Trapped in Douma, Syria: I saw the faith that keeps Syrian protesters going
During the 14 days I spent in Syria last month, I saw the most horrendous acts of the Assad regime on its people. When I asked people what spurred them on amid such indiscriminate brutality, they all gave the same response: Their only hope is their faith in right and wrong.
It is 6 a.m. in Douma, one of the suburbs of Damascus. The muezzin, who calls the faithful to prayer five times a day, is reciting the Quran and prayers from the grand mosque’s minarets through loudspeakers that the whole city can hear. I know Douma’s citizens are listening.Skip to next paragraph
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During the 14 days I spent in Syria between Jan. 12 and 26, some of it trapped in safe houses in Douma, I saw the most horrendous acts of a regime on its people. And I know those acts were committed not just in Douma but also in a half-dozen suburbs of Damascus. Every single day, I saw the viciousness of the Syrian security forces – witnessing everything from killings to arrests of individuals in the middle of Damascus for no apparent reason.
I visited scores of families who had lost their sons. I saw orphaned little children who still didn’t know what happened to their fathers, uncles, and relatives. But the misery doesn’t end there.
I searched for an answer for what makes these people every single day rise up against such a ruthless regime. Why they go and participate in the protests in their neighborhood every single night, even though they know that the brutal regime forces they face recognize no humane rule while indiscriminately shooting at them.
Locals, activists in the revolution, or members of the Free Syrian Army militias gave the same answer every single time.
The Syrians I talked to did not tie their hopes for freedom to the Arab League, neither to Turkey or any Western government. I heard over and over again that their only hope is their faith in right and wrong, as taught by Islam and the life of the prophet Muhammad.
According to this faith, they explain, killing one innocent person is like killing the whole of humanity. Islam, they say, teaches respect for life and individual rights. They see the "right" they speak of as embodied in their fight for dignity. I kept hearing that word dignity when I asked people why they wanted a revolution. They see "wrong" as embodied by the regime's assault on its people, including women and children – it's desecration of life and suppression of freedom.
The opposition members I spoke to assured me: This is not a sectarian, religious fight as some outsiders fear – an uprising against the minority Alawites by majority Sunnis seeking religious dominance or Islamic rule. It is a fight for freedom and the dignity of life as taught in Islam. It is a fight for democracy.
All Syrians, they said, lived together with their various backgrounds in this land for centuries before the Assad rule, and will do so after it. They do not hesitate, however, to express their disgust for those who actively support the regime's brutality against it people. They clearly state their hope that those individuals will be punished accordingly.
Above all, the people of Douma and other Damascus suburbs have faith in their God and in their belief that the regime, which represents the absolute wrong, is about to collapse.
That is what keeps them going against all odds. And in two short weeks, I got a harrowing, first-hand glimpse of just the odds they are facing.
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