Watching the Country of Syria Boil Up in Political Strife, Harsh Crackdowns

Jul 11, 2012

Welcome to our new program, “Around the World, Here at Home.” Every month, we’ll be exploring global stories through the eyes of someone here in the Ozarks.

Today, we’re flying across the Atlantic to what was once the home of ancient Christian monasteries, and the intersection of vibrant trade.

It’s been occupied by Rome and the Ottomans, creating a melting pot of culture. It’s where the “mensaf” dish is still occasionally eaten by hand, and every guest is greeted with hospitality.

Now, however, bloodshed and strife have rocked many parts of the country of Syria, as many of its citizens have risen up against the current president, Bashar Al-Assad.

Here in Springfield, a native of Syria sat down to talk to us about his experience viewing this strife in his homeland from half a world away. His identity will remain private on our website, because he says he fears for his family’s safety in Syria, should his story be broadcast internationally.

He says the uprising in Syria is part of the wider “Arab Spring,” but there was a specific incident in the city of Darra that incited the uprising.   About 20 students in the 6thgrade wrote some graffiti on a wall.

“They wrote, jokingly, and they asked for the president to move. [They wrote] ‘We need a new president,’” he said.

He says the Syrian secret police, the “mokhabaraat,” took the mothers of these youngsters into custody and humiliated the women by shaving their heads. He says the officers beat the boys in their private areas, telling their mothers that their boys “would never reproduce.”

He says he has no contact with his mother right now, who is in Syria, and when he was last in contact, he knew that his phone calls were being listened to by the Secret Police. He was in touch by facebook with his siblings there, but that, too, has been removed by the Syrian government, he says.

Al-Assad comes from a small minority group in Syria—the Alawiyeen.

“They came to the government in the ‘60s using a lot of ‘secret service,’ what we call the ‘mokhabaraat.’ And torture. And they started really scaring people,” he says.

Our guest says Al-Assad’s father, Hafaz Al-Assad, sought out the support of wealthy businessmen in Damascus;  the elder Al-Assad would ensure that they had great wealth as long as they gave him their political support, he says.

“That’s really the ones who still support him in Damascus. They’re not Alawiyeen. They’re business people from Damascus. And they’re corrupt,” he says.

The United States has issued strong verbal warnings to President Bashar Al-Assad, and has imposed economic sanctions on Syria.

And yet, our guest says he’s becoming “disgusted” with America’s lack of action in trying to stop Al-Assad from killing his own people. He would like for America to impose a no-fly zone of Al-Assad’s planes, and to allow countries like Turkey to help the Syrian civilians by providing arms.

“It’s not a civil war. If it’s civil war, usually everybody has weapons—equal weapons, killing each other. But that’s not happening. You have a fully-equipped military from Russia. And you have civilians [who are] stealing AK-47s, or they find some weapon built in 1944, and they try to defend themselves.  The United States knows that,” our guest said.

“Mark my words, if the Syrian government goes, and international human [rights workers] go over there to search for mass graves, you’re going to find them under the streets. You going to surprise the world,” he says.

He says his dream is to see a democratic election in Syria, similar to that in Israel.  

“My dream is for the Syrian people to go back to their roots—business, building a strong Syria economy-wise. And that’s all I’m asking,” he said.

“Around the World, Here at Home” airs on KSMU at 7:30 a.m. the second