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Public lecture on Syria with Prof. Lisa Wedeen: “Ideology and Humor in Dark Times”

February 2, 2013

Wedeen lecture.

On the same day that a series of deadly bombings rocked the Syrian capital of Damascus on Feb. 21, the University of Washington Jackson School of International Studies hosted Lisa Wedeen, Mary R. Morton Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, for a public lecture about the politics leading up to the Syrian uprising.

Wedeen spent time doing fieldwork in Syria in 2010 and 2011. She left in May 2011 while the uprising was under way.

Wedeen meeting with students.Before the lecture, graduate students had the opportunity to discuss their research with Wedeen.

Wedeen said the protests in 2011 were as much about ideology as they were about economics. Syria’s increasingly market-oriented economy resulted in an increased culture of consumption. Wedeen noted that an ill-timed Vogue article that portrayed President Assad and the first lady as chic and modern was later removed from Vogue’s website.

Wedeen gave examples of how people in Syria are using film, and even comedy, to communicate. She pointed to the popular Syrian drama, “A Forgotten Village,” which in 2008 and 2010 used parody to make fun of the Assad regime and of circumstances in Syria. Wedeen said the comedic sketches allowed people to acknowledge what they already knew and provide relief from the dreariness of prevailing conditions.

Wedeen asserted that the series motivated Syrians to demand regime reform and made possible the analysis of prevailing conditions.

When asked how the conflict in Syria became so bloody, Wedeen said it is because regime officials have an understanding that they can hold onto power because of support in its two biggest cities: Damascus and Aleppo.