After a month and a half of living in the liberated areas, I would like to talk a little about my personal experience with a specific thing: how I experienced being “different” [secular, unconservative… etc] from the environment of the liberated areas. I’m a distinct person due to my body, my hair, my outifit, and also the way I speak… they all suggest that I’m different from those around me there.
In the beginning of the revolution, I used to wear a veil while protesting in Bustan Al-Qasr [Aleppo], actually for many reasons, some of which are social and others have to do with security issues. Despite that, however, I believed that in this sensitive phase of the revolution, preserving my identity as an unveiled woman is a part of my revolution, especially that I’m a daughter of the revolution. At the same time, I’m surrounded by a lot of people who are concerned about their personal liberties as religiously different persons, and they have so many questions about whether they can live under the Free Syrian Army.
Since the beginning of the liberation, I insisted that I will not cover my head with a veil in compliance with the armed people’s mood.
The Free Army has to accept difference and diversity in Syria: it’s not those who are different who should change to satisfy the Free Army and the armed people.
As for the civilians, they were the Syrians themselves, nothing changed, nobody became extremist or foolish, and nobody bothered me with a single word. At first they felt like I’m strange since I’m not from the neighborhood, but this feeling faded away afterwards.
As for the checkpoints: none of the checkpoints inside the city encountered me, except one manned by the (Islamist) Sharia Committee, sometimes by force and sometimes by advice, and the last time a man of theirs forced me to get out of the taxi, he sermonized me and then I got at him etc. In the countryside, some of the checkpoints, mostly those manned by the State (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, ISIS), are too impudent: once they tried to get me out in an isolated area only because I’m not veiled, and another drove crazy and forced the bus to stop just because of my messy hair. But other checkpoints are so kind, and those are founded from Aleppo to Ghazi Intab [the Turkish town of Gaziantep close to the Syrian border], which are mostly manned by at-Tawhid Brigade.
Concerning the “sectarian safety” (so to speak), it never happened on a checkpoint that I was worried about using my ID, although some had advised me to travel and use another ID!! [Syrian IDs also reveal the “religious identity” of the ID holder.] I’m not underestimating the risk some specific minority sects might face, but as for me I never felt in danger.
Each time something happened to me with someone armed, I used to hesitate a lot whether to write about it or not. Very simple: I don’t want it to be marketed like “see how a Christian girl is oppressed!” It’s never like this. A checkpoint that upsets me because of my hair often upsets others because of their stuff, etc. What we face there is not sectarian discrimination, but simply shamelessness of some checkpoints which has to do with the arm they carry and the disrespect they have towards civilians, thinking they’re their guardians whatsoever.
Another reason why I’m reluctant to write about trouble I face with the checkpoints is that, I don’t want some to believe that the revolution is just this or that checkpoint man who might annoy me because I’m not veiled. The revolution in Aleppo is the three or four hundreds who might protest against that checkpoint man and say “no” to him, if he tried to do anything in the first place. And I totally feel that my back is secured by Aleppo rebels! 🙂
The third reason is that I’m not angry at the armed people but at the female activists who are complying with them under the pretext of “let’s be away from troubles”!! If we, female activists, would stay away from troubles and remain silent, in the future those checkpoints will upset the voiceless and civilians who would fear and nobody would know what’s going on.
I would answer a lot of old friends who asked me if it’s possible for someone “different” to live in rebel-dominated areas. Yes, it is possible, and very possible with a little trust in the majority of Syrians, with some demand of respecting rights, and with some struggle… possible and very possible. What’s important is to stay and struggle, and to hold the belief that a lot of people will not accept us being oppressed.
Anyway, the Sharia checkpoints, the ISIS and the similar things, may God lighten you so that you get of the shoulders of people…
Someone sprayed on wall in Aleppo a very impressive sentence: “Dear jihadi brother, it’s shameful to be compared with the regime shabbiha*”.
* The shabbiha men are known to be overtly aggressive and ruthless. Some of the most heinous crimes in Syria are attributed to the shabbiha.
This article was originally written in Arabic and was published by the Syrian activist Marcell Shehwaro on her personal Facebook page. The English text above is a translation uploaded on Facebook. Although the text originates from July 2013, we still see it as a valuable voice from within Syria.