The Forgotten, Beaten and Tired Syrian Activists

I remember the beginning of the Syrian revolution. Young Syrians; girls in their pastel-colored clothes that marked the spring of 2011; young men in leather jackets protecting them against the chilly March weather.

They were so cool. They were hopeful. They were saying things in public that previously had made you, if you happened to be in Syria, shiver. They were forming cells; established independent news outlets; traded news about which activist was in which underground prison; helped kids who had become orphans when their parents disappeared; speaking openly about the sexual abuse the female members of the opposition endured in prison.

The activists that I knew were journalists, medical doctors, university scholars, NGO employees by day; activists by night. Keeping in touch with other fellow activists on social media and the in the Middle East so loved Blackberry.

The topics of politics and justice flowed easily among them; sitting with some Syrian activists, they always started talking politics, you could break night with them just to hear their ideas, their bright thoughts about the future, when their generation would be the first one to conquer the long-lived illness of living under a totalitarian regime. They would bring up their kids in a society where you could say whatever you liked. Where fear didn’t seep in everywhere. Where the beautiful, amazing country of Syria didn’t have that silenced cover over it all: where freedom prospered. Where you could talk as openly in the street as you could a few hours away from Damascus, on the other side of the border in Lebanon.

And soon we are at the five year landmark. In a few weeks it’s March 2016. What happened to the cool young Syrian activists, with their high-flying dreams? The one who were chanting in the streets?

My own answer is so sad that I have to write about it.

The Syrian activists that I know are tired and beaten and worst of all, forgotten. No one will assign them with a human rights award. No one will call them on a stage in front of an international audience and praise them for all the brave things they did for their own country. How they started free press online. How they cared for other people’s children. How they treated wounded civilians with a minimum of medical supplies.

The Syrian activists, the ones who started it all, before Daesh, before Al Nosra front, before the foreign interventions, are in worst case dead; tortured and starved until they caved in in one of the regime’s dreaded dungeons. If they’re better off, they’re released and living in constant fear of being detained again. Leaving the country starts to become more and more impossible for those who are still left.

If they’re better off they have been able to leave the country and are scattered around the globe, refugees in other countries. They are often unwelcome.  They’re struggling with psychological problems many can’t imagine. They are depressed, suffering from anxiety attacks, insomnia. And being traumatised doesn’t always make you a better person. Being traumatised doesn’t make you nicer. It makes you angry, and you take out the anger on anyone. It makes you bitter and you take out the bitterness on anything.

The mental health care system in my own country often can’t cope with their traumas. Psychologists I’ve heard of break down in tears themselves when hearing the horrific ordeal the Syrian regime put the activists through, the civil war that tore the country in pieces.

Being a Syrian activist in 2016 – you’re forgotten. The pastel colours from the spring of 2011 has faded a long time ago. The activists were left with no support and here we have the results. What’s left is a regional war, a war by proxy, that’s escalating into an international war, in a place where the so promising feelings of hope and trust once grew.

“Iraqis and Iraqis Only Will Own This Land”

Iraq doesn’t belong to IS, Iraq never did. Don’t get fooled by the news.

If you follow anti-IS activists online you see plenty of resistance everyday, resistance that rarely make headlines in the Western news. The lack of international recognition for these activists is a reason I share these news on this web page.

This is Tourism in Iraq‘s, the page I have written about on previous occasions, latest, subtle, response to the so-called Islamic State, in form of a Facebook status update:

Iraq is the cradle of civilization with great history and magical beauty. lraqis and Iraqis only own this land.

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Photo credit: Tourism in Iraq

Dear Western Activist for a Middle Eastern Cause!

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Are you into a Middle Eastern political or social cause that you have found yourself 100% dedicated to? Congratulations to discovering a new part of the world! Not many people who travels start to indulge in the culture and language of another country.

However, there are some side effects I have seen consistently with the, mostly young, sometimes older, Western activists who throw themselves into a Middle Eastern cause. If I have met you somewhere, some of your traits might resemble this person:

You are completely in love with the new country, the new culture and the cause you have discovered. The reason for the cause – a conflict, a social injustice – has probably existed for long but for you it’s new, and so be it. For you, it’s a new situation, and you apply that to the cause. Therefore, the cause is new.

Injustices in your own country, at home, don’t matter half as much to you. To be active in the local politics or volunteer in your local community is not as exciting, even though you might be able to provide much more input in a country where you already knew the context, the culture and the language. No, it’s the across-border-thingy that attracts you. The Middle Eastern people need to be saved. They are oppressed.

Could there be nuances in or two sides to a conflict? Nah, that doesn’t interest you. You are 100% pro or against. Local politics, peace negotiations, revision of the law – all this isn’t that interesting, if it isn’t involving what you can recognise as pure, angry activism.

