Monday, June 03, 2013

The Day We Broke Fear

It was a clear blue day as I walked to the square where the protest was being held. I felt frightened and nervous having been warned not to do this sort of thing again, but I felt compelled to do something, anything. I couldn't sit at home and pretend nothing was happening when I knew perfectly well that people were getting murdered in cold blood. It felt as if somebody was hitting me over the head with a hammer, telling me to get up and go, as if I would never be able to forgive myself if I didn't seize that moment. As I got nearer and nearer I could hear the sounds of chants carried to me over the patches of silence in the square. One turn of the corner and I could see the flags, the familiar faces of friends, and my heart instantly felt at ease because I knew then that I wasn't the only one.

In those early days I suffered from an intense feeling of isolation and loneliness. I used to seek out other Syrians so that we could talk about what was happening and about how we felt. Before that day the tone was always one of worry and fear - fear for our families, for ourselves, for lives which will be upturned. We were always worried of that "report" that might be written about us, that somebody would have our names on a file somewhere and then that would be it, that we would be out in the cold and exiled from our homes and loved ones. What a thing to tell a mother, that her son was marked as an agitator and troublemaker! And yet there was that hammer on the head again, that drive which pushed us on in spite of our nagging worries to speak up and keep speaking. Something was wrong and yet many people wanted to pretend as if nothing was happening. Then I went to that protest and everything changed. It was my second and up until that point I had still been undecided about what position to take. What was happening was clearly wrong, but I felt that change and reform could happen if we made clear how unhappy we were about the heavy handedness.

As we all stood together in front of the embassy the atmosphere was euphoric. I pumped my fist in the air and began to chant, no longer concerned if the embassy was filming us. I began to call for the overthrow of the regime! In the space of a few minutes a lifetime of inhibitions and taboos came crumbling down. There was no longer any fear. It might seem strange to bring this up today, but two years ago when this revolution started the word on everybody's lips had been about the "fear barrier". People marveled at the sensation of no longer being afraid to speak their mind, and we would exchange stories about our own individual moments. It was as if, by shattering this glass cage, we were becoming complete again, like fixing that tap which had always been dripping or changing a burnt out bulb after ignoring it for so long.

In those heady days we felt as if nothing was impossible and that we were going to change the world. I remember standing in the crowd on that sunny Saturday in Belgrave Square, wearing a bright blue t-shirt,  jeans and trainers and singing with everybody at the top of my voice. Nothing felt more right in my whole life.

But then things changed. Videos of tens of thousands of people demonstrating against tyranny gave way to the images of deserted streets in derelict towns. Of tanks driving up main streets and planes bombing villages. The cynics who didn't bat an eyelid for the thousands of innocents who were shot like dogs now nod their heads knowingly and speak of a revolution "hijacked". They can go to hell. This revolution was not about an ideology or a religion, and it wasn't about grand political scheming, it was about normal people who stopped what they were doing to stand up for what they believed in, and they did that even though they were afraid and, in many cases, would lose their lives. Injustice can only sustain itself through fear, and on that day we broke fear forever. This is what the revolution was about I don't ever want to forget that.

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