Report after Visit to Syria in April 2011; the Beginning of the Crisis

Children of Syria

Images of children taken in Syria before the crisis.
 The following text was a page contributed to ABC Pool in May 2011.  The ABC has since closed the  Pool webpage, so the report and comments have been transferred to Socrates and Syria.  It records the writer’s view of events in Syria early in the crisis after a visit to Damascus over Easter 2011.

Contributed on May 1, 2011 by

Image of susan.dirgham


Melbourne VIC, Australia

Editor’s note: The ABC wishes to make clear that information and opinions contained in this contribution and the comments are those of the author and are not endorsed by the ABC.

Image: Rally in Melbourne to support peaceful reforms introduced by the Syrian president.

Video of interviews of people at rally can be found at the following link:

The text below was written after a visit to Damascus over Easter  (April 2011).

To develop a concerned and responsible understanding of what is happening in Syria today, questions that generally aren’t being posed must be.

1. The prominent Egyptian Islamic scholar, Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, a cleric with a huge following in the Middle East and North Africa and with links to the Muslim Brotherhood, has recently called on Sunni Muslims to rebel against the “Alawite regime” in Syria, “for Arabs to support protesters in Syria”. Two chants of demonstrators in Daraa have been, “No Hezbollah. No Iran. Syria for Muslims (read “Sunnis”)”, and “Send Christians to Beirut and kill Alawis.”  Syrian friends (mostly Sunnis but some Alawis and Christians as well – if that is relevant) have told me soldiers are being killed in cold blood, government workers as well. One friend who lives on the outskirts of Damascus rang me Easter Sunday to tell me that soldiers had been killed – targeted and shot – in his area and in the nearby military hospital.  The brother-in-law of a friend was shot and killed in his car along with his two children and nephew.  He wasn’t a “human rights activist”; he was an army officer. Are such killings related to Qaradawi’s call?

2. Arms are in the hands of many Syrian civilians. (Apparently, armed non-Syrians have also been arrested.) I learnt when I was in Damascus last weekend that there is a lot of confusion as to who is killling demonstrators. One young man I met witnessed a small demonstration in an outlying Damascus suburb at which two people were killed and several injured, but he said no one he spoke to there could say who had shot them. It was a mystery.  After the initial problem in Daraa, the President ordered soldiers not to shoot unless they were shot at first. Why do the mainstream western and Arab media keep insisting that the situation is straight-forward: i.e. that the regime is killing peaceful demonstrators?  I understand there is a newspaper that is being distributed freely in Kuwait. It presents what it purports to be the side of the demonstrators and demonises the Syrian ‘regime’.  Who is behind that and why is such a black and white picture being presented?

3. A vast majority of Syrians support President al-Assad and the reforms he has introduced. University students are not involved in the demonstrations in Damascus; it is mainly people from the very poor, outlying suburbs that are involved in the small demonstrations. The reforms are significant and are having an obvious effect on what the Syrian media is presenting and on the talk in the street, for example. Why don’t demonstrators give the reforms a chance? How can continued chaos in the country guarantee a better outcome?

4. Syria is the only country which has taken a consistently firm stand against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, the wars in Gaza and Lebanon. Since 1967, Israel has occupied Syrian land against international law and in defiance of UN resolutions. What are the implications of this? It has been well documented for at least 7 years that powerful people in the United States, people with strong links to Israel, want to “target” Syria – to destablise the country. Most Syrians say Israel and America, with help from some friends such as Saad Hariri, are behind the current troubles. Could they have a point?  (Or do “we” in the west always know best? Do “we” display wisdom and sophistication when we scoff at such “conspiracy theories” and when we infer we are much more sophisticated and knowing than the majority of people in Syria?)

5. For most Syrians, Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabiya TV, and BBC Arabic news have been discredited. At least four Al-Jazeera reporters have resigned in protest at the way the station is presenting the situation in Syria. There is no effort being put into presenting more than one side of the story and there is credible evidence of the presentation of fake phone calls from “witnesses” claiming to be in Syria as well as dodgy video footage purportedly from Syria. A male nurse in Damascus was found by his colleagues to be making calls to Al-Jazeera from the hospital roof, claiming he was a witness in Daraa (news on Syrian TV – 2/5/2011).  Wikileaks has recently presented proof that the US has been funding a Syrian opposition group abroad. If the US is targeting Syria how best would it use mainstream media and social networking sites to support its game-plan? What devious strategies might have been devised in operation rooms over the past 7 years?

