Souk al Hamadiya at night - Damascus Syria
I’m mourning for Syria.
It’s killing me every day.
As much as America is my country (born and raised in Steeler Nation) Syria is my country, too. One is my heart, the other is my soul. And I can’t function, one without the other. I’m waving a Terrible Towel in one hand, and a mesbaha (Arabic beads) in the other.
Until now, I’ve stayed out of the whole Syrian conversation. I avoid politics and religion like the plague – I’d rather focus on what brings us together than what divides us. That said, I’m proudly a Syrian-American Antiochian Orthodox Christian – and my faith comes before either of my nationalities. (BTW this article is 100% my own opinion – independent of the church.)
Governments can be straight up evil. All governments – because no hands are completely clean. Publicly, governments say one thing, but privately, they’re in bed with each other – in one fashion or another.
Ever since the start of this “revolution” Syrian-American Christians have adamantly rallied around Assad – a position I found stomach turning after seeing the bloodshed on Syrian streets. How could they? What’s wrong with these people? Can’t they see the brutality of this man?
Spending the summer of 2008 in Damascus, it was evident that Syrians loved Assad. And not out of fear, either. Not like his father. You could tell they really supported him. He was young, Western-educated and all about reform. His wife, Asma, toured the country incognito to see what the needs of the people were. I was proud, too. I even took this awesome picture of Assad right outside the Souk Al Hamadiya and kept it on my website, (until eventually removing it). I was excited for a new Syria.
But when the uprising started, I became confused and upset. I wasn’t pro-Assad then. And I still am not pro-Assad, now. But I started thinking, “What’s really going on here?”
When I returned in October 2010, just months before the uprising, I saw improvements that literally blew my mind. I was there just 2 years earlier and now could hardly recognize the place! The Old City looked amazing – like they transformed Harlem into Rodeo Drive. There were tons of European shops and modern amenities. A strong sense of pride was emerging in the city.
They built a brand new city garden where artists, poets, and musicians could mingle and exchange ideas. Next to it were three new theatres. I met an actor there who told me he was doing a political satire show. I didn’t believe him. I thought he was lying until he showed me his poster on the wall. He was arrested a few times, but explained the theatre has been thriving since.
For those who don’t understand the Arab World…uhh…it’s real simple…In the Arab world, you don’t criticize the government, you just don’t.
But that was changing. Progress was being made. I witnessed it, myself.
Look, Assad is a dictator, and I’m not justifying his actions by any means. But, I’m sorry Bashar Assad, was no Ghadafi, nor was he a Mubarak and for damn sure, he wasn’t any Saddam Hussein. His father was, but he wasn’t – at least not until now. Prior to this, Syrians lived a descent life under him – nowhere near Western standards – but they were basically happy under Assad. They just were. Especially Christians, because they have it good under him – generally speaking, of course. Syria has since the early part of this century, a clause in its constitution that Christians cannot become president. Unfortunately, this past Sunday, that clause remained in the new constitution…so much for change…but that’s another story. Nevertheless, Christians and Muslims are neighbors and get along very well. The Damascus skyline is interspersed with Blue Crosses and Green Minarets and Muslims regularly visit Christian Holy Sites, including the tomb of St. John the Baptist housed in the Omayyad Mosque. It’s the power factions, and governments, not the ordinary people who generally fuel the flames. People? They just want to get on and make a better life for themselves and their children. Most don’t have any other agendas.
Syria took in millions of Iraqi refugees, fed, clothed and housed them when the rest of the Arab world turned its back on them. I know, I worked with them. The truth is, many Syrians – both Christians and Muslims – are terrified of what is coming next! The world is ready to back up the opposition, but, really, who the hell is the opposition, anyway?!
Look, I’m not convinced that this is a genuine popular uprising. Sorry, but I’m not. Yes, Syrians wanted change. But a revolt? On this level? I’ve been Syrian all my life – I know our people. They weren’t that angry with Assad. They just weren’t. The Arab Spring busted out, Syrians took to the streets…and well…you know where I’m going with this.
The fact is, I don’t know what’s up. I’m not there. And if I were, I couldn’t tell were the bullets came from, anyway. Bottom line? I’m torn. I can’t support Assad, but I’m not convinced he’s the only one in this game, either.
Look, I have a big mouth. And God blessed me to have been born in a country where I can say what I want. I would never wish anything but the same for everyone. The very fact that I can write this article without fear of my life is testament of my fundamental belief in freedom of expression.
Without it, I am nothing.
God Bless America…and Syria.