A New Vantage Point: Syria

One of the greatest aspects of traveling is the way it informs our worldview.  That idea may just be suggested by our blog’s title.  After living in the UAE for the better part of a year, I’ve made many acquaintances and built some relationships.  These allow me to see things from a different perspective.  One of these relationships is with a fellow from Syria.  He’s friendly and easy going.  He’s Christian, and he’s invited us to join him at church, and though we haven’t been able to make it happen thus far, we really want to.  How cool would it be to be at a church service conducted in Arabic?  I’ll answer my own question: pretty dang cool.  Anyway, on to the point: I’ve gained a new vantage point on a country and the conflict within it–namely, Syria.

Honestly, I generally don’t give a whole lot of attention to far-away conflicts.  It seems like there’s always something going on in Africa (which isn’t all that surprising, since it’s a gigantic place) or the Middle East.  Of course, now that I live in the Middle East, I pay closer attention.  One conflict that gets a lot of media coverage is the now two-year long civil war raging within Syria.  There’s news about it all over the place.  I see it on the websites of CNN and Fox News.  Al Jazeera offers coverage of it regularly on TV here. These news outlets all usually mention that there are rebels fighting for freedom from President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

About a month ago, the networks were abuzz because the Russians were pulling a number of their people out of the country.  The Russians being staunch allies of Syria, that was taken as a sign that Russia divined the imminent end of Syrian president Assad’s regime.  I mentioned this to my buddy, and this was the start of a conversation that would significantly impact my understanding of what is happening in his home country.

From The Atlantic, the caption for this image reads: People walk on a street lined with buildings damaged by what activists said were missiles fired by a Syrian Air Force fighter jet loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in Deir Al-Zor, on March 12, 2013. (Reuters/Muhammad Younis/Shaam News Network)

“The rebels,” he said, “They say they want freedom.  But what they want is Islamic law.  Right now,” then he stops and corrects himself, “Before, when I lived there, there was freedom.  You can practice whatever religion you choose.  If you are in a church and you say bad things about a mosque or Islam, the government will come and put chains around the door.”  He gestures, encircling imaginary door handles with chains and making a closing motion, like clasping a lock.  “Yeah, and they will do the same thing for a mosque.  You can’t talk badly about anyone else’s religion.  Our government is harsh, but they know how to deal with our people.  Because for us, religion is the main cause of wars, and our government knows it.  So you have freedom, you can be Christian or Muslim or anything.”

“This freedom,” he continues, “This freedom that they say they want, it’s not freedom.  We were free before.  Our women could go outdoors safely, they could go alone.  They didn’t need men with them.”

He gives me an example of how the rebels are freeing Syria.  His little village, which is to say his family’s ancestral home, is a peaceful place with only a small number of houses.  In the summer time the family would go there and enjoy serenity in the pastoral, olive-producing area.  The place is so small that it doesn’t even warrant a police station.  Watching the news one night, his aunt found out that the village was “liberated” by the rebels (many of whom come from out of the country, according to my friend).  “What were they freed from?”  He asks.  “There was nobody keeping them…” he searches for words and gives up, instead explaining how the news aired footage filmed by the rebels and posted on YouTube.  This footage purported to show how the village was freed.  My friend shows me the video.  It opens with a tour of a badly damaged home, a hole blasted through the roof, rebar and concrete hanging.  “That’s my aunt’s house,” he says.  The village seems entirely deserted.  Windows are broken out of all the homes, which appear to have been ransacked and pillaged.  “That’s my grandfather’s house.”  There are bullet holes riddling walls here and there, and there are craters where explosives seem to have been detonated.  The cameraman walks inside a storefront or perhaps small warehouse of some kind, all the windows smashed, glass strewn about the floor.  There’s an empty office.  “This is where they pack olives,” he explains.  I shake my head.  “Yeah, it makes no sense,” he says.

The next YouTube video is of the only two military troops present in the town, a couple of men who were posted there to protect the church.  Both of them are bloodied and lay dead on the ground.  It’s plain that the cameraman enjoys showing these poor devils.  I get the feeling they’re gloating and proud of killing the soldiers.  “They’re saying,” my friend interprets, “That they will not touch the church or anyone.”  We must assume that they mean they won’t hurt any civilians, since they’ve slain the guys guarding the building.

