Today, the Syrian revolution has spread far across the country, but one city stands out from amongst the rest. The besieged city of Homs is not only central to the Syrian uprising, but as one who calls Homs home, it is central to my life.
The Homs I knew was the safest place you could visit. A city I would spend my summers eating shawarmas late into the night, going from wedding to wedding, and walking up and down share’ al-mal’ab. Life was sweet but simple. The only fear we ever had growing up on our holidays in Syria was if we slipped up and spoke Assad’s name. We dared not speak of, or about him. It was simple. To live freely you had to play by the rules, conform and act as though you worshipped the president.
But is that really living in freedom? The fear of Assad’s regime is not something that came about eight months ago when the revolution began; rather it is something that has been instilled in every single Syrian since infancy. It is only now that the world is witnessing the brutality of Assad’s regime, as he massacres and tortures before our very eyes. We see brave men risking their lives, risking everything, to march through the streets; their voices and demands for freedom echoing and resonating through the city. Syrian men are shielded with an armour of bravery, forged by a trust in God. That is all they have. A faith in God, with hope and determination that this revolution will continue until it sees the only way out – a free Syria.
So what can we say about the thousands that claim to support Assad? I could fit any Assad supporter into one of four categories.
The first is personal benefit, because the success of many Syrians, if not all, is in some way or other tied down to the government. The rule in this sick game is that you cannot succeed without Assad and his cronies. These people support Assad because they believe that going against him means losing everything they own.
The second is fear and pressure. Having seen what Assad and his thugs have done, having heard of and witnessed the barbaric torture being implemented, it is only reasonable to expect that many will fear for themselves. For such reasons, many act as though they love Mr. President, to remain as far and safe as possible from any torment coming their way. Furthermore, many people are coerced and pressured by security forces to attend pro-government protests, threatened with torture, losing their jobs, or even their lives if they do not attend – they have little choice but to comply.
The third is ignorance. When I was in Damascus a few months ago, I met so many people who went on these marches, blinded by the propaganda. I recall a lady telling me not to believe the lies I saw in the news, that it was all a façade and that the blood we see dripping from people on-screen is actually ketchup. It was the most absurd thing I had ever heard but some Syrians, despite seeing such footage of torture, were adamant that this was all some kind of minority plot against Assad to cause trouble. Denial is what these people were so engrossed in, but I guarantee today, four months on, their views will have drastically changed.
And finally, the fourth reason is a lack of conscience. I include this because I would personally question the moral conscience of anyone that decides to side with a murderer; a cold-blooded murderer, responsible for the death of thousands and carrying the blood of every Syrian martyr. My cousin in Homs once said, “we are carving the word ‘freedom’ with our blood” – and as sickening and heart breaking as this is, it is so very true.
Today, my family and any Homsi will tell you that they are living in a prison. I was on the phone to one of my cousins recently and her entire family was huddled together in their parents’ bedroom. They took shelter away from their windows to avoid stray bullets. I wept as she reassured me that this had become the norm; the image of my relatives hiding in their own home haunts me to this day. I write this article for my family, for those abducted and tortured, for those who continue to fight and, most importantly, to remember the thousands that have lost their lives: Hakam Draak Al-Sibai, Hadee Al-Jendi, Rami Fakhouri, Hamza Al-Khateeb, to name but a few.
As I sit here, observing the brutality and destruction being wreaked upon the innocent citizens of Syria, I am positive and hopeful that these lives have not been lost in vain. I am a British Syrian woman, and I firmly stand against Assad and his regime. Anything corrupt is destined to crumble. It is only a matter of time before Syria joins Tunisia and Libya, in freedom.