A View from the Syrian/Turkish Border

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman. This is "The World". Back to our top story today – Syria and the wait for a possible US strike there following an alleged chemical attack by the Syrian government last week. Nasser Weddady has a unique perspective on the story. He's outreach director for the American Islamic Congress and he spent the past two and a half months on the Turkey-Syria border working with Syrians on a Conflict Resolution project funded by the US State Department.

Nasser Weddady: On the day of the chemical attack we were holding a workshop on non-violent conflict resolution and the goal of the workshop is to prevent revenge and retaliatory violence at the end of any conflicts. And when the news broke out it was a watershed moment.

Werman: Yeah, what was the reaction?

Weddady: Visceral, because the anger was directed not only at the Assad regime, but at the international community because they've been abandoned to their fate facing Assad with very help from the outside. What was really interesting to observe is that even though that we on the outside world are preoccupied with whether the United States and the Allies will be bombing the Assad regime or not, the Syrians don't believe a word of it.

Werman: Why not?

Weddady: Because they've had two years and a half of promises and deadlock. And at the end of the day, and actually there was a Syrian who told me this specific sentence: "When I see it I'll believe it."

Werman: Nasser, you met many, many Syrians on the border from refugees to rebel fighters. There were two soldiers of the Free Syrian Army whom you did not immediately identify as being with the Free Syrian Army. They made quite an impression on you. Tell me about them.

Weddady: These were university students when the revolution started and ended up graduating to filming and covering events on their cellphones and laptops and then all of a sudden they started showing up on satellite channels. And I asked them, "So were there times that you got involved in the fighting even though you're journalists?" They were like, "Absolutely. There was more than one occasion that I had to drop the camera and pick up the gun because at that point we were surrounded and that was the only choice that we had."

Werman: Well, it sounds like they've got dual roles, that they're activist journalists, but they're also activist fighters when they have to be.

Weddady: When they have to be fighters they will be fighters. They're are kids who, they're military service. Syria has compulsory military service. One of them, a twenty-four year old, I mean this was a kid like probably by his looks belongs more in Miami Beach than where he comes from in Syria, with tattoos on the side and a ponytail. He got the tattoos thinking that it's gonna get him out of the draft. However his father beat the hell out of him and then they signed him up to the Air Force Intelligence Service. And then he was released and then he was drafted again. He refused to go. There were already army officers who defected and he joined the first [??] of these guys which later became a full fighting brigade and this kid right now is battalion deputy commander. What is quite remarkable about these kids is that when you sit down with them you would never imagine that these guys come from a warzone, but the moment you bring that up it's like some invisible switch turns on and they completely change.

Werman: And they just start talking?

Weddady: And they just start talking. At first reluctantly, but then what was interesting is that their hatred, implacable hatred of the regime is equaled only by the one they have for the al-Qaeda affiliate groups. They were initially seen as guns that were gonna fight Assad, but once they started setting up shot and their areas and trying to impose the rules and way of life, then things turned very sour, and as a matter of fact one of the most undertold stories out of Syria today is the extent of the popular backlash against these groups.

Werman: Nasser Weddady, civil rights activist and outreach director for the American Islamic Congress. He recently spent several months on the Turkish and Syrian border working on a Grassroots Conflict Resolution project sponsored by the State Department. Nasser, thanks for coming in.

Weddady: Thank you for having me.