Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The War on Jaramana

Today, in a Syrian town called Jaramana, four bombs went off simultaneously, killing 77 people.  There were no army checkpoints or police stations nearby.  It was a premeditated slaughter of innocents.  It was 7 AM in the morning, and many children were on their way to school.  One car bomb exploded near a gas station; another car detonated as it drove against traffic down Jaramana’s narrow streets.

Jaramana is a suburb of Damascus, part of a network of slums encircling the capital city that the government, apparently without irony, calls the riif (or “countryside.”) Compared to the other cities of the riif, it is fairly new and prosperous.  The buildings are newly-built and the streets are well-paved and lined with tiny malls, specialty shops, and overpriced cafes. 

And just imagine the fabulous live shopping you can do at Snoopy!

I would go to Jaramana often to volunteer-teach at a rare Evangelical Christian school, or to visit friends.  The minibus from Damascus’ Old City would take me into the clustered streets of the riif and through multiple faux gates bearing the likenesses of President Assad and his relatives, ending up at the “Square of the Swords,” a Syrian war memorial.

Most of the people living in Jaramana are either Christians or Druze, followers of a secretive religion with its origins in Shia Islam.  When millions of Iraqis, nearly half of them Christians, fled to Syria to escape Iraq’s sectarian violence, many of them chose to settle in Jaramana.

So many Iraqis fled to Jaramana that when I visited there during the Iraqi election season, I saw campaign posters like this one lining the streets:

Iraqis living in Syria were the only people in the country allowed to vote for their leaders.

Jaramana also had the best Iraqi restaurants:

One of my best friends in Syria was a young Iraqi I’ll call Khaldun, a crazy-smart, fluent-in-English, hyper-ambitious renaissance man. 

Khaldun’s family fled to Jaramana from Baghdad after his dad was kidnapped.  The terrorists found him on the street and pushed him into a waiting car – right in front of a police station.  Khaldun’s family was Christian, and his dad had light skin and blue eyes.  Because of this, the terrorists thought he was a western missionary. “They were not too bright,” Khaldun told me.

Khaldun’s dad was tortured and hung from the ceiling by his wrists.  But he had always been a generous man, and when his Sunni Muslim neighbors found out about his kidnapping, they made inquiries, discovered who was behind it, and were able to intercede for his release.  After that, the family made for the border.

With that kind of trauma in their past, it's amazing how whole this family was, how warm and welcoming they made their home.  Some of my best times in Syria were spent at their flat, listening to Khaldun play the oud, eating his mom's delicious cooking, looking at family photos with his dad, and playing wrestling video games with his brother.

Khaldun is now studying in the United States, along with his younger brother.  A few weeks ago, he told me that his mother, father, aunt, and youngest brother – age 10 – had fled to Beirut in mid-September.  A large explosion had occurred just minutes away from their flat, and was followed by another explosion shortly afterwards.  That’s when they decided to leave.

At age ten, his young brother has had to flee for his life from two different countries because of his ethnic/religious identity.

I have other friends in Jaramana, but I don’t know if they’ve left or not.

Because Jaramana is mostly Druze and Christian, its residents are largely pro-Assad.  Many of Syria’s religious minorities fear that the downfall of their country’s secular dictatorship will lead to a religious government, persecution, and perhaps even genocide, as in Iraq.  Those fears are now being borne out.

The more extreme elements of Syria’s uprising have evidently decided to target Jaramana’s people for murder and terror.  This latest bombing attack was only the deadliest so far.

On August 27, two supporters of the government were killed in a bomb attack.

On August 28, a taxi plowed into the funeral procession for those two men and exploded, killing twelve people, including five children.  This was the attack that prompted my friends to flee.

On October 19, Father Fadi Jamil Haddad, a Greek Catholic priest, was kidnapped in Jaramana while trying to ransom a kidnapped parishioner.  His body was found six days later.  It bore the marks of torture.

On October 22, a car bomb detonated outside the church of St. Abramo in Jaramana.  Thankfully, no one was hurt.

On October 29, a car bomb exploded outside a bakery in Jaramana, during the Eid al-Adha, the biggest feast on the Islamic calendar, which was supposed to mark a ceasefire in the fighting.  Eleven people died.

Reuters reported today that, according to a resident of Jaramana, the town’s Druze leaders had “repeatedly forbidden” rebels to operate in the town. “Tension have risen between Druze elders and rebels and now there are 3 or 4 small explosions a week,” she said.

Apologists for the Syrian opposition claim that the government is behind the attack, and is trying to stoke the fears of minorities to ensure their loyalty.  This is rather like claiming the Israeli government staged the bus bombing in Tel Aviv last week to get its people riled up against Palestinians.  With the Christians of Qusayr and Homs driven out of their homes, multiples churches bombed or burned to the ground by rebels, and Saudi Arabian channels broadcasting anti-Alawite propaganda on a daily basis, we're well beyond that point by now.

Sheikh Adnan al-Arour, a Salafist Muslim leader in Syria and a key figure in the Free Syrian Army leadership, has promised that, after the revolution, religious minorities who supported Assad will be “chopped up and fed to the dogs.”

Here’s what that looks like:

Jaramana is just one of the many towns that will be swept away in the maelstrom of hate and terror that the Syrian civil war has become.  My friend's family is just one of millions.  Bashar al-Assad in his mad quest for survival, the Syrian rebels in their mad quest for revenge and Sunni Islamic supremacy, and the U.S. in its mad quest to stay forever on top of the Middle East dogpile, will brush them all aside without a second thought.

But I hope you'll join me in taking a second to remember.

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