“Who needs their freedom?”  He says again.

I tell him about the news coverage that I see from America.  How they paint the rebels in a positive light.  “Don’t believe it,” he says.  “They tell you what they want you to think.”  He shakes his head and frowns.  “These rebels, a lot of them aren’t even from Syria.  You know, they come from somewhere else.  I don’t know where they get their weapons.  Somebody must be helping them.”  In fact, I’ve read that Saudi Arabia and Qatar are providing arms to the rebels.  But I didn’t know this when I was talking to him, and even if I did, I probably wouldn’t have interjected it.

“Let me tell you about their freedom,” he says.  “Last week there was a woman killed by them.  She was Christian.  They shot her in the chest and laid her on the bed like this,” he spreads his arms out in the shape of a cross.  “They do this.”  He nods his head to emphasize his point, and says, “All the Christians are leaving Syria.  It used to be safe to live there.  Not any more.”

“On the news they will say the government forces do all these bad things, that they are the ones doing all the damage.  But they’re the ones that do it.”  He sighs and tells me more.  A friend whose brother, from Homs, hasn’t been heard from in months.  A coworker who doesn’t know where is father is.

His family has, like many people, fled their country, seeking asylum in neighboring Lebanon.

After this conversation, I notice as I read about the war that news sources like The Atlantic are guilty of feeding us biased information.  They use phrases like, “According to the rebels, this section of town was destroyed by government forces,” which subtly gives the rebels the voice of authority, and “The government claims that…” which, conversely, calls the trustworthiness of the government’s voice into question.  Here’s one example and the link to The Atlantic where it appears: A resident inspects the damages at an ancient Souk caused by what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in Deir al-Zor, on March 9, 2013. (Reuters/Khalil Ashawi) Pay attention next time you see a report on Syria and watch for any bias.

I’m not claiming, by any means, that Syria’s President Assad is a kind and loving man.  I don’t claim that his government always acts justly.  My understanding is that if you were to run afoul of Assad’s government, that could be a very bad thing.  However the same could be said of many Middle Eastern governments.  I now understand that under Assad, however, the Syrian people generally did enjoy something much more like the Western definition of freedom than I might have once thought.  I don’t pretend to know the machinations or motivations of those involved in the fighting in Syria.  I’m not saying that the government hasn’t done terrible things in the war, or trying to diminish whatever blame it may deservedly share.

What I’ve discovered, however, is that conversations with my Syrian friend have helped me to look at things in a new light, and to pay careful attention to what I accept as fact.  Seeing the war from his vantage point, it looks entirely different.

If you’re interested in reading a bit more about the war in Syria, there’s a ton of information out there.  You can find lots of videos on YouTube from various points of view.  Do be aware of who’s playing for who, though, as most news networks receive funding from some entity or other.  Often, finding out who funds what can help you figure out what that  source’s bias may be.

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128 thoughts on “A New Vantage Point: Syria

  1. Wow,Shon. I appreciate your sharing this. I have been following the news about Syria,especially with the AC trip to Turkey coming up. You provide a perspective we don’t get here. Thanks.

    • Amanda, that’s why we thought it was important to write about this. The more perspectives you get, the better understanding you have.
      I’m glad to hear that the trip to Greece and Turkey is still happening! Are you going to make it to Pamukkale? – Jenia

  2. Thank you for blogging about Syria and new sources. I wish for peace in this area. One thing that saddens me is how some new sources is showing Lebanon but the pictures are from Syria. So Sad!

  3. This is great information. This is why the blogosphere is so important. There are at least two sides to every story. Good to hear another point of view on what is happening in Syria.

  4. I had to follow your blog after reading this. Two of my dearest friends are Syrian sunni Muslims and they hate Assad. (Both of their fathers were part of the Syrian Air Force and were imprisoned when they publicly disagreed with the establishment). However I was born in yugoslavia and grew up in a civil war that was severely misrepresented by western media so I also know what it’s like to mistrust what I hear on the news. My country’s serbian leadership was accused of holocaust like war crimes against our Muslim population and to some degree and some instances it was true. But just like Syria, the issue was far from black and white because all the sides in the war suffered from unspeakable atrocities including the Serbians who were painted as the sole aggressors. When looking at information it’s always important to consider the source. A Palestinian will tell you Israelis are at fault Israelis will tell you Palestinians are at fault. During the Cold War you would have been hard pressed to find an American that thought the Russians were innocent and there were few Russians who thought Americans were righteous. Even between political parties all you see is finger pointing and fact distorting. When someone has a completely black and white story for you, you can damn well bet they’re trying to sell you on their side.

