Beloved Syria is a magazine project Norma and Susan are working on with a professional graphic artist. It presents the views of Syrians currently living in Syria or of Syrians who have left since the crisis began.
www.mervecirisoglu.com – The Box, the animated story of one of the millions of war children, got screened on over 240 film festivals in 52 different countries and won 44 awards worldwide.
It’s based on the happy life of a kid which alters instantly with the sudden war and pushes him in a state of struggle. The war changes not only lives, but also the role of his box; first as a carefully built toy house, then as a place to take shelter in a refugee camp with full of dangers and finally as a boat that sails for a journey towards hope.
If a BBC team fabricated the report with the purpose of escalating a US/UK-led war against Syria, how should we respond? Turn away or give attention, knowing such images have the potential to fuel war on a grand scale and cement hatreds and radicalise on a more personal one.
The crowdfunding campaign manager is a peace activist and journalist Robert Stuart, who has made an exhaustive study of ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ and information related to it. His
conclusions implicate the BBC in creating a false flag event and in cooperating with ISIS, among other anti-government armed groups, the BBC team encountered in Syria.
The ‘news’ that there had been an aerial incendiary attack on a schoolyard was the first broadcast on BBC’s ten o’clock news, 29 August 2013, when British MPs were voting whether the UK should support the United States in launching military strikes against Syria.
The news report may have been too late to influence MPs; however, if the government’s motion for military strikes against Syria had passed, the BBC report could have been presented to the public as justification for ongoing military action against ‘a regime that bombs school children with napalm’. As it was, British MPs voted 285 to 272 against military strikes.
For the US and UK governments and most mainstream commentators, the ‘sarin’ attack is the lynchpin of the war.
There had been enormous pressure on the MPs to vote for military strikes because eight days before the vote, there had been an alleged sarin attack in Ghouta, Damascus, which purportedly claimed over 1,400 lives, many of them children. The alleged chemical weapons attack in Ghouta was said to have crossed President Obama’s ‘red line’.
For the US and UK governments and most mainstream commentators, the ‘sarin’ attack is the lynchpin of the war.
It bolsters claims that President Assad uses chemical weapons against his own people and, for many people, is seen to justify both military action against the Syrian government and crippling US-led sanctions that continue to cause untold suffering to millions of people in Syria.
Furthermore, after spending six months viewing videos and images of the ‘victims’ of the alleged attack, the late US pharmacologist/lawyer Dr Denis O’Brien concluded there had been no sarin poisoning, but rather a macabre massacre of children and adults by other means, their bodies becoming props in a staged set-up.
If the evidence points to both the alleged ‘sarin’ attack on 21 August 2013 and the ‘napalm’ attack reported by the BBC on 29 August 2013 being false flag events i
Image by S.Dirgham: Damascus, 2004
ntended to provoke US/UK-led military strikes against the Syrian government, how should we respond?
Historical records show this is not the first time US and UK administrations have attempted covert ‘regime change’ in Syria. It raises the question as to whether Syrians and their country have been targeted this past eight years in a dirty war for the maintenance of our relatively affluent lifestyle.
Accepting some tough truths might better equip us to work in a more honest, united and hopeful way.
Pope Francis was emphatic that the killing of the priest did not mark a religious war. He said, “The world is at war because it has lost peace….There is a war for money. There is a war for natural resources. There is a war for the domination of peoples”.
A weapon critical to this war is information. As a US military intelligence officer assured readers of an Army War College Quarterly, there are ‘information masters and information victims’. ‘Hatred, jealousy, and greed – emotions….will set the terms of [information warfare] struggles”.
Claims about ‘Assad’s chemical attacks’ and images of their ‘victims’ disorientate millions of people in the West who would normally march in the streets against war, hopeful their voices have power.
Supporting the crowdfunding campaign does not mark us as ‘Assad apologists’. Rather, it should be seen as reflecting our commitment to the truth, to peace rather than war, and so to the exposure of lies that can potentially fuel catastrophic wars and mainstream murderous hatred of the ‘other’.
Accepting some tough truths might better equip us to work in a more honest, united and hopeful way.
Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak.…we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.
