The Children of Syria
Just beside my office on the 17th Street in front of the Farragut Square, there is a wonderful coffee shop. The aroma of coffee overwhelms you as soon as you walk inside the shop. You may think it is a Starbucks. It is not. Its just another wonderful coffee shop. Every time I sip coffee here, I find myself discussing politics with someone, either a peer or a mentor. Today, I had an enlightening conversation with two Syrian friends. They elegantly educated me about the grim situation in their country.
“So do you know how the uprising began in Syria,” my friend asked.
“Of course, I know,” I boasted, “it was all because of social media and public awareness.”
“No,” she, a human rights activist, corrected me,”It came out of ignorance and naivety.”
“How?” I inquired.
In her early thirties, she said, my friend’s generation had grown up in the midst of unadulterated fear. A full generation did not even think of change and revolution. The secret police in that Arab country is so strict that a whisper into someone’s ear about politics may cost you your life.
“It was the kids of Syria who triggered the revolt,” she said, “they saw the protests elsewhere in the Middle East on television and they wanted to mimic the protestors without realizing what a serious job they were performing.”
“As the kids marched and sprayed written slogans on the walls of Damascus, we, the elders, smiled for the first time in many decades. It was the smell of a change but we were too afraid of leading it. So the kids led us at the beginning.”
Like many other places in the world where autocrats brutally rule, the case in Syria is not different. The textbooks teach a distorted version of the history and all those who were crushed are often mentioned as “anti-national” who deserved to be killed.
“We had to grow up and read books other than the textbooks to make better sense of the world,” she said.
Besides the children, women, who were totally ignorant about politics, also played an instrumental role in the current uprising.
“Security forces raped many children in front of their parents,” my friend said with absolute frustration and helplessness. In rural areas, rape or the ‘loss of honor’ is the worst and the last thing that can happen to someone. People no longer fear anything once rape is committed.
“So, women in the rural areas stood up and amazed everyone with their steadfast resistance.”
I asked, “So why doesn’t the US intervene as it did in Libya?”
The situation in Syria is a lot more complex. Some Middle Eastern countries do not want an uprising in Syria, where a minority, allegedly backed by Iran, controls the majority. If the western countries push the uprising, the government and some regional countries with deep interests would instantly blame the US and Israel for fomenting trouble in the Middle East.
“When President Bashar-ul-Assad came into power, we thought he would be different from his father,” she said, “he disappointed us because he did not change the system which his father had inducted.”
President Asad’s father, Hafez-al-Assad, was cruel, they said.
In February 1982, Hafez and his brother Rifaat-al-Assad, had sanctioned the killing of 40, 000 Sunnis in the town of Hama. The killings are now remembered in the history as the Hama Massacre.
“As we talk, I am sure someone in my country is being tortured or killed,”the second friend interrupted as he spoke for the first time.
What can be done, I asked.
“Not much,” both of my friends said in one voice, “there is little coverage of Syrian issues in the international media.” They said President Assad was forcing the enlightened people of his country to side with him to justify his brutalities or leave the country.
“As the educated and enlightened Syrians are forced to leave their country, this makes it easier for Assad to tighten the grip over his regime,” they said.