6. If people are intent on overthrowing what they view as an Alawi regime (it is not!), and they are successful, what might the consequences be? Many people in Syria and Lebanan believe it would inevitably lead to a civil war as bloody and messy as Lebanon’s and Iraq’s. Who would benefit from that, or rather, who would imagine they could benefit from that?

7. Syria is the most secular society in the Middle East, yet in the western media there is virtually no regard given to this and to the threat from extremists. The Christian community in Damascus supports the President and the reforms.  There was much written and spoken about the fear that the Muslim Brotherhood would take control of the demonstrations in Egypt.  Why isn’t this given the attention it is due in the news about Syria?

8. Many years ago, I was a peaceful protester against Australia’s participation in the Vietnam war and I was arrested once when I handed out leaflets urging young men not to register for national service. I remember being in the minority and we protesters were not given very much respect by the mainstream society or media.  People who marched in demonstrations then were a motley lot; there were people who wore Stalin or Mao badges; people who threw bricks through windows and got aggressive in confrontations with the police.  Now, in regard to Syria, why is so much credence given to people who speak to the western media or Al-Jazeera etc and who claim they are human rights activists or peaceful demonstrators?  Of course there are genuine human rights activists and many many genuine peaceful demonstrators, but it is not as straight forward as the presentation in the western and mainstream Arabic media.  Have the warnings of Orwell and Graham Greene been forgotten (” ref: The Quiet American”)?  Have we been lulled into a confident belief that we can’t trust the propaganda from Syria, but we can trust our own on this issue?  Can we be confident that we can damn Syrian TV as if there could be no intelligent, responsible people working on Syrian TV programs?  I watched a lot of Syrian TV over Easter and was impressed by what I saw, and Syrian friends say they are impressed by the changes; the changes are considerable and meaningful.  But of course everything has to be questioned – always.  Why is the narrative presented in our news media so simplistic and so seldom questioned?

9. I have Syrian Australian friends who migrated here and whose children are trapped to some extent in a socially conservative time-lock their parents have maintained because like people in most migrant communities their parents have hung onto the social tenets they brought with them and haven’t ‘moved on’ as people back in Syria have.   Is it possible that some people with Syrian backgrounds in Australia, the US and Europe are trapped in a political time-lock of sorts? (This may offend some readers.  But it is a question worth considering, I believe.  I don’t have an answer to it.)

My local Lebanese Australian greengrocer considers these are key questions and has responses to all of them.  Why aren’t they questions being presented in the western media?


Flag as offensivesusan.dirgham said 2 months ago

Hello KKReads, it sounds like an interesting school project your teacher has set.  I am happy to try to help.  A good beginning would be to check the responsibilites of Australian citizens. Two key ones are “to obey the law” and “to defend Australia should the need arise” that I guess are relevant for citizens in any country that wishes to develop without violent civil strife sponsored by outside countries or forces etc.  Anyway, another site on the internet you and your teacher might like to check is the website of “Australians for Mussalaha (Reconciliation) In Syria” All the best, Susan

Flag as offensiveGuest said 2 months ago

hello everyone, im supposed to do a project about syria for i’ve got to ask anyone who knows information about syria, some questons about rights and sorry if this is inconsiderate,but if anyone is willing to answer some of my questions (its only a couple of questions,maybe about 5)i’ll be very grateful.if anyone DOES want to answer some of my questions about rights and responsibilities,you can send me an email at,and we will talk.thank you for taking the time to read this,and if anyone can reply to me by this week(april the 2nd till april6th or 7nth 2013)i’d be very very grateful.

thank you again

Flag as offensiveShane Fisher (not verified) said 8 months ago

I have not read your write up, but I know I am unusually upset by the Syrian war. There is something of a righteous of the cause that the world is not answering to. Because of all the politics involved. Surely we should have learnt more? Just because it is Arabs, there seems to be a reluctance to do something. Whether it is any different to Africa, I don’t know. But I have a bad feeling in my gut.