– Martin Luther King, 4 April 1967, ‘Beyond Vietnam’ –
2018 marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination. I interviewed people at the Palm Sunday March in Melbourne to bring attention to Martin Luther King’s anti-war message and to consider its relevance today.
Those interviewed included an Australian Defence Force chaplain and Rev Andreas Lowe, the Anglican Dean of Melbourne.
Palm Sunday is an important day for many Christians around the world. It is the Sunday before Easter, and it commemorates the day Jesus entered Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, after travelling 70 miles from his home in Galilee.
Rev. Howard Bess, a retired American Baptist minister, writes in Consortium News (‘Palm Sunday: History and Tradition’, 25 March 2018) about the myths surrounding Palm Sunday and about reasons for protest on that day.
For Rev. Bess, ‘Jesus was a religiously devout and practicing Jew, who was killed for his political activities.’ He writes,
The Romans were masters of the vision of greatness. They called it Pax Romana. In fact the Romans had a vast propaganda program that justified the gap between the wealthy and the poor. It was unimaginable no matter what they called it. Jesus saw through all the ugliness, seeing it as a wholesale denial of justice. His entry into Jerusalem was the beginning of a week of protest….
In our America, protest marches have been used effectively to bring about change. The American master of the protest march was Martin Luther King Jr. When he led marches, he was using the tool of Jesus, the protest march. Many Christians kept advising King to back off from his protest marches. He kept on marching. His “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is one of the truly great literary pieces of our history. It was addressed to the clergy of Birmingham. Protest marches are unsettling to the majority. They produce consequences that are not comfortable for the protesters. King was in a jail in Birmingham because of his non-violent protest marching. Jesus was killed because he protested.
In March 1959, Martin Luther King delivered a Palm Sunday Sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. In it, he declared,
… This is the time in the year when we think of the love of God breaking forth into time out of eternity. This is the time of the year when we come to see that the most powerful forces in the universe are not those forces of military might but those forces of spiritual might.
In that sermon, Dr King spoke about the life and work of Mahatma Gandhi.
I would say the first thing that we must see about this life is that Mahatma Gandhi was able to achieve for his people independence [Congregation:] (Yes) through nonviolent means. I think you should underscore this. He was able to achieve for his people independence from the domination of the British Empire without lifting one gun or without uttering one curse word. He did it with the spirit of Jesus Christ in his heart and the love of God, and this was all he had. He had no weapons. He had no army, in terms of military might. And yet he was able to achieve independence from the largest empire in the history of this world without picking up a gun or without any ammunition.
I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without first having spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government.
The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.”
AMERICA’S ALLIES and THE TRUTH
This is who we are supporting in Vietnam today. Oh, our government and the press generally won’t tell us these things, but ….. The truth must be told.
CONFORMITY and UNCERTAINTY
Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexing, as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we’re always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty. But we must move on.
WE MUST SPEAK
We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak.
…. of course, one of the difficulties in speaking out today grows the fact that there are those who are seeking to equate dissent with disloyalty. It’s a dark day in our nation when high-level authorities will seek to use every method to silence dissent. But something is happening, and people are not going to be silenced. The truth must be told, and I say that those who are seeking to make it appear that anyone who opposes the war in Vietnam is a fool or a traitor or an enemy of our soldiers is a person that has taken a stand against the best in our tradition.
WE SHALL OVERCOME
And I have not lost faith. I’m not in despair, because I know that there is a moral order. I haven’t lost faith, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. I can still sing “We Shall Overcome” …
. And I don’t know about you, I ain’t gonna study war no more.
In 1967, the United States was embroiled in the war in Vietnam. On 4 April 1967, Martin Luther King delivered an anti-war address at Riverside Church, Upper Manhattan, New York. It was titled ‘Beyond Vietnam‘. Exactly one year later, he was assassinated.
The address was controversial. There was great pressure on Martin Luther King to focus simply on Civil Rights, maintain his good relations with the White House, and not speak out against the war. But for him, America’s militarism abroad and racism and poverty at home were linked.
Martin Luther King described the American government as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world”. His conscience led him to protest.
We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.
