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What War and Terror Do to Principles

Editor’s note: War is hell. And for those living in Syria, hell is currently a way of life. Armchair statesmen and foreign policy mavens have a lot to say about these matters. Here at FEE, we advocate “anything peaceful,” but often in distant, theoretical terms.

In this article, we present the unique opportunity to hear from someone who has lived the Syrian conflict. We cannot verify all of the author’s claims, but we can offer a glimpse into the mind of someone who, though he desperately wants to cling to his ideals, struggles to maintain them as he witnesses his homeland being torn apart.

I lived in Syria for three out of the four and half years of war. I’ve never been physically harmed, even though there were several close calls. In another sense, though, I’ve come to realize this war has killed so much in me that I’ve turned into something completely unfamiliar; something that often works like a calculator.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither.”

Not a long time ago, he used to be my example. I often repeated that line to those who defended the Assad rule, to those who said that his reign was better than the chaos the country had endured from 1958 to 1970. After a catastrophic union with Egypt between 1958 and 1961, Syria had to deal with the aftermath of its failures until 1970, when the late Hafez al-Assad stabilized the country. Until 2011, Syria was very secure socially, economically, and militarily. Damascus was one of the safest cities in the world — but that was irrelevant to me. I believed in certain principles and demonized the regime that failed to live by them.

I would soon change my mind.

Over the last five years, the Syrian establishment has grown more brutal. Those reforms that were foreseeable in 2011, such as limiting the secret service’s influence and empowering political pluralism, n…

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