Flag as offensivesusan.dirgham said 9 months ago

Dear reader from Damascus,

Thank you very much for adding a comment and for relating your story. Your experience of such violence in Syria is rarely presented to the general public in Australia. Although I have heard stories of similar shocking killings from Syrian Australians I meet, your story is still very disturbing for me to read.  It is these stories which remind us that war must be prevented at all costs:a beast in the human heart can be released … in any of us, I think.  And this ‘beast’ is stirred up by those who promote war and others they ‘buy’ to promote the extreme ideology needed to drive the killing and war.

One problem with telling these stories is that someone will come back and tell another equally shocking story to incriminate the army or government, stories used to justify further killings.  So the madness continues.

Your story tells of the horror Syrians face, but it also relates some of the baseness in the human heart. It will require fine minds and fine hearts to tame that now it is released. Will the world allow peace in Syria for them to start that very difficult work?

My grandfather was an Australian soldier in Palestine and Syria in WW1. There are reports of New Zealand and Australian soldiers being responsible for a massacre in Palestine.  My grandfather was a good man, a ‘normal’ man, but you never know what it is possible in war…. Some of the people interviewed on Syrian TV who have admitted to committing shocking crimes for the ‘revolution’ appear normal; away from the crime, I imagine they are ‘normal’ to everyone they encounter, just as those ANZACs must have been.

I watched Syrian TV on Sunday and saw some of the service in the mosque which the president attended along with many ministers, and I also heard some beautiful religious music. (It sounded like the Sufi music I bought in the old city a couple of years ago, but I don’t know if it would be described as Sufi music.) I am not a Muslim, but it was music which captured my heart. That is the page we should be on to stop this madness – with something that can unite all our hearts.

Let’s just hope the terror and war are not long lasting and do not claim too many more victims. The Syrian people are so courageous in the face of it. I see that courage in the faces of the news readers on Syrian TV. They have reason to fear for their lives every day after the recent killings and abductions of reporters, yet they are there at their desks. What choice do you have?  Capitulate? So sacrifice the country and the lives of millions to war, anarchy and a brutal ideology? (BTW It is easy for me to write this from the relative safety of Australia; my courage is not being tested.)

There was a very interesting interview with the writer Ben Fountain about his book, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” on ABC’s Radio National yesterday.   The book examines, to some extent at least, the madness of war and its cost. When I was at school in the late 1960s, these things were being discussed in English literature classes a lot – perhaps because of all the young Australian men being sent to the war in Vietnam against their wishes. But today I fear they are neglected making war possible because we believe those respected among us who effectively spruik for war instead of trusting what our imaginations, our hearts and our heads tells us.  And instead of referring to the wisdom of ancient or even modern heroes, people who will remain heroes through time for all peoples.

BTW I recorded the music I heard on Sunday and put it on a blog.

In Damascus, you must be very familiar with such music. I remember walking home one evening to a house in Afif I was renting in 2004. It was a modest traditional Arabic style home in a little side lane off the narrow road that leads to the Friday Market (do you know it?). That evening, there were probably stars in the sky and a crescent moon, and I could smell jasmine and hear the chatter of children at play. That music, or something similar, was coming from a neighbour’s house. It was magic. It was Syria.

Flag as offensiveGuest said 9 months ago

hi suzan

i am a reader from syria living now in damascus , and i want to share a painfull memory i have and keep haunting my dreams
my brother woke me up at 7 am to prepare myself to catch the bus to our university , so i got up , put on my clothes and went on our way when i remembered that i forgot my mobile at home , we were just around the corner and i ran back home to get my mobile and my brother was shouting to me going to bus , follow me and hurry up . i got home , took my mobile and ran back to catch up with michael when i heared a thunder like sound , i ran towards the sound  to see and i was calling michael but his cellphone was off

my heart was racing and all i could think of is michael is dead in the bombing
when i got there i found him running towards me afraid
he was just a few meters away from the bomb that terrorists implanted it under an army officer’s car ‘
and the image of the officer is still in my head when we saw him crawling from the car with his leg decapitated due to the bomb effect
he had his wife and his 18 month daughter with him in the car

since then , i never walked on that street again .. because of this accident
and just last month
another army officer was killed in the same street
attacked by gunmen at 3 pm

the army officer had recieved many killing threats and left his home with his family
and came back to pack his furniture and clothes
he died along with 2 soldiers in his car
the army couldn’t get to the car because of snipers
it took them 4 hours to get to the bodies and secure the area

but what was very shocking this accident was that a few men (sunni)
where very happy and smiling while watching the dead bodies
and they came with the  Sheikh Mosque and spit on the bodies of the dead
and kept on repeating ..a dog died today

i know it is nothing compared to what the Salafists and  Extremists are doing and how they are killing and decapitating heads of innocent people while they say

