I’ve been going to Syria for many years now, and I don’t like doing the politician rounds. On my first trip I remember saying; I’m going to have to wear a paper bag over my head for the rest of my life, after having escorts with sirens and the like and god forbid meeting with Dr. Assad. I distanced myself from those who had a set idea, or what seemed to be partisan political views. I wanted to be a blank canvas, putting my niggling doubts at what we were being told out of my mind and watched and listened to Syrians and talked with them whenever I could. It wasn’t always easy as schedules were full with all sorts of meetings. But if we were held up on the road I’d have my head out the window asking; English?
At the University of Damascus we visited the Faculty of Architecture and I had more opportunity to speak with students. We were told of the mortar attack on their faculty and the students who died. More than 20 students were killed by ‘moderate rebels’ firing indiscriminately on their campus. We visited the bronze monument to the young martyrs, it was a a simple but poignant stack of books. Along the road leaving the University of Damascus I could literally smell home, the avenue was lined with eucalypts bursting in the red gum blossoms of the West. The smell of home gave me pause to reflect on how this amount of violence, directed at the young, would tear at our hearts and yet we know little of Syrians stories and mostly care not to look for them. We are blinded by the narrative that is selective about what is deemed for our eyes, carefully designed to tug at moral outrage, yet keep us passive against a critical thought. We become reactive and emotive, this is not by accident. When the West decides on a new war, the first stop is to a PR firm whose job it is to sell us on the next war.
I was stopped in Umayyad Mosque by two young women, they wanted their photo with me because I was a foreigner, they asked me to please tell the truth of Syria when I get home. A simple request that I have been asked in one form or another, by many Syrians from all walks of life. Not a big ask, or it shouldn’t be. It is mind boggling to me that any number of paid think tank talking heads, ‘journalists’, politicians, analysts and NGOs who never set foot in Syria, words are taken at face value but those doing the hard yards on the ground are dismissed and demonised. Once local knowledge, being on the ground and returning to check, double check and learn more was a good thing, now its value is dismissed out of hand. The most dangerous people in the world are the ones for which money means very little, these people are the true truth seekers and can’t be bought. No amount of money will convince me to ’embroider’ on the truth, I have no sacred cows, I answer to no one and am too old to care what other’s think.
In a TV station a young man was charged with me, keeping me happy with tea, coffee, juice or water and conversation. He told me before the crisis it was safe to sleep in the street in Syria, now it was not safe to sleep in one’s home. He told me he was scared, but more scared to leave ‘mother Syria’ for fear he’d never return. He mused on the idea that Westerners’ don’t think it could happen in their countries, we didn’t think this could happen in Syria, he said softly. The world of Syrians has been turned upside down relative to our moral compasses, usurped and manipulated in the ‘free world’. Free speech advocates sign documents to silence, truth gurus completely out of step with actual facts, actors and musicians openly cheerleading for takfiris and convincing a gullible public to spend their hard earned money on donations to al Qaeda via the White Helmets. People are happily funding terrorism, the thing that scares them the most.
People often accused al Jazeera of lying about Syria. There were comments to the effect that al Jazeera were doing more than misreporting and were far more hands on than that. Actor/activist Mohamed Rafea, was tortured and killed for his outspokenness regarding the machinations of those interfering in his country and al Jazeera’s role in the bloodletting. The use of radio in Rwanda came to mind; ‘cut the tall trees’. There was also a general distrust of the BBC, not without good reason. If you are truly seeking to plow through the propaganda, you need to know what it looks like, understand competing narratives and listen to the few, the rare few who travel Syria with no other notion than disseminating facts. We have no agenda other than truth and a willingness to put ourselves in harms way to bring this madness to an end in the best way each of us can muster. There’s no training, we dive in and somehow find our niche. Happily, more young people are seeking the truth of Syria, simply because they are inquisitive young humans with brave hearts and a nose that can smell a rat.
In 2014, I was in Syria again, this time my eldest son came with me. I had more opportunity to speak with people that trip, from IDPs in Latakia to Palestinians in Yamouk. People up and down the country supported their President and loved their army. Given every family in Syria would have a member in the military, why wouldn’t they? That is not to say everyone agrees with everything about their government, peoples across the world have gripes with their governments but that in no way means all these people wish to destroy the apparatus of their State or wish to overthrow their President. To believe otherwise gives lie to any credibility you may think you have. I was told that the Syrian army was old, past it, so to speak, I was dumbfounded, virtually speechless, where do people get these ideas, people many believe know a thing or two? Certainly not on the ground in Syria. There are so many beautiful young men fighting for their nation’s survival. There are also so many beautiful young women, equally fighting for their survival, and their rights as autonomous beings.
I’ve travelled Syria twice since then. What changes is how united the people are, that gets stronger each visit. I do not want to speak for the Syrian people inside Syria, but their voices are ignored, they are shouted down by white saviours and many Syrians living outside Syria with their own agendas. We need to let their voices be heard through us, until such time that the propaganda war is won and their voices are heard. Western socialists are relied upon to uphold the narrative of the ‘colour revolutions’, their tunnel vision lends itself to believing any revolution is a good revolution. Not all revolutions are workers revolutions or left revolutions or greater good revolutions. Many are ugly and violent, ill conceived and short sighted. Syria is not suffering from revolution, it is suffering from violent mercenaries, State and non State players, gangsters, murderers and thieves, working with and against each other to gain control and divvy up the spoils of Syria. And ultimately Balkanise her.
If standing against imperialism, supporting Syria’s sovereignty, international law and acknowledging the will of the Syrian people in their choice of President makes me an Assad apologist, I stand guilty as charged.