Military, ideological slogans leave mark on generations of Syrians

The Syrian regime sought to control society through militarization - April 17, 2024 (Ministry of Defense/Facebook)

The Syrian regime sought to control society through militarization - April 17, 2024 (Ministry of Defense/Facebook)


Enab Baladi – Yamen Moghrabi

“Kneeling, duck walk, 100 push-ups, marching in rows,” are terms known by Syrians who spent part of their lives in school systems and unwillfully engaged in ideologically driven organizations. These manifestations and slogans continued even after the popular protests calling for the fall of the Syrian regime in 2011, with changes in the phrases or slogans, while the new generation of children, sons of refugees or displaced people outside regime control areas, managed to shed them, albeit with the presence of other controlling forces inside Syria that began imposing their nationalistic or religious ideologies on the generation.

These terms, etched in the memory of Syrians and often used today for humor, mockery, and jest, reflect a different behavior and culture within. They also indicate, in some contexts, the behavior that characterizes some individuals, highlighting the extent to which military terms are rooted in the daily language of Syrians and their influence on their culture as well.

The military institution in Syria has played a significant role in Syrian political and social life since the declaration of independence from France in 1946, through both the coups carried out by the military to seize power and their direct intervention in political work alongside civilians.

Upon coming to power in Syria in 1971 following a military coup he carried out under the name “Corrective Movement” in 1970, Hafez al-Assad entrenched the military nature in all aspects of public life in the country, whether through mandatory military service and its duration, the powers granted to the army, the uniform-like school clothing, and the civil organizations with a military character like the al-Baath Vanguards and Revolutionary Youth organizations.

Unforgettable slogans

The walls of schools in Syria were painted with faded colors and high fences, and Syrians remember the slogans they chanted in the morning assembly throughout their 12 years of elementary, middle, and high school education, including “Down with the treacherous Muslim Brotherhood” or chanting the Baath Party anthem (O Youth of the Arab Nation, Advance). Additionally, there were the military education materials (youth military training), which directly meant the militarization of society.

Military-like uniforms and schools

While the colors and buildings of schools were dull, school uniforms up until early 2003 consisted of sand color (beige) for elementary and military green for middle and high school stages, before Bashar al-Assad issued a decision to remove the military training subject and change the school uniform.

Psychologist Salwa Orabi explained in an interview with Enab Baladi the existence of congruence and overlap between the language used by individuals and their vocabulary and their social life and the prevailing culture in society.

She stated that in Syria, regardless of the city, there is a common and generally harsh culture floating above the surface, as a result of the Syrian regime’s movements in this regard.

Orabi added that this can be observed in the streets where military manifestations are pervasive, wall posters, and even schools marked by the color of walls and military-like uniforms. This all imprints some level of violence, aggressiveness, and military character in human behavior.

The terms used reflect forms of force, violence, and coercion, and people’s terms are always affected by the general atmosphere and their feelings. Given that the Syrian citizen lives under such repression and experiences patterns of violence and control, it is natural that their language would reflect this, according to Orabi.

For many years, the Syrian regime militarized society and state institutions. It was not necessary for Syrians to feel they were under military rule solely by being in military buildings for routine transactions but also through civilian government institutions, whether the walls praising the army, Assad’s pictures in military uniform, and other details.

Behavioral impact

The impact of the terms used by individuals extends far beyond mere utterance, reaching the formation of a general culture that influences and is influenced by the individual and their surroundings.

According to a study published by the Arab Democratic Center in 2017, language is a reflection of the culture created and used by people in society, influencing the way it is used.

Meanwhile, a research paper titled “The Role of Language in Developing Individual Traits,” resulting from the Third International Conference on Arabic Language, noted that factors related to an individual’s environment play a significant role in acquiring their language and terms, which will, in turn, affect their behavior. This is also related to psychology.

Just as humans are affected by their environment and experiences, their personality is likewise influenced by the terms used in daily life, and the impact on behavior is significant as behavior is defined as the comprehensive response an organism gives to any situation it faces.

From the previous definition of behavior, one can understand the significant impact of language on human behavior, with the relationship between language and behavior being one of mutual influence, both influenced by several factors related to family, daily life in schools, streets, and workplaces.

The role of language in a person’s life goes beyond communication. A language composed of sentences and vocabulary expresses the individual’s characteristics, thoughts, feelings, and personality. It is also influenced by social and cultural context and experiences throughout life.

Psychologist Salwa Orabi explains that aggressive and violent terms affect individuals, leading to a reciprocal impact between a person’s behavior and their language. Therefore, when someone uses military language, their behavior adopts the same nature. This also applies to violent, gentle, or harsh terms used by individuals.

These daily scenes transform a person’s behavior, and subsequently, their language, into this military image and nature. This instills a sense of fear and anxiety, according to Orabi, which later extends to become a societal culture that influences individuals’ behavior.

Other effects of militarization

In the years following the revolution’s outbreak, the phenomenon of polarization intensified, and the military nature had its impact on public life, even in drama and art. Other phenomena like the spread of drug use also impacted language and public taste.

Militarization and violence scenes can be observed in drama and some songs, which compare beloved ones to weapons, like the song “Russian Bullet,” praising the military lover in songs like “My Soldier,” and other songs like “Love War” and “If Only I Were a Soldier.”

A study published by the Carnegie Middle East Center in 2016 noted that after the battles with Israel in Lebanon in 1982, the Syrian regime changed the army’s primary role to a symbolic one, with compulsory conscription becoming an effective tool for managing Syrian society.

Compulsory conscription in Syria began in 1947 with the issuance of Law No. 356, with a duration of 18 months. In 1956, it was increased to 24 months.

After the defeat in 1967, the duration of mandatory service increased to 30 months in 1968. When Bashar al-Assad came to power, he issued a decision in 2005 to reduce it back to 24 months.

In March 2011, another amendment was issued, reducing the duration to 18 months.

However, military discharge processes were frozen with the onset of military operations in Syria after 2011. It was not until operations began to decrease on the ground, with an increased focus on airstrikes with Russian participation, that limited discharge operations for conscripts began.


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