( Allah o akbar  ) and the youtube is full of videos that show their crimes

there is a war against terrorism and against salafists and the syrian army will not stop untill syria is cleaned and peace is restored
peace is our main goal and demand and the army is acting the requests of the peaceful civilians

Flag as offensiveGuest said 10 months ago

Syria: Not so amazing, Hilarious Clinton has her own cheer-squad among the imperial Left: “What do we want?”, “regime change!” Marls.

Flag as offensiveGuest said 10 months ago

thankyou suzan ..i hope the truth gets extra attention since our media is doing a fantastic job in hiding it .

We ask you to help us spread the word to stop these paid and related hostile scheme campaigns broadcasting suspicious ,false media surrounding our country , to undermine the steadfastness and unity and sow the seeds of sedition between the sons of one homeland. After the revelations of their tactics, misleading, lies and hypocrisy and after becoming tendentious channels reporting the voice of blind witnesses and defender of terrorist groups established at homeland and abroad. the media lost its honor,so we are hoping that by reaching out to all of yous we can bring you the truth from the syrian people them selves and get you tho hear us all say WE LOVE OUR PRESEDNT BASHAR AL ASSAD SO PLEASE KEEP OUT OF OUR COUNTRY.

To all of you out there we want you to understand that syria is a strong counter and will always be ,we can solve our own issues we don’t need any ones opinion on how to fix our ways of life.

We want to live peacefully in syria in the presence of dr bashar al assad ,we ask you not to interfere and not to add fuel to the fire and exaggerate about the truth, we the syrians are here today to inform you that .WE LOVE OUR PRESIDENT BASHAR AL ASSAD

Flag as offensiveGuest said 10 months ago

Thank you Susan, a sane voice amidst the clamour for intervention

Flag as offensiveGuest said 12 months ago

Dear Susan, My friends in Syria are asking the same questions, and are concerned about the same issues you raise here. It seems voices such as yours are deliberately ignored by “us” in the West. Aurora

Flag as offensiveGuest said 1 year ago

Hi Susan,

I am more than happy to assist you in the history of Syria. I was born in Sydney, Australia and may also be able to assist you the other aspect as to parents trapping their kids in the social migrations with other cultures.

Flag as offensivesusan.dirgham said 2 years ago

New Matilda has just published an excellent article by Dr Fiona Hill on Syria.  I hope the mainstream media pick it up.    (If link doesn’t work google “Syrians deserve better deal)

And in the past week, there has been an opinion piece by a Columbia University associate professor in Al-Jazeera which challenges the single narrative we have been presented with for months in our media. Hope it is not too late for people of Syria.

Flag as offensivesusan.dirgham said 2 years ago

Hi Melody,

Thanks so much for your comment.  Hope you don’t receive any rottten fruit because of it!

I think it is a pity we generally know so little about Syria.  It is such a fascinating country.  When I am there, I feel that I am in a place which is the beating heart of the world.  Ridiculous and romantic, I know, but true for me. (And the more than 18 Aussies I have hosted – to some extent or other – in Syria have been as charmed by the people and country as me, I believe.)

I am trying to stay as up-to-date as I can with news from Syria.  So for example, today I heard that three soldiers in Homs were killed, targetted by gunmen in the street.  But that will not make it to our news bulletins.  We are  likely to just hear, from what I would suggest are dubious sources, about the number of “innocent, peaceful pro-democracy demonstrators” who have been killed. The complexity of the situation won’t be presented.

I am doing some research into the politics and history of Syria.  What I am reading does help to throw some light onto the current upheaval and revolt.  Even back in 1962, something a little similar to today’s revolt was challenging the Syrian government. It was related to Syria’s defection from its union with Egypt. “Unable to forgive Syria its defection, he (Nasser) turned his propaganda machine against Damascus, while Egyptian agents, funds and explosives poured into Syria across the permeable Lebanese frontier.  Egyptian intervention became so flagrant that Syria complained to the Arab League, but Nasser’s indignant threat to walk out of the League if the complaint against him were upheld quashed the matter and left the Qudsi (Syrian) regime helpless.” Assad of Syria, The Struggle for the Middle East, by Patrick Seale, University of California Press, 1988.

