Arts & Humanities

Dimension 9 of 17


We wanted to learn about the influence of the arts and humanities in Syria. We listened to a wide range of local, regional, and international actors influential in the life of Syria. We received a wide range of responses, for example: 

“There are people (no thinkers who shape national identity), but they don't have the capacity to shape national identity.” (232631)

“Most of the artists and thinkers have been forced to flee.” (233121)
“There used to be... but not anymore.” (235931)

“There are only a few artists who were allowed to make fun of the government, but only under government control.” (230713)

“On both sides - see it in musicians, composers, drama . . . They will be useful in rebuilding a national identity.” (233911)
“TV personalities, concerts, and national artists are used to reinforce and justify the dictatorship of Assad.” (239311)

“The benevolent elite is the opposition. Most of the organizations related to the arts were under the regime. Before the revolution, they worked for the government, but weren't happy about it. They also believed, for the most part, that the people should have a new Syrian identity, all as one. When the Spring Club opened, it was their first chance to speak openly. [I] was a member. [We] tried to revive the meaning of civic associations. [We] opened a bridge of communication with Lebanese artists. From 2000 to 2005 artist movements started to revive. The regime felt threatened by the acceleration and turned against it. [I] believe this was the spark that eventually lead to the revolution. In 2004, a group from the Spring Club. went to Aleppo. They mobilized 250 lawyers to join them. They were later arrested on April 14, 2005. Most were freed quickly prior to trial. People from all over Syria gathered in front of the courthouse in support of them. "1, 1, the Syrians are 1," started here. The people arrested were from a cross section of Syria, Sunni, Christian, Druze, etc.” (231641)

“Art was the only field allowed by the regime. 90% of [my] friends wrote poetry in college. They could not do political art, just romantic, dramatic, and philosophical topics.”

“There are more artists than thinkers with influence. There is an opportunity for more thinkers in the future because the diaspora is being exposed to think tanks etc. outside of Syria.” (235781)

“There are artists and thinkers, but they are divided, taking different sides in the revolution.” (234281)

“They were a leading country.” (222272)

Are the arts and humanities in Syria without influence? Or do some serve and strengthen the government, and others the opposition? Why does this matter in your choice of partners, the design of initiatives, and the implementation of those initiatives? Read more to find out. Scroll to the bottom of the page for more statements. 


INCA DIMENSION #9:

SYRIA'S ARTS & HUMANITIES


9 Top.png

Syria's Arts & Humanities is the 9th of 17 dimensions of Syrian society that influential local, regional, and international actors assessed and discussed through 3 rounds of interviews and feedback, beginning in January, 2016. Taken together, the 17 dimensions of the x-axis offer a comprehensive, holistic view of Syria and its people. Interview participants assessed the capacity of each dimension, represented by the y-axis; higher levels indicate greater capacity within that dimension for Syrians to respond effectively to existential global threats.

Arts & Humanities is important because it reveals how Syrian national identity is strengthened and expanded, or limited, by Syrian artists and intellectuals. Based on the 8-level hierarchy described in the question below, participants from 27 influential organizations assessed the influence of arts and humanities in Syria at different levels at this time in history, ranging from 1 to 7. (At the bottom of this page, you can read statements interview participants gave to support their assessments.)


The Question

The arts and humanities include the disciplines of languages, literature, philosophy, visual and performing arts. These disciplines explore, share, and recreate expressions of the human experience. We are considering the influence of writers, filmmakers, and artists in this country. Which of the levels of development is the dominant mode of this country? (If two seem equal, name the higher level.)

1.     There are no artists or thinkers in the country who shape national identity.

2.     There are artists or thinkers whose work reinforces and justifies the identity and practices of a predatory elite.

3.     There are artists or thinkers whose work reinforces and justifies the identity and practices of a benevolent elite.

4.     There are artists or thinkers who unite the majority of people in the country, and who explicitly exclude all others.

5.     There are artists or thinkers who unite the majority of people in the country, and who strengthen tolerance toward minorities.

6.     There are artists or thinkers who unite the whole country.

7.     There are artists or thinkers from this country who have strong influence in the region.

8.    There are artists or thinkers from this country who have strong influence in global culture.


READ CLOSELY, IMAGINE, LEARN

Read each statement below closely. Assume the person who wrote this is sincere; they believe every word. Imagine what life experience or background might lead a person to have this belief. Whether true or false, this person’s perception is a fact. 


TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. The Dilemma

2. The Range of Disagreement (Chart) 

3. The Question

4. Read Closely, Listen, Learn

5. THE TABLE OF CONTENTS  

6. Development in Syria (Chart) 

7Work Within Syria’s Arts & Humanities

8. Strengthening Syrian Arts & Humanities One Step At A Time

9. The Range Has Yet To Shrink

10. Round 3 Statements (Nov 2016 - Jul 2017)

11. Round 2 Statements (Aug 2016 - Oct 2016)

12. Round 1 Statements (Jan 2016 - May 2016)

 

READ CLOSELY, IMAGINE, LEARN

Read each statement below closely. Assume the person who wrote this is sincere; they believe every word. Imagine what life experience or background might lead a person to have this belief. Whether true or false, this person’s perception is a fact. To move forward on an initiative involving Syrian arts and humanities, the reality of each perspective might best need to be accounted for.

This Prime Actor participant sees Syrian arts and humanities as centered at Level 1, without influence:

“There used to be... but not anymore.” (235931

This Prime Actor participant sees Syrian arts and humanities as centered at Level 2, in which the work of artists or thinkers work reinforces and justifies the identity and practices of a predatory elite.:

“TV personalities, concerts, and national artists are used to reinforce and justify the dictatorship of Assad.” (239311)

When you can imagine how other Prime Actors could hold these perceptions, you will be better positioned to partner, plan, and implement initiatives in Syria.


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WORK WITHIN ARTS & HUMANITIES IN SYRIA

The thick brown line represents a lack of artists or thinkers in the country who shape national identity

The thick brown line represents the most conservative assessment of Syria’s arts and humanities, a lack of Syrian artists or thinkers who shape the country's identity. Any venture that relies on a broad advertising campaign, or wide-spread behavior change would be served by not assuming the presence of national role models, inspirations, or guides.


STRENGTHENING ARTS & HUMANITIES IN SYRIA ONE STEP AT A TIME

Aim just right: build skills

The green area of the chart, from levels 1 to 2, indicates where projects to strengthen Syrian Arts & Humanities will be most likely to succeed, to strengthen the leader. Whoever emerges as the leader of the civil war will need to unify the country. Because the new leader is not known, any projects to support the arts and humanities in Syria, or with Syrian refugees, would be helpful. An example is the Za’atari art project with Syrian youth, artists and educators, backed by AptArt, UNICEF, Mercy Corps and ACTED.

If you aim too high: destructive overreach

Projects and agreements in the red area of the chart are overly ambitious and, at best, will be a waste of time. More likely, they will drive confusion and corruption into the country. 

Promotion of the arts and humanities in post-invasion Iraqi society was at a similarly low level in the spring of 2003. The United States, however, failed to recognize the lack of a single unifying Iraqi culture and instead enacted many programs based on the faulty assumption that its cultural projects were inherently accepting of—and accepted by—nearly all subgroups of Iraqi society (level 5).  As a result, inappropriate practices and projects drove confusion and corruption into Iraqi society with disastrous results.

The most blatant overestimation of the advancement of arts and humanities in Iraq was the construction of the Sadr City Concert Hall. Assuming that a majority of residents in Sadr City would be receptive to artists and thinkers from different elements of Iraqi society (level 5), the $250,000 concert hall was constructed with the idea of staging events that would represent the national culture of Iraq and help to connect the citizens of Sadr City with Iraqis across the country (a level 6 goal). As our INCA platform reveals, however, this assumption was misguided and led to program overreach. The project attracted little interest among average citizens and met serious opposition by local community and religious leaders, who viewed the outdoor concert hall as an attack on conservative local values (revealing an overreach in the Religion dimension as well). Rather than facilitate a country-wide movement toward cultural unification and understanding, which was the intent of the project, the Sadr City concert hall—which was completed but never used—in fact only exacerbated local tensions.

Background Reading

For more information on INCA for Iraq, read our retroactive case study here: http://sovereigntyfirst.com/iraq/report


Round 3 Statements (Nov 2016 - Jul 2017)

Note: These statements were given by participants as rationale for their decision to gauge Syrian capacity at their stated level. 

The Range

Lowest Score:1

Highest Score: 7

1. There are no artists or thinkers in the country who shape national identity.

“There are people (no thinkers who shape national identity), but they don't have the capacity to shape national identity.” (232631)
“Most of the artists and thinkers have been forced to flee.” (233121)
“There used to be enough to justify level 3, but not anymore.” (235931)

2. There are artists or thinkers whose work reinforces and justifies the identity and practices of a predatory elite

“There are only a few artists who were allowed to make fun of the government, but only under government control.” (230713)
“On both sides - see it in musicians, composers, drama . . . They will be useful in rebuilding a national identity.” (233911)
“Some are with a benevolent elite and some are with a predatory elite. More are with the predatory elite.” (233081)
“TV personalities, concerts, and national artists are used to reinforce and justify the dictatorship of Assad.” (239311)