You despise the Gulf countries and are in love with the rest. Dubai, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are oppressive countries where other kinds of Westerners go to make money. There might be plenty of human rights groups in these countries, but that doesn’t catch your attention.

All injustices are the fault of US, Europe, or Israel. There is little responsibility with the national governments or the hardcore religious groups that overthrow any attempt to democracy. The West is to blame for everything. The West is all over racist. You don’t have statistics that will back this up, but statistics is nothing that matters to you anyhow.

The women’s rights situation you either overlook, you become uncomfortable if another activist points out the systematic oppression of women in the country or region you are dedicated to. Or you might make this your own cause, you take it on yourself to educate and liberate the oppressed women in the Middle East, ignoring the many local women’s rights groups that is, patronising the Middle Eastern women by making them need your help. You might even create a Facebook page where you undress in support of the women of the Middle East. Would a Middle Eastern woman undress to support her sisters in the West? Probably not. But that doesn’t cross your mind.

You have very clear opinions on the hijab. It’s either sexy, you try it on in the mirror before you travel to a Middle Eastern country (note: in most Middle Eastern countries it’s not mandatory), you have postcards with photographs of women in hijabs and AK4s stuck to your bedroom wall, and you dress in one on occasions and in places even when it’s not needed. Or it’s oppressive, and you do everything you can to find evidence that justifies this cause.

When hanging out with Middle Eastern friends that you’ve made in your city back home, you have lower standards than you would have with friends of your own nationality. Did a man you hang out with crack a sexist joke? Do you know that he specifically treated a woman you know badly? You forgive him, because he is from the Middle Eastern country you adore. He still needs to learn, as if he has no brain of his own, as if there weren’t men in his country that could behave properly.

Dear Western activist for a Middle Eastern cause: if you read this and you feel targeted, please don’t get too mad with me. If you feel targeted, spend some time to think why and how being an activist for a foreign cause without seeing the full aspects of it, can be problematic and reinforce stereotypes. You see, this text is aiming the problematic aspects of activism when applied to a foreign country, in the context of post-colonialism. And you know what else? I used to be where you are, myself, once upon a time.

Photo credit: brown fox.org

Beiruti Graffiti in a Time of Turbulence

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Beiruti graffiti, captured with someone’s smartphone and posted online.

Is it maybe a comment to the ongoing protests against the uncollected garbage in the city, the so called Garbage Crisis? Or is it a comment to the terrorist groups in the region, pretending to commit crimes in the name of God? Or maybe it’s just the people being fed up with not being listened to by anyone in power?

The graffiti reads, in translation:

“There is no God but the people.”

Did you get the reference?

“There is no God but God.”

Photo credit: Charbel Maydaa’s Facebook page

May God Help Us, if He Exists

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I was going to write about something else, I have done research for a Middle Eastern topic, as some readers know I love the Middle East and am dedicated to write about sides of this region that usually are unnoticed in the Western media.

But then there was the terror attack in Turkey. This photo supposedly shows activists from the Socialist Youth Association Federation, snapping a group selfie before the bomb blast in Suruc. Turkey, the country that has sailed up from poverty and created a large middle class and that hosts a vivid civil society – now pulled back by the murder machine of we-know-who.

Before that, it was the Eid blasts all over. On a holiday that is sacred to many.

Before that, there was Tunisia, a country where I was supposed to go visit friends in a few days time, in Tunis and Sousse, only having to cancel it when Sweden’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs changed their travel recommendation.

Before that there was the Charleston massacre.

So I lost my inspiration tonight. In this very moment, this is what I feel:

I think we will remember this time as a dark turning point in history, when dark powers started to outweigh the good ones, and terrorism conquered co-existence. May God help us, if he exists.

Photo copyright: unknown

Inside Activists against IS from Mosul, Mosul Eye, Trying to Remain active

Local activists against Islamic State, behind the Facebook page Mosul eye, where they regularly publish news on how the city is ruined IS’s ruling, recently had to close down their activities, due to continuous attacks on their page. They have announced that they will reopen their page and continue to – anonymously – report about the ingoing crimes against humanity from inside Mosul. I want to share their statement here to support the activists:

“For public manners and everyday life, it all can be summed in following bullet points:

ISIL constructed subsidiaries, organizations and departments for everything, and for each manner they set a bureau and appointed staff dedicated for it. the civilians are living under a bloody authority and power. people can not move or breathe, The borders are completely closed, and no one can get out of the city, and dire conditions are applied for anyone wants to leave the city.

And ISIL issued and published these conditions, namely: 

1- hand over House mortgage ownership documents, 

2- $ 2,500 as a deposit 

3- a modern car which is manufactured no further that 2011, and 

4- a sponsor who sponsors the traveller, and for a duration of only one month. If the permission expires, the sponsor gets arrested and the house, the car and the deposit are all confiscated, and the traveller is considered to be an apostate infidel and is permitted to be killed on sight.