If Syrians weren’t facing such an uncertain, possibly very violent time, I would be able to say “it is fascinating”, and leave it at that!



Flag as offensiveMelody Ayres-Griffiths said 2 years ago

Hi Susan,

At the risk of having rotten fruit thrown at me as well, I’ve grown to learn that Syria is… different, and needs to be treated in a bit more of a delicate fashion with regards to policy. Although the Western media does portray Syria as an extremist, oppressive society, Western countries tend to have a bit of a hands-off approach, even though Israel is not fond of Syria.

Although I’m sure complaints about the Syrian regieme have some merit, I agree that much more exploration into just how Syria ‘works’ is needed before one can even begin to formulate an opinion as to who or what Syria really is.



Flag as offensivesusan.dirgham said 2 years ago

Dear (“Helas!”) Guest,

Sorry I was unable to respond to your comment more fully yesterday. You raise points that are worthy of discussion.

For example, on the question as to whether my friends in Damascus were “truly frank” with me considering “the current climate”, I don’t know the answer to that.  I believe they were sincere, but I can’t possibly know what might have been left unsaid.

However, from being in Damascus over Easter, I was able to gather information which is rarely given any attention in the Australian media.  I have recounted all of this already on my Pool page, so forgive me for repeating some of it here.  For example:

1. Soldiers, police, and security people are being targeted and killed by armed people. (As I have related, the brother-in-law of an old friend was killed along with his two sons and a nephew simply because he was an officer in uniform; also, a close friend rang on Easter Sunday to tell me that soldiers had been shot and killed near his home and in a nearby military hospital.  The story Syrian Australians are talking about now is the recent killing of the head of the Homs secret police and three or four of his officers – they had gone to meet some men who had said they were going to surrender their arms, but it was a ruse.  This particular head was quite young, newly appointed and had recently returned from France after completing a PhD.)

2. For many Syrians, the mainstream Arabic media have lost their credibiliy. There is a propaganda war being waged against Syria.

3.  A majority of people support the president and strongly support the reforms. They want the government to be given a chance to implement the reforms, and for stability to be restored.  They believe in a united Syria. Nonetheless, many people in Syria are confused by what is going on. They are not sure who is still protesting and who are behind the killings of many of the civilians and soldiers etc.

4. There is a push from ‘forces’ and individuals outside Syria to cause violent upheaval in Syria and to stir up divisions within and between communities.  Those individuals and ‘forces’ mentioned include Bandar bin Sultan, former vice-president Khadaam, Hariri in Lebanon, Qaradawi in Egypt, Salafists, Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabiya etc, the US and Israel. The Lebanese army has captured armed men trying to cross the border into Syria.

I make a point about the Syrian people being ‘sophisticated’ because I sense that in the West, it is often assumed they aren’t. For many years, through satellite TV channels, people in Syria have had access to a much broader range of opinions on ME matters than we have had in Australia.  And they live ME politics.  Of course, like most people in the world, they would be naturally cynical about politicians and people in power.  In Syria over the years, I have heard extemely cynical remarks by locals about the government. Power, money and politics inevitably lead to a dirty mix to some degree, everywhere in the world. (Ideologies and ideologues that claim people can be freed from the “human condition” responsible for this have proven to be very dangerous.)

In Australia, we have a prime minister who supports Israel without qualification. And this has been the case for most of our recent leaders.  Why?  Because of money, power and influence?  In regard to other critical issues, such as climate change, our two major political parties are likely to determine their policies in response to the pressure of powerful lobby groups, for example, the coal, car, oil, and mining industries.  And what about the power of the media?  It is accepted by many people that a party can’t achieve power unless it has the support of the Murdoch press and other major media outlets.

It is true that I know little about politics (though I have an abiding interest in it as it was one of my university majors). But who really knows about what is going on in the political world … anywhere?  There is the surface political world, and there is the stuff being done behind the scenes.  When I think of the ME today, I relate it to some extent to South and Central America and south-east Asia in those decades when the US State Department, the Pentagon, and the US “military industrial” complex played a huge role in determining outcomes across those regions.  Other things which could be added to the mix of influences today would include, for example, the oil industry, the finance industry, the security industry, and Israel.

