How to Get Away With Murder

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Are you planning on murdering some people? Assassinate an entire group of men, women and children due to the city they reside in? Murder is illegal in any country of the world – everyone knows that. But there’s still a way to get away with it. Do you, at the same time, want to get away with the crime? Here’s some useful advice for you:

Make some good friends. Friends with power and military resources.

Make sure these friends are short of morals, that also they are conducting crimes against humanity in their own countries. With this, they will not blame you for the crimes that you commit.

Divert all the attention towards the terrorists residing in the target area. Everyone knows that there are jihadist groups, and they have had a very active online presence, torturing the world with their terror. But you play up the jihadist as if they include all the rebel groups in the area; all the civilians; all the rescue workers.

Pretend as if the civilians don’t exist. Each and every human being in the city is in liaison with the jihadists.

If people, who are trying to flee from the bombings, make it to what they think are safe areas, the areas that are under your control – immediately accuse them of being terrorists, imprison them and torture them.

Bomb the hospitals, the last piece of infrastructure that is left; the core of humanity. Everything is already gone: schools, electricity, running water.

Few people will survive this ordeal. Even fewer will survive with their sanity intact. You know this. By breaking a society, a city, piece by piece, you have taken away the humanity and the urge to resistance. The world is watching silently, despite the terrors being broadcasted every minute in social media, every day on prime time TV. You have reached so far with your powerful friends, with launching the idea of the terrorists, the whole world is scared by it.

You are almost there, close to the finish line. Soon all of these people are gone. The city that once was, is no more. You’re close to where you have succeeded without paying the price for the crimes you committed. Where you have gotten away with murder.

Photo credit: travelpulse.com

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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.

The Dying Girl

I’m a seasoned humanitarian aid worker and it takes quite a lot to upset me. Even though I moved back to Sweden I work with refugees, most of them are from Syria, so I comfort people a lot in my daily work and I hear the most horrifying stories. I keep tissues in my bag for these reasons, because women have a tendency to collapse in my arms, crying over everything lost and the horrifying things they’ve been through.

Then recently a new friend showed me a clip on his cellphone, from the underground hospital in Homs where he had worked – without formal medical training – as a nurse. Underground hospitals in Syria are run by ICRC and other organisations that treat patients impartially; in Syria it means without reporting opposition members to the Syrian regime. They operate without proper equipment, and often with staff who have little medical training. My friend had recorded quite a lot of the work in the unit and brought the movies with him to Sweden.

The footage was of good quality. Could it be useful for Swedish media? Everyone knows that there’s a civil war in Syria but few knows what it actually looks like when you’re in the middle of it. And these kinds of footages rarely make it to the international media.

I watched the clip in a coffee shop where we met during Christmas in Sweden. It was rainy and damp outside and people around us rested from their shopping sprees. I used the headphones not to disturb the other guests. I’m used to misery but I do respect people who are not.

The sounds of airplanes and bombs outside were suddenly drenched in the voice of a medical doctor. He came running with a small girl, 3 or 4 years old, in his hands, that he placed on a small bunk. But the girl wasn’t bleeding, she had no bruises, her skin was smooth and perfect. She looked like my niece that I had spent the previous day with; chubby and with her curly hair framing rosy cheeks. She seemed to be half-asleep. The girl wasn’t crying, only wailing softly. Why was the doctor in such a hurry?

“Internal injuries”, my friend said.

Then I realized: she was dying from the inside and out. The girl was in such pain that she was beyond hurting. As the doctors inserted a hose through her mouth she half-heartedly raised her hand to try and prevent it, she looked like a child who don’t want to take their medicine, nothing else. The doctor put her hand back to her side. The small natural efforts of a child to escape discomfort slowly faded. I knew what was coming before the movie was finished. I unplugged the headphones so I didn’t have to listen to it all. Life was slipping out of her by the second, under the panicky ways of the staff with sometimes little medical training in a make-shift hospital in the basement of a shabby, abandoned building in the previously so beautiful city of Homs.

Only then it struck me that there was no other people in the hospital that were worrying about the little girl than the staff. No crying mother or a father.

“She was the only survivor of that attack,” my friend confirmed. “Her mother and father, her sister, they were all gone.”

Someone was crying at the table that day, despite me not being at work. It wasn’t my friend, despite all the traumatizing things he has been through. It wasn’t anyone of the women that usually collapse in my arms when I visit one of the refugee camps. To my surprise I realized it was myself.

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

Syrian Red Crescent Volunteers Attacked When Assisting War Victims

Hussain Saad

In the ever-ongoing hell of Syria’s civil, one of the few actors that are actually trying to assist the civil population without having a political agenda of their own, is the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. Throughout the civil war their volunteers have been assisting the victims; driving injured people to the hospital, picking up dead bodies and brining them to the grave yards, treating victims with first aid. The Red Crescent volunteers are unpaid and are carrying out their work for free.

Despite the huge effort from these volunteers – who often are having a job or their studies on the side – they are continuously targeted by one of the militant groups, sometimes even the government forces themselves.

The latest news was translated from Arabic and sent to me by a Syrian friend who has been active in the Red Crescent in Damascus:

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An ambulance car for the Syrian red Cresent Rural Damascus sub branch – al Domayer sub branch, got a shooting during a mission to drive a patient to a hospital, the team leader get bullet in his head and now he is in the intensive care room. The team leader is a SARC volunteer and his name is Hussain Saad and he is a mechanical engineer student.