  5. In light of the Boston bombing today, it’s amazing how remarkably little Americans know of/care about overseas conflict. Sure, Boston is a tragedy. But yesterday, 29 people were killed in a bomb in Somalia and the ongoing war in Syria has killed many, many more.

    • I don’t feel comfortable comparing tragedies, honestly, but your point that Americans would benefit by being aware of what’s going on in other parts of the world is valid.

  6. I really appreciate you sharing this. Living in Vietnam a lot of news agencies are blocked or censored, and being Canadian a lot of my main sources for news are Canadian or American which present a very bias perspective.

    • Yes, in general, they do. As you know, I’m not saying that this is the only way to see what’s happening, but I think it does bear serious consideration.

  7. This is what i discovered also. When i talked to actual Syrians i discovered a totally different view point. The mainstream media is mostly propaganda. People don’t believe me when i tell them that this Syria thing is way more complicated than the news media is presenting.

  8. Reblogged this on Read Stuff With Me and commented:
    I read this post today at Vantage Point which is one of the most informative and interesting blogs that I follow. I felt the need for reblogging it because it concerns the ongoing war in Syria and that has held my attention for the past two years. I really enjoyed reading this post because it puts forth the aspects of the war that are unknown to us because we are not the ones who have lived in the country. We do not understand the Syrian government or even the rebels because we just relate to the story based on the news we are fed via various channels, be it newspapers or the television. This is a different post and I highly recommend it to all of you. Obviously, that’s the whole rationale behind sharing it. Read, comprehend and absorb. Go on, then!

  9. Pingback: A New Vantage Point: Syria | Ralph's Little Corner To The World

  10. Thanks so much for sharing. I’m in Nigeria and i follow the Syrian war closely. What we have been fed by news agencies shows the rebels in heroic and saintly lights. Now, i know better. There are two sides to a story!

  11. Interesting post. There is always more than one side to a story. Both the government and the rebels are abusive and have little or no regard for basic human rights. Unfortunately, as always, the ones who suffer are the great mass of people who just want to live their lives in peace.

  12. Wow. I’ve heard about all the violence that has been happening, but I never realized that this is the way it actually is. I’ve always thought of the rebels being good people that are trying to make things better for everybody, but I guess not. Thanks for sharing.

  13. This is a great post. We went backpacking round Syria a few years ago and I can honestly say that I’ve never met people who were kinder, more welcoming or so quick to open up their homes to us. It breaks my heart to see what is happening there now.

      • I loved Palmyra. We’d been told to find a guide called Ali Kasham (wouldn’t you love to have a name like a magic trick!). The manager of our hotel didn’t know him personally but said he’d ask around and an hour later Ali turned up. He was the most wonderful, passionate and knowledgeable guide and made the ruins come to life. Then, after he’d finished showing us round, he took us back to his house for supper and introduced us to his family. The next day he got up early to meet us at the bus station as there’d been some confusion about when the bus to Hama would leave. He stayed with us until the proper bus left and made sure we got seats. It was typical of the kindness we met all over Syria.

  14. This for me was a really good post and as a few other people have said ‘nothing is ever black and white’. I enjoyed reading it and it confirmed once again that situations are alway highly nuanced with shades of grey which mainstream media never portray.

  15. Bias in the news…it’s always out there, and it can be so difficult to determine how the truth is being spun. It would be great if each article had a secondary heading “The news, as ____ would like you to know.” I enjoy reading the perspective you brought of someone who’s being directly affected by what’s going on in Syria. Much thanks.