I have a friend whose father-in-law was a political prisoner in Syria many years ago. Perhaps if I had been born in Syria, I would have been a political prisoner there at some point in my life, too (I have been arrested in Melbourne for commiting a political offense).  But I strongly believe Syria now needs stability, reform and progress, not regression. War is where violent protests, sectarian divisions and the machinations of outsiders can take the country. The mix of power, money, and politics will almost always be ugly, to some degree. That is why concerned individuals who have honourable motives and honourable mentors have to continually beaver away in a non-violent and inclusive manner at contributing to their country’s progress and well-being.



Flag as offensivesusan.dirgham said 2 years ago

Dear Guest,  Thanks for your contribution.



Flag as offensiveGuest (not verified) said 2 years ago

“Syrians are a sophisticated people.  They would not support the president as they do if there were not good reasons to do so.  They want unity and peace, and they want the government to be given a chance to introduce the reforms.”

For crying out loud – are you completely oblivious to the nature of the Syrian regime? Do you think people there had a choice about what type of government they ‘enjoyed’? Your comments confirm that you know, as you said on another blog, ‘little about the politics’ there. I think it’s time you desisted from offering specious political commentary. Yes your photos are wonderful, you obviously love Syria and its culture but enough is enough – do you really think your friends are going to be frank with you in the current climate? Helas!

Flag as offensivesusan.dirgham said 2 years ago

Dear Guest,

Thanks for the link to Damascus Gay Girl.   I suppose I can only say in response what I have said already in other comments.  There are a lot of different views being expressed on Syria.  There is a propaganda war against Syria, which most people in Syria are very well aware of. (I just saw a report on our local TV which was ‘propaganda’; it failed to address many of the serious questions facing people in Syria today. ) Syrians are a sophisticated people.  They would not support the president as they do if there were not good reasons to do so.  They want unity and peace, and they want the government to be given a chance to introduce the reforms.  People have to make choices about who and what to believe.  I cannot speak to the writer of this blog, but I have spoken face-to-face to many people in Syria and many Syrian Australians, as well.  In the end, it probably comes down to that.  Who do you believe, who do you trust? I trust my friends in Damascus.



Flag as offensiveGuest (not verified) said 2 years ago

For a more credible view of Syrian politics, I suggest readers go here – written by someone who truly loves Syria, knows both sides and is able to rationally question what the regime is doing to its people!…

Flag as offensivesusan.dirgham said 2 years ago

Dear Wayne,

I really value your comment, particularly your summary of the current situation in Syria. It is pretty spot-on.  I am taking so long to say what you can summarise wonderfully in a sentence! As for my responding to comments from unidentified ‘guests’, I will persist in doing it (unless the remarks are extremely offensive).  Comments indicate that my writing is being read, which is always good to know, But also comments and responding to them can help me to develop my ideas and understanding further.

And you never know.  Maybe the ‘guests’ are testing their thinking on things as much as they are challenging and testing my views.



Flag as offensiveGuest (not verified) said 2 years ago

Dear Susan,

from what I have read here, you have proved your point.

Their is an unidentified, destablizing influence, trying their best to discredit anyone who might attempt to settle the situation.

My suggestion, for what it is worth, is to not bother with anyone who hasn’t got the descency to leave an identifying mark. They are just troublemakers.


Flag as offensivesusan.dirgham said 2 years ago

Dear Lana,  Thanks for your message.  It is understandable that people in your community have different opinions etc.  (I do have trouble with the term, “regime supporters” , as I wrote in my previous comment. I guess most are people who do not want bloody upheaval; they are not uncritical or slavish supporters of the status quo.) As for the rest of your comment, it is impossible to respond in any satisfactory way.  I can feel your frustration and anger and understand your worry for  the future.  I pray that all the communities in Syria can unite in these difficult times so no community or individual has reason to feel that fear.

Kind regards,


Flag as offensivesusan.dirgham said 2 years ago

Dear Guest,

Thanks for your comment.  Your English is perfect!  I agree that there is always a mix of opinion in every society, within families even.  And I know I will always have more to learn and to explore etc.  But I think there are some pretty reliable things that can be said about Syria today:

1. The president is supported by a majority of the people.  He is someone who can unite the country. And he has introduced significant reforms. In Australia, we do not have any politicians of his calibre in office today.  (We have had a few in the past – maybe.)

