Syria seems to be the most interesting place in the world right now. I confess to a writer’s fascination in the country’s slide into internal conflict. I loath to call it civil war; there is so much normality here. But I am no expert in such matters of war – or, in deed, normality! I often spend part of my day on the near-by beach. The nation’s students are stressed out with exams and revision. People still go to work and enjoy a relaxing time in the evening and at weekends. At what point does a nation’s in-fighting become an all-out civil war?
There is no doubt that the collective tension of Syria is at a dangerous level and violent, horrific events are taking place daily now. I have good friends who have vented their emotional pain in tears and with flashes of anger against furniture and walls. There is a growing heavy depression amongst my friends and the country at large; I feel it, too. I know too many people who know someone who has been killed. I dread and fear the removal of that final bit of distance between the conflict and my personal involvement.
One friend shocked me by saying that he is waiting to be killed; although that mindset is extremely uncommon amongst the people I talk to. My friend is no fan of the President, but being an Alawite (as is the President) he feels he needs to side with him for his own protection. He has seen his many Sunni friends (on the opposing side) dwindle to just a handful.
Rally Remembering Dead Soldiers. In some parts of Syria this event would be dangerous, such is the division in Syria.
There is a tradition in Syria for families to display posters around the city to announce the death of a loved-one; this is regardless of religion or how they died. When I first came to Syria in 2007, these posters almost all with a photo the dead, were rare and often faded and ripped; having been on display for so long. In 2012, you notice a lot more of these death announcements. They don’t have time to age, before they are covered with announcements of more recent deaths. Increasingly, the dead are as young as in their 30s. Many of the photographs show them in military uniforms.
Each night there are explosions and gunfire coming from the villages near-by; sometimes they are even closer. They wake me up, but I’m surprised at myself that I don’t fear the implication of the sounds. I know I am safe in my bed. People tell me that last year, the sound of gunfire would have cleared the streets; now no-one bats an eyelid. We try to work out the direction and distance of the sound, but that’s it.
In all the cities, there are ‘hot-spots’: In Latakia, these are the poor areas that are home to the anti-government rebels. These places see the most protests and soldier presence. We know where they are and when its most dangerous to be in them. We set ourselves individual curfews, accordingly. Personally, I have fought these self-imposed restrictions; believing no-go areas to be a cause of division and so exacerbate the civil unrest, but I am finding it difficult to maintain that view.
Many Syrians believe we are heading for a civil war. No one doubts that if nothing is done, the war within will become a reality. The optimists believe it can still be avoided, but few are offering solutions. My effort, for what it’s worth, is a simple one: To get ordinary people in the West to talk to ordinary people in Syria; to share and discuss common interests. There is no uncertainty in my mind that Western governments are fuelling the crisis here. If their electorate can chat to the people in Syria and understand what is really going on, maybe – just maybe, we can stop a war.
You can listen to my report for The Wire Radio in Australia about the possible civil war in Syria.