Many people think of one specific place suitable to them when describing solitude or refuge. My personal place of solitude is one that most people in the world would actually dread ever going to, which I must admit is generally understandable. Why would anyone want to go to a place that is war struck practically to the point of no return? Anyone who could dare put themselves in this sort of danger is unbelievably brave and also a little bizarre.
Syria. The way the world views it, the country is in shambles. It has been in an ongoing civil war for over seven years, in which Bashar Assad’s forces have killed over 95% of Syrian victims. However, Syria was never in a poor condition prior to Assad’s regime. In fact, it was a paradise compared to the rest of the Middle East. It was a place that foreigners within the Middle East could run to when their country was the one starting to reach a breaking point. Most people do not know this. Many people outside of the Middle East had actually never even heard of Syria before Isis forces were created and Assad’s regime took place. In fact, when mentioning Syria in the past, people would ask if it was a country located in Europe. Now, it is seen as a “frightening” country with “frightening” people. For me, it is a place that I once called my home. Sure, I never actually grew up there. However, I visited every summer with over fifty members of my extended family greeting me and making me feel more at home than I ever have, even in my hometown in the United States.
Recently, I visited my cousin who is studying abroad in Scotland. Because I am no longer able to visit Syria, I was enthralled with the idea of getting a little piece of it through him. Scotland is obviously different than Syria in more ways than one, but I could not help getting little flashbacks from my childhood just being there with him. To escape the cold wind that in Scotland, we sat down in a warm café for about an hour. After sitting down for a little while, the conversation naturally grew deeper. I asked him how he believes the world should react to Syria. He replied “It’s complicated honestly. The best thing would probably be to stop intervening in Syria’s internal affairs, especially the Russian and Iranian intervention.” Then, he discussed his own history in Syria. “Regarding my experience, you know, we used to live in Damascus, and our cousins are still living there. Damascus is a little safer than other cities in other areas because the regime is protecting it. But I left when I was seventeen after seeing a couple of explosions a bit far from home. Even though it was far, it was often that we would hear the sounds of explosions and rockets from the rural areas around Damascus. It came to a point when we knew it was time to leave.” Even until now, nothing pivotal has happened in Damascus, as it has in the cities surrounding it. This does not mean that the people of Damascus are not bleeding and trying to find a scapegoat with the rest of the country. My cousins are only some of those people.
I will never forget the days in Syria when we would wake up to a kitchen full of fresh food and numerous adults waiting around the table for the kids to gather up and join. Although we lived far away from one another, we were undoubtedly close. My cousins were all diverse from looks to personality. Some of them had blonde hair with blue eyes while others had dark hair and a darker skin complexion. What many people do not know is that Syrian Arabs are actually a number of different ethnicities because of the various people that migrated to the Middle East throughout history. Some of my cousins were also more outgoing, while others were shy and reserved. There is beauty in the diversity within my family just as there is beauty in the diversity within the country itself. We would all eat “Maneesh” every morning, a traditional Middle Eastern flatbread topped with sesame seeds and herbs. Our nights were either spent night swimming at the pool since the weather always felt like a desert or dancing in the house to the Arabic music blasted, where every one of my relatives would take turns dancing the “Middle Eastern” way, which included a lot of movement in the arms and belly. My cousins were masters at this and I always looked at them in admiration. They would grab me by the hands and say “join” or “Yallah” which is Arabic for “come on” and my young self began to create memories that I Iater realized would last me a lifetime.
My family identifies as Syrian and Lebanese. Growing up in the United States, this stimulated many questions. Although my skin is light, I have very prominent features which lead people to question where I am from. Some people are intrigued when they hear that I am Lebanese. I usually hear them reply things such as “Oh that is so cool! Do you speak another language?” On the other hand, being Syrian is a hot topic for most people. Often times, I receive “Isn’t that where Isis is located?” and “I did not know Syrians looked like that.” These statements alone are very ignorant, but I have to remember that the portrayal of my culture is mostly viewed through the news outlets in my country, where many people are Fox News advocates. It is only fair to give others the benefit of the doubt, as I might question what Syrian culture is truly like if I did not grow up in it. In fact, I take pride in being an example in the United States of what Syrians are like and portraying what Syria is. It is not a country filled with terrorists or scary people but rather a country filled with innocent people, which are in desperate need of help from the rest of the world. If my family is an example of Syrians in the United States then maybe some people would not be so quick to draw assumptions about what they think Syrians would be like. We are all human.
But how come the world is not as sad for Syria, which is in the most devastating shape, in comparison with places like France when the catastrophic terrorist attacks took place just a couple of years ago? When this tragedy took place, Syria was already going a gruesome war that was unheard of in most places. Somehow, most of the world sweeps Syria’s situation under the rug and it is another headline that is soon to be ignored. Regardless, tragedies should never be compared or measured to one another because they all deserve recognition. It just seems as though Syria does not get the recognition it deserves, or in better terms, actually needs. Even when it is a headline, it is viewed as a controversial topic. How is letting innocent people who are suffering into a safer country a “controversial” topic? This seems to me like nothing but a bogus way to describe the situation in this country. It also seems like a poor excuse to get out of helping people who actually need it.
Will the rest of the world actually find a way to put a complete stop to these brutal attacks? The answer is probably no, but we can at least do our share to help. As Americans, we are proud of helping other countries in need because we are the country that has the ultimate advantage. We are the country that most countries want to imitate. Well, I hate to admit it, but I have never been less proud to be an American. America is silent. Other third world countries are doing more to help Syria than the United States.
Many people have different views when it comes to politics in Syria, including Syrians themselves. I decided to call my father, who is passionate about his home country more than anyone I know, after visiting my cousin. I was feeling nostalgic and helpless, so I was interested in hearing more insight about what the world can do to help my country. My father answered the phone to say hello and said he missed me. He was surprised to hear that I wanted to discuss Syria, of all things, over the phone after being gone over a month abroad. I asked him the same question I asked my cousin. “What can the world do in order to help Syria?”
He replied by saying “the powers of the world like the US, China, and Europe should bring pressure through diplomacy on Russia and Iran to convince Assad to hold a general election and quit after that. The powers should help the new government through coaching on how to establish the rule of law to provide protection and freedom to the majority and the minorities equally and provide assistance in rebuilding the country. Then, I asked him what Syria means to him. He said “Syria is the homeland of my ancestry, my family has been there for hundreds of years. So, I would love for my children to continue the bond with their heritage including the rich history of Syria, where Christianity has been born and all the ethnic groups that migrated there when it was the trade route between east and west.”
Damascus, Syria, also known as the “Jasmine City,” is the oldest city in the world that is still inhabited. Naturally, my father feels prideful in its rich history and religion. It was once a place of coexistence and a foundation of hope for the rest of the world.
I have come to realize that the word “hope” no longer exists when discussing Syria. Now, it has become merely a country that the US has completed 9,000 airstrikes in and allegedly a total of 2,980 casualty events involving Russian aircraft. It has merely become a country experiencing the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. Over 300,000 people have died and 5.6 million people have fled in the war. Often times, we are told that countries in poverty or war are in our thoughts and prayers. Thoughts and prayers may be a nice gesture, but this is a time when the phrase “actions over words” needs to be more deeply considered. The world must take action. We must help the world’s oldest city stay inhabited. In this case, we can all learn something from its deep history, and its people can live on forever.
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