Interview with Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat
The Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat has an international reputation for his sharp vision and expressive ways in illustrating the problems, visions and dreams of humanity. In August 2011, Ali Ferzat was brutally attacked and beaten and left for dead. His hands and fingers - his only weapons - were broken to silence his pen, and with it, a dynamic Arabic conscience that expresses a nation's will. Ali is the son of his homeland Syria, a visionary, committed to his cause while building a legacy of Arabic and international caricatures, reviving values of humanity, justice and liberty in his work. Interviewed by Soumaya El Azem.
"We don't want the sacrifices of the young men and women to be used as a Trojan horse to attain political power by others."
A slim, attentive, smiling and full of hope man shakes my hand, I am very careful since the injuries are still visible on his hands. I couldn't detect even the slightest expression of resentment when I asked how is health was improving on the contrary I felt keenness and motivation to continue his efforts and mission.
If you look at Syria today, where do you see your contribution in awakening a society that was frightened and dormant?
My contribution wasn't born with the uprising; I foresee events a long time before they happen, for example I predicted the fall of Sadam Hussain and his regime, and expected the wind of changes coming to the Arab world long before the Arab spring was born. In my work I am very blunt, naming each person through their own shape in the illustration; everyone is present in my drawings. It is a clear and honest language that expresses the mind of the street, the Arab spring can't afford symbolism and the approach must be forceful in reflecting the true feelings felt in an uprising. A great help in delivering my message into every house, penetrating the walls of isolation and without anyone controlling or monitoring it, was the new social network, the most efficient way of media in modern times. I raise my hat in respect to who established this technological revolution.
Do you carry any resentment against the ones who attacked you or did that strengthen your will to continue.
I paid a heavy price for my stance but the love, care and good intention I received from people after the assault made me forget my pain and heal faster. Freedom needs a lucid soul, an artist shines with pain and hope, and decays with grudge.
After the accident some of your international fellow artist spread cartoonist images to support you, and to unmask the regime's fear of your drawings, confirming your international achievement. What is the secret behind your success the art of your drawing or the idea behind the drawing?
Art contains both; there is an affinity between the content and the way of portrayal. A picture is a resemblance of an envelope and the content is its letter.
What is the main goal of your drawings? Are they challenging or informing?
To instigate against wrong secular and religious thoughts trapped in our minds, to prompt against any kind of oppression, there is no difference between secular and religious repression, it is all despotism. I don't like my life and thoughts to be molded by anyone. My message is truthful and sincere and my honesty comes from experience. My thoughts are created through my feelings; there is an interaction between them. I perceive my life like a tree, the people in my life are the branches, the thoughts are the leaves, and ambition its trunk and I produce the fruits.
What does the word freedom mean to you?
The word freedom carries a message to all of us it is an interaction between humans and life. Its spirit is to speak out righteousness and to be just. For you to be free, the other has to be free as well. Real liberation is a state near perfection. It's not a personal gain I fight for others to attain my own freedom. It's a moral responsibility, a very hard one with bills and taxes to pay. Some people are waiting for others to pay the price of liberty to grab hold of it for their political aspirations. Like in the saying: "The dreamers think, the brave act and the dreadful seize it." We don't want the sacrifices of the young men and women to be used as a Trojan horse to attain political power by others. I refuse the exploitation of religion in the impulsive spirit of the revolution. I believe in God and I have my faith but this is between God and me and our freedom is the most precious gift from God. I have the right to speak out; I have the right to make a choice and to get my freedom in life. Freedom is a moral and ethical obligation, where my conduct has to interpret my thoughts.
How do you perceive the development of the revolution?
As a Syrian national I am against dictatorship and as a citizen against segregation. Syrians always lived together without knowing each other's religion or affiliation, even people and friends close to us. I used to live with associates for seven years without knowing that one of them was an Alawite and the other was a Christian. The appearance of labeling and classifying began when the Ba'ath party came into power, however the regime didn't succeed in dividing the unity of the Syrian people, the uprising has pulled the carpet under the government's feet giving each Friday demonstration a special name, in support of the Christians they called one "Solidarity Friday" in support of the Alawites they called one "Saleh Al Ali's Friday" in support of the Kurds we had "Azad Friday" and all demonstrate together side by side, shouting "One, One, One, the Syrian people are one". I am proud of the true national voice and ashamed by their greatness. We don't want their sacrifices and martyrdom to go in vain.
As Arabs we are proud of the award that you lately received in France, what did the award mean to you?
The award was the result of conveying the dreams of the Syrian and Arab people. I am their conscious and they are mine. God gave me this talent to work with, to express myself and them. I consider my work a work for humanity that unites me with the people, and this award is for me and for them.
What is your vision for future Syria?
These days we hear about destructive hurricanes, floods, Tsunamis. Nature is revenging itself after being exploited and misused by us. When you humiliate nature it will re balance itself. Humanity also needs to find its equilibrium again. Evil doesn't stay forever; everything has to rebalance to its original state. Syria is moving in the right direction. The streets are uprising for the injustice; we want to hear that real honorable national pulse, building Syria's future on a strong basis, not allowing the executioner to be equal with the victim. To achieve a promising future our behaviour and thinking should be in line, if our methods are right from the beginning the outcome will be right as well.
Ali Ferzat's webpage is here.