I decided to share this news on my site so that Hussain, the mechanical engineer student who dedicated his free time during the civil war to assist suffering people, would not just be another number in the statistics – whether or not he will survive or pass away. Another Syrian whose case will go unnoticed.

A Massacre Among Massacres

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Massacres have become so common these days that we seem to forget them as quickly as we hear about them. A few minutes of horror, then we shake the information off and go on with our day. IS has contributed to this phenomenon, killing people video-game style where nicely chosen colours frame the scene of the killing. Many internet users click on the Youtube video click without thinking twice, without thinking on how for each click, IS or the ones performing the massacre grows in fame and celebrity. Just because it doesn’t happen next to us, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect us – we are growing numb for the lives lost in this uttermost horrifying way. We loose the respect for the right to live.

To remind myself about how massacres challenges the very core of our humanity, I went back to read my own story from the Banyas massacre in Syria 2013. It was a massacre among many massacres, exactly two years ago today, May 2nd 2013. Please let me share this story again so as to remind us all, myself included, about how massacres really affects the surviving community, the world’s population, all of us who calls ourselves humans. The original blog post is found here, the text is copied below.

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Who told me this story? It doesn’t matter. When did I here this? In June this year, one month after the Banyas massacre had taken place on May 3 2013, conducted by governmental troops on civilians. In Damascus noone mentioned the massacre by name, instead we called it “unrest” or “outbreak of violence”. The result of the systematic killing of everyone in the village is easily found online, but in the heart of the government controlled capital that is nothing you can talk about.

Why did the person tell me this story, despite the danger of talking about the ongoing crimes against humanity in Syria? I guess some things are just too unbearable to keep to yourself. I couldn’t share this story while I was still in Syria, but I can now. And why am I sharing it? I want the world to know. I hope all of you readers do, too.

“Do you know what happened in Banyas? They did something horrible there. They did something that no God allows, no religion allows. What they did is forbidden in all religions!What does the persons want, who are controlling our country? What do they want from God?

There was a couple here some weeks ago. They left me their number, look, here’s the note… When I heard about what happened in Banyas I tried to call them, I was worried. But the line was shut down, I didn’t even get a signal. I heard that they had shut down the lines to all the telephones in Banyas. I called and called.

First after a couple of days the man answered. He said:

They came in the night, they killed my wife and my two children‘.

His wife was pregnant when she was here, I saw it myself, she was seven or eight months pregnant. Do you know what they did to her? They cut her in the chest, like this. Then they cut open her stomach, her whole stomach, and took out the baby. Her husband cried when he said:

They killed her, they killed my unborn baby, they killed our two little children. I’m the only one left. They are all gone.

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Photo credit: pngimg.com

Syrian Opposition Member in Sweden Prosecuted for Torture Committed in Syria – This is Good

The last week news broke in Sweden that a 28-year-old Syrian man residing here since 2013, is now being charged with a crime committed in Syria in 2012. When I first heard the news, I thought the man had been a part of the Assad regime or the military and committed a crime against civilian people or opposition members. But no, according to the news the man previously belonged to the Free Syrian Army, and had participated in beating and torturing a man from the military, who are operating for Assad. The information didn’t reveal whether the victim had been a higher ranking officer or not.

Swedish media are usually quite mum about details, but from the news reports that the man is the first one in Sweden to be prosecuted for crimes against international law in Syria. The reason for the prosecution is a video that the young man supposedly had uploaded to his own Facebook page, where he is seen to beat and torture a man who is tied to a chair with his hands behind his back, dressed in only underwear and a t-shirt. The video is awful to see. The man who is tied up is trying to comply with his tormentors, who are beating him with tools (sticks and/or belts, it’s hard to see), assaulting him and screaming that the man shall say that Assad is a “motherfucker” and an “animal” (“Say it! What is he? What is Assad?”). It’s not known to the Swedish legal system whether the victim survived the abuse and torture or not.

As surprised as I initially was that the man did not belong to the regime – that he was one of the freedom fighters, fighting against decades of brutal oppression – as satisfied am I that the man now is prosecuted in Sweden. No, I don’t agree with the Syrian regime. I believe everyone have the right to their own opinions without fearing the kind of oppression that has been significant for the Assad regime, sr and jr. But all crimes are crimes, and no previous or current crimes justifies later ones. The one that the young man had recorded and added to his Facebook page is a horrible crime: physical and verbal abuse and torture of an unarmed person.

If convicted for the crime, the young man should under normal circumstances be deported to his home country and his permanent residency would be withdrawn. But Sweden don’t deport anyone to Syria during the circumstances of civil war, why the man most likely would serve time in a prison and then remain in a status quo in Sweden until the situation in Syria has calmed down, which might be, well… who knows? Despite this, I still agree with the trial.

We need to remain our values even in times of conflict. There are many freedom fighters in Syria who are making use of non-violent resistance; publishing news about the crimes committed against humanity; mobilising groups for peaceful protests; caring for the orphaned children and setting up schools in war zones. The young man who was fighting with the Free Syrian Army could have chosen this path instead of tying up and torturing an unarmed man, no matter what the victim had done, and then boldly put up the video on his Facebook page, bragging about what he had done for the world to see. I’m happy that I live in a country where these actions don’t go unpunished. No matter where they were committed and by who. If the Syrian opposition wants to snap out of the vicious cycle of violence their country is in, they need to rise above the methods used by the regime. Revenge will not get the Syrian people anywhere, it will not get anyone of us anywhere, no matter where we might live. Honouring our values of humanity will.

Photocredit: philly.com