Sunday, July 30, 2017

Wendy Pearlman's "We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled"

Wendy Pearlman is the Martin and Patricia Koldyke Outstanding Teaching Associate Professor of Political Science at Northwestern University, where she specializes in Middle East politics. She is the author of We Crossed a Bridge and it Trembled: Syrian Chronicles, Violence, Nonviolence, and the Palestinian National Movement, and Occupied Voices: Stories of Everyday Life from the Second Intifada.

Pearlman applied the “Page 99 Test” to We Crossed a Bridge and it Trembled and reported the following:
Between 2012 and 2016, I traveled across the Middle East and Europe, interviewing more than three hundred displaced Syrians. My new book, We Crossed A Bridge and It Trembled, uses the narratives that I collected to chronicle the origins and evolution of the Syrian conflict exclusively through the words of Syrians who have lived it. The book is divided into eight parts that respectively probe the suffocating fear under the authoritarian regime of Hafez al-Assad (1970-2000), the rise and fall of hope for change after his son Bashar’s assumption of power in 2000, the euphoric launch of peaceful protests in 2011, the regime’s violent response, the militarization of the rebellion, the everyday experience of living war, the mass flight of refugees, and citizens’ concluding reflections making sense of these tumultuous events. Each part is comprised entirely of personal testimonials which range from poetry-like fragments a sentence in length to anecdotes unfolding over pages.

Page 99 is the first entry in Part IV: Crackdown, which examines both government attempts to repress the popular uprising and how a cross-section of people experienced that repression. The entire page is dedicated to these words from Miriam, a 20-something woman from Aleppo whom I interviewed in Jordan in summer 2012:If Bashar had only come out in his first speech and said, “I am with you, my people. I want to help you and be with you step by step,” I can guarantee you one million percent that he would have been the greatest leader in the Arab world. He had that kind of potential. Instead, he assumed that the Syrian people love him, that they don’t understand anything, and that they’ll follow him no matter what. But we weren’t as foolish as the government thought we were.Consistent with the “Page 99 Test,” this passage reveals the conviction guiding the book as a whole: Syrians’ voices offer not only a way to feel the human dimension of this cruel conflict, but also analysis and insight critical for understanding its complexities. Here Miriam conveys a central, oft-forgotten point of the Syrian tragedy: it was not inevitable. When tens and then hundreds and thousands of Syrians went into the streets in early 2011, they initially called for reform, not regime change. They wanted a greater margin of freedom of expression, removal of brazenly corrupt officials, repeal of the 48-year-old Emergency Law that allowed imprisonment without charge or trial, etc. Bashar al-Assad retained great personal popularity at the time. Had his government eschewed bloodshed and recognized the legitimacy of citizens’ simple demands, it could have avoided war. When it instead chose to treat unarmed protesters as “terrorists” to be killed, tortured, and eliminated, it unleashed the violence that continues to ravage the country until today.

We Crossed A Bridge and It Trembled reveals how all of this happened. Page 99 reminds us that it did not have to happen this way.
Learn more about We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled and follow Wendy Pearlman on Twitter.

The Page 99 Test: Violence, Nonviolence, and the Palestinian National Movement.

--Marshal Zeringue