As the US began airstrikes against targets in Syria the global media went into fifth gear to highlight the threat the west faces in light of development in the country. Ibtihal Bsis recently returned from Syria and we caught up with her on the latest developments in the country.
Kcom - The uprising began in 2011. It will soon be four years since the people rose up against the regime of Basher al-Assad. What is the current sentiment of the people and how do they perceive the situation in the country, currently?
Ibtihal Bsis – I cannot believe that the revolution in Syria is entering into its fourth year, but for the people on the ground this is very real, it feels as if the revolution has been on-going for 40 years. They are tired, with the constant warplanes over their heads and the lack of electricity and water and even food. People take each day as it comes and try and survive every day on the little that they have. Very few people speak of 'tomorrow.' What we have to remember is that many of them have lost members of their families, on some occasions entire generations have been wiped out by the al-Assad regime.
Crossing the border in 2014 was a very different experience to crossing it in 2013 and certainly different from my crossing in 2012. Turkey has built a wall around the border much like the wall that you would find between Israel and Palestine. Steel doors have replaced the simple barbed wire and barrier that used to be there. The Turkish army is much more alert on the border, they are armed and check everyone. I found the experience extremely harrowing, so you can imagine how difficult it is for the people that need to leave Syria in order to seek medical assistance for their child who has suffered a brain haemorrhage because they were hit in their home by rockets, or for men who have lost limbs, or for women who miscarried at nine months because of the stress. No allowances are made for these people by the Turkish forces as they are treated in the same way as everyone else trying to cross the border. They are not welcomed with smiles; they are met with suspicions and guns.
Entering was much easier than exiting Syria for obvious reasons. I took a lot of footage which I hope to publish soon but if I can give you a picture of what I saw, the walls reminded me of Israel, the camps are not tents any longer. The tents have been replaced by bricks. People have actually set up their homes on the border. I saw a post office and a police station and shops. These were all makeshift but it was a clear sign that people were trying to build a community by the border. They have left their homes, their schools, their families, their lives behind and set up a life on a mountain which produces no vegetation, there is no water and no electricity. They feel forced to set up their lives because they are not being allowed to enter Turkey.
I met a family who look after their father who has lost his ability to walk, he was obviously psychologically affected by what he had seen and what he had experienced. He couldn't even sit up. His wife had been sitting in one room for two weeks and the room stank of urine and the children were eating soil. Upon smelling and seeing this I actually felt physically sick. They had spotted that we were new to the area and were dressed in clean clothing, and the woman began begging my husband to help her get out. Her four-year-old children were drinking black coffee because it was the cheapest thing that was being sold. It was obvious that they had not eaten a proper meal for what seemed like months. But the most shocking aspect of this was the fact that this was a family who were actually quite affluent. But they had lost everything in a moment when a missile hit their home. She said that she doesn't recognise her husband any more he is not the man he was. They said that they hadn't received aid at the border and that when they begged the guards to let them through they were ushered away because she said, there were people worse off than them. In the end she got through the border with her older son leaving her younger children and paralysed husband behind. She was going to try and get work and help her family in some way. She didn't know how. We had come from Turkey and we had seen the situation of the Syrians in Turkey and it was dire. Many of them had secured heavy duty jobs but because they had no papers and they effectively have no rights many of them were not paid for those jobs. Syrians were being abused in Turkey and I feared that for her and her son. You can't relay that kind of bad news to people because they go with so much hope. It is beyond heart-breaking and devastating to see the plight that the Ummah of Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم is going through.
As we went further into Syria people started to talk to us about the warplanes and the suspicious explosions that took place in their towns by unfamiliar faces that they'd never seen before. One woman told me that an explosion happened in her town which killed 13 young men and the mothers spent some two hours trying to identify their children through scars from bits of arms or bits of limbs. She had lost her nephew and her husband had lost his nephew. I do not know how you get over something so psychologically scarring.
I heard stories about people being buried under rubble and because the people didn't have the machinery to dig fast enough many people were suffocated to death. I heard a story that will stay with me, I think until the day I die, of a baby that was trapped underneath some concrete but was still alive but by the time they got to him, he had starved to death even though the concrete had protected him from the rubble that would have suffocated him. The doctors said he would have had a more painless death had he been suffocated.
