Wednesday, March 25, 2009

"Not a Mirage" (ليس سراباً)

I recently watched the entire 32-episode Syrian series called "Not a Mirage," or ليس سراباً in Arabic (pronounced laysa saraban). The series tackles several important and controversial issues present in our society, the most important of which is sectarianism and religious fundamentalism, but also includes such prominent topics as women's rights, civil society (or absence thereof), honor killings, and love relationships. The story revolves around a divorced single "Christian" mother, Hanan, who happens to fall in love with a divorced "Muslim" father of two, Jalal, and the ensuing relationship that arises out of this love. But the prevalent social attitudes prevent the couple from making their relationship public, and create a host of obstacles and problems that keep them from leading normal lives together. Their obligation to keep the relationship secret, due to the social ills from which our people suffer, is a clear recipe for disaster.

The series does a good job of addressing controversial topics and breaking taboos in a courageous and thought-provoking manner. Our society's attitude toward women is expressed and demonstrated by the roles to which most members of our society believe women should be confined. A prime example is the attitude of Hanan's father toward her being a divorced woman, which he views with utter disgust and disdain, even though Hanan's ex-husband was a corrupt figure who regularly abused his wife physically and psychologically. The position of the father was that many things happen between a man and a woman that should remain inside their home. That his daughter was being beaten, and that her dignity and honor were being stepped on, is of no concern to him, as it is more important that his daughter resort to her natural role of the obedient wife. This is a mentality that is quite pervasive in our society, as women are viewed, to a large extent, as servants of their husbands who are required and expected to obey their husbands and remain under their control, irrespective of how they are treated.

The series also ponders the proper role of religion; whether it is to be a pure spiritual and moral guide being completely separate from matters involving the state and the political system, or whether it should govern all aspects of our lives, including political and judicial national matters. Michel, the owner and publisher of a controversial magazine prints an article in his publication criticizing the role that religious institutions have played in involving themselves in issues that are outside the natural role of religion, calling for the inception of a secular system. His article becomes the target of ire and revulsion from members of all religious sects in our nation, as they all view it as an attack on religion, rather than a mere criticism of the contribution of religious institutions to sectarianism, religious fundamentalism, and the absence of the civil society.

This leads to another article printed by Michel's magazine that addresses the absence of the civil society, as our laws, especially those dealing with family and personal status, are governed by religious jurisprudence and institutions. As such, citizens are not treated as members of a single nation with equal rights and duties, but are rather subjected to different rules and procedures depending upon their confessional background. This article again draws intense anger from members of society, as they see it as a blasphemous call for secularism. The feeling is such that, Jalal's son, who becomes indoctrinated as a fundamentalist Islamist, regards Michel as a "sectarian Christian" who is introducing a "corrupt, western" idea of secularism in order to advance a sectarian agenda.

It is highly important that such matters begin to be discussed and addressed in our society, as we suffer from many ailments that need to be treated and cured if we are to experience a renaissance and come out of the coma in which we continue to be stuck. When young men are shown cheering and encouraging a fellow citizen for murdering his sister for "honorable" reasons, attention is brought to a sick mentality that drives many of our people. It is a step in the right direction that will hopefully open the door to further self-examinations and self-critiques that can help make us a better, more advanced, more dynamic society.

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