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Sunday, 6 June 2010

Modern times for an ancient city

402px-SaudiMinaret Where the righteous are called to prayer and the non-righteous are forced to pray.
Damascus, the largest city and capital of Syria, has seen the light, just like the Apostle Paul (then known as Saul) had when he was on the road to that place. No shining light this time, not unless you call the righteous shining lights.
In the shadow of the storied Umayyad Mosque, at the heart of Damascus' old city, one of the last classical Arabic storytellers takes to his throne in the Al-Nawfara Coffee Shop. Rashid Hallak, better known as Abu Shadi — it means "father of Shadi," a common affectionate reference to a man's eldest son — appears here almost every night.
He may not perform much longer, though. Syria has a new indoor smoking ban, which took effect April 21, and it threatens to hasten the end of the hakawati, the storyteller who relates such stories as tales from A Thousand and One Nights.
It seems like the righteous in Syria tore a leaf out of ASH UK’s book of myths regarding the devastating consequences of smoking bans on the hospitality industry, whether it be pubs, cafes, bingo halls etc, and swallowed, hook, line, and sinker there [ASH’s] self serving propaganda, worthy of Hitler himself.


Syria is mostly a teetotal country and predominantly Islamic  so the meeting places that we in the UK take for granted, pubs, clubs, and bingo halls are substituted by a vast array of cafés. It is there that the old and the young gambol their free time away over a glass of [Arabic] coffee, a chat and a cigarette or hookah.


So what can Syria’s business community expect of their future development when just two short months into an indoor smoking ban? Especially the hospitality industry. We already have seen above what this pernicious ban has done to the  ancient custom of the storyteller, who’s craft has been handed down, from father to son, over the centuries:
He may not perform much longer, though. Syria has a new indoor smoking ban, which took effect April 21, and it threatens to hasten the end of the hakawati, the storyteller who relates such stories as tales from A Thousand and One Nights.
As a child, many years ago now, I was enthralled by the Tales of a Thousand and One Nights, still am, and whenever old movies of one of them are re-run I am an avid watcher, read the books too. You are never too old to go back to your childhood. But I digress.
Fewer people are coming to the cafe, or they come but they don't linger, because they can no longer enjoy a water pipe while they listen, says Fady al-Rabat, 17, who is training to run the 300-year-old cafe. It has been in his family since his great-grandfather bought it.
"People still come to hear him," he says, "but they leave afterward. They don't stay around."
That means less revenue to pay the storyteller.
A story that publicans and the hospitality industry as a whole here in the UK know all to well but keep sticking their fingers in their ears whilst singing lalalalalalala, while they face bankruptcy.
To walk to the Al-Nawfara is to take a trip back millennia in time. The city's covered market, Souq al-Hamidiyya, situated between the new city and the Umayyad Mosque, boasts scores of clothing stores, ice cream parlors and knick-knack shops for tourists. The ancient mosque, an important religious site for Muslims, sits next to the overflowing stalls of the spice market and towers over the rest of the old city.
Al-Rabat expects the Al-Nawfara, on a leafy street behind the mosque, to survive the indoor smoking ban because it has tables spilling into the street, where smoking is still legal.
As in this country, a premises outdoor space is at a premium and not many venues have the luxury of a patio, beer gardens, or permission to put tables and chairs out for their smoking patrons  on the pavement due to one local government edict or another. Nor do we have the clement weather for businesses to do so if they could.
The new law makes it illegal to smoke at indoor cafes, restaurants, bars and other indoor public venues. It also strengthens enforcement and increases fines under previous, narrower smoking restrictions.
For smoking at an indoor cafe, fines are stiff for this country, where per-capita income was $4,490 in 2008. A smoker can pay a fine equal to $44, and the cafe owner can be hit with a $550 fine.
As of 2008* waiters in Syria make around £25 a week.
Nearly half the waiters weekly income, if he is caught smoking inside his place of work, even if it is away from the food that he works with, would be taken from him by force. Can he afford such a burden, can he afford to lose his job over such a misdemeanour? Can his employers afford to lose their livelihood if they don’t enforce the ban? Can any business afford this type of coercion, whether they agree to it or not?  Where have we seen this type of intimidation before?

