At dawn the view of Damascus was glorious. I loved to watch the sun rise whilst Kurdish pigeon fanciers flew their little flecks of silver over the green minarets that illuminated the city. I came to love those birds, especially the ones who never obeyed the flight course taken by the rest of the group. They seemed to have their own rhythm, their own music, and they flew in any way they pleased, slaves to no one, as if in direct communion with God. None of the clapping of the pigeon fanciers could entice them to descend unless they wished to.
I lived in Rukn ed-Deen, a Kurdish neighbourhood with winding alleyways and houses made of breeze blocks that reclined on the slopes of Mount Arba’een. I rented a flat from a chain smoking widow whose husband was killed in the 1967 Six Day War. The widow was kind and generous and never let you eat alone during Ramadan; apart from that she left you to your own devices.
I had come to Damascus to learn the Arabic language. Initially, my reason had been to understand the Quran, but by my first year I had become obsessed with the language itself. The infinite meanings that triliteral roots could contain and the shades of meaning that derivative verbs could give. I was infatuated with the literature, newspapers, everything. Although I told myself repeatedly that to understand the Quran was still the main aim, the truth was that it had become a pious cover. The language possessed me: it was no longer a mere key to the secrets; it was the secret itself.
I picked Damascus because of its proximity to the classical language. Their dialect was clean and speaking the classical Arabic on the street might bring about peals of laughter, but the response could still be articulated in classical Arabic. You could still find a gem of a street vendor steeped in the classical verse of Abu Tammam or the bombast of Mutannabi who spoke, like the ancient Arabs, words replete with eloquence and resplendent in their subtlety, even as he offered you his Shawarma.
I don’t claim to have mastered its literature as of yet, but M’Saad was certainly one of the men who put me on that road. My meeting with M’Saad was through a mutual friend one evening in the famous Rawdah café, not too far from the somewhat diminutive parliament. I felt excited about the fact that our shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries occurred in the same spot where Adonis, the poet, spun his verse. And I could not help but marvel at God’s handiwork, because M’Saad’s face was not dissimilar to a lama. His nose was unusually sharp and contrasted with the soft contours of his face and prominent forehead with hair combed to the side. On his nose perched a pair of round spectacles that were chosen not because of style but rather due to economy. I don’t think I had ever met such an unremarkable man before in my life. If you threw him in the darkest dankest prison, where the sun is never seen and mildew grew on the crevices of one’s body, no one would make mention of him except the one who bore him and God Himself.
In spite of his strange appearance I knew that I was sitting in the presence of gentleman. I could tell that he disliked the scent of the Shisha and the expressive profanity of moustachioed men in checked shirts playing backgammon; but since my tongue possessed the English language, he bore the situation with patience and dignity.
M’Saad had lived in Damascus for many years but had not lost the provincial look of his home, Deir ez-Zour. His shirt with its stiff collar was tucked in and possessed no trace of flamboyance or individuality. His trousers were pressed and appeared somewhat large. His shoes were the type you see grandfathers wearing, soft leather; his jacket, nondescript, serving the purpose of keeping the bitter winter winds out and body heat in. Had it not been for his straight inflexible posture he would have been inconspicuous, moving quietly amongst the throng on President’s Bridge trying to catch one of the numerous white minivans that served as public transport. And if he spoke, which was a rare thing indeed, it would be the odd, ‘excuse me sir’, or, ‘pardon me friend.’
M’Saad would always be at my door at precisely seven in the evening. I would watch him through the key hole as he arrived. He always made sure he was well presented, running his hand over his pomaded hair, tucking his shirt in before knocking. Our routine consisted of me bringing in a pot of tea, setting our watch, and beginning with his hour of English first. Then the next hour I would read from Jawhar al-Adab, an anthology of Arabic literature starting from the very beginnings of the language up to the modern period. I gained much from his expertise. After all, the young doctor was a hafiz, someone who had memorised the entire Quran, and had studied the other religious sciences whilst studying for his medicine degree. This was no mean feat. He was also a considerable poet and elucidated, with great patience, the finer points of poetry even though it was quite apparent that I had not attained that degree of competency to deal with it. But because I had a hunger for it, he endeavoured to give it.
