Skype

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Back to Syria?

26 April 2011

The stories I have heard from my friends in Syria sound uncomfortably similar to what I have been witnessing in the Yemen, right down to the plain-clothed security men firing from the roof tops into crowds of innocent people.

Last night I drank Arak with my friend in Syria over Skype – he told me he has offered his chest to the cause and will go again to the city of Homs to protest after Friday prayers.

He bitches with me about the mutual friends we have in Syria who have done nothing for the cause. One friend who likes to be known as a journalist whose home-town was witness to a great massacre a couple of days ago has said nothing or written nothing – but I am not sure you can blame people for this, in Syria it is difficult to comprehend the amount of fear that is instilled in people there, to me this highlights the bravery and determination of the brothers and sisters who do offer themselves on the front line.

But something has definitely changed – only a few months ago people were too afraid to gather in even the smallest groups to complain about something, whereas now, people feel emboldened enough to gather in their hundreds and thousands to protest against the government. Fear has somehow lost its grip.

What about the comments I read that the Syrian revolution is spearheaded by the feared Muslim brothers who are waiting to take over and bring Sharia law to Syria? “Bullshit” my friend says, “Of course they are there but the people behind this revolution are ordinary folk sick of corruption lies and bullshit from this government, no jobs no money or hope has been a life for the majority. That is what it is about”.

With the help of technology and the internet the Syrian government has nowhere to hide from its crimes… “They behave worse than Israelis” a friend says, another friend interrupts, adding that “They always behaved this way in Beirut”. Is it the heavy handed government reaction to the protests that is finally turning the people against this once popular president, making the protests even bigger than they would have been had has Assad treated them with respect, or is the genie out of the bottle in Syria?

Personally I feel a sense of excitement and trepidation for the whole region, but I do have admit there is a nagging fear for the future of Syria, and wonder if the only hope they had for reform in the supposed gentle image of Basher has now been dashed following the slaughter of 100 demonstrators in one day and whether this pivotal nation in the middle east is about to shed more blood than we have seen across the whole Arab spring so far.

We are told that the dangers caused by Syria collapsing (Israel especially is fearful) don’t bear thinking about, but now as the people of Syria face a crucial week I fear (on a humanitarian level) we must contemplate the worst.

I am in the process of trying to get back in to Syria in order to finish my film about the revolution there. Luckily I had applied for a visa weeks ago after my front tooth fell out as a result, I believe, of the stress I was under following the massacre I witnessed in Change Square.

In London I discovered it would cost £450 to replace the tooth but knew that £300 would get me to Syria and that £80 would see me right with dentist Rima and I’d still have money left over for a few nights in a cut-price Damascus hotel (part of their new failing 12 billion dollar tourist industry) – So if all goes well I will be off to catch up on the Syrian revolution for myself next Thursday.

Wish me luck. Xx

Sent from my iPhone (26/04/2011)

The Damascus conversion

28 July 2009

High up on the mountainside we are charmed by the panoramic view of Damascus city by night. This is the most popular tourist stop for bus-loads of tourists and for those Syrians wealthy enough to afford the prices. I’m getting some great landscape shots when a SMS arrives on my phone, it is from Nizam’s wife, she can’t contact him directly since he lost his own phone so she is texting me. It is in Norwegian, I tell him to read it to me, the message says “Let us talk tonight on Skype at 11pm”.

Nizam is thinking deeply about his life in Norway and his love for the magnificent illuminated city that shimmers below… his distant home. I can see his mind hard at work as he looks down into the streets where he spent his childhood, floods of memories; a life that was lost when his mother took him and her family away. “I like Norway and have no regrets about going there. I learned a lot but now I feel something is missing”. Later that night I leave Nizam locked in an intense dialogue with his wife.

In the morning we drink Arabic coffee under the sun, “I think I had my Damascus conversion” Nizam suddenly announces, “It was your blog that did it St Sean, it opened up a new dialogue with my wife, I talked about her and my daughter moving back here and she was open to the idea. I love this country I really want to make a go for it here with my family. We could spend the winter here and the great summers in Norway”.

The hotel attendant joins us. “What are you filming for?” Nizam tells him of our road to Damascus, explaining how he has been a disciple to St Sean’s journey. The attendant holds up his hands and says “St Sean I want to be one of your disciples too, I will look after Damascus when you are gone”. Thank you I say, you have my blessing. “But what is the message?” he asks. “The message is there is no message”, I tell him. He looks bemused for a moment, smiles and agrees. “Ok” he says, “There is no message”.

How easy it is to get a following in this ancient biblical land I think to myself.