I saw on a Syrian news site that you are shooting a movie under your production in the ruined neighborhood of al-Hajar al-Aswad, to tell the story of the evacuation of Chinese citizens from a city engulfed in the flames of civil war.
Let me tell you a little bit about al-Hajar al-Aswad.
In this poor and marginalized neighborhood, there used to live a diverse group of locals. Their children would go to the cinema to watch your movies, and come back to share the experiences they had learned from your martial arts moves. They would sit in the small rooms that their parents struggled to furnish with the things children love, and they would discuss your movie after seeing it, and reenact their favorite scenes from it. Perhaps you may even find a poster bearing your picture in one of the rooms that had been built on the roof of the house, if there is even any trace of these rooms left.
Those same children had been forced out of the neighborhood you are filming in and the one they loved and lived in all their lives. Perhaps you also do not know that al-Hajar al-Aswad witnessed massive demonstrations calling for freedom, and that these demonstrations were met with live bullets, and that some residents of the neighborhood were killed under torture in Syria’s prisons, while those who survived were prevented from returning to rebuild their homes.
I never understood why people were prevented from going back to their devastated regions after they were taken back under regime control, but it now seems that they were prevented so that you could have the largest live war studio, and for regime supporters to brag that they provided you with such an exceptional filming location. A recurring statement that has been mentioned in several interviews over this new production of yours explains that building a studio similar to al-Hajar al-Aswad costs a great amount of money, and that you got this filming location for peanuts.
I must tell you, Mr. Chan, that the cost has not been cheap at all. The price paid has surpassed three hundred thousand civilian deaths, seven million displaced people outside the country, and six million displaced persons inside Syria. You should know, Mr. Chan, that at least 250,000 Syrians have been forcibly disappeared and their fate is still unknown to this day. So do you really still think that the cost was cheap?
Take a good look around you on the set, perhaps you’ll find sofas that were once in my friend’s house before it was bombed. Look among the scattered and abandoned photos for the stories of the families whose members are dispersed in this vast land
Take a good look around you on the shooting set, perhaps you will find the sofas that had been inside the house of my friend’s mother, and were strewn about after her house was bombarded. Look among the scattered and abandoned photos for the stories of the families whose members are now scattered across this vast land. Look closely at the pictures of the martyrs that the owners of these homes had left hanging on the walls, perhaps they’ll tell you a different story from the ones the regime is recounting everywhere. Search on YouTube for videos of the demonstrations, and watch how the sons of al-Hajar al-Aswad danced, chanted, and yelled out at the top of their lungs for freedom, and how they dreamed of a better life for themselves and their children. Mr. Chan, do not believe the propaganda you hear from the Syrian regime about how they were traitors and terrorists. They were the ones who truly loved their homeland, even though it had never done them justice, and their only sin was that they wanted it to become the way they liked, not the way it had been imposed upon them.
Look around you while you are shooting, perhaps you will find the tracks and footprints of the area’s residents that adorned the roads as they went back and forth, or perhaps you will be unable to find their tracks, since the airstrikes have left no trace of anything. Do you know, Mr. Chan, that we once walked these roads?
In these neighborhoods, we used to film stories about ordinary, simple, generous people who opened their hearts and homes to us. I am really sorry that you won’t be able to meet them. If you had come as a guest, and filmed inside their homes and in their presence, they would have cooked their delicious dishes for you. They would have opened their doors to welcome you, told you about their lives, and told you about their troubles and hardships just like they would tell me whenever I filmed in their neighborhood. And they would have reenacted scenes from your films and taken pictures with you. But you, unfortunately, have chosen to come as a guest during their absence, and to shoot your film on top of the ruins of the homes they had once built, brick by brick, with their sweat and tears.
We used to film in these neighborhoods stories about kind people who opened their hearts and homes to all. I’m sorry you won’t meet them. If you had come as a guest and filmed in their homes, they would’ve welcomed you and made you tasty dishes
Since you are nearby, I wish you would visit the cemetery. Greet the graves of the martyrs for us, place a rose on each headstone, and tell their owners that their families had not forgotten about them for a single moment, and that they do not visit them — not because they do not want to — but because they are unable to visit. And if the news about the shooting of your film in Darayya is true, then give our greetings as well to the land of the free who nobly tried to defend peace until the very end, and who handed out flowers and water to the army and security forces, and were killed in detention. Look for the remains of the library of Darayya that was brought together by its people so that they could read and learn. And if you find anything left of it, gather whatever is left and show it to the whole world. Perhaps this way. The world will know that we used to dream, read, and try to think under a system that wants to mold us all into one mindless format full of obedience.
Since you’re in the area, I wish you’d visit the cemetery. Greet the graves of the martyrs, place a rose on each one, telling them their families hadn’t forgotten them, and that they do not visit, not because they don’t want to, but because they aren’t allowed
Finally, I do not wish you, Mr. Chan, to ever experience the feeling that the sons of al-Hajar al-Aswad are going through today as they watch the video reports of your film shooting and production. I do not wish for you to search for the ruins of your home in the background of a clip promoting the shooting of your film in the ruined neighborhood, nor do I wish for you to see your belongings scattered about in a film shot. I do not wish for you to be deprived of visiting your motherland, nor to experience a longing for a neighborhood that no longer exists. And most importantly, I do not wish for you to dream for your home country to become a free, noble, and proud country, to end up seeing it destroyed while those who destroyed it stand proud that it has become a huge filming location for an international film.
I hope that you’d be worthy of the Syrians’ former love for you, and that you would apologize for using their absence to stealthily film in their destroyed homes. I hope that you would search for the truth, and that you won’t be blinded by the repetitive and ridiculous narrative that killed us, and that still acts using the corpse of our lost dreams.
* The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Raseef22
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