Standing Up For Syria

Worldwide, local events show support for nation’s people

By Ginny Masullo
TFW Contributing Writer 

Moment of Beauty, 11 a.m. Saturday, June 11,Fayetteville Farmer’s Market

“It’s coming from the sorrow in the street,
The holy places where the races meet;
From the homicidal bitchin’
That goes down in every kitchen
To determine who will serve and who will eat.
From the wells of disappointment
Where the women kneel to pray
For the grace of God in the desert here
And the desert far away:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.”

Leonard Cohen wrote those lines in his song “Democracy.” But wait, the U.S. already works as a democracy.

The point is that wherever democracy is worked for, it affects all of us, and we, as citizens of the U. S. and the world, affect those people who struggle for an elected and egalitarian government. Cases in point: Egypt, Libya and Syria, to name a few. (Oh, and let’s not forget about our own Wisconsin.)

In the midst of spring tornadoes and the devastation near our still intact Fayetteville, the Arab Spring might seem distant to many of us. Distant or not, in countries such as Libya and Syria, people are rising up in protest against years of living a life of oppression that most of us can barely envision.

In Syria, for every 153 people in the country, one person works as a national security agent. Imagine this for a moment. Think of your circle of friends, acquaintances, work colleagues, etc. Total them up. One of them watches you … carefully. If you say something or act in a fashion that could be construed as anti-government, you could be hauled in, tortured, jailed and even killed.

This has been the case for 48 years of a regime that, according to the U.S. State Department’s abstract of Syria, has operated under emergency law since 1963. Since that time, Syria has also been under the authoritarian military-dominated Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party, which denies their people the right to freedom of assembly and speech, among many other basic rights we Americans sometimes take for granted.

Speaking a minority language can land you in jail in Syria. In the recent uprising against the regime, even children have been tortured and killed for showing signs of government criticism. A 17-year-old girl who wrote poems about Palestine and social commentaries on her blog was arrested, jailed for nine months without charge, tried in a military court and convicted of espionage. She’ll be in prison at least another four years.

A 13-year-old boy named Hamza was returned to his family dead and unspeakably mutilated on May 24. He rapidly become a sad impetus to continue the fight against Ba’ath.

The Syrian government has promised to investigate his death. A video of his mutilated body was so gruesome that YouTube administrators initially blocked it, though they reinstated the images on June 1 after a petition from human-rights organizations.

Showing Support

Those are only a few of hundreds of stories that Syrian-born University of Arkansas professor Mohja Kahf can tell you or that you can easily find from sources such as Amnesty International, CNN and BBC News. Other stories include the government physically torturing youth ages 9 to 15 for creating anti-government graffiti. Grown men working for the regime pulled off youths’ fingernails. That story marked the tipping point for Syrians. The Syrian government also promised to investigate this incident. To date there is no evidence of any investigation.

Ironically, such brutalities are breaking the barrier of fear. People are chanting from the rooftops and taking to the streets. This is in a country where assembly is punishable by law.

That Syrians are speaking out after 48 years of silence holds particular and potent meaning for Kahf. She, other local Syrians and members of the Omni Center are staging a  “Moment of Beauty” to show support for the Syrian people on Saturday during the Farmers’ Market. Watch for them and join them at 11 a.m. near the Town Center.

In Kahf’s CNN article “Syria’s Revolution of Love,” (CNN Opinion, May 13) she wrote, “Syrians have been brutalized beyond imagination for 48 years by the Ba’ath regime. Now the people have reached a tipping point. For over seven weeks they’ve been protesting — despite a government crackdown involving mass arrests and hundreds of deaths — for freedom and regime change.”

In the same article, Kahf asked readers, “Ever speak to an abused child who has no idea that it is not normal to live abused? To a battered wife trapped in the despair of ‘I can never get away’? This is the despair in which Syrians have lived, one in which my parents decided not to raise their children. They left Syria in 1971, when I was 3. For the brave ones who never left the land, to break out of this malaise now, in 2011, and to begin the journey from victimhood to survivorship is painful, bewildering, transformative and joyous.”

June 11 is Global Syria Support Day, and Fayettevillians can join others around the world in encouraging the people of the country. These widespread events will most likely be documented and blasted across the social network that is so much a part of today’s freedom movements.

“Seeing everyday people in other countries stand up for the freedom of the Syrian people encourages them to continue their courageous efforts,” says Kahf. She adds that the “Syrian Ba’ath regime will see it, too. Every act for freedom makes a difference.”
Cohen’s “Democracy” chorus goes like this:

“Sail on, sail on
O mighty Ship of State!
To the Shores of Need
Past the Reefs of Greed
Through the Squalls of Hate
Sail on, sail on, sail on, sail on.”

Sail on out to the Farmers’ Market this Saturday at 11 a.m. In a flash of a few minutes, make a difference for freedom for Syrians, for us all.

Categories: In The News