OU on the BBC: Syrian School - Behind the scenes

Updated Wednesday 3rd February 2010

Filming in Syria was only the half of it. Once there, the production team needed to overcome the cultural barriers betwen East and West and gain the participants' trust. Once filming commenced though, it became an unforgettable and rewarding experience.

Schoolgirl holding a discus Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team

What excited me about working on Syrian School was the possibility that we could un-pick some of the stereotypes that we in the West hold about the Middle East and the Islamic world in general. For example, on a superficial level, while there is undoubtedly a rise in the number of young girls wearing the hijab, who would have thought that at the same time below their necks and on their iPods, young Syrians are eagerly exploring Western tastes and fashions, without compromising their closely held Arab heritage?

...there’s a strong sense in Syria that the Muslim world is being misunderstood and undermined by the West.

Syria is a Mediterranean country, just over the border from the edge of Europe where you still feel a strong French colonial and Soviet political influence. Syria has a vehemently secular, Ba’athist government whose influence runs deep into the everyday life of these State schools. Few people in the UK would imagine Syria as a socialist and secular state. Syria sees itself as the guardian of pan-Arabian nationalism, but this Arab identity includes large Druze and Christian minorities and there is a powerful tradition of religious tolerance there that is quite at odds with the Western stereotype of austere Islam.

Max Baring with Amal and Lina Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team

We made this series at a time when East and West seemed further apart than ever, with the so-called 'Clash of Civilisations' raging across the world. Just as we in the West sometimes feel misunderstood by the Islamic world, there’s a strong sense in Syria that the Muslim world is being misunderstood and undermined by the West.

Even though Syria is an authoritarian one-party-state, there is still a culture that holds that ideas can change the world.

Perhaps, then, it was no surprise that the students and teachers we filmed were both curious about the West whilst simultaneously remaining suspicious of our motives; they really wanted us to redress the imbalance they perceived in the western representation of Islam and the Middle East. Certainly in the Palestinian school we filmed in Al Yarmouk refugee camp this suspicion was bordering on anger, as we began to film shortly after the Gaza war.

However, this anger was never individualised or directed against us personally. Indeed, we had some fascinating debates between the crew and the classrooms as together we tried to find a common ground from which to create our films’ stories. Ultimately, their eagerness to show their lives overcame these barriers. The Arab culture is nothing if not generous.

Syria is a country where, from poetry to politics, you can have an intellectual debate. You can re-imagine the world there in a way that we seem to have lost in the West, where even the credit crunch hasn’t dented the orthodoxy of Liberal Capitalism, where “The X-Factor” seems now to have become the cultural pinnacle.

Even though Syria is an authoritarian one-party-state, there is still a culture that holds that ideas can change the world. Jump into a taxi in Damascus you will end up debating art, politics or even religion with your cabbie. Maybe it’s not surprising that the oldest capital city on Earth raises a wry eyebrow at the notion that we have reached the 'End of History.'

More on education around the world

 

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?

Other content you may like

OU on the BBC: Syrian School - About the series Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

OU on the BBC: Syrian School - About the series

Students and staff experience life as part of the Syrian education system. This series tells some of their stories.

Article
The view from 'The Other Side' Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team article icon

History & The Arts 

The view from 'The Other Side'

History is often written from the perspective of the European worldview. There are other stories to be told, though...

Article
Paul O'Grady's Working Britain: Order your free copy of 'A journal of working class life' Creative commons image Icon The Open University under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

Paul O'Grady's Working Britain: Order your free copy of 'A journal of working class life'

Order a free booklet exploring different aspects of working class life in Britain through the years.

Article
OU on the BBC: Justice: A Citizen's Guide To The 21st Century Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

OU on the BBC: Justice: A Citizen's Guide To The 21st Century

Michael Sandel explores justice from a philosophical angle - are there absolute rights and wrongs, and what can Bentham, Kant and Aristotle teach us?

Article
The making of Wreckers 9: Whisky Galore Creative commons image Icon peprice under CC-BY-NC-SA licence under Creative-Commons license article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

The making of Wreckers 9: Whisky Galore

Production of the series on wreckers takes the Timewatch team to the location of the real story behind the film "Whisky Galore".

Article
Rough Science 4 Death Valley: Iain Stewart's diary: Impact Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

Rough Science 4 Death Valley: Iain Stewart's diary: Impact

Iain Stewart's diary about the challenge for the Impact programme, from the BBC/OU series Rough Science 4

Article
Hidden histories: Britain's oldest family businesses - Episode 2 Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC / Raw TV article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

Hidden histories: Britain's oldest family businesses - Episode 2

Traditional regalia-making company Toye and Co are the focus of episode two.

Article
Rough Science 5 Zanzibar: Jonathan Hare's diary: Call of the Wild Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

Rough Science 5 Zanzibar: Jonathan Hare's diary: Call of the Wild

Jonathan Hare's diary about the challenge for the Call of the Wild programme, part of the fifth BBC/OU TV series Rough Science, based in Zanzibar

Article
Get where you want to be with The Open University Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

Get where you want to be with The Open University

The Open University is the largest academic institution in the UK with outstanding quality standards. Find out more about our degrees and courses for international students. 

Article