I would never say we were friends. We were too different in our temperaments and cultures. I liked to work hard and felt guilty when I was idle for too long, but I recognised that we were social animals. We needed rest, we needed coffee, tea and even a pipe in order to socialise. Even the Arabic language has a common noun for Homo Sapiens which is, ‘Ins’. ‘Ins’ comes from the triliteral root ‘A’, ‘N’, and ‘S’. Its general meaning is ‘to be sociable’. The ancient Arabs understood the need for us to be in the company of others. But M’Saad did not need the company of men. When you sat with him, his rigid posture made you uncomfortable, his silence, his politeness, his unwillingness to relax, to joke, all made him bad company. He did not make any reference to the world. He did not know nonsense, women, football or anything else that one may have experienced in everyday life. He did not even watch TV. But the programmes he had watched in his childhood, he talked of as if they possessed a mystical significance. I was struck by his love for ‘Sandokan’; he talked of this cartoon as if it held the very key to the universe.
That is not say that I didn’t try to socialise with him, but our evening of coffee and a game of chess was a failure. There was only chit chat with interludes of silence, which ended with his clever deployment of Horse and Castle dominating the board, both horizontally and diagonally. Although I’m not a sore loser, the move was so calculated and so methodical that I ended up rebuking him. I said that he reminded me of Angelo from Measure for Measure. At first he was pleased that I had compared him to a character of such an esteemed playwright but then when he asked me why I should compare him thus, I replied that Angelo had ice running through his veins. His face became dismayed. How could he not have a sense of feeling? “But,” he exclaimed, “I am an Arab.”
“What does that mean? That you are warm hearted and we are cold?”
He was silent. That is what he implied; that he was a passionate Arab with more love than any of the peoples of the world combined. I said that maybe it was the case amongst other Arabs, but for me he was like a German car: ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’. His face became concentrated, as if he was focusing on the tip of his long nose. Once the information had been duly processed and absorbed, he got up, gave a gentle smile and thanked me for the advice. He admitted that others, too, had called him a Terminator and that perhaps he should stop being so robotic. He shook my hands twice and looked at his watch. He was running late and asked for permission to leave. He adjusted his hair and stepped out into the jasmine filled night. I watched him walking down Sharia Abed his form changing from one of control and method to something more human. He became less rigid. I was even surprised to see that he kicked a can as he walked down the bustling street. I wondered if he was only a Terminator with me or if my words had taken effect.
We never played chess again. Despite our differences, there was still the bond between us, as if both of us were working for the same thing. I think he felt this more keenly than I did. After all, I was following in the footsteps of scholars who travelled vast distances to sit at the feet of old sages in order to learn sacred knowledge. Few Westerners came to his country to do that. I think he admired me for speaking in the ancient language of the Quran on the streets, despite the laughter. Regardless of the fact that this young doctor earned a pittance in comparison to the money I had, he never accepted any form of payment. I was an honoured guest in his country, and the fact that I had more money than him was an irrelevance. I watched him shield me from the hawkers and taxi drivers who saw in me the wealth in my pockets. In the end this paternalism had become so annoying that I rarely ventured out with him, and kept our meetings confined to my flat.
I never understood why M’Saad was so unrelenting in his desire to learn English until one cold winter’s day when I met him outside the square of the Umayyad Mosque. He was kneeling throwing sunflower seeds to the doves. I watched him from afar. He was oblivious to the cries of the vendors in their tin vaulted Souks with its tiny perforations that resembled little stars; only the birds seemed to matter. I did not mean to interrupt his tryst but the sound of my shoes on black stone; my tapping his shoulder startled the birds and sent them whirling up to the minaret and the clear blue sky. M’Saad jerked back, wide eyed as if a policeman had caught him unawares; he was brought back to the din of the market and laid his eyes on my khaki green army jacket that I had bought from an Armenian trader. He seemed to recoil at the very sight of it, like a Nosferatu eyeing a cross. The colour was wrong, he commented. I laughed I was pleased with it; fitted me well and I liked the ruggedness of the wool. I told him how cheap it was and of its utility, but it didn’t convince him. So I pressed him as to why he disliked it. The jacket after all fitted in with his philosophy of life: austerity.
At first, he skirted my questions and bought me some Syrian ice cream with pistachios, hoping to keep my mouth full. As we walked down Souk Hammidiyeh I continued my questioning. His measured pace increased as we cut across the souk down to Midhat Basha. His features became more animated as I pressed him. As we came out of Midhat Basha he lost his patience: and I finally beheld emotion. He said my jacket reminded him of the army.
