Murals of Homs

Friday 18/12/2015

The mural of Steve Jobs in Calais, France, by British artist Banksy succinctly points out what we’ve known for generations: Migrants can do great things when given a chance.

Jobs’ biological father was Ab­dulfattah John Jandali from Homs, Syria, who migrated to the United States and is a vice-president of Boomtown Hotel Casino in Reno, Nevada.

Shortly after Jobs’ death in October 2011, Jandali, now in his 80s, related how his “Syrian pride” prevented him from contacting his son before he died. Jandali at the time said he didn’t know until just a few years earlier that the baby he and his ex-wife, Joanne Simpson, gave up for adoption, had grown up and help found Apple Incorpo­rated.

Several well-known person­alities, including the television series Homeland’s Mandy Patinkin, who recently helped children off rubber boats in Lesbos, Greece, have attempted to draw attention to the Syria-fuelled refugee calam­ity. But the all-too-real murals of violence on the walls and streets of Homs have been all but forgotten.

Following a two-year siege that ended in May 2014 and saw civil­ians and rebels in Homs’ Old City forced to eat leaves for months, the images of Syrian security forc­es and shabiha militias grudgingly allowing half-starved children and elderly men and women out of the area are still haunting. Homs was at the time a cauldron of despair, a city in name only as suicide bomb­ings killed hundreds of civilians in government-controlled districts of the city, fuelling sectarian anger.

Little has changed. When the last of the opposition forces in Homs surrendered the Waer district as part of a truce agree­ment with the regime, families of mostly Alawite men — supporters of the Assad rule — taken hostage by rebels held a protest demanding their relatives be released by the rebels.

In a display of just how intoler­ant the regime remains of any and all dissent, a pro-government journalist who photographed the protest was detained for several days. The rebels had, after four years, finally gone but the mire of repression that has ruled the city since the early 1970s remains.

Depictions of the almost Holly­wood-scale destroyed streetscapes of Homs have been documented by several outstanding Syrian art­ists and filmmakers over the last few years.

Tammam Azzam has projected iconic and historic paint­ings onto its pulverised walls in an attempt to draw attention and establish some resonance with the wider world. His work has tried to frame what is happening in Homs now with images that people across the world could relate to.

But the destruction itself and the efforts to draw attention to its roots and scale by Banksy and oth­ers have been largely ignored.

For example, a film critic of Britain’s the Guardian newspaper wrote of how in Talal Derki’s ac­claimed war documentary, Return to Homs: “The director’s relent­less, claustrophobic approach is surely an accurate reflection of the tragedy itself”, after its screening at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2014.

Tellingly, he also lamented how “rather depressingly, the press and industry screening of Return to Homs is attended by about 20 delegates in total, at least eight of whom abscond before the closing credits”.

What’s more, not a single major US-based magazine or newspa­per has taken the time to review Return to Homs despite it winning the prestigious Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and other major awards. In the United Kingdom it fared little better. The outside world wasn’t interested much in Homs then and is even less so today.

Less than two years ago Homs was a major coup for reporters who braved kilometre-long tun­nels and falling shells for access. These days when the BBC goes there, one of the very few major outlets still devoting time and money to covering the city, it at­tracts a tiny audience.

Unfortunately, what’s clear today is that efforts by Banksy and others to highlight how a son of Homs can change the world only go so far. The international apathy towards Syria’s suffering seems to have won out.