These are just some examples of what is taking place in Syria. There is so much worse going on. The sound of the warplanes has led to a type of fatigue. The people of Syria are so fatigued that I felt tired listening to these stories, so tired that I felt forced almost to ask a question that I thought I would never ask. I asked one sister whether the revolution was over, whether people just wanted to go back to their lives before the revolution. This is when I realised that although the people are very tired in a way that we cannot even begin to imagine, they are not broken and they will never be broken inshaallah. One sister told me that they have literally sacrificed everything, their homes, their wealth, their children, their husbands, their mothers their honour their dignity, and when you invest so much into something you would rather die and watch everyone around you die before you give up. We will never turn our backs on this blessed revolution - one sister told me. The key to all of this is the fact that they are absolutely certain that Allah سبحانه وتعالى is with them. When you have the creator, he will test you, he will take things from you but he will honour you with the victory. And for a second I forgot that as they were relaying these horrific stories to me, I felt ashamed because they never forget, not even for a second, and it is they who are experiencing these harrowing incidents not me. I learned many things during this visit much more than my previous two visits. One of them is that you don't forget Allah even for a blink of an eye.
Kcom - There were numerous rebel groups who sometimes came together or sometimes separately fought the al-Assad regime, all of this changed with the emergence of ISIS in early 2013. What is ISIS doing in Syria, what is the perception of the people towards them?
Ibtihal Bsis - ISIS raises more questions than answers. It's important to understand a little bit about the history here. ISIS has not just emerged during the Syrian revolution. They can be traced back to 2004 after the Iraqi invasion by the George W. Bush administration. They took on various names one of them being Jamat al Tawhid. They proclaimed that they had set up an Islamic state in Iraq, and although the US forces removed it, they did so by simply setting up a wall between them and the next town. What can't be denied is that they have an important role in fulfilling the agenda of the US and defiling the good name of the Islamic state as it was up until 1924 from the time of Muhammed صلى الله عليه وسلم in Medina.
ISIS appeared in Syria in April 2013 and had a strong presence in Northern Syria where it instituted strict sharia law in a number of towns. It is said to have carried out torture and summary executions and has secret detention centres, many of these were actually verified. As we all know, Barack Obama has launched a military offensive against what he says are ISIS strongholds.
What is of particular concern, I think, is that they appeared from nowhere and they appeared at a particularly critical time and that time was when the Syrian revolution began to have a clear and strong Islamic identity. This identity had been developing and by the middle of 2012 it had a strong foothold. We could all see from the media that people were carrying the pre-Assad flag, or the revolution flag which had three colours, white, black and green. Those who supported the Assad regime carried the white, black and red flag. By the middle of 2012 the Rayah flag had started to emerge and it was difficult for media covering the revolution to find a demonstration that didn't have these flags. The West was interested in passing the propaganda that this was a revolution that called for freedom. By 2012 Obama and the rest of the Western leaders had stopped saying that the people of Syria are calling for a democracy.
Every Friday there would be demonstrations in various towns in Syria. The people of Syria were united in naming each demonstration so that they would be calling for a particular solution, so for example in the latter part of 2011 the demonstrations would be called things like: "the Jummah of the Arab league are killing us", and on 16 March 2012 the demonstration was called "the Jummah of military intervention (from the international community)". The chants would echo the call for "hurria" i.e. freedom.
By the end of 2012 and even in by the middle of 2012 people were beginning to lose confidence and trust in the international community and the Arab rulers that were doing nothing to stop the killing, the torturing and the humiliation by al-Assad towards his people. A good indicator of this was the names of the demonstrations on Friday so on 13 July 2012 the demonstration was called "The Jummah of the fall of Kofi Annan (servant of Assad and Iran). On 19 October 2012 "the Jummah of America - are you not satisfied with our spilled blood?"
The clear Islamic identity of this revolution had gained considerable ground certainly by the 25 January 2013 when the demonstration was called "the Jummah of our leader forever Mohammed صلى الله عليه وسلم".
This obviously troubled the West; one has to ask the question was it just a coincidence that ISIS appeared in Syria in 2013 as the revolution was becoming more Islamic? The battalions appeared to unify under the umbrella group of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and we began to hear terms such as extremism and moderate battalions and now the word terrorism.
