This post is part of a special series of articles by blogger and activist, Marcell Shehwaro, describing the realities of life in Syria during the ongoing armed conflict between forces loyal to the current regime, and those seeking to oust it.
When I was asked to write about the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS), I left the blank page open on my computer for several days. How was I to write about ISIS for others, for people who have not suffered the same amount of violence and chaos? And what responsibility do we as Syrians carry, compared to the rest of the world, for creating ISIS?
For starters, I need to clarify that the Syrian people did not have the opportunity to go shopping at the “Victory Supermarket”, where items such as the option of Assad fleeing in the style of Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, or stepping down like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, were on sale. Nor did we have enough oil to buy the NATO option, like Libya. Instead, we purchased Al-Qaeda, which we found wrapped in yellow tape in the discount bin.
Simply put, we Syrians did not have the luxury of choice, while others had plans to dispose of their damaged goods on our land, using the blood of our youth.
Six months after it began, the Syrian Revolution, which has been in progress for four years, sent out an SOS call on the day of protests known as the “Friday of International Protection”. It then called for the establishment of a no-fly zone, an end to the extending of deadlines, the expulsion of Ambassadors, support for the Free Syria Army, and international intervention.
The Revolution requested that everyone live up to their responsibilities towards humanity, and being an open appeal, it was—unfortunately—answered by Al Qaeda.
So are we Syrians the only ones responsible for the emergence of ISIS? ISIS is not the product of our streets nor our plans. We didn't need them in order to terrorise others, and they didn't need our permission to come through our closed airports.
Contrary to what some people say, they came to us through open boundaries. They came to us via other airports, carrying the passports of their countries. They came to us thanks to the prejudice against and fear of bearded men, distracted by the sight of the blood of the child that the man was holding in his hands.
I do not want, even for a second, for us to wash our hands of our responsibility, as Syrians, from the growth of this cancerous creature across our lands. In the end, some paid allegiance to ISIS because of poverty. Assad's old henchmen—those lovers of power and lickers of boots—did the same in anticipation of new power, for to them there's little difference between gaining power in the name of ISIS or Assad.
In their naivety our rebels continued, believing that ISIS had come to our rescue, saying that it would be ungrateful to speak of their flaws, which quickly turned into crimes. Thousands of hypocrites, profiteers and merchants of religion and war continued to wallow in cowardice, exemplified by the number of clergymen who were too afraid to warn the youth against paying allegiance to ISIS.
The poor fighters of the Free Syrian Army were dazzled by the gear of the ISIS combatants, which, compared with their own sad rifles, looked like something out of the video game Counter-Strike. Gradually, they surrendered their sense of belonging to their homeland, and some began to belong to the killers.
They perpetuated our bloody political and ideological divisions until we were drowning in the stench of blood, to the point where some were ready to enter into an alliance with the devil just so this war would end. And this is what happened: we aligned ourselves with the devil. And they made us fear our secularism, on the pretext that it would destroy our unity. And in order to protect the priorities of battle, they made us fear our dreams of a democratic civil state.
If all this is our responsibility, then we are also the ones who paid with our blood to fight this entity. And until lately, we were the ones who suffered most from its extremism and its occupation of our land. We have also suffered from its attempts to brainwash our youth. It was us rebels, who, in a split second, became wanted by two states, appealing to other countries to show some interest in a future we are sure will be a crime—a crime not just for us as a nation, but a crime that will impact the whole of humanity. What will this extremism give birth to in the future? And who, among the world's innocent, will it target?
ISIS occupied our land because they consider that Syrians have no nation to speak of. To them, what we have is a product of the infidel West. The occupation of our country was announced on Al Jazeera on April 9, 2013, and from that moment ISIS has been fighting us. They have been fighting us as a revolution they do not acknowledge, insisting on burning our flag and kidnapping and disappearing our rebels. And unlike our other opponents, no one dares to ask questions.
I still remember the time I was travelling between Aleppo and Turkey via the countryside route and saw many ISIS checkpoints along the way, and the painful realisation that they had forcefully changed the names of villages in our countryside. There is little now to show that this is Syria. They painted all the revolution flags black. They erased the names of villages, replacing them with huge black stones which read “The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria Welcomes You”.
I am afraid to ridicule this shameless occupation. I am afraid, because the Palestinians once ridiculed what they thought was the concept of a nation which could not be implemented on their land, and because Iranian rebels once laughed at the notion that a theological state could gobble up their revolution. I am afraid to make fun of the situation, and petrified at the thought that I might enter the first stage of grief, which is denial, and end up kissing and compromising.
The words of the bus driver who noticed my sadness still ring in my ears. “Tomorrow, it will rain, and all this black will go away,” he said. And I do pray that it will rain on Al Raqqa, Al Bab, Manjib and Mosul and all the areas occupied by the ISIS. But before all that, in order for the clouds to reach them, it needs to rain on Damascus.