As the title of Martin Luther King’s address on 4 April 1967 indicates, he saw the problem of US violence going beyond Vietnam, both in geography and time.
When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
In international conflicts, the truth is hard to come by because most nations are deceived about themselves. Rationalizations and the incessant search for scapegoats are the psychological cataracts that blind us to our sins. But the day has passed for superficial patriotism.
Martin Luther King: Lesson for Today
Martin Luther King was not deceived: American militarism and ‘the evils that are rooted deeply in the whole structure of our society’ are closely connected. That is why he came out bravely to express his opposition to the war in Vietnam. It is not fanciful to imagine that were he alive today he would be expressing similar opposition to America’s war against Syria.
Whoa! How can that be when in Syria, America – with Britain and Australia in tow – is nobly trying to defend the people of Syria from a ‘butcher’ bent on massacring his own people?
Well before Assad, it was Ho Chi Minh who was demonised, while America preferred to support, in the name of installing democracy, generals with names like Diem and Ky who oppressed their people atrociously. In the same way we, the West, are happy to close our eyes to the dominance among the armed groups fighting the Syrian government of bloodthirsty Islamists without even pretensions to be democrats, as long as we can remove the ‘authoritarian’ Assad and stymie the Russians and replace Assad with Islamists who will dance to our tune.
But America’s wars ‘racist’? Isn’t that a bit OTT? MLK didn’t think so. He identified ‘the giant triplets of racism, militarism and economic exploitation’ as interacting together to generate blatant racism at home and imperialism abroad. With an American President in the White House who is unashamed of enjoying popularity with the Ku Klux Klan, whose approval ratings soared when he unleashed his Tomahawks (the name an interesting subliminal nod to America’s original significant ‘Other’), and whose Secretary of State announces an intention to maintain a US military presence in Syria for as long as ‘stabilisation’ takes, joining the dots is not too difficult.
Not that Trump deserves more opprobrium than his predecessor. What would MLK have thought of a legatee of the civil rights movement who waited only three days before unleashing a programme of drone strikes far greater than anything Bush Jr had authorised, arrogated to the Presidency a right to kill anyone without due process, and who oversaw an unleashing of US military might against the people of Libya, Somalia, Afghanistan and Pakistan with untold numbers of civilian casualties dismissed as just unfortunate ‘collateral damage’? Who gloried in the success of the Navy Seals in extirpating a nemesis of America code-named, yes, Geronimo? Who anointed as his successor a foreign policy hawk who was visibly salivating at the prospect of reversing Obama’s relatively cautious policy towards military involvement in Syria?
But all we saw from this ‘culmination of the civil rights movement’ was ‘empire-lite and torture-lite’. ‘Empire-lite’ in Syria meant working through proxies
As pointed out by Pankaj Mishra [London Review of Books, 22 February 2018], ‘Obama seemed to guarantee instant redemption from the crimes of a democracy built on slavery and genocide’. But all we saw from this ‘culmination of the civil rights movement’ was ‘empire-lite and torture-lite’. ‘Empire-lite’ in Syria meant working through proxies, funding to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars the so-called Free Syrian Army, supplying dubious militants with weapons, training and salaries, dragooning Western allies into imposing draconian sanctions which are war in all but name, and conducting propaganda campaigns to demonise a secular government imperfect but no worse in terms of democracy and human rights than any of our Gulf allies.
‘A racist society can’t but fight a racist war’, said James Baldwin in 1967. ‘The assumptions acted on at home are also acted on abroad’. So it has been with Trump’s war in Syria, with scores if not hundreds of pro-Syrian government forces killed in what must have been like a mass lynching in Deir Ez Zor province when the Syrian force dared to get close to the US-backed forces, not a single one of whom was killed. ‘Injun’ country indeed, as American soldiers like to describe the places where they are sent to kill.
It is no accident that countries with a similar history of colonial dispossession and racism (Australia does the cap fit?) are always only too ready to act as acolytes to American imperialism.
With voices like that of MLK to contend with the home front could not hold. Yet it was several years before America finally withdrew its claws from the stricken country.