America and her allies were not about to let Islam take hold as the ruling system in Syria. Although the people of Syria could not give you the detail of how Islam would work in Syria, during my visits in 2012 and 2013 I could see the increasing call for Allah's rule, through Qur'an and the Sunnah of Muhammed صلى الله عليه وسلم. This was extraordinary since the people of Syria had not been allowed to express political views for some 40 years because of the way the successive Alawi's ruled with an iron fist. The other revolutions that took place in the region had been lost because people really didn't know what the solution should be for their region and all of the revolutions had failed effectively because it had either brought more mayhem to the region such as in Libya or it had brought a new dictator to the region such as Sisi in Egypt.
Everything that the West had tried to present to the people of Syria as a solution was rejected. John Kerry and his predecessor Hillary Clinton had tried a number of things such as the Geneva one convention and the Geneva two conventions - both of which failed miserably. They had tried the six-point plan headed by Kofi Anan, again another failure; Kofi Anan actually resigned. Then they tried a more user-friendly face, that of Lakdar Brahimi and again this failed. The US tried to control the battalions through the Free Syrian Army and again this failed. The opposition that they presented in Turkey to the Syrian people was overwhelmingly rejected by them on the ground. The problem that the US has is that anything it tries to present to the Syrian people is met with suspicion quickly followed by rejection. America needed and wanted to control this revolution not least because of the Israeli border at the Golan Heights.
It was at this crucial time that ISIS emerged. The people of Syria were calling for Islam, and the word Caliphate began to emerge. It created suspicion when a group, that has the word Islamic state in its name, emerges and presents a catastrophic picture of an Islamic state to the people of Syria. It all seems a little too convenient.
Of course the US and the rest of the Western world were not going to present a united front against ISIS on the basis that they were protecting the people on the ground from them, because the people had realised some two years prior that the international community had absolutely no interest in, or motivation to come and rescue them from the Assad regime or anyone else. So they are effectively dressing up this whole military intervention as a way of protecting themselves from strikes from ISIS. But what they are really trying to do is isolate the Syrian people by stopping people from travelling to Syria, and the UN took the unprecedented step of involving itself in domestic law stating under their chapter 7 which compels states to prevent their nationals from joining so-called "jihadists" in Iraq and Syria. This is their way of finally controlling this revolution, complicating matters for those outside the region and within the region and of course propping up the Assad regime as they have continued to do so throughout this revolution. It is only ISIS that has presented them with this opportunity.
The US foreign policy is absolutely catastrophic. It has gained no support on the ground and within the Muslim world and by that I mean ordinary people, not the rulers who have run to strike Syria under the pretext of defeating ISIS. Not a single bullet or a single tank or a single airstrike was manoeuvred to stop the horrendous killing that was meted out by the Assad's in this nearly 4 3 year long revolution. But when people started to call for Islam as the solution and would not accept any of America's promises and handshakes with puppets, they punished the people, not ISIS, but the people, who dared to stand up to them by rejecting their offers of so-called help.
We spoke to a family who told us that the warplanes of al-Assad are hitting them by day and the American warplanes are hitting them by night. This is taking place in parts of Syria where ISIS do not even exist. These are the areas where ISIS have no support, and if they tried to come in they would be driven out by the people. Obama's proclamation that this is a war against ISIS is an evident lie. This is a war to stop Islam. The only way left open to them is to bring their lethal F-22 jets and attack the people on the ground. The US has struck places such as Kafar Daryan in the Idlib Provice which is west of Aleppo.
Kcom - As there are many groups involved, who do the people trust?
Ibtihal Bsis - I can tell you those that the people do not trust. The Syrian National Coalition (SNC) (previously Syrian National Council) was the umbrella group for the battalions at the beginning of revolution. Many of the battalions then ceased using the SNC label to present themselves as revolutionaries since they were taken over by the US I remember reading an article on the BBC and the headline was "America ousts its man in the SNC". They firstly appointed a man called Salim Idris as head of the National Coalition military wing – the Supreme Military Council, but they failed to arm him and he was quickly exposed as their man. It became clear, pretty quickly to the US that he had no clout on the ground. He was thereafter replaced by Col Abdel-alIllah al-Bashier, who is despised by all the Syrians. It was reported that the supreme military Council elected him but people knew that it was America that handpicked him. Hence people do not support the SNC in any way shape or form.
