[Marxism] The regime tore apart the author's hometown in 2012

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Mar 26 08:25:32 MDT 2018


Wall Street Journal, March 26, 2918
The regime tore apart the author's hometown in 2012. Now he reports on 
Syrians experiencing the same fate

by Nour Alakraa

I spend my days trying to reach Syrians hiding from the war that is 
still raining down on them -- even as I try to forget my own experience 
of that war six years ago.

In recent weeks, I have been able to connect by phone and text with 
people in the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta. They are taking cover 
in basements and tunnels, scavenging for food to feed their hungry 
children. They utter brave sentiments even as I hear the fear quivering 
in their voices.

I am ashamed at some of the questions I must ask: How are you feeling? 
What is it like underground? What happens when the rockets hit nearby? 
Sometimes they reply sharply: Are you serious with these questions?

It is only then that I tell them I'm from the city of Homs, from the 
neighborhood of Baba Amr -- the first place that the regime of Bashar 
al-Assad surrounded and bombed into submission, back in 2012. The 
government wanted to force rebels to withdraw but also to make an 
example of the city.

This revelation establishes an immediate bond between me, a Syrian 
journalist exiled in Germany, and them, Syrians being bombed by their 
own government. Eastern Ghouta is one of the last rebel-held pockets 
that the regime wants to capture as it consolidates control.

Before Eastern Ghouta there was Wadi Barada. And before that, Aleppo. 
And before that too many towns and neighborhoods to list. All of them 
subjected to the same playbook of siege and bombardment: Starve or 
surrender.

Baba Amr, a low-income area on the edge of Homs, was the setting for 
many of my happiest childhood memories, as the spoiled youngest child of 
five. I would go every morning to buy fresh baked pita bread and a piece 
of cake or pastry at the neighborhood bakery. The owner, Abu Hasan, 
never called me by my name. He referred to me as ibn al aanseh -- son of 
the teacher -- a show of respect to my mother, who was the principal of 
the elementary school.

At the age of 16, I took my first date to a small clearing in Baba Amr 
that could barely be called a park. I didn't have any money to buy her a 
soda or bag of chips. We just sat on a bench and talked for hours.

My parents made education our priority and encouraged us to focus on 
learning English. My dad would always say, "English will help you in 
your future." In 2010 I began my first year at the university in Homs, 
studying civil engineering.

In 2011, as the effort of Syrians to participate in the "Arab Spring" 
turned into a civil war, Baba Amr was one of the first areas taken by 
antigovernment rebels, and it soon became a target of the regime. When I 
saw people I knew being shot, I became an activist and used my knowledge 
of English to reach out to human rights organizations.

What we experienced in Baba Amr pales in comparison to what residents of 
Ghouta are living through, but I can relate. I know the answer to my own 
journalistic question about the sound of an approaching rocket: The 
terrifying whoosh makes you wonder if this will be the moment that your 
soul leaves your body.

After some 20 days of incessant siege and shelling, I fled Baba Amr with 
others who had been in hiding with me. We waited until nightfall and 
sneaked toward the edge of the neighborhood, which had been bombed so 
much that most landmarks were unrecognizable. We finally reached an 
unfinished water pipe, measuring about five feet high by three feet wide.

For two hours we walked, bent over, through the dank pipe. The smell of 
mold was suffocating, and there was no light visible at the end of it to 
guide us. When we finally reached the opening, we had to stay quiet and 
couldn't even light a cigarette because an army checkpoint was nearby.

In the six years since I left Baba Amr, I have tried to leave behind 
these painful memories and to draw attention to the suffering of the 
Syrian people. I was inspired by the brave American journalist Marie 
Colvin, who worked for the U.K.'s Sunday Times.

Marie and I lived in the same large house in Baba Amr -- a group of 
activists had rented it, and when journalists later moved in, I became a 
"fixer" helping some of them to navigate dangerous areas and meet 
sources. When Marie and I both managed to escape, I was just relieved 
and happy to be safe, but she couldn't stop thinking about the people 
still trapped inside, and she went back.

She called CNN, the BBC and other television outlets to tell viewers, 
"The Syrian army is simply shelling a city of cold, starving civilians." 
The next day she was killed when shells struck her building.

The idea that Marie sacrificed her life to help my people lighted a way 
forward for me. I became a journalist myself to try to tell these hard 
truths about what was happening in Syria and, maybe, to prompt foreign 
leaders to do something to stop the bloodshed.

In 2012, Syria wasn't as complicated as many Western leaders say that it 
is now. I hoped that the United Nations and the civilized powers of the 
world would quickly intervene to force a political solution. That didn't 
happen.

I continued to report on those who didn't make it out of Syria. That 
meant I was never far from my own war memories, and sometimes the 
feelings they provoked were as raw as the day I first experienced them.

In 2015, when a resident of the town of Moadamia, under siege for two 
years, told me about the crippling hunger they were experiencing, I 
understood. I remembered not having eaten for two days and feeling as if 
I were drunk, no longer able to think properly or make a decision.

In 2016, when I saw images from Aleppo of 5-year-old Omran -- the 
bloodied, bruised child pulled from rubble who briefly caught the 
world's attention -- I remembered seeing my neighbors and their children 
running through the streets barefoot to escape from the shells landing 
around them. I recalled seeing the mangled bodies of children in the 
field hospital and wondering, "Why did they deserve this? Why were they 
being attacked so far away from the front lines?"

Now, as the Assad regime captures more and more of Eastern Ghouta, I 
have found it harder to connect with my sources on the ground. Are they 
still alive? Did the regime arrest them?

My anxiety for them brings back memories of the days when regime forces 
were advancing into Baba Amr, taking the neighborhood street by street, 
pushing us into a shrinking pocket. I can still feel that panic, like a 
hand gripping my stomach from the inside. We feared being caught and 
arrested, not knowing what the soldiers would do to us. One of my 
friends suggested that we hide in a small water tank on the roof of his 
house. In the end, we fled. I've not been back since.

When Assad's forces stormed Baba Amr, my childhood home was ransacked, 
and my bike, TV and even my teddy bear were stolen. My family is now 
scattered among Homs, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Germany.

Ghouta will end up under Assad's control, like all the previously 
besieged areas. Some of its people will flee from their homes, as I did, 
hoping perhaps that their children will be able to return one day. 
Others will stay and suffer more, which seems to be the Syrian people's 
punishment for daring to rise up and resist their brutal government.




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