By Omar Al-Muqdad
By Omar Al-Muqdad
Morocco World News
Washington, June 10, 2013
The United States says al-Qaeda is in my country, that terrorists are fighting the same dictator I have spent my entire adult life trying to harm, to bring down. This is the point that the Arab Spring has reached in Syria nearly two years after the uprising began in February 2011. There is a sense that some people are forgetting that what is happening in Syria began as a peaceful revolution. It did not start as a war involving guns, alleged sectarian violence, and al-Qaeda. Many have been killed, but there are still some of us, the activists who helped arrange the first protests and have opposed the regime for years. I don’t pretend to speak for all Syrian activists, but despite this horrible war, we have still retained the ability to laugh.
Some of my colleagues are in Washington D.C. One of them has, Eid Shurbaji, has his own newspaper. The other, Hala Abdulaziz is the first woman to present evidence of Bashar Assad crimes to the International War Crimes Court at The Hague. She is my neighbor here.
I work for a Saudi newspaper and also a Kuwaiti newspaper. I covered the U.S. elections for Arab media. And I also follow Syria. I send updates on the situation inside the country to different international media channels and also to the U.S. State Department. This is what I can do as an exiled activist. The mainstream opposition forces are focused on the propaganda now. Though I think the mainstream opposition are a bunch of irresponsible I will never change that position.
While I was in Turkey. I worked with nearly every international media outlet in the world. From the BBC to NBC to CNN and ABC. I had a fight with the British journalist Robert Fisk once in a hotel in Istanbul. Then he wrote a column distorting what I said. I am out of events now. Years ago, I lost my documents to the regime. I had to come to the U.S. and get new documents. And so I am watching Syria’s war from the United States for the moment. I am not a fighter. I am a journalist. My weapon is the pen and the camera.
Even watching from here, I can see that the violence that is happening now inside of Syria is natural. If this happened in the U.S. you would see people pick up arms and begin like this. Our country is being destroyed, but in the end I can’t blame the people. I blame the regime and I blame the international community because they did nothing and they opened up the gates for this to happen. I said this on television many times. I said it in articles and I said it in meetings with diplomats. I said the longer it takes for the regime to get out, the more problems you will have.
When you see what the regime has done over the last two years, it is no surprise. This devastation, this brutality used by the regime. You will see more violence, you will see more disturbing images from Syria. Because it is a country that is almost completely destroyed. We will pass a year or two. We will suffer from these groups such as al-Qaeda after the regime falls.
But I don’t think we will suffer more than that. The country will not allow for that. The mood of Syrians. They will not allow these people who have a stubborn mind. I am counting on the people who left the country to come back and rebuild the country. I hope in two or three years, we will see changes.
There is no end to the grim stories in Syria. On March 18, 2011, the first day of protests in my hometown of Dara, about 1,000 people demonstrated. We sent the videos to CNN and BBC. Every international media outlet we could reach. I met with Canadian diplomats in Damascus during the first few days and told them about the arrests of the children. We told everyone. I returned to Dara. You could feel something was about to happen. The regime knew. You could feel it on the street. Something was going to happen. The people were really mad. We started to encourage people. We met with friends. Friends of friends. We had to do that. We have to do something.
What can we do? We protest. How can do this. We have Fridays. It is the perfect day to start this because every one is gathering at the mosque. We talked to friends and they talked to their friends. The people we knew that we trusted. The security forces were concerned at the time. You could feel in the town that something was going to happen. We gathered at the Omari Mosque and we started. The regime was hunting activists. I lived hiding in a cave. I only left to Turkey when the regime went to my house and began arresting my friends.
I knew our regime is brutal. But I did not know they were going to use arms. I thought that they would arrest people. I thought we would go to prison and be tortured and that’s it. It was a surprise that Assad opened fire on people. My generation did not live through Hama. We don’t know about Hama. Even the old people in Dara did not know about Hama. We heard something happened in Hama, but we didn’t know what happened. We never thought that we would live these circumstances. It was a shock in the beginning. I can still remember the smiles on people’s faces during those first days. I remember the blood on my T-shirt and the taste of the cigarette I raised to my lips and then saw it was covered in blood, along with my hand. The blood was my friend’s. He died.