  16. Thank you so very much for sharing this! I’ve been watching a few documentaries here and there on the war in Syria and I read the news online but again like you said, it’s from an American perspective, which paint the rebels as wanting freedom from an oppressive government. It’s so much better to hear it from an actual person from that country and you are very lucky. Thank you for educating me that before this war broke out the Syrians had freedom of religion and that women were free to go out by themselves without the company of a man. It is just absolutely horrible that now Christians, and the Christian woman you mentioned, are being killed for their religious beliefs. No one deserves that, no matter what religion. I had no idea that rebels were fighting for a country that enforces sharia. I have also heard that many of the rebels that we in America are rooting for are joining Al Qaeda groups to learn how to fight but then their mind set will change even more. It’s a heartbreaking situation.
    Thank you again for this story. It touched me greatly.

    • Thank you! We do not pretend to know the truth, but we felt we had to share the other side of the story. The commenter above you is writing a blog from Syria. You can find a lot of information there!

  17. Very interesting post! As a Brazilian living in the US, and having lived in the UAE as well (Abu Dhabi) I am well aware of the limitations and manipulations of media coverage…and the nuances (as you mentioned in a comment).

  18. Reblogged this on Living On Tilt and commented:
    This post points up how difficult it is to learn truth by simply reading news. We who love Christ want truth and want to live by the truth. Pay attention to the comments about the meaning of religious liberty. Would you think that was religious liberty? If US government were like either Assad’s government or the Syrian rebels, would you consider the US to have religious liberty?

    • I’d have to agree that neither one is anything like what we’re accustomed to in the good ol’ USA, but from this perspective, the one seems better than the other, doesn’t it?

      • The many shades of meaning with regard to religious liberty is a major theme with me. I certainly believe that in the US today, we have religious liberty Syrians could only dream of, regardless of who wins the current conflict. However, that term is constantly being redefined, and we cannot become complacent with the way the whole idea is being manipulated. in the USA I like to find examples from around the world that illustrate how easy it is to use the term “religious liberty” to mean all sorts of things that do not seem like liberty to me.

  19. This article was most enlightening, really hard to know too much about Syria from India. Really reminds you that life isn’t black or white, just grey. That the rebel forces aren’t as glorified as some countries would want them to be.

    • I don’t know that it’s exclusively grey; there’s definitely a right and wrong in life, but the truth is undoubtedly that this conflict (as well as life itself) has many more sides than we usually see (or in the case of life, are willing to see, perhaps), and there are definitely many shades of grey. What do you hear about this in India?

      • Well, not much really, not anymore, thereare a few headlines here and there, which keep us informed. There’s that tiny headline which informs of a new daily bodycount if any for that day, in the “Rest Of the world ” section. But all in all there’s very little exposure to ground realities there. I mean i knew there was civil war in syria, and use of “excessive” force on protestors, but i didn’t know until a google second back that there were 70,000 casualties!! its massive!! And then there’s the perspective presented here.

  20. Wow! Good stuff! I’m sharing this to my Syrian friends here in Saudi Arabia. I kind of feel bad for them. Some of my friends didn’t just lose their loved ones, they lost their homes too.

  21. enjoy reading something that has nothing to do with Boston and the whole propaganda of “Let’s hunt the “bad” guys…once indians…now other ethic groups (the list would be long) and finally the millennium trendy “Al- qaeda and Co,” speech… Thx!

  22. Thank you for the information, It is hard to get the real story when we rely on the media. Too much bias information instead of facts. Here in Canada, it seems these conflicts just go on endlessly and it is true, from here, the rebels are painted as if they are the good guys. There are no good guys, war is ugly. We try to pretend we are a civilized world, but we are not by any means and will probably never be able to become truly at peace with one another.

  23. Pingback: A New Vantage Point: Syria | mminassian

  24. Hello! Thanks for posting this. I’m currently in a group called STAND at my university. STAND is a student lead organization that aims to end genocide. Our current project is called #Syriasly. Recently we held a candlelight vigil for the innocent Syrians who have lost their lives. I’ve found your blog post very informative and intend to pass it on. Here’s a link about what we do: http://syriasly.org/about/

  25. it’s sad to see so much destruction going on around in the world. People need to base their decisions off of compassionate reasoning, more than anything else. Change should come, and it will only work when carried out with a “heart based wisdom”.