The Americans couldn’t win in Vietnam. With voices like that of MLK to contend with the home front could not hold. Yet it was several years before America finally withdrew its claws from the stricken country. And so it promises to be with Syria, where no serious commentator believes that Assad can be prevented from regaining control of his country, as Ho did with his. But still America insists on prolonging the pain by attempting to colonise Syria’s oil-rich ‘Wild East’, by forming new mercenary militias with tame tribes, by conducting relentless information and economic warfare.
The searing experience of Vietnam and then the only slightly less searing experience of Iraq has made America leery of full blown large scale direct military interventions, except where air power is concerned. War on Syria is pretty painless, for Americans. And so we are not likely to hear from any latter day Martin Luther King. But his words still echo down the decades: “Don’t let anybody make you think that God chose America as his divine, messianic force to be a sort of policeman of the whole world….I can hear God saying to America: ‘You’re too arrogant!’”.
Peter Ford – retired British diplomat, UK ambassador to Syria from 2003 to 2006
Beloved Syria Magazine Interview with Refugees on Air Podcast - YouTube
Interview with 16-year-old twins, Sarah and Maya
Sarah and Maya Ghassali are 16-year-old twins who migrated from Syria during the civil war in 2012 Melbourne, Australia. They are passionate about helping refugees and in doing so have started their own podcast ‘Refugees on air’ where they interview refugees about their inspiring stories. Everyday they aim to make positive changes in the world and welcome more refugees into Australia.
The title has a double meaning: the word “salam” in Arabic means peace and is also a form of greeting. In the context of the video, it is a greeting and a message of peace and hope, carried by Syrian artists to the rest of the world.
The idea for the video was born from a discussion between members of the Syrian Cultural Center and artists residing in Syria. The artists in Syria were touched by the initiative this 3rd benefit concert and had the desire to contribute to this concert by creating an original production that was carried out in different cities and regions of Syria over a period of 30 days and mostly on a voluntary basis. We would like to acknowledge the work of filmmaker and director Simon Safieh, Orchestra Mary, the videographers, the musicians, the dancers, the painters and the production team.
This original projection pays homage to the artistic expression of Syria, as much by the beauty of the external scenes as by the melodies and the dances. Despite contrasting and landscapes showing damaged sites, one cannot ignore the timeless beauty of this country the cradle of civilization.
It was a match that had all Syrian football fans in a state of football euphoria. Almost two hours before kick off, the front of Stadium Australia was already filled with Syrian fans that had come to support their team in what was arguably the most important World Cup Qualifying match in the history of their national team.
Syria’s underdog story began on 15th November 2016 when they fought out an impressive 0-0 draw against Iran. Since then the squad had come up with impressive wins against Uzbekistan and Malaysia as well as important draws against South Korea and Oman. Their Cinderella story culminated in a last gasp equalizer by Omar Al Soma to make the score 2-2 against Iran, booking Syria’s spot in a World Cup Qualifier play-off match against Australia.
The Syrian squad had faced their hardships along the way, having been forced to play all their home matches in Malaysia along with a reduced budget that had mostly been spent on maintaining security.
Yet none of that seemed to matter outside the front of Football Stadium Australia. Syrian fans from all over the globe joined together to dance ‘dabke’ style, singing along to Syrian folk music to celebrate the fact that their football squad could be on the cusp of playing in its first FIFA World Cup. The eternal love that Syrians have for football was shown by the different generations of Syrian migrants that had turned out to support their home country.
Young fans at the game between Syria and the Socceroos
What was even more touching was the very young Syrian Australians who had come to watch the squad play. A group of girls and boys under the age of 10, enjoying a public celebration of their culture, were covered in a mix of Syrian supporter gear and the green and gold colors of the Socceroos.
Hussein Omay, a 16-year-old Syrian fan, described the importance of the occasion.
“ The result against Iran last week was amazing and you can see how much it means to us to be this close to going to a World Cup. To be honest it’s a dream we are all experiencing,” said Omay.
The Syrians were confident going into the match with the return of their star striker Omar Al Soma and their captain Firas Al-Khatib, both returning to the national team for the first time in five years. The arrival of these players back into the squad had provided a firm statement that Syrians were unified in support of their team.
