I participated, May 1-11, 2013 in the Mussalaha International Peace Delegation to Lebanon-Syria alongside fellow TRANSCEND member Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire, from Ireland, and 15 others from eight countries. Keenly aware of my responsibility, especially to my newly made Syrian and Lebanese friends left behind, I shall try to report, describe, make sense of what I saw, heard and experienced; also offer views and insights based on interviews. However, this report will take more than one article.
First impressions first: the people, the civil society, women, men, the youth, elderly, children, workers, the Arab street, as it is called. It was disconcerting coming into the country for the first time knowing what I thought I knew and seeing a calm, positive demeanor in people, which could well be misconstrued as apathy, yet exhibiting expectant, concerned, awaiting eyes and facial expressions. After some time I noticed a striking absence of anger or negative excitement in the air; people going about their daily business as if nothing was happening, as if life were normal. No cries for revenge against their many external aggressors, no fists in the air, no demonstrations against a dictator, no pleading or denouncing slips of paper passed to me surreptitiously by nervous, fearful hands. Eye contacts revealed seriousness, curiosity, kindness, hope, hospitality, happiness in seeing strangers. No public laughs or smiles though. Heavy hearts do not allow for such frivolities. Syrian people are suffering, they are sad, stuck, against the wall, being victimized for which they bear no responsibility. They just don’t know why they are being threatened, attacked, killed, tortured, and humiliated so viciously from so many fronts. The concept of proxy war is alien to them even though they are at its core. Fear of violence can be more psychologically and emotionally damaging than the real thing. Understandably, they are afraid of talking in public and being later identified and targeted by jihadists.
But then again, that is always the case, isn’t? Who cares about unimportant people when so many more pressing factors are in play? Like the obscene profits made by the oil multinationals, the 7 sisters cartel, and the preservation of wasteful lifestyles of peoples from richer, more powerful nations that need –and will take by any means necessary– the oil that Syrians at this juncture unfortunately have underneath their feet?