In the six years since the Syrian civil war erupted on the heels of the Arab Spring, with few exceptions Syrian viewpoints have been conspicuously absent from western media coverage of the conflict.
What follows are excerpts from a lengthy conversation I had with Mohamad Sakar, a 17-year-old Syrian who lives with his family in the city of Latakia, in the country’s northwest.
Though still a teenager, only 11 when the fighting began, I found Sakar’s maturity and his level of understanding of the war impressive.
I have attempted, where possible, to provide corroborating information for some of Sakar’s factual claims, however I’ve tried to present as much of his unique perspective as possible, which may mean the inclusion of certain unverifiable factual assertions on his part.
While no less important, note that the following is the viewpoint of only one Syrian among millions.
WP: First, I suppose I should just ask you to summarize your view of the war. Why and how, in your opinion, did this happen?
MS: For starters, before the war things were just fine in Syria. The economy was growing and so was the country. Bashar al-Assad brought many things to this country: freedom of press, economic growth by improving the ability for foreign investors to invest in Syria, which improved the living standard in Syria; food and water and electricity were all readily available. But now luxuries were the new necessities. My dad for once could buy a car after the economic reforms.
However, during the Arab Spring, tensions started rising between religious sects out of the blue. Suddenly it was claimed that Alawites were oppressing the Sunnis, which was an absolutely baseless claim. They only claimed that because the president Bashar was Alawite, and that was the basis of the formation of the FSA, the first armed militia to attempt to fight the government.
Now to be fair, this country has its fair share of corruption. People in higher classes were notorious for the theft of resources, but not in a way that directly affected the people. Some officers in the military caught wind of this corruption and decided the whole system was corrupt, which was not the case. It was just the corruption of some people.
However now the FSA was formed, and it was ruthless against Alawites. There were claims among citizens that the FSA had set up road blocks in the areas they controlled where they checked ID cards for any people from Alawite villages. Those who got captured were more than likely killed.
The FSA had captured a significant chunk of Syria. Because at the beginning the government wanted to try and attempt to listen to any coherent demands. The government first replied to the small riots by increasing wages for employees. However none of the compromises the government offered pleased the so-called rebels.
[Note: I was able to confirm that the Syrian government did raise wages by law several times in the early stages of the conflict. Due to rising prices, however, the wage increases were more than offset. See here for details.]
WP: What do you think of the rebels? The protests?
MS: All they ever shouted was that they wanted to take the government down.
The government never authorized lethal force until it was absolutely necessary, I.E. rioters with guns. However due to those orders many rioters got the first strike on officers dispatched to keep the riots under control. Many good officers were stabbed and shot to death. So by the time legitimate military action was taken the rebels had already captured a big chunk of Syria.
[Note: A Jesuit priest living in Homs, Fr. Frans van der Lugt, reported in 2012 that he personally witnessed the presence armed protesters from the beginning of the demonstrations, adding that “most of the citizens of Syria do not support the opposition.”]
MS: Some were driving the narrative that the government was committing horrible acts against Sunnis. Some were just in it because of cash prices as rumored by some officers who were supposedly offered large sums of money. And some were just criminals who had a prejudice against the government.
This was the story of the FSA. Rebels with no real cause, spreading chaos with demands to take down a government with no plans to replace it. Seriously, they never pitched what they would do after the government was down. They were just like “yeah, take it down, this will end up fine just trust us.”
Then most of the FSA joined al-Nusra, which is undeniably religiously motivated with some foreign fighters, especially loads of Saudis. That was awfully suspicious; who was funding them? The answer is more likely than not Saudi Arabia driven by the U.S.
[Note: Saudi Arabia has been involved in supporting Islamist rebel factions in Syria. The United States, wittingly or not, has also backed similar terrorist groups. A 2012 Defense Intelligence Agency memo, moreover, states blatantly the U.S. desire to see the rise of a “Salafist Principality” (read “Islamic State”) in Eastern Syria, in order to “isolate the Syrian regime.”]
WP: What is your opinion of your president, Bashar al-Assad? Many in the West claim he is a dictator, some even demand regime change. Do Syrians see him as a legitimate leader?
MS: To be fair, the circumstances in which Bashar took power are a bit suspicious. The 2000 election was not one we could trust. However, the 2007 one, in my opinion, must have been completely true and honest. And the 2014 election was monitored by many third parties, like Venezuela. Knowing the state the Syrian people were in, 2014 was the peak of the support the Syrian people showed al-Assad.
MS: See, before 2011 people simply loved al-Assad. Some were critical of some of the decisions he made, but most of the people simply loved him. I remember my parents tuning in for every single speech he had ever given, no matter what.
Watching a movie? No. The president’s speech is more important. Eating lunch? No. The president’s speech was more important. Watching the live landing of the first man on the sun? No. The president’s speech was more important.
Al-Zeraa, an active street I lived near was filled to the brim with people marching to express support to the government. It filled everywhere the eye could see. It was honestly glorious.
