Graphic photos here:
– They Have Butchered Children (Veterans Today, Dec 12, 2014):
“The truth is that ISIS was created in Iraq in 2006. It was the United States which occupied Iraq, not Syria. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was in American prisons, not in Syrian prisons. So, who created ISIS, Syria or the United States?”
– Bashar Assad
The above quote can be found in an interview with the Syrian president posted on a French website on November 28. What Assad voices here is a rather simple but profound truth, one that people the world over, but particularly Americans, would do well to reflect upon.
I recently returned from Syria, where I attended an International Conference on Terrorism and Religious Extremism sponsored by the Syrian Ministry of Justice (see my previous post on the event here), and where I had a chance to experience just a small taste of what life is like in a country under siege by a menace so evil it is the stuff of nightmares.
The Syrian people are a gracious, hospitable people, and on the day after the conference ended I found myself in conversation with Nana Lancaster, one of the organizers of the event, who had secured visas for I and a handful of other Americans who had also traveled to attend the gathering.
The lobby of the Dama Rose Hotel in Damascus is said to be a place where all kinds of disparate types come together, including plenipotentiaries, spies, fixers, and the like. On one side of the lobby is a little shop named “Le Gourmet,” which serves coffee (Turkish or American), olive-filled croissants, and its own luscious brand of house-made chocolates, while the other end of the lobby esplanades into a buffet restaurant offering a variety of international fares to suit every taste.
It was mid-afternoon. The conference was over, and I was awaiting transportation back to Beirut. Nana is a Syrian with a very buoyant, effervescent personality, and as we spoke she took the trouble to introduce me to a relative, Muhani Al-Fayadh, a sheikh, or tribal chieftan, from the eastern Syrian province of Deir ez-Zor.
The conversation was cordial, but the subject matter was grim. I asked Al-Fayadh what life was like for the people of Deir ez-Zor since ISIS had moved in.
“They have butchered children—children, yes. Butchering them.”
With Nana translating, I then asked him what was the reasoning behind the killing of children.
“Just to spread out fear,” he replied. “It’s without any excuse, without any military reason. It’s just to spread out terror and fear.”
ISIS, known locally as DAASH, has been in Deir ez-Zor for a little over a year, concentrated mainly in the suburbs of Deir ez-Zor city, while the Syrian Army still holds the city itself, he said. Throughout the occupation, he added, the ISIS forces have grown steadily and now number about 10,000.
“They continue to grow because the Iraqi-Syrian border is open—and so right now there are no borders, and so they bring all the weapons from Iraq”
Their bloody reign of terror has included commandeering people’s homes, kicking the families out, and turning the dwellings into living quarters and operational centers for ISIS leaders. “Popular resistance” amongst the local population rose up swiftly when all this began unfolding in 2013, and is still ongoing, but in some cases those resisting have met fates worse than death—and at this point Al-Fayadh displays for me a series of photos stored on his cell phone, one of them showing four members of a Deir ez-Zor family who were burnt with acid and then decapitated. The jihadis have also wired human beings to fences.
“The leaders of DAASH, when they came to Deir ez-Zor, they have taken over all the houses and turn it into a headquarters for them,” he said. “They are mainly foreigners from Azerbaijan, Tunisia, and Libya, Afghanistan, and even from China.”
Are the people of Deir ez-Zor, I ask, conscious of the fact that the terrorists are being funded and backed by a small number of wealthy nations? He replies that they are, and he specifically names Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar, but he also mentions that the people view the US airstrikes as being conducted mainly for show.
“If the Americans really wanted to eliminate DAASH, they could have, but they don’t want to do that,” he said.
Are the terrorists motivated by religious ideology, are they simply mercenaries being paid to do what they do, or is the case perhaps something in between?
“They have no religious motive at all,” he answers. “It is all a pretext. They are killing people, butchering children, raping women, selling them like slaves. How do they believe in religion? There is no religious ideology whatsoever.”
He then adds:
“They are not Muslims; they are wild dogs. We call them wild dogs—fed on something, feeding on whatever. They are garbage. Death.”
At this point I comment that the takfiris seem more interested killing other Muslims than in fighting Israel, at which point Nana smiles and says “thank you” prior to beginning her translation to the sheikh, who, when he hears, also breaks into a smile.
“Yes, you are right,” he says.
And how do the people in his region feel about Americans, knowing, as they apparently do, that America is one of the countries backing armed groups in Syria.
“We don’t hate the American people. We don’t hate the American people—because they don’t know the truth,” he says. “We don’t know the real intention of the American administration or the purpose of the airstrikes, but it seems to be paving the way for a toppling of the government.”
But he has some thoughts to share on that matter as well: the government will not fall, he says, because it has the backing of the Syrian people.
“They cannot eliminate our government because it has widespread public support,” he said. “Any Syrian citizen now represents the government; we are defending our dignity, our land, our territory. When you have seen what is happening to the people—how they are being killed and raped—how could you not support the government?”
Nana, whose family name is Nahed Al-Husaini, is also from Deir ez-Zor, and as we conclude our conversation, she adds her own thoughts on the matter: “This war must be fought and won for the sake of all humanity.”
My transport arrives and I join the others—six of us—all Americans—making our way in two cars, overland, from Damascus back to Beirut, retracing the route we had traveled just three days earlier. When we get to the Syria/Lebanon border I resolutely steel myself for what I was reasonably certain was going to be a grueling customs inspection, but it turns out not to be.
What we were given was very much the “VIP” treatment. Our two cars were diverted into a “fast lane,” so to speak, whereupon we were able to glide past a line of automobiles stretching for perhaps as much as a mile, a line of cars filled with people, in many cases with their belongings strapped to the roofs of their vehicles, all waiting, desperately, tenaciously queuing, in an inexorable attempt to get out of war-torn Syria. Our passports are taken from us, inspected briefly, and returned. At which point we are allowed to proceed on our way.
I have returned now to an America caught up in one of its typically melodramatic soap operas, with public figures wailing and beating their breasts over a recently released Senate report on torture. A shameful chapter in American history, say Democrats. Vital and necessary, given the presumed threat, retort Republicans. It is a soap opera. With a little too much soap. One report I read on the matter informs us that Muslim extremists are “enraged” over the Senate report, and that “ISIS already claims to be using waterboarding on its Western captives.”
Imitation, it is often said, is the sincerest form of flattery.