DALLAS, August 29, 2013 – In response to allegations of chemical weapon use, the United States may attack war-torn Syria soon. Per the White House, military installations will be targeted as retribution for President Bashar Assad’s suspected use of chemical weapons. As of this writing, an attack is imminent.
On the eve of yet another Middle East war, many Americans struggle to understand why Syria’s brutal, complicated civil battles necessitate U.S. military intervention. The 2 ½ year struggle to topple President Assad is at a tipping point. Chemical weapons have been deployed on both sides, and caught in the middle are the Syrian people.
100,000 have been killed and 2 million have fled the violence. The humanitarian crisis is unfathomable.
Western policy-makers and politicians argue America must support the Free Syrian Army and their noble cause. They say a moral responsibility to protect the innocent demands action, that order in the Middle East must be restored, and that warning other dictators chemical weapon usage has consequences will save more lives.
They claim Syrians want to be free and would be grateful for U.S. involvement.
But one truth often skipped by western media, which often labels opposition factions as “rebels” without distinction, is the frightening nature of the changing insurgency.
Syrians inside the country say the revolution began with peaceful protests from the poor seeking reforms. The movement now brims with violent terrorist operatives aligned with Al Qaeda and Al-Nasra, including extremist fighters from Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq. The mainstream media portrays a false picture of the now-compromised Free Syrian Army.
The extremist elements within are not just minority-affiliates. They win the battles, they have the ammunition and the food. They have slowly filled the power vaccuum and they do not fight for a freed Syria, but to establish an ultra-fundamentalist state.
American taxpayers have fueled the Syrian Civil War by providing $117 million in communications and medical equipment to the opposition. We can be assured we’ve contributed more in other ways not on the books.
The United States is then funding our own sworn enemies and their affiliates. These are supposed to be America’s foes. These dangerous terrorists we have sacrificed blood, treasure and liberty to defeat are now our allies by proxy.
Syrians are culturally moderate people that reject extremist ideologies. Religious fascists had no platform or power until recently. The Muslim Brotherhood were pushed out in the 80’s. Ancient Christian and Muslim sects lived, worked and loved in harmony.
Should the infiltrated-revolutionaries topple Assad’s regime, which is what the west wants, what then for the Syrian people?
The awesome power of social media provided me with an extraordinary opportunity to gain some insight. Via Facebook, Hussam Mahmoud Darwish, a 17-year-old medical student in Latakia, Syria contacted me hoping to communicate the reality of the war to a westerner.
This arrived in my inbox at 9 p.m. on Wednesday night: “Hello dear journalist! I’m a Syrian citizen. I just wanted to show you some videos about my country Syria. I’m Muslim and I’m not a terrorist. These videos are of my killed Dad. These are the Islamic terrorists we face in Syria. I don’t know why your country (USA) and president (Obama) stand with these monsters,” he wrote.
My inclination was to thank and reassure him that being Muslim does not equate to being a terrorist, but attached were a series of propaganda videos.
I watched. The horrific footage was of Darwish’s father, Brigadier General Mahmoud Darwish.
Insurgents creep through the smoky, post-battle compound kicking scattered whisky bottles and searching for survivors to kill. The cameraman repeatedly prays, “Allahu Akbar” until arriving at Brigadier General Mahmoud Darwish’s body. They raise his rank patches to the camera and praise his death in God’s name.
According to his son, after the rebels overran the Air Defense Missile base, they gave an ultimatum to surrender, which Darwish’s father refused. He died fighting.
“My dad was known in the city for 30 years. He had this passion to save his country against any danger. [After his death] they refuse to let us properly bury him,” Darwish said. He knows these men were not freedom fighters, but radicalized Islamic fundamentalists. Because his father was loved, the terrorists severed his head and paraded it through villages on a stick.
So how did these terrorists come to seize the revolution? Darwish says protests began peacefully, but suddenly turned violent. “In Latakia, for example, I went down to the city’s main square and a crowd of almost hundreds of people were gathered. They decided to protest their living conditions. They never mentioned President Assad.
