miriam cooke

Dissident Syria. Making Oppositional Arts Official (Duke University Press 2007)

From 1970 until his death in 2000, Hafiz Asad ruled Syria with an iron fist. His regime controlled every aspect of daily life. Seeking to preempt popular unrest, Asad sometimes facilitated the expression of anti-government sentiment by appropriating the work of artists and writers, turning works of protest into official agitprop. Syrian dissidents were forced to negotiate between the desire to genuinely criticize the authoritarian regime, the risk to their own safety and security that such criticism would invite, and the fear that their work would be co-opted as government propaganda, as what miriam cooke calls “commissioned criticism.” In this intimate account of dissidence in Asad’s Syria, cooke describes how intellectuals attempted to navigate between charges of complicity with the state and treason against it.

A renowned scholar of Arab cultures, cooke spent six months in Syria during the mid-1990s familiarizing herself with the country’s literary scene, particularly its women writers. While she was in Damascus, dissidents told her that to really understand life under Hafiz Asad, she had to speak with playwrights, filmmakers, and, above all, the authors of “prison literature.” She shares what she learned in Dissident Syria. She describes touring a sculptor’s studio, looking at the artist’s subversive work as well as at pieces commissioned by the government. She relates a playwright’s view that theater is unique in its ability to stage protest through innuendo and gesture. Turning to film, she shares filmmakers’ experiences of making movies that are praised abroad but rarely if ever screened at home. Filled with the voices of writers and artists, Dissident Syria reveals a community of conscience within Syria to those beyond its borders.


OpEd: Dissident Syria (aljazeera.com)

Published Reviews

  • Chronicle of Higher Ed Sep 2008
  • Feminist Review Dec 2008
  • Choice April 2008
  • WLT May 2008
  • Banipal May 2008
  • Middle Eastern Journal 62/2 Spring 2008
  • Contemporary Women’s Writing 21/1 June 2008 (pp. 83-86) top 50 articles (Nov 2008)
  • Saudi Gazette June 2008
  • H-Net October 2008
  • Monthly Review November 2008
  • Middle East Studies July 2008 #44/4 (pp. 646-652)
  • Digest of Middle East Studies Fall 2008
  • Theater Journal Dec 2008 (pp.517-524)
  • Al-Jadid 2008/9 #15/60
  • JMEWS 2009 # 5/1
  • Syrian Studies Association Newsletter #14/2 Spring 2009
  • Review of Middle East Studies # 43/1 Summer 2009 (pp.48-52)
  • The Art Book #17/4 November 2010
  • Journal of Aesthetic Education #45/4 2011 (pp.109-121)
  • Suriya tatahaddathu: al-thaqafa wa’l-fann min ajl al-hurriya 2014, 232-240