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The Impossible Revolution: Making Sense of the Syrian Tragedy

General Programming

dateNovember 9, 2023 timeThursday, 7:00pm EST location The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room, Columbia University locationVirtual Event
  • The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities
  • Hagop Kevorkian Center - New York University
  • Middle East Institute
email address [email protected]
  • Free and open to the public
  • Registration required. See details.
Headshot of Yassin al-Haj Saleh

The Impossible Revolution: Making Sense of the Syrian Tragedy
Syrian Intellectual Yassin al-Haj Saleh in conversation with Marcel Shehwaro & Fadi Bardawil

It has been over twelve years since Syrians took to the streets in 2011, calling for freedom, justice, and dignity. What is the trajectory of the impossible revolution (as al-Haj Saleh named it), and how can we think today in a moment of defeat about the opening and foreclosure of its possibilities? What is the question of the Syrian state in relation to ‘the atrocious’ and its representation? The Syrian intellectual Yassin al-Haj Saleh will grapple with these questions in his talk at the Middle East Institute at Columbia University on his first visit to the USA. A discussion with the Syrian writer & activist Marcel Shehwaro and the associate professor of contemporary Arab Cultures at Duke University, Fadi Bardawil, will follow the talk.


Yassin al-Haj Saleh is the leading intellectual voice of the Syrian uprising and one of the key thinkers in the Arab world today. Born in the city of Raqqa in 1961, he was arrested in 1980 in Aleppo for his membership in a left-wing political organization and spent 16 years in prison. His wife, Samira al-Khalil, was abducted by an armed Islamist group in 2013. He is the author of nine books, including The Impossible Revolution: Making Sense of the Syrian Tragedy (2017) and The Atrocious and its Representation (English edition forthcoming). One of the founders of the bilingual Arabic-English platform, he writes for a variety of international publications and is a Contributing Writer for New Lines Magazine. He is now based in Berlin.

Marcelle Shehwaro is an activist, feminist, and writer from Aleppo, Syria. She holds an MFA Degree in Nonfiction Creative Writing from Columbia University. She is currently working on her book project in which she explores her activism and participation in the 2011 Syrian Revolution. In 2015, Marcelle's online series, "Dispatches from Syria," offering insights into her life and activism in Aleppo, received the Online Journalism Award in the category of Online Commentary. Marcelle has co-founded and serves as the chairperson for "Do not suffocate the truth." This campaign is dedicated to assisting survivors of chemical weapons attacks and actively challenges denialism regarding the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons.

Marcelle has taught University Writing at Columbia University and a number of online creative writing classes to women inside Syria. Marcelle is a frequent contributor to the Syrian publication al-Jumhuriya, and she has published essays in Global Voices ADI Magazine and Heinrich Boell. She has also been featured in multiple books about the Syrian Revolution. In February 2023, Marcelle was invited to join the Honorary Graduate community as a Doctor of the University of Essex to honor her bravery and determination in campaigning for democratic reform in Syria.

Fadi A. Bardawil is an Associate Professor of Contemporary Arab Cultures in the department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Duke University. Trained as a cultural anthropologist (Ph.D. Columbia University, 2010), his work also draws from, and engages questions arising from, critical theory, global intellectual history, and postcolonial theory. His research explores the different relationships cultural production (creating and thinking), political practice (acting) and generational dwelling (living) entertain in different sites (Global North/South). Bardawil has conducted most of his ethnographic and historical research in Lebanon. Having said that, in analyzing the archive of critical Arabic thought, which has been produced in multiple languages (predominantly Arabic, French, and English), in different geographical sites, and in conversation with multiple intellectual traditions, his research moves beyond methodological nationalism and monolingualism. His book Revolution and Disenchantment: Arab Marxism and the Binds of Emancipation focuses on how the 1960s Arab New Left addressed the question of mediation between theory and practice.