Film Screening – Silent War (Syrie, le cri étouffé)

I went to a film screening last week at SOAS – it’s taken me so long to write about it because it was so hard to watch. But it’s such an important topic that it NEEDS to be watched. (Trigger warning: Rape)

SYRIE LE CRI ETOUFFE – PriMed 2017 from CMCA on Vimeo.

It’s a lamentation. A howl, stifled yet deafening. A silent cry whose spasms tear through prison walls, basements, the antechambers of death. It’s the cry of Syrian women who, for the past six years, have been routinely raped in Bashar al-Assad’s jails. An organized, pre-meditated crime, based on a key taboo in traditional Syrian society, which makes it impossible for the victims to ever speak about it, knowing they risk rejection – even being stoned to death – by their own family. Rape – in Syria a weapon of war, but never discussed. A way of not only destroying the woman and her identity, but also breaking her family, her clan, and any form of resistance.

How did a woman’s body become part of Syria’s war? The question raised in this film letting women, previously walled-up in shame and silence, speak. (Source)


For obvious reasons, this film was hard to watch. The bravery of these women to share their stories is absolutely astounding. Rape is such a taboo topic, in most places in the world, but very much so in Syria. It’s hard to imagine the kind of societal rejection that these women face for acknowledging what happened to them. They have to overcome twice as much – the violation of their bodies, and then the rejection of their communities.

But this film is also important to watch. It’s not just about bearing witness to what these women endured. It’s also about understanding that rape is being deliberately used as a tactic against Syrian civilians by the Assad regime – for the express purpose of shattering communities and violating honour. There are many things that have occurred over the last seven years of the conflict that make me wonder how anyone could continue supporting the Assad regime – especially in the West (i.e. chemical weapons, besiegement, etc). Maybe this will help open people’s eyes to the atrocities that the regime is committing, and will enable people to admit that he should have zero legitimacy.

The film director, Manon Loizeau, was in attendance and gave a moving tribute to bravery and resilience of the women she met. She also explained that she very much didn’t want to insert herself into the narrative of the documentary, preferring to have it be only the testimony of the Syrian women she interviewed. There is no narration in the film, only the translated text in sub-titles of what the women are saying.

A number of women chose not to reveal their faces on camera, for fear of their identity being known, and Manon explained that there were many details of the testimonies that they could not include because it would identify the women. But there were a few who chose to bare their faces, name the men who raped them in prison, and have faced death threats and exile for doing so. May justice prevail in their cases, and for all the survivors.

Here’s another article from Al-Jazeera about the film.

Syria & the Left: 7th Anniversary of the Syrian Uprising

Another week, another great event at SOAS – Syria & the Left: 7th Anniversary of the Syrian Uprising with Leila al-Shami. Leila is co-author of Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War

The event was a really interesting exploration of the failure of the left (or parts of it) to stand with revolutionary Syrians, and why some on the left, in common with those on the right, have supported the Assad regime.

Leila did an excellent job of explaining the rationale behind those who support Assad, which was important for me to understand, since I’ve had such a hard time in understanding why anyone would support a very obvious murderous dictator. According to Leila, there is a section of the left that is so anti-imperialist, that they view Assad as standing up to “imperialist powers”, and really fail to notice or acknowledge the immense suffering of civilians under Assad’s regime. In my mind, the rights and wants of Syrians on the ground are much more important than any anti-imperialist political chess match, and we should be listening to Syrian voices.

I highly recommend watching the livestream video of the event, which you can find here.

(Note: it was a deliberate choice not to film Leila’s face for security reasons).

Open Source Intelligence in Syria

I went to a super interesting event last night at SOAS – Open Source Intelligence in Syria with Eliot HigginsIf you don’t know, Eliot Higgens (aka Brown Moses) is the founder of Bellingcat, a website which which applies the use of open source investigation to a range of topics. Eliot’s work on Syria focuses on the authentication of weapons and planes, including the monitoring of the use of barrel bombs and chemical weapons. Through Bellingcat, he was involved in documenting the most recent chemical attacks in Syria and the geo-tracking of airstrike targets and sources.

Eliot’s presentation was absolutely eye-opening. It is really astounding the amount of open-source information that exists out there, and how you can use it to verify (and disprove) events on the ground. He showed the process he’s used to verify videos and pictures, and how to disprove the propaganda that seems to be coming from Russia who use a similar type of open-source rhetoric, but actually are obfuscating or blatantly lying about their facts.