  26. believe me
    who does these things to christian or others is not Muslim
    but Shiites and there not respect any religion
    they pretend that they are Muslims but they don’t belong to Islam any way
    in Egypt christian and Muslim love each other and live peacefully
    this is my opinion
    Nana from Egypt

    • Thank you for sharing, Nana. That’s an important point to remember–whatever brutal, vicious people call themselves, they don’t represent the real face of religion.

  27. Thank you for sharing this. It’s not the first time America has supported “rebels” who were supposedly “freeing” the people, only to become the new tyrants. I have been following this very closely, as I have friends of Syrian descent, and you have confirmed my fears.

  28. Pingback: A New Vantage Point: Syria | chefnorma1's Blog

  29. I’ve been following the Syrian war closely for over a year now. But nothing beats this perspective that I just received. It has now made me look at it from an entirely practical and unbiased perspective that I did not possess earlier. As always, there are two sides of a coin that are to be looked at. We cannot conveniently omit one of the sides just because we think we are viewing the right side.
    A wonderful read….thoroughly enjoyed it.

    • Thanks very much–I’m glad it’s informative, and that it’s given you a different perspective. If you haven’t already, check out the blogger who commented above from inside Syria. It’s an eye-opener. Her blog is at levantwoman.wordpress.com.

  30. I very much agree to “do be aware of who’s playing for who”. We think that it’s only far away lands that are bombarded with propaganda and distortion of fact, but we are just as much so. Thanks for sharing this thoughtful post.

      • Yes, well the fact is, it’s always obvious from the outside looking in, right? If we look at the way war and violence is glorified in North-American movies, as long as it’s America doing it, just as one example…

      • It tends to be more obvious looking at it from a distance, that’s for sure. Like you said, films are certainly another way of influencing thought. That’s a great example.

  31. Now that you have put the matter in the correct perpective it is not surprising . There have been reports of jihadis flocking to Syria from many countries.
    The pity is that many young innocent syrians will get sucked into their web, and once the jehadis are in there will be no peace for any one, especially non muslims.

  32. Instead of keeping up with westernized society they´re trying to overwhelm it with religious regime. It sounds familiar to other islamic countries like Iran.
    Thank you for sharing.

  33. You can never know the truth about the war because no matter who tells you the story – they will have a biased view of the truth. There’s really no truth any more.
    I come from Syria and although I’m not a Christian, I agree both Christians and Muslims lived in peace during his regime, but that’s purely a religious peace. There was no sense of freedom that you mention – the western freedom – my cousin, late at night, sitting by my side, hearing me whisper ‘xyz the president’ immediately hushes me saying ‘shh, they’ll hear us!’
    WHO is ‘they’? How paranoid are these people? It’s terrible. If you read about how Assad got into power you’ll quickly learn that there were a heap of Islamic Sunni rulers who Assad’s connections planned coups against until Assad’s father got into power – this is because Assad’s family is Alawi – and Alawis had Sunnis…and and and – the whole religious thing goes on.

    The rebels may not be all Syrians – and they may have done wrong by killing Christians or ruining buildings that had no need to be – but I cannot imagine Syria surviving without them fighting back. I keep hopes that the rebel army somehow takes over and a government is re-established because I know no matter what sort people the rebel army is made up of, Syria will never become that “Radical Islamist” country you hear of because the people who live there by nature are not of that type at all.

    Have you read up on the things that happen in jails? My cousin was taken into a jail on new year’s and was released three months later – with a stolen laptop, broken phone, but worse, lifelong detrimental psychological damage – because of the various things he went through: everything from beatings, to crucifixion, to pure acts of inhumanity.

    Before the war started things like this still existed in prisons – because you would have said ‘no’ to a policeman, or a “word” about the president, or simply got conned into receiving fake money and used that in another transaction without knowing – just SO many things you were restricted from doing because government spies just filled the country in every corner – a man selling lollies at an open marked could be a government spy – if you walk past him and he hears something – or just suspects something without any evidence, consider yourself gone – and unheard of for many months – if not years – if not forever.

    Syria is a beautiful country. And I want to go back there one day because it’s where my heart belongs. I just want to be able to joke around government topics and enjoy my candy without worrying why the seller is taking out his cellphone whilst eyeing me closely.

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