Reading: Between the Sultan and His Statue by Yusuf al-Saigh

Yusuf al-Saigh (1933-2006) was an Iraqi poet who has published poetry since the 1950s. He also worked as an illustrator and painter. I read a short verse that nicely renders the working of symbolic authority:

Between the Sultan and His Statue
A wily sculptor
Cut several pounds off the sultan’s figure
And added several pounds to the statue’s.
When day broke,
The people said:
We’ve been taken in!
Of the two bodies on the veranda,
We no longer can tell
Which one is the Statue
And Which is the sultan

Image by Wikipedia

The image of the torn down statue of Saddam Hussein is part of our collective memory and surely makes his poem’s metaphor more effective. What did the wily sculptor actually do? Make the sultan’s statue look more realistic by adding several pounds of belly, thereby illustrating the idea that the sultan himself is a mere mortal, running the risk of obesity like most of us. So the sultan loses his face, or figure (here I concede my free interpretation, I am not aware of the connotations in the original).

Statue and sultan get confused at daybreak, so the people feel fooled. Sultanhood requires that absolute authority is associated with the one figure of the sultan himself. The statue cast in his honor can fulfill every symbolic function of sultanhood: subjects can worship the statue like they would the real person – except for the function of absolute authority that can’t be distributed. As soon as the people doubt the individuality of the sultan, that authority vanishes, because the collective imagination, or hallucination, is robbed of the focal point that made it possible.

It seems self-evident to me that in our intellectual pursuit of a better life, we should all aspire to be wily sculptors.

Reading: Between the Sultan and His Statue by Yusuf al-Saigh was originally published on Meandering home


Caritas Syria

Aleppo, Syria. November 5th, 2009

Caritas helps Iraqi refugees, irrespective of their religion. They have fled the Mosul area of northern Iraq because of ethnic violence. They are not allowed to work in Syria and are often struggling to survive.

We make a little donation and visit two families.

Name Caritas France / support for Iraqi refugee families
Aim To help Iraqi refugees regardless of their confession to make ends meet
Since 2003
Staff 6 people
People reached 583 families
Donation 300 USD

In Aleppo, Charity Travel supports a project supporting Iraqi refugees, that is run by caritas France. I think this cause is deserving especially because they help the families regardless of their confession. Currently, there are 583 families, about 150 of them are Muslims. 320 Families receive rent assistance. Caritas also provides oil/gas for the winter and fans for the summer (temperatures rise to 40 degrees easily in Aleppo), mattresses, food, and medical assistance.

I ask them to select a few poor families that could need some more help. They select two families for me, and together with two aid workers I take a taxi to one of Aleppo’s unprivileged neighbourhoods to visit those two families.

Family #1
The first family I am supporting here are Christians who fled Iraq a few years ago because it was too dangerous for them to stay. They are a couple with one daughter.

The father of the family is disabled as the result of a work accident. He had changed his profession and became an accountant in Iraq. In Syria he cannot work though since Iraqi refugees are not give official refugee status. Officially, they are considered tourists here. That means the family has to rely completely on aid.

Their daughter has a mental disability, I was told. She was not at home during our visit.

I went to the bathroom, where almost everything was broken. I tried to flush the toilet using a bucket and take a picture of the heart-shaped mirror above the broken sink.

We take pictures together and I wish them all the best luck for the future.

My assistance for this family is 100$.

Family #2

Not much fun

We take another taxi to visit a 47 year old mother with her three sons. The oldest two (16 and 14) want to be computer scientists, her youngest (10) isn’t so sure yet. They could apply for a Syrian passport, but they don’t in order to avoid the 21 month military service.

Since her husband (51) is living and working as a car mechanic in Iraq, the UN and the Armenian orthodox church assist them financially. That money is hardly to pay the rent, though.

She tells me the story of her family. Their grandfather was Armenian, living in Bursa, Turkey during the time of the genocide. So they had to flee to Iraq. A generation later, Armenian Christians are persecuted by militia in Iraq, killing them at random. Their hometown had become too dangerous for them to live, so the fled to Syria in 2008.

We don’t need to know more details. This family has a long history of displacement, and they deserve every support.
We take pictures together before we say goodbye. I wish her and her sons all the best.

My contribution to them is 200$ for rent assistance.

Caritas Syria was originally published on Meandering home