As some people know, I’m half Syrian, and my grandma, Uncle, Aunts, and a few of my cousins all live in Damascus. My family are Christian too. I was in Damascus only 3 weeks before everything kicked off in 2011, and I was really surprised when I heard about it – on my last visit, Syria had really changed. Things were on the up, there were more tourists walking around, the girls were dressing less conservative, they even had a multiplex cinema playing Hollywood films, and everyone I spoke too seemed happy. In fact we were watching the protests in Egypt on BBC Worldwide and my family were almost joking that that would never happen in Syria. Famous last words…
Admittedly I only saw Damascus, and not the poorer rural areas of Syria. But it did seem odd when things kicked off, Assad was not groomed to be President like his older brother who died, in fact him and his wife met and lived in London for a while when he was studying. So although he didn’t radically shake things up when he took over, things did start to modernize slowly, the press became a little more liberal, and it was clear from my family and friends living there, things were improving, it wasn’t the same as when I went in 1997 the first time, and couldn’t even mention the president or politics to them, now they could talk openly about it and not worry about any reprise.
They say the first casualty of war is truth, so when the reports started I was skeptical. In the West we were blaming everything on the Syrian Government and Assad, even Saudi Arabia stepped in and condemned Syria’s human rights record, the same country that arrests woman for driving cars! But when I spoke to my family in the country they said a lot of the ‘news’ was made up, that videos of police and soldiers shooting protesters were faked by outsiders and rebels. It was clear that the truth was not so clear, and there was a different agenda at play.
So here’s my take on it, I believe Assad is no longer innocent, but I don’t believe that the civil war was started by internal unhappiness, or that Assad originally reacted with a strong hand shooting protestors. I believe that outside forces, like the US and UK, would prefer a government with less ties to Iran and Hezbollah, and the other Arab counties jumped on the bandwagon. If I was Assad of course I’d be angry, you’re not being forced out by your people, but external governments that have their own agenda provoking from the sidelines, so no wonder he didn’t step down at the beginning and fought back. And unfortunately it has escalated, with the West now pushing for strikes against Syria.
The problem however is this, my family are part of the 20% or so Christian minority. Under Assad, there was a pretty secular government, its hard enough being a Christian in a Muslim country, but at least the government wasn’t forcing them to live under Sharia law, or banning alcohol or their religious beliefs. To the most part, the Christians, and Jews in the country were free to live a normal life in Syria. Now we have an extreme Muslim rebel force, killing Christians violently. In the best case, they will be as bad as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, forcing in Sharia laws and making it harder for my Christian friends there, but not impossible. At worse, they will segregate the Christians into 2nd class citizens driving them out of their home country.
I don’t trust the agenda’s of the US and the UK, they have no credibility anymore to talk about regime change, and are most likely the instigators behind the civil war there. For once I agree with George Galloway below, we have one set of rules for the rest of the world, and another set for us. If they want to step in and solve a real issue that’s been going on for over 60 years now, how about the way Israel has continuously broken international law and relegated the Palestinians into ghettos? Lets be honest here – the middle east didn’t fuck itself up, it was carved and divided up by the West, they turn a blind eye to the monstrosities in Israel and their actions towards the Palestinians, and support completely backward regimes like Saudi Arabia to ensure supply of their oil. And any country that stands up to the US or the west then gets screwed over or attacked.
I do not support US/UK strikes in Syria, neither do my family living there, and it appears neither does most of the UK population. If it happens, it will once again be another example of the West pushing its own agenda under the cover of “human rights” and “democracy”, and further make the world, and myself, trust our governments even less.