He had not completed his army service and for several years he’d tried to avoid doing the compulsory two years of sitting around being impoverished, drinking maté, swearing and playing cards. He could not afford the high fees that would ensure exemption. In any case he could learn how to load a gun in six months, him and his father used to go hunting hyenas on their farm. He knew how to hunt, to kill even. Why should he spend two years under a barking officer who wouldn’t allow him to pray? What they wanted was complete submission. The superiors didn’t care if you whored, smoked, swore and hated your country, but they expected you to polish their boots. How could he go to one of those brothels in the outskirts of Damascus and put himself on a fleshy whore just because his superior commanded it? How was he to face his Maker?
“These were things,” he said becoming more taut and inflexible, “I cannot do.” He recalled how the sight of couples holding hands had been repugnant to him even as a boy. In his village on the Euphrates, if you had designs on a girl you approached the family first. Maté, cards and foul language was not the way of the honourable man.“Ana faris– I’m a knight” he shouted as we strode towards Hejaz station.“But,” I interjected, “have you never been in love?”
He stopped in his stride. He thought for a moment, as if he wanted to reconcile an image of the Arab knight and the image of love.
He flitted a glance at me; I could sense a hint of suspicion. Perhaps he was unsure of whether he should reveal such information to me, his interrogator. I was surprised: why wouldn’t he reveal such a simple human emotion? Every young man had been in love, had they not? I was wounded by his distrust. I informed him that I too had been in love once, hoping that he would reciprocate. And he did: “Yes once- during my undergraduate years.” “What happened?” Again he hesitated as if I might use it against him in some show trial in the near future. “Look M’Saad was in love once,” he said. “Do you want to share the story?”
“I decided it wouldn’t work.”
“Why not? You don’t just decide on something like that?”
“She is rich and I am poor. The families would never agree.”
“Do you still love her?‟
M’Saad did not answer my question but I perceived an involuntary faint nod. He looked ahead, ignoring, almost with contempt, the officer who stood outside the Hejaz railway steps smoking a cigarette hailing a yellow taxi. M’Saad’s eyes were drawn to the steam locomotive on display; the very same locomotive that once took you to the city of the Prophet.
In an attempt to reconcile him I offered my khaki jacket. He refused it as if it was an infectious piece of clothing, as if he had met those righteous men whose moral fibre had been corrupted by the khaki; men who had left their prayers, men who now killed and tortured. He shuddered at the jacket that clung to me like a carcass. I laughed and quoted the lines of al-Iyadi: “O People listen and take heed! Verily whoever lives will die. And whoever dies is forgotten. And all which is meant to pass will pass.”
The lines seemed to soothe him. “You are right.” He said, resigned. “If this is what God wills, there is nothing I can do to prevent it.” He left me at Hejaz station; he had work to do. But a few weeks later though, the widow brought me a package delivered, “by that strange looking doctor.” It was the same jacket, except the colour was marl grey.
Now I understood the urgency of passing the IELTS exam. It would secure him a scholarship and an exemption from the army. The exam, however, was unforgiving. It consisted of an oral, written and a listening component, and was similar in some ways to the British driving test: Three minor mistakes equalled a major mistake and failure. However, some mistakes were so grave that it meant automatic failure no matter how well you did throughout the rest of the exam. One such error was the substitution of the consonant ‘P’ with a ‘B’. In other words pronouncing an innocuous word such as ‘Pepsi’ as ‘Bebsi’, or ‘passport’ as ‘bassbort’ meant no scholarship. For those of us who can pronounce our Ps and Bs it seems like a relatively small obstacle. But the Arabic alphabet does not possess the consonant P and the mispronunciation of the P has lead to the downfall of many a bright Arab student.
That error had a special significance for M’Saad because he had already failed the test as a result. To watch him pronounce a word beginning with ‘P’ was cruelly hilarious. He would struggle, both lips stretching back in anticipation, and then there would be a pause during which his whole head would go backward and he would say the word as if he were sneezing it out: “P…P…Pandemic!” If he got it right he would be triumphant, sometimes punching the air. If he got it wrong he would be so harsh with himself that the rest of the words beginning with P would come out as Bs. It was a comic and tragic sight to watch a man who spoke like Stephen Hawking wage war with such a minuscule consonant. But he persevered. Sometimes a whole twenty minutes would be spent on pronounciation: Pace, Pacemaker, Pachyderm, Pacific, Pacifism, Pacify, Pack, Package and so on. On bad days however he would confuse all the Bs with the Ps. Those days put him in the blackest of moods. It was during those moments that he would let himself go. His face that was usually bereft of emotion would lose its impassive stillness. Anger made his facial muscles uncontrollable as he berated the powers that be. He would throw the rules of grammar and pronunciation out of the window; he would lose his Hawkingesque way and gain his own voice.