Suhail Sawa, a 23-year-old Syrian on a UN humanitarian visa in Australia, is a passionate football fan. He described the game as one of the most beautiful stories of world football.
“I’m very proud of my team. We have war in my country and it is still going. The best thing that has happened to Syria in the last 6 years has been the Syrian national team. No matter who you are, whether you support different policies, we are all behind our national team. We have always had this unity and love for the national team.”
When asked about his prediction for the game Sawa had high hopes for his team.
“It will be amazing if we qualify. I think that we are strong enough to win and that Omar Al Soma will score 2 goals”.
Only 6 minutes into the match Suhail’s prediction was looking like it was going to come true after Omar Al Soma broke away from Australia’s defence to fire in a powerful strike past Australia’s goal keeper Matt Ryan. For the next nine minutes the Syrian fans behind the opposite goal celebrated, basking in the possibility that they could finally be going to a World Cup.
But then, Tim Cahill, Australia’s own version of Omar Al Soma, stepped up for the Socceroo’s to equalize with a precision header to the back post after having been gifted the ball from a perfectly weighted cross by Matt Leckie. After this, the game hit a stalemate and it would take until extra time for either team to make a breakthrough. The deadlock was finally broken by no other than Tim Cahill again, who rose to meet Robbie Kruse’s high cross to nod the ball with his head into the back of the net to make the score 2-1.
Syrian hearts were further broken when Omar Al Soma stepped up to take the last free kick of the game. The Syrian striker fired his shot past the wall and Australia’s goalkeeper Matt Ryan only to be stopped by the far post.
As the final whistle blew, Syrian players fell to the ground at the painful thought of their World Cup dream being over. Omar Al Soma who had proved to be the difference for Syria so many times before, left the pitch in tears, receiving a standing ovation from both sets of fans.
For the Syrian fans all that was left was to support their players that had truly given everything to make their World Cup dreams possible.
Syria’s Manager Ayman Hakeem only had praise for his players commenting,
“ I am so proud of my players and what they have achieved so far. We had a lot of injuries and I thought we performed well here in Australia against the Socceroos. I just want to thank the Syrian people and the fans tonight for all the support they gave us.”
Syrian fans, 10 October 2017, Sydney
Syrian fans can only be thankful and proud of what their team had achieved throughout this year’s qualification. It would seem that the joy their story has provided has transcended way beyond the football pitch. Regardless of whether they will appear at a World Cup anytime soon, the future of the national team looks promising.
Syrian Australian fans outside the stadium, 10 October 2017
Bushra (on right) is preparing the stuffed vine leaves to serve. Karla and her mother Hana support her.
Veggie Stuffed Vine Leaves
Bushra, who arrived in Australia in 2016, passed on this recipe for yalanji to Beloved Syria. Bushra doesn’t follow a written recipe, and doesn’t use exact measurements. Instead she uses her culinary instincts, her five senses, and her love for food and sharing to bring her creations to life. The below measurements are an estimate of how she prepares this much loved Syrian dish.
2 cups of short grain rice
2 big tomatoes diced
Small handful of mint leaves
A bunch of flat leaf parsley chopped (including stalks)
1 large white onion diced
1 teaspoon of ground coffee
Small cup of pomegranate molasses
1 teaspoon of red or green chilli
2 sweet capsicums diced
2 spoons of tomato paste or soy sauce
Small cup of olive oil
1 teaspoon of salt
6 or 7 cloves of garlic sliced (or all the cloves from one bulb)
2 large potatoes sliced thickly
Vine (grape) leaves which can be bought ready to use from the Middle Eastern section of Coles, or pre-prepared from a fresh food market. To prepare fresh leaves, separate them and add to boiling water for 3-5 minutes. Drain and cool. They are also suitable for freezing.
Bushra preparing the stuffed vine leaves
Start the process the night before.
Wash the rice until the water runs clear. In a large bowl make the filling by combining the mint leaves, parsley, onions, capsicum, coffee, tomatoes, pomegranate molasses, chillies, tomato paste or soy sauce, washed rice, olive oil and salt to taste.
Add small amount of filling to vine leaves, place on bottom third of leaf and fold in sides then roll.
