Nasser Rabbat: Life and Death in Syria

Nasser Rabbat is the Aga Khan Professor of Islamic architecture at MIT, a Damascene from way back.  The question we ask him is, “What will we say happened to Syria in front of our eyes, and was non-intervention in Syria as damaging in the end as previous American interventions have been?”

Nasser Rabbat wrote a marvelous account of his father’s death last year, a man who lived through most of the 20th century, and a great deal of Syria’s national history. It is the story of both a man and his nation, and it’s available in English at The Atlantic.

He wanted to go back to Damascus and die in Damascus. So how do I sum up his life? A Lebanese cardiologist was summoned to come and see him. My dad was half-drugged and had an IV in his hand and oxygen in his nose. The doctor was saying, “So what is paining you the most, where do you feel pain?” And my dad, in a very soft voice, answered the question, “Syria, the problem in Syria.”


Related Content

  • Siddhartha Banerjee

    Civil wars are seldom as short or as defined as the American one. A program on civil wars in comparative perspective is sorely needed and would be very welcome.


  • Potter

    The question we ask him is, “What will we say happened to Syria in front of our eyes, and was non-intervention in Syria as damaging in the end as previous American interventions have been?”

    Thank you. You ask that question again here, and I think it’s a very good one.

    The story of his father is so lovingly told. It’s very sad; his was a heart broken for the love of Syria to his dying day; he never got over it. But in order to breathe he got out. Nasser Rabbat came here to practice his art and to tell us the story of his father and Syria. Backing away, one response could be that the people of a land/country (here of numerous ethnicities religions coexisting) who allow subjugation, who do not engage in their politics early on, are vulnerable to such horrors. They can become trapped and then it’s too late; don’t ask for rescue.

    The ancient Greeks used the word tyranny. There was during a period in ancient Greece a good and necessary tyranny, necessary for the people in the long run (as told through western values of democracy). But when there is an out and out cruel tyranny that is self serving and for the few, that is entrenched for years and decades, in dynasties, when people live in fear, and any uprising attempt made to overthrow it is cruelly put down and is (now we see clearly) deliberately and easily turned into sectarian war what is to be done? When the regime holds and uses the formidable decisive weapons to keep itself in power, and has allies to help it do so, what is to be done? The whole world is watching the suffering. It cannot be hidden. Do we watch and listen,philosophize, and go back into our daily pursuits and maybe donate a check to feel better? Maybe that is all we can do lest (as some say) we can only make it worse. Or can we ask at a certain point if it could possibly be worse?

    At first it seems right to say “civil war”; they have to fight it out. But then it’s apparent that it’s more than that, a contrived civil war where there had been coexistence, grossly unfair, with many innocents, not only children, dying, maimed, seeking vengeance for decades or forever.

    Maybe this is the 21century, I should get used to it: Bush’s real “New World Order”, the same as it ever was, it’s their own fault. Only we can see it, know it and we have been very burned by going to war on false pretenses. Assad knows this. Thank you George Bush.

  • Rina

    Brilliant! Listening yet again. Thank you.

  • This is a brilliant account of recent Syrian history — thanks to all of you there for this important transmission.

  • Kareem Sakka

    Listening to you eloquently sum up our common history I can relate to every step your family went through. Let us hope for a better future, we deserve it.

  • Ninijee

    Nasser Rabat. Brilliant as usual.