2. The country’s economy will collapse if the unrest continues.  This will impact extremely badly on the people and it could take years to recover.  Syria’s economy needs the tourism industry and that plus investment from outside requires stability and security in the country. (And I would warn Syrians to beware of selling the soul of the country for a fast buck.   Syria has a soul – few countries have.  The people have a warmth and a dignity which is precious. Its diversity is a reflection of its history, and it is remarkable. The country has to be developed and poverty eradicated etc, but by Syrians working together.)

3. People who continue to want change, without giving the reforms a chance, seem to imagine a country can advance after a collapse of the established order.  What happened in Iraq after the invasion in 2003 indicates how a country descends when its institutions are destroyed or undermined.  I met many, many Syrians in classrooms at the British Council who are government workers.  Many would have been cynical about the ‘regime’ while supporting the president.  But people are naturally cynical about governments.  It is up to people like them to do the hard work and take the country forward.  And I think they were doing that.  The current turbulence and the call by some for complete change (replaced by what??) can only be extremely destructive to the country and lead to great tragedy.

4. Many people – civilians and soldiers –  are being brutally killed by unknown gunmen.  The picture of what is happening in Syria is being distorted by the mainstream Arabic (eg Al-Jazeera) and Western press.  Why is this?  Who benefits? This needs to be seriously investigated.

5. It is wonderful to hear someone say, “I am Syrian” in answer to the question, “where do you come from?”….  “I am Syrian”.  Syria has had such a difficult history and the people have faced it so courageously.  The West has contributed greatly to the problems in the last 100 years.  Syrians have to be proud to be Syrian.  Don’t allow outsiders to interfere again in ways which can destroy the country.  It is a great country, made up of great people!

6. People are confused by the messages coming from the mainstream Western and Arabic media. They can have an insideous effect on your thinking.   If a lie is told often enough it becomes a truth.  The media moguls know this very well.  Individuals and countries which would like to see Syria implode know it very well.

7.Language can be used to influence people in very clever ways.  So even your use of the term “regime supporters” to describe people I have met in Syria is not an accurate one, but it can be used very successfully as a label to denegrate people.  My friends in Syria are sophisticated, caring and intelligent people who want the best for Syria.  They are not uncritical of the government, not at all!  Every government and every institituion is flawed; it takes hard, steady work by millions of people united to advance a country. In the end every one has some responsibility for the problems in a country, and must work together in as harmonious a way as possible to bring about positive changes.  People have to live with differences! I don’t like one of my brothers at the moment, but maybe tomorrow I will!  I can’t simply delete him, or even pretend that I am better than him.

Sorry for going on.  But there is always more to say.  And there is nothing wrong with your English, so I would like to hear your response to these points.  (Do you have a name?)



Flag as offensiveGuest (not verified) said 2 years ago

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Dear Susan,

Kindly stop lumping all Christians together as regime supporters. Opinions are split even amongst us. What unites us, however, is our fear of the future. I’m very doubtful Australia, or any other country for that matter, will step in to help us if/when the regime falls (I hope it will not). You did not prevent the death and persecution of the Christians of Iraq, Egypt or Sudan so why should we trust you this time? And why keep adding fuel to fire? As far as I know, and basing on my conversations with friends and relatives, most of us would like to distance themselves from what is happening. In my opinion, it would be smart to have both Christian regime supporters and opponents so at least we can present a good case if worse comes to worst and switch en masse to the winning side. I know this sounds disgustingly opportunistic, but please remember: we are on our own, and will always be.



Flag as offensiveGuest (not verified) said 2 years ago

Dear Susan,

I am not a native speaker of English and so am unable to elaborate and write as eloquently as you guys do.

I just wish you could visit Syria again and perhaps try to publicly express a view different from that of the regime supporters. Just give it a try so you can see the whole picture.

Flag as offensivesusan.dirgham said 2 years ago

Dear Maureen,

Thanks so much for your comments.  I really value what you have added to the discussion.

Kind regards,


Flag as offensiveMahalia said 2 years ago

Susan I always enjoy reading and sharing your insight into the problems that Syria is experiencing.

