Iyad, male, mid-30s, a ‘new’ journalist, living in Damascus

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Out and about one weekend, Syria, 2009 | By Susan

To be very honest, the so-called “Arab Spring” fooled a majority of Syrians! Many of them recognized sooner or later that the media deceived them and that what has been happening wasn’t really initiated by the people, but rather orchestrated by foreign powers, while others still believe in the “Arab Spring” even now!

What makes me proud to be Syrian include the following:

  • Our ancient human civilization that goes back thousands of years
  • The ethnic and religious diversity and the relatively secular society that has been put at risk in this war.

Syria is a secular country. Can you explain what this means to a non-Syrian?

Locals in CD shop, old city, Damascus, 2009. Photo by Susan Dirgham

Well, although Syria is still not secular in its constitution and laws (because the society and public opinion are still not mature enough to accept a secular state), the secular values that do exist in Syria mean, for instance, that it’s unacceptable in Syria to ask an acquaintance about their sect. There are plenty of Syrian villages where different sects live together and share their feasts and festive occasions.

“I would say that the situation in Syria is more deeply rooted than the so-called Arab Spring.”

What does the concept of personal freedom mean to you?

Personal freedom to me means:

  • To believe, or disbelieve, in whatever ideas I choose to without being afraid or intimidated
  • To choose the lifestyle that I like
  • To be free to dress in public as I choose (this freedom is especially important for women)
  • To be free to have a girlfriend (also for girls to have a boyfriend) and to be able to live together without being intimidated by the society and without having to meet in secret as if we’re committing a crime or a shameful act
  • As a journalist, to be able to film and take photographs in public places without needing to get permission in advance.

As for political freedom, it means:

  • To be free to believe and practice a political ideology that I support and to be able to declare it in public without being afraid
  • To be able to criticize (but not to insult) any person, party or institution without being afraid.
The theatre at Palmyra, once used for wrestling ceremonies with wild animals. More recently used by ISIS – on the stage, teenagers executed Syrian soldiers. Image from old postcard.

What have you learnt about life, people and yourself since the start of the crisis?

About life, I’ve learnt that humankind is still far below the level of fine and ethical civilization!

Have you experienced anything since the start of the crisis you would like to recount?

I’d like to talk about the fact that all Syrian people are suffering economically because of the embargo imposed by the so-called “friends of the Syrian people”, that is, the U.S., U.K., E.U., Saudi Arabia, Qatar and their allies. I work as freelance TV journalist for an international media company. I produce only one story per month. It was a year after I started this work before

 

I could receive my wages. This was because I couldn’t receive any bank transfer from the company due to the embargo imposed on Syria. I had to find a third party, a non-Syrian living in Beirut who I could trust and who could receive the payment for me. Then I had to find somebody to bring it from Beirut to Damascus. It takes more than a month sometimes!

So, being Syrian, whether pro- or anti-Assad, whether Muslim, Christian or even atheist, is a reason to be banned by the “friends of the Syrian people”! Of course, this is not as tragic as the countless stories of abduction, loss of a loved one, displacement and other disasters that almost every family in Syria has been subject to, once or more during this bitter war.

However, I want to highlight the point that the very countries that complain about the flow of refugees, are in fact continuing to push Syrians to flee their country. I know many Syrians who have fled to Europe, neither because of the Islamic State, nor because of the “regime” or the rebels, but very simply because they’ve lost their jobs and are unable to afford life due to the deteriorating economy.

Almost everything related to business with the outside is banned for a Syrian! Even the most trivial matters, such as updating your flash player, Skype or Google Play online! You’ll get a polite message saying: “Sorry! You’re in an embargoed country!” or at best: “Thank you for your interest with our product, but this service in unavailable in your country!” Well, I understand too well that Western governments dislike President Assad, but they claim that they are supporting the Syrian people!

You may say: “They want to punish Syrians who are pro- Assad”, but the irony is that even those who are anti-Assad will suffer the same if they’re living in Syria! This means that what Western politicians are saying in the media about supporting the Syrian people is a kind of hypocrisy and the fact is they don’t really care!

What can fill you with despair?

What fills me with despair is to realize that humans still behave like beasts that enjoy torturing and killing each other, What fills me with despair is to realize that the culture of hatred is the dominant culture.
What fills me with despair is to realize that people can be easily brainwashed.
In such a world, there is reason to feel very sorry for Humanity.

What can give you hope?

These boys befriended Australians visiting the Earth From Above exhibition in Tishreen Park, Damascus. 2009. Photo by Susan Dirgham

What gives me hope is the fact that the majority of Syrian people are aware of (most of) these deficit points.. A significant percentage of Syrians believe in Syria, regardless of any ethnic or sectarian issues.

A significant percentage of Syrians believe in humanity. What also gives me hope is to realize that we’re not alone! To see that we have friends all over the world who feel compassion for us, a compassion that is not driven by the mainstream media, but a compassion that is based on knowledge of the reasons behind the targeting of Syria.

How do you find the courage to go on and stay sane in the face of great hardship and pain?

What gives me the motivation and the momentum to go on despite the great hardship and pain is that I have a message; I have a message. I have aimed to tell the truth since the media turned the murderer into a victim and the victim into a murderer!

I have a message to tell the world that a majority of Syrians are civilized despite the media depiction of Syrian people as thugs who are either Jihadi lunatics or bloody murderers. I have a message to tell the world that the majority of Syrians love life and have minds that are open to loving the whole of humanity.

Children in the old city Damascus being photographed by Monica Sorrenson, a teacher at the British Council, 2004 | Photo by Susan Dirgham

My faith has never been shaken. What gives me more confidence and faith is when I see people around the world who have recognized the truth despite the dirty media campaign. They courageously stand by us.

Can you talk about the freedoms women have enjoyed in Syria?

University students from Damascus visit the Krak des Chevaliers, 2010. Photo by Susan Dirgham

Women in Syria, along with women in both Lebanon and Tunisia, are the most free in the Arab world. Women in these countries have the higher degree of equality and status – in respect to men – in the Arab world. However, I still don’t believe that this is enough! There are still traditions which can limit the freedom of women. For instance, young women are usually not allowed to stay outdoors after a certain hour in the evening if they’re alone, while young men are almost free to. Most girls/women are still too afraid to go out with a boy/man alone (as a couple), unless they are among a group of friends. Nevertheless, women in Syria can have a job in almost all fields. They can become parliamentarians, even government ministers, as well as CEO’s of companies and institutions, or even army officers.

How can political problems, such as corruption and nepotism, best be tackled?

Such problems are almost too hard to be eradicated! I believe, they can’t be uprooted simply with strict laws, because there will always be those who bribe the police and even the judges! In the long-term, corruption and nepotism can only be eradicated through education.

 

From ‘Beloved Syria – Considering Syrian Perspectives’, Sept – Oct 2016 Edition

Damascus, 2008. Photo by Susan Dirgham

 

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