SYRIA: “Tell the American Government It’s Not Your Business!”

Nina Simone’s version of “Ooh Child, Things Are Gonna Get Easier” [] keeps running through my mind tonight after an exhilarating afternoon of interviewing 4 smart, articulate, challenging Syrian teenagers who are in Lebanon for a week-long church retreat in the mountains above Beirut. Following the sarin gas attack, these teens braved closed roads, dicey checkpoints and crowded border crossings to attend the annual retreat sponsored by the Synod of Presbyterian Churches in Syria and Lebanon. Instead of reworking these interviews into a typical blog, I decided to let the teens speak for themselves, since they do it so eloquently. I don’t always agree with them, of course, and some of their answers feel a bit manufactured by their environment (a bit like Americans spoon fed

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by the evening news). Here is a rough transcript. At their request (due to security concerns), I did not film or tape the conversation, so I’m relying on my hastily scribbled notes.

4 Syrian teenagers discuss fear, faith and a possible US military strike while at a church retreat in Lebanon.

4 Syrian teenagers discuss fear, faith and a possible US military strike while at a church retreat in Lebanon.

We’re sitting around an outdoor table high in the hills above Beirut with spectacular views of villages below us in the valleys. The sun is warm, the breeze is refreshing and we are worlds away from the war zone these teens have left. We’re in a free-flowing conversation conducted in English. Joseph Kassab, the church’s youth director, provides commentary and as-needed translation (although the teens themselves jump in with translation for each other). Although they gave me permission to use their last names, I’ve elected to protect them further by using just their first names. Should they choose, they can comment on this blog with their full name. Milad, 21, medical student. He serves as a youth leader in the Presbyterian Church in Damascus. Noura, 15, from the Damascus suburbs. She’s not sure what she wants to study beyond high school. Adel, 18, from Damascus, just finished high school. Scored a perfect 240 on the graduating government viagra free sample exam, which entitles him to a full medical scholarship, Milad is quick to augment Adel’s brief biography. Fida, 18, also just finished high school and scored 238 on the exam, entitling her to a government scholarship in medicine. From Mahardeh, north of Homs. “It’s unusual to have 2 such talented students!” Joseph explains. “Mabrook!” I offer, “congratulations.” “Oh, you speak Arabic?” Fida brightens, then laughs when I backpedal, explaining I know only 6 words. She playfully counts them as we progress through the interview. Q: Why did you come to the retreat and what were you hoping to get from it? Adel: I wanted to change my life and meet new friends. When I graduated [from high school], there was nothing to do. Milad: I’m coming as a leader. [He comes annually.] Noura: To meet new friends and to learn about God. Fida: Every year, we come here. It’s an annual conference. We like to know more about new things. Q: Are you worried about your families? Resounding “YES” from all. Q: Are you in touch with them? Resounding “YES,” via internet, “every day,” says Fida. Cheaper than cellphones and they don’t have Lebanese SIM cards, which I’ve learned, are quite expensive. Q: What do you wish for your country? Adel: To be better! Fida: Syria doesn’t deserve what happens now. Milad: Damage has come. We can only hope to repair what has happened. Fida: I think we can, but we need time. Milad: Not in our generation. Q: Milad, are you thinking of leaving Syria? Milad: Before this happened, I was looking to go elsewhere. Now, I will finish my 2 years of school and see where I can go. Q: [To the rest of the group] Do you want to leave Syria? Adel: Maybe I will travel, maybe I will stay. Most likely [I’ll] stay in Syria. Fida: Don’t know. I might come to Lebanon to study because the situation is too bad there. Danger is everywhere. Q: Are you more suspicious of people now? Fida: Maybe. Milad: Definitely! By experience, we found many people who used to be friends are now enemies. People have changed. Adel [to Milad]: Not all of them – a few. Q: How does your faith affect how you trust people? Noura: I like to stay with my family and friends because now I doubt people. Q: Have you witnessed violence? Milad [quickly]: Yes. Fida: Yes. Q: How do you reconcile that violence with your faith? Fida: While I believe in God, it doesn’t mean I trust people who are doing this [committing violence]. I believe He wants the best for us, but I don’t believe that all people are good. Q: Do you believe in evil? Fida:

