Is not easy. Nonetheless, once again as I speak to people from the region, I get the feeling nobody on our side of the ocean is anywhere close to right about the problems. I had the pleasure of a long conversation with several Syrian immigrants yesterday. Apparently they were itching to tell somebody their thoughts, because I ended up sitting there and listening, until hours later my family insisted it was time to go home.
I tried to keep mental notes of what they were saying, but they were so passionate and several were talking at once – sometimes slipping into their primary languages – I likely couldn’t do their opinions justice.
Here are a few things I took away from it. First, apart from hearing them mention the Silk Road as one of the causes of the conflict, which prompted me to make sure I heard correctly, I understood them to say this is the latest step in problems that go back centuries.
They don’t defend Assad as some wonderful leader, but they fear his elimination as he, like other secular dictators, kept the various Muslim threats at bay. Saudi Arabia seems, to them at least, to be the instigator in the mix.
Of course they mention the Ottoman Empire as a historical cause of their plight. Russia’s involvement also was traced back centuries, long before Putin was around to cause mischief. I was taken by just how large Russia loomed in their understanding of the region’s history. And America’s policies as good as always.
They don’t blame all Muslims. For instance, one described in detail a Muslim friend who is trying to talk down Islamic terror groups back in Syria. His main approach is twofold. He says to the terrorists that they, not America, are attacking Muslims and giving Islam a bad name. To Americans, he says stop saying you’re a racist nation filled with racists wanting to kill Muslims. That’s valuable propaganda for groups like ISIS. After all, when ISIS says Americans want to kill Muslims, they can turn on news commentary for proof.
With that said, they didn’t pull punches about living as a minority in a Muslim dominated region. And not just recently, but throughout history. They described their experience in a way similar to Jews in Germany who described the mutation of neighbors and friends into cold blooded Nazi killers. One day they’re the Muslim friends you visited and had dinner with. The next day they’re rounding you up and banishing you from the town, or worse.
One gentlemen, a business owner who came here a couple decades ago, couldn’t figure us out. As an Arab American, he was open about experiencing bigotry in the United States. And he’s the last one to say America shouldn’t come to grips with its own past and present. But he can’t figure why Americans look at life for minorities in Muslim countries and dismiss it as irrelevant and try to paint Islam as a ‘religion of peace’ (a term he said with some contempt).
It would be like saying ‘except for all that, America has always been nation of racial harmony and equality.’ To their ears, that’s what they hear. They have Muslim friends, they have Muslim friends who are standing up to the terrorists. But please, they said, stop lying about Islam and its history and its current state of affairs.
Other than that, they went off on several side issues that were interesting, but not pertinent to the events in Syria at the moment. One thing they mentioned was the proliferation of drugs among terrorist groups. Can’t say I’ve heard that talked about.
One woman said they feel like a piece on a chess board, with the different countries concerned for their own interests, not those of the Syrian people. As if, she said, their sufferings are an inconvenience for the bigger agendas of those in question.
I don’t know. Just trying to type this through while it’s fresh in my mind. It’s enough to say I feel we’re not getting the full story from any side here at home. Enough to say I’ll still withhold opinions or blame or finger pointing. I’ll pray and hope that we don’t plow into the mess and make a bigger mess. I certainly won’t downplay the part we’ve played in the situation, nor will I imagine that if we had never existed, there would be no problems.
On the whole, peace is the goal and the hope. And I pray for their sake it can be obtained. When you’re face to face with people telling you they’ve visited a Cathedral that was just destroyed by terrorists, or have a friend or priest who ‘died horribly’ at the hands of ISIS, it brings a whole new dimension to the news accounts.