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Fear For Loved Ones Abroad Keeps Boston-Area Syrians Silenced

This article is more than 11 years old.

This weekend marks the one-year anniversary of the uprising in Syria, and for the small and scattered Syrian community in the Boston area, it's been a year of watching, waiting and worrying.

Many local Syrians say they're afraid to even talk about the violence now playing out in their home country out of fear that their conversations could lead to harm for loved ones overseas. WBUR's All Things Considered host Sacha Pfeiffer spoke about this with one Syrian-born man living in Watertown who has been in the U.S. for 30 years.

His first name is Ahmad, and WBUR is withholding his last name for security reasons because, as Ahmad explains, the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has spread fear among his people.

Ahmad: So you don't trust anyone who you meet, even though when we go to the the mosque and we meet some Syrians from time to time, and imagine we cannot discuss this issue because of the fear that he might be a spy for the government or he may think that I am.

Sacha Pfeiffer: The person you're talking to here in the U.S. you're afraid might be a spy?

Yes, in the U.S., absolutely.

What are you afraid might happen to your family and friends in Syria if you end up talking about the situation in Syria with someone here in the U.S. who turns out to be a spy?

Well, as you know, the regime has gangs called Shabiha. These are vicious, atrocious individuals, and they are committing the most monstrosity — from rape, robbing the homes, killing these individuals and shooting them with bullets that can explode their heads or their bodies, the corpse being cut apart. It's unprecedented brutality.

You've said that you can call people, you can make phone calls, but you don't feel like you can talk about the situation when you talk to them.

Absolutely. There are some phones that are monitored. In fact, when we get on Skype to speak with our families, you may say, 'Is it raining today?' meaning 'Are there bullets coming down?' That's the only thing you could say, something like that. Some of us have to express the feeling. It's hard to keep silent. And this country has taught us to be free, to speak out, and to show that you cannot tolerate such brutality.

It sounds like your opinion of the Assad family, the Assad regime, was always fairly low, but did you ever think it would get to this point?

I never really thought it would get to this point because for many years, as a Sunni, I never feel the discrimination or any of that.

Are there family and friends of yours in Syria that you know have been harmed in some way?

No, I don't, but my wife knows about four men who were shot to death from the neighborhood where she lives.

How do you think this will resolve?

It is very tough question. I hope the international community steps up and help to support the uprising, the defectors who have defect the army.

Do you feel like the international community has done enough so far?

Not enough. Because giving him time to kill more, to torture more. And, as a result, these people are deprived from food and medications and suffer God knows what illness in the future. So we hope that the Arab countries, as well as the international community, democratic countries, to form coalition to depose Assad and his clan, same as Libya and Moammar Ghadafi.

You mentioned earlier that last night you cried, I think, as you were falling asleep.


And you're clearly very angry about what's happening in Syria. But at what point do you think that anger ends up turning into tears?

This regime has broken every principle of mankind. Has no codes whatsoever. Have committed such atrocity that it's hard to watch. It's hard to see. And the more we wait, the more they will do. We want to send our love and tears, our feelings, to those who are defending their families, to those who have lost their children, who have lost their brothers and sisters. And I hope, I hope they are in heaven, and I hope that the triumph is near. And that's all we can say.

Thank you very much for talking to us.

Thank you.

This program aired on March 16, 2012.


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