Cover bottom of large heavy pot with potato slices.
Place vine leaf rolls in a layer over the potatoes followed by sliced garlic cloves.
Place an ovenproof plate upside down over the rolls.
Add water to cover.
Fill a mixing bowl with water and place over the top of the upside down plate to create a tight compact environment for the vine leaves and rice to cook.
Cook for one hour on a low heat. (Before you turn off the heat, check that the yalanji are cooked.)
Serve hot or cold. If the yalanji are a main dish, you may like a side dish of yoghurt with them.
By Kirsten Bardwell
Note: Since Bushra cooked yalanji for Beloved Syria, she has begun to video some of her recipes. Go to this link for Bushra’s
We recently sat down to interview Bushra, a Syrian who arrived in Australia toward the end of 2016. Bushra spoke generously to us about her life, culture, and faith. What we discovered was a warm-hearted woman whose love for life and good humour was not foreign. We hope that her approach to life and her story can remind readers that what connects us more than ever is our humanity and our hearts.
When she was 12 years old, her father died, and with 4 younger sisters, Bushra quickly took on extra responsibilities to support her mother and provide for her family.
“Pain brings a lot of strength, imagination, and creativity”
Her first job was as an Arabic teacher and by age 17 she was well known in her community for her determination and skills. She helped establish a local education organisation, similar to an Australian TAFE, and was a strong advocate for education in her community. Like most Syrian’s her life was busy, and while working and caring for her extended family she also completed a certificate in hairdressing and beauty therapy. Growing up had its challenges, but Bushra describes her struggles as experiences that taught her important lessons: “Pain brings a lot of strength, imagination, and creativity”.
Bushra and her family are practicing Muslims, and in addition to working and family responsibilities, Bushra still found time to nurture her faith. She grew up studying the Koran and enjoyed religious festivals and prayer time. Bushra describes her faith as the thing that gives her strength, and taught her how to work and live respectfully with others.
She has a deep love for the Syria she grew up in that did not discriminate against religions, but was open and respectful to all beliefs. She states “I appreciate every religion no matter what it is that teaches you to be respectful”.
Bushra in Lorne, Victoria. July 2017
During our discussion we asked Bushra to share her thoughts on some popularly held misconceptions about women, particularly Muslim women, in Syria. She enthusiastically revealed all!
How would you like people to describe you?
A perfect Muslim, which means a good person, a person who is kind and good to everyone.
Are Syrian women allowed to work?
Yes of course! Women can do any work they want. If you are a Muslim woman you will avoid work that involves touching men, but otherwise you can do whatever work pleases you.
Can Syrian women play sport or drive?
Yes, women can play any sport they like. A lot of women in Syria like going to the gym to keep fit. Many women also have their licence and drive a car.
Can a man and woman get married for love, or are all unions arranged marriages?
A common way that people are married in Syria is when a man or woman sees someone they like they will send a message to their family to ask to get engaged. If the family approves the couple will be able to meet and then begin preparations for marriage. Often marriages are also arranged between families that know each other, or where couples have already grown up together in the same community. It is common for people to marry someone from the same faith background, but sometimes two people from different religions fall in love – if this happens they work hard to persuade their families that marriage is a good idea! Once a marriage has been agreed upon, the husband’s side of the family will give the woman a dowry. She can choose to spend this money on anything she likes as a gift from her fiancé’s family. If a marriage has been arranged, it is preferable that the couple do not touch each other until the day of the wedding, this way they both remain pure and without shame. Once couples get married it is expected that the husband will provide all material needs for his wife and “treat her like a queen”. Women can continue to work if they wish, but it is customary for the wife to stay home while her husband works.
In theory, a devout Muslim husband should treat his wife like a jewel. In reality, does this mean a Muslim woman is confined and controlled by her husband?
No. My husband would definitely not control me. Discussion and negotiation are vital in marriage. We are equal.
What does being a devout Muslim mean to you?
For me, it means being disciplined, having good manners and having a commitment to an ethical life and ethical relationships with people, no matter who they are.
