fed by traditions and customs. It is that which placed the Syrian woman aside and isolated her from participating in demonstrations under the pretext of fearing for her.


“Here no one speaks about the establishment of an Islamic caliphate, but for a civil state.” - Gates of the Land of Nothingness, page 18

This statement is an ambiguous beginning to a mysterious ending. Civil state, according to its definition in Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, is the “state that guarantees and protects all of its members regardless of their intellectual, religious, political, ethnic belonging, and all members are equal before the legal constitutions and in civil rights.” In the opinion of “Saeed Qutb,” it is a civil state with Islamic references, as mentioned in a speech addressed to the Egyptian foreign minister in one of issues released by the “platform of the East” on the separation of church and state:

“I would like to talk a little bit to your Excellency on this issue: that this expression [separation of church and state] has a meaning in the European Christian life, but no meaning at all in Islamic countries. I think that you know it –as do a lot of our intellectuals and educated men - through their readings of the European history, then it became frequented by their tongues without their thinking and without considering its significance in view of the meaning it contains or does not contain for the Islamic country.“

Here lays the ambiguity in the concept of the civil state, which the writer spoke of by the lips of revolutionaries of “Binch;” they embrace Islam and follow the rules, which in the texts are clear and explicit. The battalions of jihadist extremists, such as the “Islamic State” and the Al-Nusra Front, which have a large proportion of supporters in the North, derive their laws from these clear and plain texts. What civil state will Syria have?

Through developments in the Syrian Revolution, and the entry of different nationalities to it under the name of Islamic Jihad, some parties have begun to blackmail the people using emotions and feelings, taking advantage of oppression and hunger, deprivation, and being sidelined for several decades.

The author says: “I heard a conversation of fighters. As I began to try to understand what happened in the battle of ‘Wadi Al Def,‘ during the search in the rubble, the younger one of them said, ‘The battle of the Wadi Al Def could have finished a long time ago, but the battalions received financial support to extend the life of the battle to take advantage of it ... which explains what happened in the “Abu Aldhor” airport between Maher al-Naimi and Syrian Martyrs Brigades,’ and then said: (emitting a spitting expression), ‘Is this why we came out for the revolution?’” - Gates of the Land of Nothingness, page 88

In war the poor always pay the price. War thieves are the owners and crowned kings of dictators, they excel by force of arms on the one hand, and the strength of religion on the other.

Again, Arab writers look in general, and Syrians in particular, at their affiliations, their identities amputated, and themselves usurped and dispersed between the homeland and the diaspora, like the rest of the people because they are part of this people. The writer says:


“.... When I looked at that moment, I knew the meaning of exile and country.  I sneak as a fugitive and illegally cross the borders of my homeland. The home is now staring at a plane that will bomb us, and I stare at it steadily, intently and without fear, then I follow where it will drop death. The exile to sit at the “Pastel” in the middle of Paris, drinking my coffee under a pleasant sun, on my left side two lovers are kissing, a bird lands on my knee, and I jump out of fear and panic.” - Gates of the Land of Nothingness, page 37

The writer wrote at length about everything that is happening in the North of the Syrian, of humanitarian violations by all parties, including the brutal practices of the regime against the people under the pretext of terrorism. Between the jihadist brigades and the entry of different nationalities, among them those who are only interested in the implementation of their fixed beliefs on the one hand, and on the other hand in being mercenary.

All of what the author wrote was real, as she indicated in her book, which is a long, deep topic that would require many pages to study. So, while the reader can know what this book contains, the study needed to contain long sections of it and divide the study into more than one part.

Therefore, this study is the first of the two gates of the three gates of the land of nothingness, the last and most important gate remains, a Syrian migration season into the unknown.






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