Many battalions have disbanded and those that are considered "moderate" by the West are quickly rejected by the people on the ground. The state of play, as it is now, is that ordinary folk from various towns are protecting their own regions. They work together, as an example if there is a war plane travelling through parts of Syria, one region will notify another that it's on its way to their town. People have never trusted the SNC which was born out of Hillary Clinton's era in November 2012. And they do not support the new Syrian Coalition which was reformed by America because it was obvious that people did not support the Syrian national Council. People do not support any one who sits in five-star hotels and claims to have the right to lead the country. ISIS have had a negative effect on the ground but what has plainly not worked for the benefit of America is that people recognise that this Islamic state is not an Islamic state. People are not calling for democracy they are not calling for freedom and they are most certainly not calling for the Western world to rescue them. They are politically astute enough to figure out that the West is using them.
Who do they trust? They trust anyone who still calls for the removal of Assad, who does not work with the West in any way shape or form, who does not presume leadership over them, and who fears Allah. I think that's the best way I can put it. There are a number of groups and battalions that still fulfil all of these criteria but we don't hear much about them in the media.
Kcom - The global media has reported for some time about ISIS control over northern areas of Syria, Does ISIS control most of Northern Syria? if so what is life like for the people residing there.
Ibtihal Bsis - What is interesting about this is that ISIS does not control most of Northern Syria. It controls areas such as Raqqa, but it really does not have as much control as we are being made to believe on the mainstream media. This adds to my argument that ISIS is being presented as a bogeyman in order to justify military strikes in Syria that has a far wider agenda. Obviously ISIS, in order to fulfil that agenda, have to have very extreme views on what Islam is, otherwise the US cannot justify attacking them. But we have to be careful here because America wants to use ISIS to defame Islamic governance. That's a very different position from saying that ISIS do not represent an Islamic State. Essentially America wants to present ISIS as an example of what Islam does when it rules.
Kcom - Many in the west were horrified at the demand for Islam when the uprising started, is this still the case, do the people of the country still want to replace the regime with an Islamic regime?
Ibtihal Bsis - Many in the West were horrified, as you put it, only because they really have not been given the correct information about Islamic rule and the kind of justice it brings to the world. I think we can all say that people who live in the West are frankly fed up with their politicians and are beginning to see that their system is not working. Western leaders are very concerned about this and they need the public vote to maintain their rule. Their votes come from the masses so they use the media in order to shape the opinions of people so that effectively what happens is people are left with the attitude of, well, better the devil you know, as opposed to, there must be another system out there which does a better job. That system is Islam but it has been completely vilified and drawn up as a barbaric way of life so that people will not even entertain a discussion about an Islamic state or caliphate any more. As ordinary Muslims we don't have media apart from social media and we have to utilise that as best we can in order to get the correct view of Islam out there so that more people are interested. We had an opportunity with Syria and in that the people began to call for Islam but yet again the mass media machine used by Western governments began to churn out words such as extremism and terrorism. Now I find that our non-Muslim friends and neighbors and colleagues are afraid to talk about Syria and its solution from Islam because of the whole Isis thing. As for the people in Syria, Alhamdulillah, they are remarkably politically astute and understand that this is not Islam and has nothing to do with Islam and the military strikes made by America and her allies have clarified that position for those Syrians who were unsure about an Islamic solution, because it is clear now that the solution must be Islam for the region.
That call has not gone away and the Islamic identity of this revolution remains strong. People are obviously more concerned about who they can trust, but during this visit in 2014 I met people who had never talked to me about politics and the solution, and I was surprised to find that they were engaging in a political conversation with me in which they were saying that this is a war against Islam and that Allah will find a solution for them, he will bring the victory.
One ordinary woman, who's never been formally educated and is very simple, when I asked her what does she think the solution will be, she answered by saying that they can only be one solution and that is for the Khilafah to return. She said that the revolution may continue for a little while longer but that's only to cleanse it of the impurities that are evidently there. Ultimately there can only be one result, that is the Khilafah and that's why America is so concerned about this region as they don't want to see the re-emergence of that in this country or anywhere else. I think this is the only way to end this question, by using her words because she represented what I heard from the people.