You get to the heart of the matter by relating to the people, not disregarding or downplaying the political and religious aspects but concentrating on the more important human aspect, as to how the people feel, what the people are doing to cope, where the Syrian people themselves feel the issues are.

I sense your affinity with the people and through them their fears for their country.  How terrible it must be to see ones countries suffer and to see ones family and friends and neighbours also suffer in such circumstances.  It is beyond my comprehension as to why these problems escalate across the world as they do now and have done for centuries, for nothing ever seems to be settled.  Problems fester until the sore breaks out again, somewhere else.

With the world the size it is today, where nobody is far from anybody travel wise any more, the sooner we all realize that we are citizens of the world and as such each man is our brother and we all have a responsibility to ensure that peace is paramount if our children and our children’s children are to have any hope of a decent life then the better off we would all be.

As it stands at the moment in my mind the world has a snowballs chance in hell of surviving to be a place that any rational person would want to exist in because greed and anger and evil seem to be wiping out any common decency that remains.

Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish caught will we realise that we cannot eat money and when we have destroyed all that is good and beautiful and precious in this world, when none of us trusts our neighbours, when we look with a jaundiced eye at everything that everybody does – we might then realize too late that have stuffed up….and the responsibility for that rests squarely on the shoulders of every person who inhabits this earth.  On the shoulders of the perpetrators, the shoulders of those who supported them and the shoulders of those who did not want to become involved and did nothing to stop it from happening.

I have no religious connections but do believe one should love your neighbour as yourself, and that includes neighbours that perhaps live on a different shore to our own. – I sense that you already do that Susan.



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Flag as offensivesusan.dirgham said 2 years ago

Dear Guest,

You are asking me about the faith of my parents, I assume.  I don’t quite understand why this is relevant at all, and it worries me that this is where the discussion is going.  But …. I am happy to tell you that my mother and father were both Protestant Australians, but not church goers.   In the last 60 years (nearly), I have attended different churches very very irregularly.  I have never been baptised, never belonged to a church, and I have never converted to another religion.   I was brought up in Australia when there was a lot of friction between Catholics and Protestants.  That no longer exists; instead today there is quite a lot of prejudice against Muslims.  It seems people are attracted to thinking badly of people they see to be different from them.  Perhaps it is human nature and that is why we need to go to the best in every religion, in philosophy, and poetry and art etc to remind ourselves that we are in this together.  I love John Donne’s poem, “No Man is an Island”.  That remains an inspiration.  But there have always been  inspirational voices in the world, people who remind us of the very best in everyone, and of how that is shared.  My basic philosophy is that we are all innocent and all guilty.  Finding the best in ourselves is a constant struggle.

Kind regards,


Flag as offensiveGuest (not verified) said 2 years ago

wow … how self-possessed and unruffled.

would you care to tell us what the faith you pretend to have shed was?

Flag as offensivesusan.dirgham said 2 years ago

Dear Sophia,  Thank you very much for your comment.  It does help to understand a very confusing and frightening situation.  It helps answer the question as to why the Western media and mainstream Arabic media persist in presenting a very skewed picture of what is happening in Syria.  Your blog is very interesting. It is great to read some serious analysis of the situation.  Thanks so much for the link.



To the two Guests who have written comments since Sophia,

Thank you for reading my comments.  My reference to Bosnia is an important one, I believe.  (Guest 1)I am not sure what you are suggesting by quoting the sentence you do from it.  My point basically was that our common humanity can be lost in times of crisis and war, and we can believe almost anything of “the other”.  In this case a young Serbian woman believed something totally fabricated about Musliims in Bosnia because, I suppose, it was the only way she could support the violence against people in Bosnia that was instigated by Serb forces.

I am neither Christian or Alawi.  I lived in Asia for some years, and was influenced by Taoist thinking. It is a philosophy more than a religion. So on census forms, I call myself a Taoist.  I do not belong to any ‘tribe’.  Most of my close friends in Damascus are Sunni, but I have a close Alawi friend and I have met some very nice Christians there.  I love the diversity of Syria.  It is very human and precious.  I think the people of Damascus are fully aware of its value.



Flag as offensive

Guest (not verified) said 2 years ago


Sorry to contradict you.

Susan is an Alawite extremist.

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