He spoke with great fluency, even with a hint of eloquence, about his disappointment in his country. His government had failed the people, they had not educated its citizens.
“Modernise!” he would say, “not just in our technology but also our minds! We must think! We need to be rid of superstition, abandon this folkloric Islam. All this grave worship. Takhalluff! Backwardness!”
Contempt had turned his posture from one that resembled surgical apparatus in its precision, rigidity, and cleanliness into one that moved generously, often slamming its fists down on the table. It was clear that this young doctor would make a fine officer; one not afraid of responsibility. Not afraid to die for his country. “Not taking responsibility,” he would bark, “means destruction.”As the day of the exam neared, his increasingly frequent outburst became full of slogans, mottoes and revolutionary zeal. He was an ideologue’s ideologue. “They don’t care about us!” he exclaimed clenching his fist, “soon, my friend, soon you will see!”
“End?! M’Saad you are not making sense.”
“The end of these P.. P.. Pastards!”
Usually the ‘P’ would make him realise that he had spoken too much. He had exhausted the fervour of his harangue and lost his composure and so the process of contraction would begin. He would force himself into the control centre of his mind to cover up any trace of passion and fury that beat in his heart. The rigid posture of the automaton would return. His tone once again regular and robotic. His limbs reaching for his mobile, his fingers removing its lithium battery. Only his eyes betrayed a sense of having committed a grave impropriety.
And for good measure, without my permission, he would remove the battery from my mobile too.
I always found that habit disconcerting and strange. And one day I asked him about it, when he had gone off on one of his rants, about how the Syrian government had allowed Syrians to go and fight in Iraq but now they were not allowed to return in case they caused trouble at home. I asked quite innocently whether it was still possible to cross the Iraqi border.“Of course,” he nodded “come to Deir ez-Zour!”
“And Palestine?” I asked.
“Balestine?” His eyes widened. He reached into his shirt pocket to check that his mobile phone was incapacitated. Then he looked for my phone on the coffee table, and was reassured. He straightened himself, ran his hand over his shiny pomaded hair. He looked towards the door. He took a sip from his glass of water. I watched him intently for the answer. But all he said was that everyone knew someone who could take you into Palestine. I asked him why he always removed the lithium battery from the cell phone.
“Beoble… I mean, people could be listening to our conversations through the mobile.”
I laughed; this wasn’t The Matrix or The Bourne Ultimatum. How absurd. I kept on laughing and telling him jokes about the incompetence of the Syrian intelligence services whilst he stared out of the window in deadly seriousness. He left very shortly after that, taking note of the exact time to be repaid to me at our next meeting. Apparently he had an appointment. As he was about to scuttle off I apologised for my insensitivity. I tried to reassure him.
“Don’t worry” I said, “they can’t do anything to me. I’m British.”
“British or not,” he said dismissively, “you are still my brother.”
M’Saad was true to his word. He repaid the twenty seven minutes that was owed. But from that day on our conversations were confined to a list of subjects written down in his notebook.
As his exam drew nearer M’Saad appeared increasingly tense and animated. I thought it was because of the examination. He became more and more forceful in asking for additional lessons, even if only for half an hour. But the more lessons we had, the more he muddled up his Ps and Bs. Sometimes he was extremely hard on himself even slapping himself in the face when he made those fatal mistakes. I suggested that he should take some time off allowing for all the information to settle.“Everything is fine, don’t worry,” he said. “Let us go on.”
One day I awoke with a fright. I was not used to waking up so early on a Saturday; it was the day when I could sleep for as long as I wanted. But the sound of a wheezy cough and the fact that there was a woman in my room with a prematurely wrinkled face made me sit up in bed. It was the widow; she had used the spare key to let herself in. She stood there in front of my bed, her mascara eyes impatiently waiting, and coughing to wake me up. I stretched, trying to shake myself out of my slumber. I said:
“Khalati, is everything okay? You look flustered.”