Demands related to social issues and freedom. Social issues and social justice. In Syria, which has been described as a repressive country, we do not have any apparatus or a trained corps to disperse protests. Therefore elements of the regular police went down to try to break up protests. But what was so strange is that members of the police filled hospitals coming in with stab wounds. About 80 personnel from the police got hurt that day.”
According to him, some activists were from Islamists organizations that hate President Assad because he belongs to a different sect – an Alawite specifically. Few had a solid idea of what reforms they wanted, little training and resources to fight the regime. Eventually, foreign extremists poured over the borders and aided the fight with their own agenda. They are well-funded and fed, experienced and ruthless. Their arrival turned the tide of the war in many ways, and the nature of the rebellion.
“Do the people firmly stand with Assad? Why? He is a brutal dictator, yes?” I asked.
Darwish explains many support Assad, but are first pro-Syria and pro-peace. “I also want the people to know what they are doing,” he said. “Almost two weeks ago terrorists attacked a number of Pro-Assad villages. The victims were all unarmed civilians. The terrorists killed 250 people. They were buried in the Martyr’s Graveyard in Lattakia, and I have their names and ages.”
His linked videos corroborate these crimes, though they were hardly whispered of in western media. These are not the glorified images of freedom fighters often reported as the primary movers of the resistance.
Darwish shared our interview with his colleagues. The following day, I spoke with his friend, a talented musical composer also in Latakia province. He agreed the regime responded brutally and explained this was Assad’s great mistake.
“The poor protested for freedom and reform, but believe me they only want reform. They don’t know what freedom is, really. The regime tried to stop them and the protestors then raged in the streets. The regime shot more, thinking some would fear death. Some are already dead in life, so they decided they had nothing to lose.”
According to him, the freedom-fighters realized they needed guns to continue, which opened the door for organized jihadi and fundamentalist groups with funding and experience. Or, as he described, “the racist Islamic groups that will burn all the world one day.” He asked me if our leaders calculated well for the future, if they have a plan if Syria falls to radicals. I didn’t have an answer for him.
“I dislike the Syrian regime, but at least they’re not cutting off my head for God,” he said. “America should listen to General Dempsey’s analysis (pdf attached). He is intelligent and knows this conflict. The U.S. should stop political and military support for terrorists destroying our country.”
For Darwish, his colleague and many Americans paying attention to the conflict, the truth of Syria’s hijacked revolution is no secret. These groups openly declare their terrorist affiliations with Al Qaeda and Al-Nasra online; they are terrorist parasites that found a host in the Syrian rebellion. The mainstream media has a responsibility, however, to report this truth more widely and accurately and have failed.
Christians, non-conforming Muslims, or even pro-Assad villages have been slaughtered. In occupied territory, moderates grow beards and women wear covers to stay alive. Impromptu beheadings and harsh punishments for minor offenses are daily. Rules about smoking, drinking, and sexual activity have been imposed based on strict interpretation of Islamic law, something laid-back Syrians find suffocating and intolerable.
I asked Darwish and his colleague how Syrians feel about a possible American strike.
“Some fear bloody chaos, that the Syrian Army will be distracted which may give jihadists an advantage,” his friend said. Darwish believes Syrians are angry. They view this as an internal matter that must be dealt with from within. Aiding rebels with more than humanitarian goods fuels terrorism in their backyard.
They want this war to end. They want to rebuild their country. They want America’s enemies, Al Qaeda and al-Nasra, to leave. Until then, Darwish says, “We must make jokes and keep laughing until peace.”
He links me to a video of young Syrian soldiers dancing to American hip-hop artist, Usher. The song, “Yeah”, is both catchy and lyrically raunchy but they are smiling like the battlefield is a nightclub for a moment. Some keep the beat, some mock the camera, and others charm the photographer. None dropped their weapons, even during the conga line.
Though we were separated by language, gender, culture, an ocean and looming war, we both laughed. The only difference between the popular videos of American soldiers dancing and singing to similar songs were the mismatched uniforms and battle cries in Arabic.
Darwish thanked me for listening and I thanked him for sharing. “We care. The American people care. Please do not forget that. We have loud voices and we will raise them,” I said. I hope I’m right.
Special thanks to Mohammad-Resa Khosh-Sirat for Arabic translation.