Now that I think about it, it was probably the relatives of al-Assad that lived there who started the march, but god damn was the street filled with everyone who lived there, chanting in harmony: “With soul, with blood, we serve you Bashar.”
It was at this moment I realized how much shit I have been fed about Libya and Egypt and the Arab Spring in general. Because for those, my family would only watch Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, the same channels that were the first to demonize the government.
WP: Has support for al-Assad strengthened or weakened since the beginning of the war?
MS: After 2011, people started to realize that supporting al-Assad was no longer just showing support to a president and his action, but it was supporting the existential struggle Syria had to go through to preserve its independence and integrity. Then we realized that al-Assad was our only hope of survival.
Then, from 2014 to 2017 people started to realize that no amount of support they show could change the outcome of anything. Everything now was in the hands of the govt and the SAA [Syrian Arab Army].
As of 2017, people have started to become more and more critical of the government, as corruption became horrifyingly bad. Everyone knows that the government can’t spare the resources to fight it for now, and al-Assad addressed this issue himself in a way that implies “Yes, I know what is happening and in time I will deal with it.”
So now basically everyone supports the government except for some people. Mostly the ones who have been directly affected by corruption are somewhat critical of the government.
WP: I hope it isn’t rude to ask so directly, but do you or your family identify with any particular religious group?
MS: It isn’t offensive at all. My family are Muslims, or more specifically Alawite Muslims. However we do not like to talk about sects in general. We have Sunni, Armenian and Christian neighbors and friends and acquaintances. We all live together on the same level and we all enjoy the company of each other.
Like I did not even know what a Sunni and an Alawite were before the war. At that point I did know that there were Armenians, many of my friends are Armenians. And now there are apparently Kurds, and Druze, and Shia, and Assyrians, and Christians, and Isma’ilites, and, and, and….
To me personally, I am openly an atheist. My friends and family respect my opinion. My friends kinda mess around with my beliefs during religion class in school, but we all respect the opinions and life styles of one another.
Honestly I want to go back to a simpler time, a time when we were all united. A time when we all were just Syrians.
WP: You mentioned Al Jazeera, a Qatari news outlet, and the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya. What do you think of Western media? Have you seen any of their coverage of the conflict?
MS: Western and mainstream media outlets are extremely politicized. They have agendas to serve, they push out fake stories all of the time. Al Jazeera was notorious for reporting riots that simply never happened.
WP: Speaking of which, there have been a few disputed incidents in Syria regarding the use of chemical weapons. In 2013, largely with the help of Western media, claims about a regime chemical attack in Ghouta made the rounds and almost prompted Barack Obama to bomb your country. Can you tell me anything about that, or the more recent alleged chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun?
MS: As for the chemical attack claims, they absolutely disgust me. When the first attack took place, everyone was freaking out over the possibility of another attack. We all knew al-Nusra did it.
However, claims started popping up that it was our government, and most of us were completely outraged. What would our government gain from attacking its own people with WMDs on Syrian grounds? Why would it [use such a weapon if personnelf] the SAA would get affected? I mean we were aiding those affected in our own hospitals and the whole scenario just did not make sense.
Everyone knew al-Nusra did it and all evidence points at them. Then the UN came and took our chemical weapons and it went just fine. No one was really mad at it, but no one liked the fact that our government lost a critical line of defense.
[Note: Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, in two pieces at the London Review of Books, reported that the al-Nusra Front, the official Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate, was the likely culprit behind the 2013 chemical attack in Ghouta.]
MS: Chemical weapons to Syria are like nukes to Russia, North Korea and the U.S. No one dares to fuck with them because there is that chance of shit hitting the fan for everyone.
However, it was all fine. No other chemical attacks happen for a while. Everyone is chill and back to normal.
Then another chemical attack happened, this time with no evidence whatsoever pointing to the Syrian government; there were no chemical weapons in our stocks. No reason to even use chemical weapons since at this stage we were more clearly than ever winning this war.
But nope, apparently Trump found conclusive evidence that is un-revealed to the public, and attacked a Syrian with like what 59 missiles? The base had been evacuated of all. . .important stuff I guess. . .but a few casualties did occur. The death of people is never a thing we can turn a blind eye to, but now they are selling the narrative that the Syrian government did the second attack with absolutely no evidence. With the claims of the first attack being backed by no real conclusive evidence.
Such is life in the age of propaganda.
WP: If there was one single thing you could tell Americans about what’s been happening in your country, would would you want them to know?
MS: Assad is the good guy, everyone who stands against him isn’t. I guess that that is the gist of it.
At the end of the day, no one who is fighting al-Assad has a legitimate cause. The FSA, al-Nusra and ISIS want to turn a secular state into a Sunni Islamic state; the Kurds want their own ethnic state north of Syria; and the U.S. and Israel want to consume an entire country after turning it into another Libya.
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Contributed by Will Porter of The Daily Sheeple.