“No, no, it’s just my blood pressure- happens sometimes.”
I asked her what brought her into my private space. She replied that we had to make our tenancy contract official. Why? Because a man was asking about me.“What kind of man?”
“Mukhabarat” She replied.
I conjugated it in my mind; Akhbara; to inform on someone; Yukhbiru, the present tense; Ikhbaran, infinitive; Mukhbir, active participle; Mukhbar is the passive participle.
I did not say much. I didn’t really have much choice. I had to go and see the local mukhtar, the local overseer. The widow waited for me outside, dressed in a black velvet shawl, a tight jacket and a curious French bag which read, ‘Lou Vitton’. I got dressed and found that she had already prepared a breakfast for me: bread, za’tar, olive oil, a boiled egg and some mutabbal, with tea.
What started as a visit to the overseer ended up as a paper chase that Kafka couldn’t have conjured up. We spent several days chasing after stamps and pieces of paper in the grey soulless buildings with pictures of the president. We slipped a note to a moustache here and did the ‘Allah tawwil ‘amrak-May God extend your life,’ there. I even had to endure a fat walrus with blue ink stained fingers who decided on an ad-hoc test to see whether I really was an Arabic student. He gave me a badly scrawled Arabic sentence and asked me to identify where subject, verb and object were. I was incensed. I wanted to ask the official whether he understood his own grammatical riddle or whether this was a story reserved for his friends at the café, where the cunning Arab gets one over the stupid Westerner. But I said nothing. I had seen others travelling in from the provinces, and Iraqi refugees begging for precious stamps. So I attempted and passed the test, and the ink-stained fingers made my tenancy contract official. I was so grateful that the ordeal had finally ended that I entertained the imbecile’s lecture on the grammatical construction of his filthy jokes, whilst the respectful widow affected laughter and prayed to God to extend his life. We left him basking in his own goodness, proud of the great service he had rendered us. Once outside, having checked that the contract was finally official the widow cursed him: “Destroy him, O Lord. Destroy him.”
M’Saad didn’t visit during the days of the paper chase. In fact, for two weeks there was no sign of him. I didn’t understand why. Was I an untouchable because I didn’t have an official contract? Or was it because I had a khaki shirt? Why didn’t he come? Why didn’t he pick up his phone?
After the third week I realised that something must have happened. When I called M’Saad’s mobile I was told by a stranger that I had the wrong number. Apparently that phone number had belonged to the stranger since time immemorial.“Who are you?” the voice asked.
“I’m Ab…I’m just a brother” I replied.
I tried to immerse myself in dictionaries and words. I told myself that everything was alright, that he was just sick. He had probably returned to Deir ez-Zour to recuperate. After all, the exam can be gruelling. But something, I don’t know what, forced me to go round to the hospital where he worked. I asked the nurses in their spotless white uniforms and white headscarves if they had seen him. They said they hadn’t seen him for weeks. I asked his colleagues for his whereabouts. They all repeated the same mantra: that his letter of resignation had only arrived two days ago. Others, perhaps his friends, nervously suggested that maybe I should visit his home in Jeremana. But when I asked for the address they were reluctant to give it. “You see,” they said politely, “it would break employee and employer confidentiality.”
“What?” I said, frustrated, “since when did this country care about employee confidentiality?”
Only the pretty receptionist seemed responsive. She must have been new because she happily disclosed his address. I scrawled my phone number down on a piece of paper and handed it to her in case our provincial friend turned up. As I explained his strange disappearance the happy picture of the president watched us talk. She kept on smiling and leaning forward as if she was interested in what I had to say, but the piece of paper remained on the desk. I suspect that it stayed there until the caretakers threw it away.
I found the courage a few days later to grab a taxi to Jeremana. This was a suburb of Damascus which had become part of Baghdad. The arrival of Iraqi refugees had not only put property prices up and changed the demography of an entire neighbourhood, it had also changed the Syrian street names to Iraqi equivalents. And so we drove around for a long time trying to find his address amongst the Iraqi hawkers hustling, prostitutes punting in garish clothes, the merchants trading, delicious kebabs cooking and the sound of tinny Iraqi music reverberating through the dusty streets.
