Having decided to enter Syria, but bypass the troubling and troubled areas, it was not hard to see that we would be on foot for a limited period of time.
Nonetheless, we followed the route as best we could. Aleppo, past Hama and through Homs to Hyssia, then Qarah, Dier Mar Mousa, Damascus and round Deraa to Jordan. I will post more of the route and the Country later. Syria remains one of the most interesting territories I have visited.
So what of Syria in chaos or as the West would have it, – civil war? There were so many warnings not to enter the place – some more or less self-serving, others with genuine concern based on the reporting.
The first thing to say as a British national, is that I distrust the BBC’s coverage of the events. Whereas a BBC journalist indicated that she was smuggled into Homs in a burka, pretending to be dumb and deaf, we went there in a taxi, openly and shook hands with the security forces. Towns under siege? Certainly not. Towns guarded by regular and irregular troops, certainly, and those forces being without too many rules? Yes, for sure. As we saw in Northern Ireland, the cameras and reporting tend to focus on the terrible moments of bloodshed and not the normal lives of the majority in a distressed Syria. Of understanding – I have found very little indeed from Western news agencies. I guess careers are being made, and ego’s established in the Kate Adey model of opiniation and arrogance. She is thankfully gone, and hopefully her methods forgotten.
So what is the truth? From the mouths of Syrians, we have many and indeed every position and point of view. The majority of the population is Sunni, with the “ruling classes” Alawite – a mystical sect of Shiite Islam. There is a considerable Christian Minority made up of every type of Oriental Orthodox Church and others besides.
For some – there is a gratitude for Western involvement and support for a revolution. Of these a number openly want to see the regime fall and its leader hanged. When we arrived in Damascus, on seeing Westerners, a group of young Syrians shouted out “we want freedom” without the caution we were used to in other areas. We were urged to bring more Western involvement and help – more Western weapons to end up in Syrian hands. There is no doubt at all in my mind that the West is supplying weapons to factions inside Syria. The West in this instance means the US and France.
Others we have met, want no Western involvement, seeing US and Israeli motivations, and assumptions. This group is by far the majority, whether or not they want an immediate change of regime.
Then, there are those who believe that chaos should be avoided – and the regime to represent the best of a bad situation in the national circumstances. There is a fear of the chaos and destruction of the Libyan revolution, and the destruction visited on the cities and the nation. Some fear division between muslin communities and between Christian and Muslim communities. Those fears seem to have some basis. We heard from several trustworthy sources stories of division between Christian and Muslims in the areas around Homs. We understand that some Christian communities were unwilling to take to the streets, causing resentment and violence against the Christian community. There are stories of kidnapping of Christians in Homs, although disputed by others. We have no means of verifying these claims or refuting them – but the existence of the story is significant. Certainly the usual harmony between these communities is something to be worked for.
Of course, there are those who simply support the regime. There have indeed been massive demonstrations in favour of the regime in Aleppo and Damascus. We heard smaller pro-Assad rallies in Damascus, although following advice to stay away from any public demonstration whatever its purpose. Syria is a country draped with images of the young Assad and his father, and there are literally hundreds of thousands of such images in shops, and homes. It would be a mistake to assume that these images are all forced on the populace, or that the regime does not have considerable natural support. It does.
No doubt, in the surveillance society which is Syria, displaying such an image is politic. Surveillance in Syria is a way of life, an East German life. At times, people knew who we were before we arrived in places, while in Aleppo we were tailed by a far-too-friendly plain clothes man. I asked him directions at one stage, which was happily provided!
Last, but by no means least – there are some views that pressure to change is necessary, but that the change needs to be gradual and not revolutionary. This is the approach of the Arab League and the latest agreement (2nd November 2011) they have brokered.
What of that agreement? Why does the violence continue? I have been distressed to find no proper explanation from the BBC – until John Simpson came up with the simple and well-understood truth. The Assad family are not a unified whole – what dictator’s family is! Bashar, mild-mannered negotiator of agreements, for instance with the Arab League – is being undermined by his younger Brother, Meher – who is described as having a violent personality. He is is the commander of the Republican Guard and the army’s élite Fourth Armoured Division. Fail to understand the structures and the West fails to understand the events. Nothing new there?