Now thousands of others have died in a real war. It became nothing less than a nightmare. I didn’t feel good when the war started. I knew when this started how it would end. At the same time I cannot deny the people’s right to defend themselves. I understand, but I can’t feel good about it. I understand and I respect it, the choices that people have to make, but I couldn’t accept it my mind because I knew how it would end.
In Turkey, I worked with the Western media, helping them gain coverage access to our uprising. At the beginning the reports were fair from my point of view. Many journalists risked their lives to tell the world the truth. Many died. But now I feel the reports in the Western media are changing completely. They started to project the idea that the Islamist groups are the only optionleft in Syria. That leaves a bad taste in my mouth. In general, the rebels are not like that and these reports deny that there are other sects fighting alongside the Sunni rebels.
I met with diplomats. I lived in Ankara for 8 months. The diplomats took notes. We tried to send help for refugees. We worked on refugee issues. We sent software to the activists. But they never went too far. The regime is still in power because of the support of certain governments. Let’s put this clearly: they must act with some responsibility. We told the diplomats that many time.
The international community cannot condemn these Islamist groups or use them as a pretext for action or inaction because these groups arrived when they were silent. I see a conflict of interest in their actions and so do other Syrians. I would rather they announce that they have no interests in Syria rather than hide behind these conferences and give us empty promises.
In the end, I focus back on Syrians. What is amazing to me is Syrians can still mock, they can still find humor among the horror. They are searching for ways to continue surviving with their surroundings. The human soul still exists in people. It’s not just a war. We are not just numbers. We still have our humanity. Why laugh at what is happening?
As “Sara Hama,” an activist from Damascus, told me on Skype: “You know our aim is not only getting rid of this regime, but to keep the beautiful soul and smile. Assad’s forces want to kill everything beautiful in our lives; we need to clear our life always with the smile. I am in favor of mocking all the points we pass through,” she said.
The first joke is on the Syrian National Council (SNC) who spent more time fighting for seats in a government that would not be than working to overthrow Assad. Eventually the SNC was overthrown. This is our first success of our revolution. There is a video in Arabic of activists speaking about the future of Syria. One of them says that there will be a new rule for being president of Syria. No chairs. He has to stand on his feet all the time. And no fancy speeches, not more talk about his establishment, and he must ride a bicycle to his office. It is better if he uses his feet. For parliament, we must rip out the chairs. Because if the MPs feel comfortable, they will be stuck in the chairs forever.
The best jokes are all reserved for the regime. Did you know the death of the Deputy Defense Minister Bassam Antakya was actually announced in July 2011? The regime claimed he died of a heart attack, according to the regime website Syria-news.com. Then they announced that he was also killed in the Damascus blast in July 2012. They forget that they are lying. They think Syrians are idiots.
Did you also know that Mahmoud al-Zoabi, a former Prime Minister, was found dead in his house in Daraa in June 2000? They said he committed suicide with three bullets in his head.
As an activist named Imad al-Masri wrote on his Facebook: “Only in Syria can a man commit suicide by seven bullets in the head and have his death announced twice!”
Syrian activists continue on with these jokes to mock the regime. Though it is doubtful he defected—he probably just wanted to save himself—we are glad Jihad Makdissi got the CPU in his head working better and got out.
“If you want to know the truth, just look to the jokes and you will understand how people really feel,” said another activist from Daraa. “These jokes find their way to people’s hearts because they honestly express the real situation there.”
Sometimes I think the world hasn’t made up its mind about Assad. Maybe they prefer him to stay. That would be the biggest joke of the Syrian revolution.
Omar al-Muqdad is a Syrian journalist currently living in the United States. From June 2011 to June 2012 he assisted international media outlets such as NBC, ABC, CNN, and the BBC with their coverage of the Syria conflict.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy
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