Kids are subjected to extreme measures of massing and incitement to all the mass murders and criminal operations ISIL leads through its media points that are scattered over the streets, and through exchanging of video clips that depict scenes of slaughter, crucifixion, burning and murder. large numbers of teenagers have been affected by ISIL’s enormous propaganda and amused by its capabilities of violence.

Lots of teens have voluntarily joined ISIL in its various ranks. Recent statistics study showed that the numbers of children volunteered into ISIL’s ranks, who were under the age of 16 years; were amounted to 370 and received religious and military training in ISIL’s camps, more than 130 children who actually participated in the battles and suicide bombings, many of them died mostly in battles for Baiji, Anbar and west of Nineveh.

ISIL imposes new strict and tough restrictions every day upon the citizens, and the last of its restrictions is men are forced to leave their beards unshaved, we already published on this page, about ISIL’s leaflet on the prevention of shaving the beard, and this is especially targeting the youth.  As for Women, ISIL is practicing extremely harsh restrictions upon them, things like wearing the veil is a must, prohibiting women from going out alone to the market unless they are accompanied with a male relative as a guardian, and as Ramadan is approaching, women are absolutely banned from leaving their houses.  Smoking is banned as well, and penalizing cigarettes vendors started at first with 70 lashes with a big fine, and now the penalty for anyone caught selling or trading cigarettes is “decapitation”!

Food prices constantly rising and will depend on whether the roads are closed with Baghdad and Kurdistan, Baghdad has recently closed the road to Mosul, and prevented the entry of large quantities of goods and foods to Mosul ISIL also imposed severe penalties on those who do not come to the mosque during prayers and closes his shop, and the penalty is confiscation of the shop with large fine and imprisonment for a whole month. Many libraries were closed, and complete banning of trading books that never call them ISIL “infidelity and apostasy books” of Arab and international novels and books of philosophy, history and literature.

In short: There are no sign of life in Mosul, I mean life in which man will be free and able to act freely and easily. The rights to live is guaranteed only by abiding by the conditions and ruthless control of ISIL and any one opposes ISIL is subjecting himself and his family to execution and confiscation of all property.

To be Continued …”

I Love Syria, That’s Why I’m Writing This Post

The old city in Damascus

I am a, for now, retired humanitarian aid worker, who have worked in many countries across the world, mostly in the Middle East. In my former profession I tried not to be too wrapped up in the countries that I lived in, since it’s important to remain calm and neutral as much as possible. Plenty of young Westerners have been travelling to countries in what we used to love to call the third world and start to identify with the countries, the politics and the people. As a humanitarian aid worker you’re not supposed to do that; overly identifying means you loose part of your focus.

But here’s a confession to make from my side: when I see the current news from Syria, and when I hear other aid workers talk about Syria in the most general ways, it breaks my heart.

It breaks my heart, because people who didn’t know Syria before the war don’t know anything about the country. Aid workers and people outside who have never been, seem to see it as just another country where conflict has been going on and will be going on forever. They see it as a country where every person is a potential islamic fundamentalist. They see it as a country where there are few functioning schools, few functional hospitals, where water and electricity is a luxury. A country like any other country they have worked in.

What breaks my heart is, people who only have seen Syria in a state of conflict, have never seen it as it really is. I have been living in many countries in the Middle East and Syria is my absolute favourite. Not by choice, it was just one of the places where I grew really attached to the place, where the good by far outweighed the bad. Syria is my pearl in the ocean. Let me tell you why.

Syria is the country that has a beautiful capital, a capital where night clubs takes place just like late-night cafés and restaurants; beach resorts; mosques and ancient buildings.

Syria is a country that lacks the superficiality that sometimes takes over in Lebanon, a country that has the night life that you won’t find in Jordan (with or without alcohol), a place where men and women; people from different religions; locals and foreigners, easily mix.

Syria is the country where people will keep their promise, they pick you up when they say they will pick you up, call you when they say they will call you.

Syria is a country where liberal people are next door neighbours with conservative.

Syria is a country where you sit in a café playing dawla with your girlfriend until midnight and no one bothers you.

Syria is the country where you go to have ice cream with your colleagues after work at Abu Shaker’s restaurant in Damascus on a weekday, or hit the swimming pool in your bikini in Damarose Hotel on a hot summer’s day, working on your tan and ordering plenty of arabic coffees to have at the pool, or go to Lounge 808 on a Friday night for a drink.

Syria is not a country of extremists, it’s a not a country of terrorists, it’s a country where people used to live and prosper in some of the most dynamic ways in the Middle East, before the civil war started.

Syria was once a place where friendship, love and beautiful things took place – now it’s a country that’s reduced to the international headlines of terror and misery, and humanitarian aid workers whose beer drinking and generalised ideas of a country full of war and terrorists, have taken over a place where beautiful things once was. That is what breaks my heart.

Photo copyrights: Sweden and the Middle East Views