Yassin al-Haj Saleh, a leading Syrian writer, a former political prisoner and one of Syria’s foremost intellectuals, speaks to Boštjan Videmšek about Syria’s past, tragic present and uncertain future:
How do you feel when you see so many of your fellow citizens on the run from the most horrible conflict of our time? Did you expect an exodus like that?
Weeks ago, I helped smuggle my sister-in-law and my nephew from Turkey to Greece. As a beginner, I consulted friends, met smugglers, and chose one.
I was anxious about their safety, and was relieved when they arrived in a European country, even if it was not the one they wanted to go to. The other half of my brother’s family, he and his two younger sons, are to join the first half someday. With the help of friends, we are trying to arrange things for another brother and his family to take refuge in another European country, after a mutual friend of ours, the journalist and film maker Naji Jerf, was assassinated in Turkey on 27 December 2015.
We are helping ourselves to a world that did not help to liberate us at home. Never had I contemplated the possibility of such an exodus. I did not expect that the regime would kill hundreds of thousands of people and that its chances of staying in power would grow bigger as the numbers of its victims soared. I did not expect the emergence of a monstrous creature like Da’esh [ISIS]. I did not expect that around 70 countries would be partners in bombing my country: not against the ruling criminal, but against an offshoot of his monstrosity.
How do you see the European handling of the refugee crisis?
I am impressed by many people from many European countries, mostly individual volunteers. Their generosity, courage and humanity dignify the human race. I was touched by a message from a Norwegian woman who was in Lesbos helping refugees. As for governments, while it is not fair to include all of them in one category – Germany is not like Hungary, Sweden is not Denmark – I think they are unified in building higher walls in the face of the influx of refugees, specifically the poorest and most vulnerable ones.
For months now, European governments have been pressuring Ankara not to allow refugees to depart from Turkey. In November, they promised to pay €3 billion to the Turkish governments to guard European borders.
With all this blood that has been spilt over the past five years right under the world’s nose, humanity has led itself down the path to full ethical numbness. I suppose the indifference the world showed towards the Syrian ordeal will lead to even less sensitivity to human suffering in political institutions everywhere. [Continue reading…]