Many people are not aware of what is happening in Syria. Those who think they do, are not sure if the media is even portraying the situation correctly. Because of this, PTB decided to talk to a Syrian on campus to get the truth of what is happening in the Middle Eastern country.
Nasser Meerkhan is a Graduate Student at the Hispanic Studies program of Villanova University
How long did you live in Syria, and what do you remember most from your time there?
I’ve lived in Syria practically all my life. I remember most of all how my life used to be before the revolution started (that is, before March 15, 2011): those good times when I used to hang out with my friends, our family activities, and my years as an undergrad. I’m still not able to imagine that the country I miss so much doesn’t exist in the same way anymore; it has become sort of a memory that most of us dream about living again.
Do you have family there now? Have you spoken to them? What do they, and you, have to say about this conflict?
Yes, I do. Most of my family and friends are still there. I try to talk to them as much as possible to make sure they are doing all right, and to try to cheer them up a little. I believe they are just fed up with the unbearable situation and wishing that at least the killing would stop as soon as possible, even though it doesn’t seem to be the case. After all the people who died, what most worries me is the “unrecoverable” damage: the fear of random death has changed people’s life forever, especially for kids who can hardly understand what is going on around them and have no way to express their fears. Also, some historical places have been damaged: churches that are almost two thousand years old, ancient mosques, among other historical sites. These, I’m afraid, will never be restored
What is the current situation there? Who, if anyone, is winning?
This is a very tough question! However, here is my personal point of view: everyone is losing. The current situation there is very complicated: bombing is semi-constant, streets are closed, people can hardly leave their houses in some places, both armies are stationed in civilian areas, etc.
It all started as a peaceful revolution that was immediately faced with extreme brutality by the regime’s forces. But when the opposition started to become armed as well, the violence raised and became a characteristic of both those who support the regime and those who oppose it, on different levels of course. Therefore, every single Syrian has been affected somehow by the conflict: some have lost their relatives or friends, some have been imprisoned, some have lost their houses, some have lost their friends (metaphorically, since a lot of people are acting with a high level of extremism and deciding to stop talking to people from the “other group”), and some have simply lost hope, which is a big loss if you come to think about it.
Do you think the emergence of social media and advancements in communicative technology has spotlighted and perhaps aggravated the conflicts?
YES, definitely. Media, as you know, is always a “double-sided sword”. On one hand, it helps spreading out the word and letting the world know what is happening, but on the other hand, it is always manipulated by different groups that, in many cases, are not trustworthy. Facebook, sadly enough, has created a serious social crisis in Syria, because people on social networks tend to be more aggressive with their opinions than in real life. For example, you would never call your best friend “a traitor”, but on Facebook you can write something like “those traitors who support the regime” and thus purposely offending many of your friends. It might sound like a stupid example but it has played a big role in aggravating the social division and polarizing the Syrian people in two main groups. Now, many people consider that “if you are not with me, you are against me”, which is never a healthy situation.
Is it true that the rebel fighters, that the U.S is helping and aiding through arms, commit war crimes and fight under the banner of al-Qaeda to set up a Salafi Islamist state? If yes, what does it mean for the U.S to continue this aid ?
It is partially true, because, given the situation, the rebel fighters are in a chaotic situation, and thus almost any armed group can infiltrate in it and become a part of it without much difficulty. The main problem is that I personally see no serious effort to stop the bloodshed: providing more arms means more death. That’s not how the conflict should be addressed. I have no idea what is the alternative, but I only know that the more Assad’s regime feels threatened, the more aggressive it will become, and thus more people will die. I believe a political solution would be the best in the meantime.
For those living in Syria, what’s their opinion of the United States?
I don’t want to make a generalization over a generalization, but I can say that the American government isn’t very popular in Syria due to its partiality in such sensitive issues as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the war on Iraq. This is why people have little or no faith that the US would seriously step in to help Syria. If you ask an “average person” he/she would tell you “well, we don’t have oil such as Iraq or Libya, so they will never consider stepping in.” Even though Syrians have many stereotypes about Americans (as do Americans about the Middle East), people are now aware that the way governments act doesn’t always reflect the will of the people. I just believe there should be more efforts to change such stereotypes about the US as being an imperialist force, and on the other hand, more should be done to change the idea of terrorism that some Americans have about the Middle East.
What, if anything, will result in an end to the unrest?
I have very little hope left. Other than a miracle, the only way I see it will end is by a drastic change of international approach to the problem. The regime has its supporters, and so does the opposition. The idea of one group diminishing the other is just meaningless. We have to live together, not to convert each other into a second version of ourselves.
Anything else you would like to add?
I would like to add my hopes, if I may. I hope that we would focus on reality instead of living in the world of angels and demons. In times of conflicts, everyone shares the responsibility to stop the violence. I hope Syrians would stop blaming each other and start helping each other. I hope no more civilians, nor soldiers, will be killed. I hope to be able to go back home one day and enjoy enough freedom as to live with my minimum rights as a citizen. Living in constant fear is unbearable, which is why the conflict has to end as soon as possible. Thank you very much for your time and concern.
What do you think of the Syrian situation? What should President Obama and the U.S do about it?