'In the first heady weeks of the Arab spring, commentators made much of the role played by social media, but far more significant was the carnivalesque explosion of popular culture in revolutionary public spaces. Protests in Syria against Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship were far from grim affairs. Despite the ever-present risk of bullets, Syrians expressed their hopes for dignity and rights through slogans, graffiti, cartoons, dances and songs.
Assad’s barrel bombs, and to a lesser extent the ravages of Isis, have displaced almost 12 million people, most internally, huddling in unregulated camps along the border fences or under trees outside their destroyed villages. More than four million are abroad, the vast majority in neighbouring states, others washing up on unwelcoming European shores. It seems the only Syrian who doesn’t want to leave is al-Assad.
The refugees have carried their creativity with them. One of the most pressing cultural initiatives has been how to educate the lost generation of Syrian children. In the Atmeh camp –inside Syria close to the Turkish border – for instance, the basic Syrian curriculum is taught, but pictures of the president are ripped out of the textbooks and the propagandistic “nationalism” class is dispensed with. School days begin and end with a revolutionary song and a shouted question and answer (Our Aim?… Freedom!). For the Kesh Malek organisation, now based in southern Turkey, this is depressingly reminiscent of the old Ba’athist catechism. The organisation’s Zaid Muhammad wants to build an alternative: “Our aim now is to build a generation through non-ideological education. For this reason, we don’t accept the revolutionary flag in the classrooms of our schools – even if we’re ready to die for it on the streets.”Syrians are rightly infuriated by their abandonment by the world’s states. But there’s good reason to hope their responses will be more positive and diverse than mere terrorism. Already Syrians have changed the image of refugees in Europe. Before, clandestine migrants crossed borders in silence, in the dark. Today – thanks to their revolutionary training – they march in broad daylight, in their thousands, still demanding dignity.'