February Stories

( Here as a blog post for The Syria Campaign)

Feb. 9th.

The week began with news that the Assad regime was massacring civilians in Douma. Douma is a suburb of Damascus that has been under siege for two years because the locals formed a resistance group, Jaysh al Islam. JAI currently has polarized popularity because they fail to protect civilians. The week earlier, JAI launched a few rockets into Damascus at random, killing civilians in the process and sparking a retaliation attack. This week: a massacre is beginning to unfold in Douma.

No headlines.

Feb. 10th

The next morning brought news of Kayla’s death. Kayla Mueller was an American citizen known for her humanitarianism that wound up in Syria after her boyfriend travelled there for to work for an NGO. Syria is called the biggest humanitarian crisis of our time because half its population is displaced and in need of assistance. From a letter to her family, we know that Kayla was inspired by her Christian faith to help others, and her words show a person of compassion. Syria is probably one of the most dangerous places in the world to go and do good: the Syrian regime and foreign fighter groups like ISIS specifically target people who are trying to heal or promote civil society, or are foreigners that can be used to bargain a large ransom. ISIS had been holding Kayla hostage for many months and today reported that she had been killed in Jordan’s retaliation airstrikes against them (this is challenged by the US Government). Jordan’s retaliation was prompted by ISIS, who the week before set a Jordanian pilot on fire and shared the video on social media.

Lots of headlines and tv spots in mainstream media.

Feb. 11th

Shortly after news of Kayla’s death, more news from Douma started coming in.

The death toll is steadily climbing – 400 people according to (SNHR). The photos were shared under the hashtag #Douma_Exterminated, and show among other things, a dismembered child and streets literally soaked with blood.

I started getting messages from my cousins, who are exiled Syrian activists: Could I help them get American media contacts to push the Douma Massacre into headlines? I started to look into it knowing that Douma’s story did not have the potential to get covered on its own: stories on Syrian massacres require a lot of energy to push into the media. Despite Douma being a Muslim majority village, the story would not pick up in Muslim activist spaces.

That same day news broke that a man in North Carolina entered his neighbor’s home and killed three people “execution style”. Three young Muslims named Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu Salha, and Razan Abu Salha were motivated by their faith to do humanitarian work, just as Kayla Mueller was by her Christian faith. One of the victims, Deah Barakat, was a Syrian American who was fundraising for a dental mission to Syria. Many people, including the Barakats and Abu Salhas, believe Islamophobia played a part in the murder.

Muslim Americans across North America rallied around Deah, Yusor, and Razan, referring to them as “Our Three Winners”, celebrating their lives while simultaneously calling out Islamophobia perpetuated by American media (57 million dollars are spent in the “Islamophobia Industry” in America by people like Pamela Geller, whose group buys up advertising space for bigoted messages). Muslim Americans and President Erdogan put pressure on the White House to comment on the Chapel Hill Shootings, which prompted the White House to release a statement. Vigils came together across the country, and I volunteered to help organize one in Houston.

Douma: no headlines

Chapel Hill: headlines starts to pick up

Feb. 12

This day was a blur, trying to read about Douma while feeling numb about Deah, Yusor, and Razan.

Douma: no headlines

Chapel Hill: Lots of headlines and mainstream tv spots.

Feb. 13th

I checked in with Dania, the president of United Muslim Relief Houston and my childhood friend, Friday morning to see how I could help with the vigil on Sunday. As we were talking she checked her Facebook and said “Oh my God what what what? An Islamic center is on fire in Southeast Houston? But that’s my Southeast Houston?..Oh my God..”

Arson at mosque: local and national headlines.

My friend Mouna, director of Watan USA, comes into town, and we celebrate an early Valentine’s together. Watan USA is a Syrian humanitarian organization based out of Austin, Texas that does incredible development and humanitarian work. She shows me a video of kids dancing at the grand opening of their school in Reyhanli. Watan USA provided funds to operate the school for an entire year, and Mouna was in there doing some sort of penguin dance with the kids.

Feb. 15

In Houston:

I get to the Our Three Winners vigil early and see Omar, a Syrian American who has been standing at this corner holding a sign for Syria for one hour every Sunday since the Revolution started. A guy from the vigil came up to him: “Hey man, we want to keep this vigil apolitical, your sign can’t be part of the vigil”

Omar, clearly annoyed, says: “Just so you know I’ve been standing here every Sunday for the past 4 years. I’m not trying to ruin your vigil. AND Deah is my second cousin.”

Syrians constantly feel overlooked.

Also at the intersection was the Pakistani American community in Houston, holding a vigil for the 70 people killed in a Taliban attack on a Shia mosque in Peshawar.

I am not surprised that we were out there together, grieving: violence against Muslims comes from both Muslims and Non Muslims. Though I wonder, despite standing right next to each other, how well we saw each other.

In Syria:

Just fresh after the massacre, Syrians in Douma stage a protest. This one catches media attention: tens of children are dressed in orange jumpsuits and locked up in a cage. It’s an ISIS allusion. The message: We’re still starving and being massacred

Headlines: Syrians stage clever protest that alludes to ISIS

Lesson: connect your message to ISIS to get picked up by media.

In Libya

ISIS has a branch in Libya, and they began rounding up Coptic Christians in Tripoli. Today, they executed 21 Coptic Christians. Egypt’s Sisi would later declare 7 days of mourning, and retaliate against ISIS with airstrikes. About 50 Coptic Christians in America would later stage a protest in front of the White House, dressed in orange jump suits while chanting: “Obama Obama did you see? Christian blood in the sea.”

A guy whose cousin was murdered in the massacre organized the protest. He lost someone he loved, and wanted to do as much as he could to raise awareness.

 

Everyone I know and don’t know is in a constant state of mourning.

 

Feb. 21

At least 15 barrel bombs drop on Aleppo. No headlines.

 

Feb. 23

Video: Regime drops barrel bombs on Daraya No headlines.

 

Feb. 25

 

ISIS kidnaps 150 Assyrian Christians. This number would later grow to 256.

I want Christians to feel safe in Syria, but I understand that they don’t. The goal is to have a Syria where everyone feels safe. There can be no other way, and this is the baseline standard for anyone working for a free Syria.
Later on Feb. 28, the Coalition for Democratic Syria would issue a press statement calling for the release of the Christians and calling on the White House to provide increased protection for minorities in Syria.

Lots of headlines on the abduction, but not so many on the CDS statement to support the abductees.

Feb. 26

 

Today, I want to read as much as I can find about what happened in Syria. I go to the VDC web site and also scroll through @EatingMyPeaz, twitter feed, who tweets data and news from the Local Coordinating Committees.

Mohammad As Sayes of Yarmouk dies of hunger. VDC records 24 Syrians killed today, via shootings and warplane shellings. Of the 24 killed, 9 are from shelling, and 1 from detention. 4 of today’s martyrs are children.

Helicopters target Tal’as village with two explosive barrels. Airstikes also reported over Hama, Zaker village, and Aqerbat township. Helicopter drops six explosive barrels on Daraya. Eight barrels on Zabadani. 20 people wounded in airstrikes over Aleppo.

No headlines.

Feb. 27th

The Syria Campaign in coordination with the Syria Civil Defence, launches a campaign asking Robery Malley, Senior Director at the National Security Agency, to share radar information with Syrians so that they can have a heads up when barrel bomb attacks are coming. Right now, Syrians use binoculars and their ears to tell if an attack is about to happen.

Honestly it seems like the very least the International community can do for Syrian civil society workers.

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