‘When They Start to Think Only God is With Them, This is Bad’

Syrian author Nihad Sirees was recently on CNN and the BBC’s The Strand:

sireesThe CNN piece interlaces the interview a bit…oddly…with somewhat random footage from Syria. In any case, CNN’s Becky Anderson first asks Sirees about his novel The Silence and the Roar, recently translated by Max Sirees and published in the UK in January (Pushkin Press) and the US next month (Other Press). Anderson notes that there are no place-names in The Silence and the Roar and yet “everyone knows” it’s about Syria.

“This is my role as a writer,” Sirees says. “It’s important that literature talks about these problems early, very early.”

Anderson notes that Sirees has left Aleppo, in part not to be silenced, and asks — since he can speak freely — what he wants to say about the country. He says “I want to say that what is going on in Syria is very dangerous. Not only for Syrians. The state is collapsing.”

Anderson also tries to draw Sirees with the specter of “what the West would call” (she says) militants, insurgents, and “al-Qaeda elements,” fighting “under the guise of opposition.”

Sirees: “Peaceful demonstrators need someone to help them stop [the] killing. And when the government will use the army, there are many who will not agree [to the] killing and they will defend [themselves.]” (The sound here is a bit obscured by CNN overlaying a bomb blast.)

Sirees continued, on the alone-ness of the Syrian people: “Our people believe in God. And this is good. But when they start to think that they are alone, and only God is with them, this is…a problem. They fight [in] God’s name, because no one cares.”

BBC’s The Strand, on Feb. 1, had a somewhat more literature-oriented interview:

The presenter Samira Ahmed asked Sirees, about the government’s staged protest scenes, among others, in the The Silence and the Roar:“Did you exaggerate anything at all?”

Sirees: “This is the task of literature, to show things in this way…maybe by exaggeration, and invent[ing] some scenes [for] the reader to understand what the meaning of totalitarianism [laughs at how difficult the word is to pronounce]….”

Ahmed also noted that there’s some naughty bits in the book, and asked him: Why explicit sex?

Sirees said that his narrator “lives in depression, he lives in silence. But he needs something to keep him standing on his feet. … and he can continue confronting all these dangers. So love and sex and maybe also laughs. These are like tools for him to…survive.”

Ahmed said that his author-protagonist tries to avoid politics. And Sirees?

“For me it is very clear, what I wish, what I like, what I even fight through words is democracy. That is my task. That is why I write.”

Ahmed here mentioned not just Syria, but also Egypt, and asked: Are you optimistic?

Sirees: “Of course. Why? Because this is very normal. Every revolution, it needs time to be stable.”

Other interviews and recent writing by Sirees:

Nadia Ghanem’s interview with Sirees: Author Nihad Sirees: ‘We Are Fighting the Formal History of a Regime’ 

Sirees in PEN Atlas: Novelist Nihad Sirees on Aleppo Then, Aleppo Now, Aleppo Imagined 

Interview on Jadaliyya: Syrian Novelist Nihad Sirees: ‘Creative Writing is Stalled Today’ 

From the “Syria Speaks” event in London:

Two Views of ‘Syria Speaks’: A Lens on Syria Through the Arts 

Reviews of The Silence and the Roar

Sarah Irving in ArabLit 

M. Lynx Qualey in The Kenyon Review