I highly recommend watching the event if you have time. Click here to access the facebook livestream of the event.

Also, definitely follow Eliot Higgins on Twitter, and check out the Bellingcat website!


Ghiras al-Nahda

It has been a super busy month since getting back from Jordan, and I’m in the final crunch time of finishing my MA dissertation. Lots of time spent at the library!

Senate House Library

I’m looking at the rise of Syrian NGOs in local communities as humanitarian service providers, especially given the lack of access that international NGOs have in different areas of Syria – in particular opposition held areas or areas under regime siege. I was going to look at a number of different organizations, and maybe do a cross-comparison of them, but I’ve decided to focus on one – Ghiras al-Nahda, which operates in Damascus and the countryside, including the Eastern Ghouta.

In a tragic sense of necessity is the mother of all invention/innovation, Ghiras al-Nahda is working on a campaign for the people of besieged Eastern Ghouta to grow their own mushrooms, which is a viable and nutritious food source in an area where food is scarce and has to be smuggled in or grown.

They have a fundraiser on the platform CanDo, which is a really interesting humanitarian fundraising initiative, that sort of circumvents traditional funding and donor streams.

Witness to War Crimes in Syria

It’s been a busy week for events. Last night, I attended “Witness to War Crimes in Syria”, which was hosted by the Syria Solidarity Campaign at UCL.

The speakers at the event were  Haytham AlhamwiPaul Conroy, Ann Hannah, and Toby Cadman.

This was probably one of the hardest, yet most important, events I’ve attended. It’s one thing to know or have read about Assad’s policies of torture, siege, and starvation, it’s quite another to hear about them from someone who experienced it first hand. I was completely in awe of the bravery and resilience of the people who were able to recount what happened to them.

I definitely recommend watching this.

Syria Awareness Week – Jan 30 – Feb 3

So I don’t know if I’ve mentioned yet, but I’m part of the Syria Society at SOAS, and this coming week we are having our Syria Awareness Week! We have lots of events about many different aspects, and I’m presenting an event too!

Here’s our line-up:

Hopefully we’ll have a successful week!

Film Screening – A Syrian Love Story

Another week, another film screening. Don’t worry, I go to my classes too!

This time the SOAS Syria Society screened A Syrian Love Story, which follows a couple who met and fell in love in prison and then married and started a family upon their release. But as they continue to pursue their political activism against the Assad regime, one becomes a political prisoner, leaving her husband to care for their young children. And once she’s released, intense pressure on all political activists force the family to flee. But political exile takes it toll on their mental health, and although they have found safety in France, their relationship begins to crumble.

This documentary was hard to watch – if this was a fictional movie, you’d feel secure knowing that at the end of the film, love triumphs over all, and any relationship struggles are just simply resolved. But that isn’t real life – and this documentary shows just how much difficult situations change people, and take their toll.

That being said, it is an important film to watch – the more we know about the lives of every day Syrians, the more we can put faces and stories to the statistics that we read. We need to bring this back down to the realities of people, because we can connect with people more than we can connect with numbers.

Film Screening – After Spring

It’s January, and back to uni time!

I went to another film screening last night to watch After Spring – this is the film that Jon Stewart produced, and it follows a couple of Syrian refugee families in Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. A major figure in the documentary is also Kilian Kleinschmidt, who is the director of Zaatari – a very inspiring man, trying to keep the camp running as effectively as possible.

I’ve been really fascinated by how Zaatari was set up and how it grew so quickly, so this documentary was very interesting in showing how people are trying to make as much of a life as they can in the circumstances they’re in.

I’m thinking of writing my MA dissertation on refugee camps, like Zaatari, and how they struggle with trying to be a temporary shelter, so that they can be packed up and closed when the crisis is over, and how they actually have to become more entrenched and provide more services, since the crisis is becoming more and more protracted. What do you think?

Film Screening – The White Helmets

I went to a film screening of The White Helmets last night at KCL – the film has been out for a while now, but it’s one of those films that you know you ought to see, but can’t bring yourself to watch alone because you know it’s going to be heartbreaking.

I highly recommend watching it; with a group of people, or by yourself if you can manage it. The bravery of these people to rush into bombed out buildings, trying to find survivors, likely becoming victims themselves, is just absolutely astounding. The film is predominately first-person videos, and it instantly transports you to the ground. And the scene where they rescue a baby, still alive, from underneath some rubble, is so heart-wrenching.

“To save one life…is to save all of humanity.”