Syria: A Human Perspective


Susan Dirgham – TRANSCEND Media Service

Having taught in the classrooms of the British Council in Damascus for two years, my connection with Syria is on a very personal level.  I loved the buzz and camaraderie in the classes, all of them made up of mostly professional men and women in just about equal numbers.

The Syrian people I met were politically savvy. In a world that insists on categorizing them as Sunni, Alawi, Christian, or Shia.  They saw themselves as Syrian. They had a deep affection for their country; Syrians say with conviction, “I love Syria”.

In recent years, I’ve presented courses to people hoping to become Australian citizens.  So I know that one responsibility of Australian citizens is to ‘defend Australia should the need arise’, a basic responsibility of every citizen of every country, presumably.  So what would we expect of people in Syria?  In this war within their country, who should they side with?

Since the beginning of the current crisis, extremist clerics have been issuing the most blood curdling fatwas.  Sheik Yusuf Qaradawi, the most prominent of these clerics, declared in 2011 from his base in Qatar that it was OK to killone third of the Syrian population if it led to the toppling of the ‘heretical’regime.  That effectively condones the killing of millions of civilians. (Some years ago, Qaradawi showed regret for the fact that Hitler didn’t complete the job of exterminating the Jewishpeople.)

Saudi Arabia and Qatar have funded ‘rebels’ in Syria. Foreign jihadists and mercenaries have crossed into Syria from Turkey. Many would have gained a lust for blood in other theatres of war – Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Chechnya, for example.

Prisoners on death-row have been released from Saudi prisons on the proviso they join the jihad against the Syrian ‘regime’.

There have been ‘auctions’ for suicide bombers in Saudi Arabia, the money from the auction goes to the ‘cause’ – the toppling of the secular Syrian government –  and the family of the bomber.

Are these the ‘rebels’ we expect Syrian people to fight alongside?  What should a responsible Syrian citizen do?

In May this year, I interviewed dissidents in a Damascus hotel.  Their mentor is Haytham Manna, a well-known opposition figure.  Despite their hatred for the ‘regime’, they support the Syrian army because, as they explained to me, it provides the only hope for keeping Syria intact.

When I visited Damascus in April 2011, the Syrian version of the ‘Arab Spring’ was just over a month old.  Already, people were impacted by the violence of a mysterious third force.  The two teenage nephews of a friend were murdered in Homs on 17 April 2011. They were shot alongside their father, an off-duty army officer on that day, and their young cousin.  Their bodies were apparently mutilated.  The men who killed them were possibly Takfiris, extremists who justify the murder of ‘infidels’.  This belief that it is OK to kill people not like us can lead to the massacres of hundreds at a time, or it can justify military strikes on a country alien to us.

In 2004, a student recounted in one of my classes the story of a relative who had been framed by his new employer. The employer had concocted a story about this man, told it to the secret police and so her relative had to pay his way out of a very difficult situation.  The secret police and corruption are problems of great concern in Syria, but it is hard to conceive how a revolution that is dependent on money from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, that is based on the ideology of a radical Islam, and that uses Takfiris as its shock troops can wave a magic wand to transform Syria into a free and democratic utopia.

Some in Australia have faith in the ‘secular rebels’.  If such armed rebels exist today after all the destruction and terror, why do they choose to fight Al-Qaeda’s war, a war promoted by neo-cons and William Hague, and a war that has killed tens of thousands of Syrian soldiers?

A few weeks ago, there were massacres in villages around Lattakia on the Mediterranean. Many of the armed men that perpetrated them were from Libya and Saudi Arabia.  Hundreds of people were killed in the most brutal way imaginable.  Entire families were wiped out, children both killed and kidnapped.  There were also massacres of people in Kurdish areas in the north, leading to thousands of Kurds fleeing across the Turkish border. Again many people were kidnapped.  What is the fate of the abducted?

After a terrorist bombing or a massacre, I have seen the grief of the victims’ families on Syrian TV.  It is raw, heartfelt.

What is puzzling about the footage of the children killed allegedly in a government chemical weapon attack last week in Damascus was that there were virtually no mothers or grandmothers, either alive or dead.  There was little to no display of grief.  Instead the children were displayed. The scenes of the dead children and young men seemed clinical and contrived: Look at this. I told you this regime was brutal. Now do something!  Attack it from the air, from the sea!

Whose children were they?

But shouldn’t the world know more?  Shouldn’t we give ordinary Syrians, men and women who treasure life, a voice?  We must ask ourselves: why do millions of decent people continue to support their regular army?

To take us closer to the truth and further from war, families of all victims need a voice.

Does a Coalition of the Willing plan to devastate another society, so creating millions of victims that no country will take responsibility for?


Susan Dirgham, National Coordinator of “Australians for Mussalaha (Reconciliation) in Syria”; ESL teacher, Photographer. Victoria, Australia. @SusanDirgham

Australians for Mussalaha (Reconciliation) in Syria  (AMRIS)


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 2 Sep 2013.

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