Eventually, I did find M’Saad’s place crammed in an alleyway, it was a traditional Arab house that was so tired that it leaned on the neighbour’s mud brick home. When I knocked, no one opened. I tried this several times as quietly as I could. Eventually I turned to leave when an unseen, muffled voice, presumably a neighbour’s, said: “He’s not here.” I was startled. How long had this man been watching me?
“Where is he?” I asked, “I haven’t seen him for weeks.”
“Not sure, didn’t pay his rent.”
I explained, surprised, that M’Saad was doctor, poorly paid, yes, but he could easily afford to rent a room.
“Believe me, his flatmate ran off too. I think the landlord sent some strong men over to collect the rent.”
“Do you have his number?”
“No M’Saad didn’t have a phone.”
“Are you sure? I called him all the time.”
“I see,” said the voice pausing, “who are you?”
After Jeremana, I stopped searching. I just prayed for him. I feared he was deep beneath the Syrian Desert where mildew grew on one’s skin. For the next six months I focused all my attention to becoming unremarkable. I kept my head down. I tucked my shirt in. I said my hellos and goodbyes and excuse mes quietly. I busied myself with studies and taught lessons to ignoble bastards who aspired to American girls and money. I made sure our conversation was confined to the list on my notepad. However, what I didn’t realise then was that here one couldn’t just disappear, dream or no dream.
One day as the call to prayer rang out and I was sitting on the balcony watching the birds in communion with their Maker, I spotted the brown silhouette of a bird. It flew at a terrifying speed cutting through the air like a knife and catching in its talons that lone speck of silver that had dared to take its own course. I had previously only read about the hunting prowess of the peregrine falcon in poetry; and as I watched the falcon carry away its prey that phone call came.
“Ahlan. My name is Mr. Haddad, I’m from amn. Can you come in to see us please.”
“What’s this about?”
“Your brother, M’Saad.”
Post Script: I wrote this award winning story just before the Syrian uprising 2011. I try to convey what it feels like to live in an oppressive police state. It leaves an imprint in your very being. To this day whenever there is a knock on the door, I always pause, thinking it’s Mukhabarat- Syrian Secret police. There are fifteen of these agencies that compete with each other. I have the curious distinction, of being someone who has been lucky enough to walk out of Far’ Filistin after an interrogation, many Syrians never do. I can only imagine how it impacts Syrians living under the cosh of a police state.
Such experiences has left an indelible mark on me and three short stories were born dealing with the topic. Little Flecks of Silver being one of them, the second being Exodus of Smoke CM|16 (Hurst) and the third being Abdal CM|19 (Hurst).
Whilst Little Flecks of Silver is a fictional story, it is a summation of personal experience; of friends who disappeared, of friends I didn’t have the courage to chase after, of friends who joined the Syrian uprising. When I wrote it, I never anticipated that there would be an uprising, for the likes of us we were blind, we lived too well to notice the countryside suffering from water shortages and economic hardship. All we saw was the lively cafe’s in Old Damascus, the new shiny cash machines in the city and the Costa coffee in Four Seasons, we never understood that there was something dark looming in the horizon. I should have seen the signs. It was all around me. But youth combined with good times and if truth be told, love, makes one pretty blind.
I should say this though, every time there is a knock on the door, I thank my Maker, it’s not Syrian Mukhabarat, and that I can, should I wish to, mouth off against the authorities and the powers that be to my hearts content here. In some countries you cannot do so- and live. It is a reminder to weigh your words carefully. Moreover, every time, I get stopped in the airport and some Mr Smith stops me because of my name, or I get a bit of lip from some ignorant Tommy, I always put it in perspective. Everything looks better once you have put it through the Syrian Mukhabarat. Well at least I am not being presented with a file outlining all my movements with dates and times and places. At least I am not getting visitors turning up on my door wanting tea and bribes. At least I am not getting random phone calls asking me to come in for an interrogation. At least I don’t have to answer existential questions about the whereabouts of my friend when he decides to sleep for a day and a half. At least I don’t have to jump on a gobby Yorkshireman trying to desperately plug his mouth with my fist when he decides to be all Yorkshire and hurls insults at Assad. The Syrian Mukhabarat, unfortunately, gives you perspective.
When people complain, that this country is turning into a police state, I say to myself: well no, its not. But we need to be vigilant. There are unique things that we have here that are worth preserving. There’s a lot to be said about the country despite its many flaws and its obsession with fishing quotas.