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It exists. Milad: It’s a lack of goodness. Q: Tell me about the violence you witnessed. Fida: In [my village], it’s a Christian town surrounded by Muslims. The Muslims, they started doing violence and the military soldiers were there and they protected [us]. Milad: In Damascus, there are bombings and explosions everywhere. The Muslim terrorists have tried to reach the capital many times. The terrorists are trying to take control. Adel: We hear explosions very near to our home. Noura: In my town, there are terrorists, armed militias. We hear bombs and shelling. [Joseph interjects: “She lives close to a naughty area.”] Q: [I react to the constant references to terrorists as Muslims.] Do you have Muslim friends? Would you marry a Muslim? [I learn that Syrian law, not religious law, forbids the intermarrying of Christians and Muslims.] Milad says he has Muslim friends and all the teens nod that they do, too. [I conclude that Milad means “fundamentalists” rather than “Muslims.”] Q: Do you wish you had the freedom [to marry who you want]? All: NO! We had freedom. Fida: Now, we have no freedom anymore. Milad: where can i buy generic viagra online safely We had a great life before, now it is ruined. Q: Are you persecuted as a Christian? Milad [quickly]: Yes. But I’m more worried about the future: about a war or [fundamentalist] rule. Fida: Before, we could go out and wear anything. Now things have changed. We cannot stay out at night. Adel: I sometimes go out at night. Noura: My town is very fine. [“Mafe mishkele,” no problem, I comment.] [“That’s two!” laughs Fida, and cracks up when I offer wasta (a colloquialism for “political pull”) and taht al taawlah, which literally and figuratively means “under the table.” I know these phrases from interviewing Iraqi refugees in Syria who often used personal connections to work illegally in Damascus. But, it’s when I mention alla rossi that the whole group cracks up. A Syrian colloquialism, it literally means “on your head,” but figuratively means “I’m in your hands” or “I’m at your service.”] Q: What dreams do you have for the future? All [quickly] – Adel: To be as we were. Fida: As we were. Milad: We had a perfect life. Adel: We had a lot of fun in the past. We were the 4th [safest country in the world.] Now, we are the most dangerous country. Fida: We were so safe, we would go to bed and we wouldn’t lock our door. Now, it is all changed. Q: Isn’t it unusual for teenagers to dream of their future being a return to their past? [Nods all around as Joseph translates this complicated — and rhetorical — question.] Q: What would you like to say to American teenagers? Milad [quickly]: I want to talk to the ones in charge, not the teenagers! Adel: freeviagrasample-norx I don’t like the habits of American teenagers. [He cites “early sex” as an example.] Fida: Freedom must be with responsibility. Freedom and responsibility are 2 things together. Noura: I don’t want to travel to America because it’s America’s fault because of what the government is doing to people. Adel: Syrians feel hated by other countries. Fida: Even Arab countries! [The kids are talking fast and furiously, and I can barely keep up my note-taking, much less

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come up with follow-up questions. I am intrigued by the idea they feel “hated” and victimized by other countries. We talk about this a bit and I defend the US’s lack of options. I tell them about the blog I just posted, “SYRIA: US Caught between Iraq and a Hard Place.”.] Fida: Some actions in Syria, the media is translating the wrong way. Adel: It’s not the truth. We heard that Obama decided [to act], then we heard [there’s] a delay. Then we heard that Obama had not decided. Milad: We feel he doesn’t have the right to throw rockets. That would make things worse. Q: What would you like to see the US do? Milad [quickly]: Stay out of it! Noura: To be neutral. Adel: Protect Syrians. Q: How? Adel: With money and medicine. Fida: Tell the American government that it’s not your business! [I mention that the US has been the do expired viagra still work world’s biggest donor of aid to

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Syrian refugees.] Milad: We haven’t seen any online viagra store in india aid in the capital. Q: Good point! It has all been funneled through UN agencies. [He asks which agencies and I tick them off and compare what little Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have given. Joseph reiterates that the aid was for refugees.] Adel: I assunzione cialis think America is fighting us because we are the enemy of Israel and we are the strongest country against Israel. There are a lot of Jews influencing American policy. [Here I give a primer on how powerful the US weapons lobby is, how much Halliburton made during the Iraq war and how US military aid to Israel must come back to US weapons manufacturers. The kids listen intently. “Are you saying that Israel does not factor into this?” Adel challenges. “No,” I respond slowly, “just that there are other factors to consider – bigger ones.” He nods, although I’m not sure he agrees.] [I stop to take a photo of the 4 teens with their backs to me for security and tease that I’ve gotten their best sides.] Q: Is there anything else you’d like to tell me? Adel: Two years ago, there were no Sunnis, Alawites, Christians. We were all like brothers. Fida: We want God to work through humans to stop this. Someday, we’ll get it together and we’ll get it undone. Someday, when the world is much brighter. Someday, we’ll walk together in a beautiful sun Someday, when the world is much lighter. Some day…

3 Responses to “SYRIA: “Tell the American Government It’s Not Your Business!””

Read below or add a comment...

  1. margie keane says:

    Great interview w/ the teenagers and very adult and insightful. Is there any way this could be sent to President Obama and Congress before they vote?

  2. suz says:

    Is there any way to know how typical these teens are or how many teens share these views?