Tell us a bit more about how you practice your faith
When I was in Syria I studied Islam at a Mosque. Some of the religious customs I follow include: eating no pork or drinking any alcohol, fasting during Ramadan, wearing a hijab, and practicing my daily prayers. I pray every morning and afternoon. According to my faith Muslims are to pray facing the direction of Mecca. This can be difficult but I have a great app on my phone that acts as a compass to show me which direction to face.
How do you describe Allah (God)?
Ohhh…. Allah is indescribable. But Allah knows everything about me because Allah created me. Allah is perfection in everything. Allah is love. Allah is the world, the Universe. Allah is indescribable.
Can people of other religions feel connected to Allah (God)?
Anyone can feel connected to ‘Allah’. Like I said, ‘Allah’ is indescribable. I do not know Allah’s bounds. I believe if someone is not a Muslim they can still have a connection with ‘Allah’. Allah doesn’t speak one ‘language’.
For you, does wearing a hijab give you a sense of freedom or restrict you?
I am used to wearing a hijab. It’s natural for me to wear a hijab when I go outside. I don’t wear one at home unless there are male visitors who are not family members. I would find not wearing a hijab hard. In Syria, women can go out and about by themselves and wearing a hijab can help give a woman a lot of confidence in the world. She can feel protected.
What’s family life like in Syria?
Families in Syria are very close. Families and neighbours are all connected; they are “like one” and spend a lot of time visiting each other. Grandparents, aunties and uncles, and children all live together and this is common for all Syrians no matter what religion you are.
Any last thoughts for our readers?
One of the things I loved the most about Syria was that people were all connected. Although we led busy lives everyone still had time for each other and no one was ever too busy. This is something I miss and wish we could see more of in Australia.
Bushra at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
From the 2nd edition of Beloved Syria, October 2017
Born and raised in Australia, Leo (Soltan) Alhalabi identifies both as a proud Aussie and a proud Syrian. On visits to Syria, he has noted the love and support people show each other in moments of celebration and crisis. Most of Leo’s extended family still lives in Syria.
Leo is CEO of LGT Tutoring and is a former Victorian, Australian and World ISKA Karate Champion.
Six weeks in Syriaby Leo (Soltan) Alhalabi
After 10 years separation from Syria, we decided it was time to reconnect. We were all aware of the inherent risk of travelling to Syria, but my grandmother’s last wish was to see us. So we went.
We stayed in Jaramana, which could be described as a suburb of Damascus since it is just 20 minutes from the CBD. Tens of thousands of Iraqi refugees moved there after the start of the war in Iraq. Jaramana is currently considered safe despite its having been hit by car bombs and more than 7000 missiles just 3 years ago. Luckily, close calls aside, the family home survived.
Others weren’t that lucky.
After a few weeks, the excitement of being back in Syria with family members abated.
In Australia, for most of us, life is stable, sheltered and comfortable. But in Syria, basic necessities have become luxuries. Every moment is defined by struggle. You realize you have little to no power over your surroundings: life is so unpredictable.
A basic thing such as electricity is unreliable. There were days when it would come on for 15 minutes after being cut for 7 hours. For one week, the entire city had no water supply. No matter how rich you were, what status or influence you had, you were as thirsty as your neighbour.
The more time I spent in Syria, the more grateful I became for the privileged lives we live in Australia.
However, despite the war, there was a lot of ‘beauty’.
Families gathered every night so that they would not be alone in the dark. Internet access was scarce, so instead of being glued to our phones and computers we sang; we danced; we told jokes and we laughed.
We had time to give thought to my incredible grandpa who had passed away, and we cried… Then we remembered his funny moments and laughed, experiencing very human emotions at the highest of levels.
When supplies ran out, I witnessed neighbours help each other, sharing whatever extra they had, knowing that in times like this everyone was vulnerable no matter how well prepared they thought they were. I met a man who spent a huge part of his savings on 900 litres of diesel so that his family would stay warm in the winter.
Thieves stole every last drop before he used any of it.
You can visit Utility Saving Expert and find out alternate ways of using energy that can help you at home and work.
Image taken in Feb 2017, Jaramana, Damascus
This was just some of the beauty and calamity I witnessed in my six weeks in Syria.