Tuesday, October 2, 2007


As I was waiting for my bus to Hama I did a very rare thing, for me anyway. I directly, unambiguously lied to someone's face. I don't just mean I allowed a mistaken impression to arise in his mind by remaining silent about a certain matter; or that I concealed the 'whole truth' about something and was 'economical with the truth'. Neither of these are lying, not really. They're just not being fully open, which is different.

If you insist they're forms of lying I'll say they're only 'negative' forms of lying. Spoken behaviours whereby you refuse to assume responsibility for the mistaken conclusions generated by your listener's projections onto or behind your words. The impression they might provoke could very well be contrary to what you meant, but that isn't because you uttered words confirming or constructing their false understanding. Doing that, as I see it, is the real lying - lying by commission, not omission. Obviously though, in a perfect world, i.e not this one, it would be wonderful if we could all be forever open and transparent with one another.

I didn't feel ashamed of my 'positive' lie. This might be because I didn't particularly warm to the 19 year old who asked me his lie-prompting question. If I'd told him the truth, this might have provoked him and his surrounding gang to pay me even more attention, when at that moment I just wanted to read my newspaper. But I must confess, there was a smidgeon of fear too; especially since this was an Alawite area and that, given my unusually pronounced sense of my own importance, I'd come to imagine I might be under the special scrutiny of the Government. I thought he might be a Government agent. Even if he wasn't I still didn't want to risk upping the stakes of my fledgling paranoia.
So when he asked me if I'd been to Israel I just said no while simultaneously wondering if my eye contact was relaxed and unassuming enough. I suppose that when you lie the eyes can give you away, either because they suddenly become distracted, or else too ardent in their gaze.

He seemed very proud of his culture and country. He was glad to point out, as I'd noticed, that the women are less hidden here. This is because there is more freedom than in conservative Aleppo and further into the Sunni areas to the east. Then a friend of his asked me if in the West women are different from men. I knew what he was getting at but I thought I'd try to be funny. So I gestured the outline of some shapely breasts and agreed that yes, they are different. It worked, which was great. What he wanted to say, of course, was that women have too much freedom, and wanted to know if I agreed. Unfortunately for him I didn't and just said that in my culture men and women are equal, which they are, if only in theory. He didn't want to defend his thoughts about women. I suspected he considered them self-evidently true.

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