It’s no hidden secret that the more you travel, the more you come to realize that other places, people and cultures can be very different on the ground than to how they are perceived in mainstream media and Western Government’s travel recommendations.
Today I had CNN on in my hotel room in Davao City, Philippines and as anyone who keeps half an interest in world events would understand, it wasn’t long before a story surrounding the Syrian Arab Republic came on.
There was talk of death, protest marches, sanctions, Bashar al-Assad’s days as President being numbered, defecting soldiers, funding and armament of opposition factions and failed UN policy to name just a few.
Of all the cheesy, over used ‘Arab Spring’ terms within the story, it was how the reporter finished that was of particular interest to me:
“… *insert reporters name here*, reporting from London…”
What better way to give a detailed and informative view on a complex country and its politics than being thousands of kilometers away from it, right?
After hearing this, I thought it could be helpful to share some perspectives that I learnt from visiting Syria and actually meeting the people who live there for myself. I can’t help but think that the Syria I now know is substantially different to the one being shown to the world on the TV screen at the moment.
The next time you see a news report on Syria, here are some things you should keep in mind before making your own judgment on the situation:
1. SYRIANS DON’T HATE YOU!
It didn’t take long for me to realize that Syrians love having guests.
I was constantly met with warm welcomes and gracious hospitality by locals all over Syria who were genuinely interested in where I was from. On learning this, they wouldn’t withhold how impressed and honoured they were that I had come “all the way from Australia!?” to visit their country on my own.
Despite clear objections to the way Western Government’s have treated Syria and the Middle East for say, the last 200 years, I had Syrians communicate to me on, numerous occasions, that they understand these policies and actions don’t reflect the attitudes of the citizens from those countries imposing them.
“You are very welcome here!” was something I heard on a daily basis throughout Syria.
2. AL-QAEDA ISN’T IN SYRIA!
None of the 9/11 bombers were Syrian (According to Yahoo Answers they were all Jedi).
There are no balaclava-wearing men holding Kalashnikovs and RPG’s roaming the streets wanting to grab you from your chosen mode of transport with the intent of separating your head from its body on al-Jazeera.
Get over yourself…
3. SYRIA IS NOT A BAREN DESERT WASTELAND!
I’m not denying that there are parts of Syria that are desert, but one of the biggest paradigm shifts that occurred for me while in Syria was how green and lush it is in many parts.
4. SYRIANS SPEAK GREAT ENGLISH AND/OR FRENCH!
Any media story I see on Syria is almost guaranteed to show the locals of Syria as either a group of men huddled around a camera yelling frantically in Arabic or an old burqa wearing woman wailing hysterically.
I hardly ever found myself in a place or situation where I couldn’t get my question, query or point across AND answered in English.
The average Syrian’s level of English kills my Arabic…
5. SYRIA IS FULL OF FOREIGNERS MAKING A DIFFERENCE!
Of all the foreigners I met in Syria who were there to work, volunteer or learn the language, most of them were American citizens.
Maybe Mrs. Clinton and FOX et al should ask for their opinion sometime?
6. SYRIA IS VERY SOCIALLY DIVERSE!
Travel to Syria and I guarantee it won’t be long before you come across a red haired or blue-eyed Syrian.
Syria cannot be simply labeled an ‘Arab Muslim Country’. Its society is made up of Syrian Arabs, Druze, Kurds, Syrian Turkmen, Assyrians and Syriacs, Armenians, Palestinians and Iraqi’s who practice the faiths of Sunni Islam, Shia Islam, Alawite Islam, Druze and various Christian Denominations such as Orthodox, Catholic and Maronite between them.
7. SYRIA HAS SEEN WESTERN INTERVENTION FAIL IN THE REGION MANY TIMES BEFORE!
Ever heard of the Crusades?
8. THERE ARE PEOPLE IN SYRIA WHO SUPPORT BASHAR AL-ASSAD!
This might not be apparent to most people as all we are being shown is mobile-phone footage of anti-government protests on the news.
Different people told me different things in different places.
I watched President Assad and the Turkish Foreign Minister’s motorcade roll through the northern city of Aleppo to the shouts of “Our blood, Our lives, We’ll sacrifice for you!” by the thousands lining the streets.
I also had an older man, who was a former Professor of Middle Eastern studies at a university in Canada, ask me to write a letter to Amnesty International upon my return to Australia, requesting them to continue their investigations of political prisoner treatment in the country.
Visiting Syria changed my life.
It was the first Middle-Eastern country I had ever been to and it smashed any pre-conceptions I had of the region like a sledgehammer.
I have not been able to view Western news and Political talk about the region the same ever since.
Its unique character is rooted in its physical ruggedness and the diversity of its people. I write this not to give support to any particular side of the argument surrounding Syria’s current political situation, but rather to give some objective insight on what the full picture actually looks like.
What should happen in Syria? I DON’T KNOW! – I’m not from there and I have never lived there.
One thing I do know however, is that Syria’s future needs to be determined by Syrians and no one else.
My one hope for Syria is that the issues at hand are resolved sooner than later so more people can experience this amazing country for themselves…
Have you been to Syria or are you interested in the topic? would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!