3. There are artists or thinkers whose work reinforces and justifies the identity and practices of a benevolent elite.

“The benevolent elite is the Opposition. Most of the organizations related to the arts were under the regime. Before the revolution, they worked for the government, but weren't happy about it. They also believed, for the most part, that the people should have a new Syrian identity, all as one. When the Spring Club opened, it was their first chance to speak openly. [I] was a member. [We] tried to revive the meaning of civic associations. [We] opened a bridge of communication with Lebanese artists. From 2000 to 2005 artist movements started to revive. The regime felt threatened by the acceleration and turned against it. [I] believe this was the spark that eventually lead to the revolution. In 2004, a group from the Spring Club. went to Aleppo. They mobilized 250 lawyers to join them. They were later arrested on April 14, 2005. Most were freed quickly prior to trial. People from all over Syria gathered in front of the courthouse in support of them. "1, 1, the Syrians are 1," started here. The people arrested were from a cross section of Syria, Sunni, Christian, Druze, etc.” (231641)
“Art was the only field allowed by the regime. 90% of [my] friends wrote poetry in college. They could not do political art, just romantic, dramatic, and philosophical topics.”

4. There are artists or thinkers who unite the majority of people in the country, and who explicitly exclude all others

“Especially music and performing arts.” (233531)
“There are more artists than thinkers with influence. There is an opportunity for more thinkers in the future because the diaspora is being exposed to think tanks etc. outside of Syria.” (235781)
“There are artists and thinkers, but they are divided, taking different sides in the revolution.” (234281)

5. There are artists or thinkers who unite the majority of people in the country, and who strengthens tolerance toward minorities.

No Statement

6. There are artists or thinkers who unite the whole country.

No Statements

7. There are artists or thinkers from this country who have strong influence in the region.

“All the comments are correct because at every level there are a few examples. No level is dominant.” (233881)
“They were a leading country.” (222272)


Round 2 Statements (Aug 2016 - Oct 2016)

Note: These statements were given by participants as rationale for their decision to gauge Syrian capacity at their stated level. 

The Range 

Lowest Score: 1

Highest Score: 7

1. There are no artists or thinkers in the country who shape national identity.

"Most independent, influential artists left the country. They surfaced under Bashar's 'Spring Club,' but that turned against them later. They had an important role in the revolution when it was peaceful, before Islamists took over. They had Friday gatherings, but honored 'Great Friday' for the Christians. They had special Fridays for each group. 'One, one, the Syrians are one.' These artists still exist, but can't influence anything." (221641)

2. There are artists or thinkers whose work reinforces and justifies the identity and practices of a predatory elite.

"On the opposition side they also have artists and thinkers with more creative space, but only about political freedoms, because of the nature of some of the Islamist groups." (223911)
"The comment for Level 2 in Round 1 is correct, but is more appropriate for Level 1. If artists and thinkers are forced to do propaganda, are they doing art or independent thinking anymore? There was a caricature artist, Ali Farzat, who did illustrations for the government. He was published for years until he did one that made people laugh at the government. They broke his fingers." (221211)

3. There are artists or thinkers whose work reinforces and justifies the identity and practices of a benevolent elite.

No Statement 

4. There are artists or thinkers who unite the majority of people in the country, and who explicitly exclude all others.

No Statement

5. There are artists or thinkers who unite the majority of people in the country, and who strengthen tolerance toward minorities.

No Statement

6. There are artists or thinkers who unite the whole country.

No Statement 

7. There are artists or thinkers from this country who have strong influence in the region.

"They still have artists and thinkers and elites in the refugees and the diaspora. It was a very influential country in the Arab world. It would not end from one day to the other. There were a number of these people in civil society before the war. That's why the war started." (222272)
"This is an active community of artists and writers who tread very lightly regarding the government." (226591)
"A lot of artists. In the few years before the revolution they were improving TV and broadcast work. Syrians have been leading thinkers in the pan-Arabic movement. Their actors and singers still influence the culture in the region." (228631


Round 1 Statements (Jan 2016 - May 2016)

Note: These statements were given by participants as rationale for their decision to gauge Syrian capacity at the level they did for this dimension. 

The Range

Lowest Score: 2

Highest Score: 5

2. There are artists or thinkers whose work reinforces and justifies the identity and practices of a predatory elite.

"The regime controls the majority of artists and thinkers, directing them as they want." (2138811)

3. There are artists or thinkers whose work reinforces and justifies the identity and practices of a benevolent elite.

4. There are artists or thinkers who unite the majority of people in the country, and who explicitly exclude all others.

5. There are artists or thinkers who unite the majority of people in the country, and who strengthen tolerance toward minorities.