And what about workers outside the hospitality industry in Damascus?
Smoking has long been illegal on public transportation, but now drivers say they can no longer flout the law. Many still smoke cigarettes, but now they are careful to tuck them into the palms of their hands, hiding them from the view of police.
One driver, Ibrahim Hassoun, 26, says he works 12 hours a day and cannot afford to pull over for a smoke.
"I can't smoke now in public," he says, "because I have to pay fees if someone from the government catches me smoking."
syriansmokingx-largeI want to smoke in comfort! Is that to much to ask? 
I mentioned earlier about the Hookah and it’s role in Syrian society:
The ban collides with Syria's water-pipe culture. Water pipes, also known as hookahs, are the chief reason to visit coffeehouses for many people.
But the righteous anti-smoker is not having that, is he/she:
Water pipes "are not a tradition here in Syria that we have to live with and we have to protect," argues Bisher Daaboul, 40, who is on the board of the Syrian Society for Smoking Cessation. He notes water pipes have been in fashion only since the 1990s.
And then they (the righteous) find reason to cry for a smoking ban, the same crocodile tears we have heard the world over…too many people are doing it:
According to Daaboul's organization, 60% of Syrian adult males and 30%-40% of females smoke in some form.
That sounds a good reason to ban everything, doesn’t it.

We all know success can take some people by surprise but even the smoking ban in Syria took Bisher Daaboul and his Syrian Society for Smoking Cessation to the dizzy heights that even our own ASH would be jealous of:
The Syrian Society for Smoking Cessation opened its doors in 2004. Daaboul admits that the ban exceeded even his expectations.
"It was beyond our ambition to have such a ban implemented in Damascus," he says.
Now, come on Bashir, you didn’t think you did it all on your own now, did you?
The new ban carries extra weight than previous laws because it came as a decree issued directly by President Bashar al-Assad, a physician.
Oh, and the very least you could have done Bashir was to give a very big hat tip to the imperialist British, we had a hand in making your righteous wish come true, Arabian nights style:
Doctors call for fatwa on smoking
A group of British Muslim doctors has called on Islamic leaders to issue religious rulings against smoking as part of efforts to stamp out the habit.
Who said the British Empire was dead eh?

If there is a god please save us from the self righteous.

*On researching this piece on the internet I was surprised to find out that Syria was a SOCIALIST country but I can’t, for the life of me, understand why I was so surprised given that they have just implemented a Hitlerian smoking ban. Here is BBC report on Syria circa 2008.
Main source for this blog here.

5 comments:

Dick Puddlecote said...

Brilliant article, TBY. It was so even before I noticed the star-wrecker had already been in attendance.

Scared, ain't they? ;-)

TheBigYin said...

DP the * wrecker was the first to use that system and kindly clicked on the first * still it gladdens your heart when they show dissaproval, it means you must be getting something right. Ta for the salutation at the top of your comment, much appreaciated.

As to the story above. I was struck by the tale of the bus driver. It reminded me of a documentary I watched a few months back on iplayer. It was about the Beatles being banned, along with almost all western music, in the old USSR.

One Russian Beatles historian told of the extraordinary lengths they would go to to listen to the fab four. They where raided, harangued, ridiculed and imprisoned as a black market flourished. Smuggling was rife and they came up with ingenious ways to copy bootlegged tapes and records.

Why, after all these years after the demise of the old USSR, are we here in the west taking a step back in time to that place?

Anonymous said...

Why is it that almost every country in the world is instituting smoking bans, regardless of their culture, economic state, religious background, number of smokers, and so on? It's so enormously monolithic in a world where governments can't agree on anything else. Why is this? I haven't had it explained in a satisfactory way.

Anonymous said...

Another country falls victim to the smoking ban, nazis health dictatorship.
I won't be going there on my hols!

Ashtrayhead said...

Mind you, the punishments for being caught are quite lenient for a muslim country. I would have expected at least some lashing and a little bit of finger amputation.

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