Testimonials from Syrians about life before, during, and after the 2011 rebellion.
Between 2012 and 2016, Pearlman (Comparative Politics/Northwestern Univ.; Violence, Nonviolence, and the Palestinian National Movement, 2011, etc.) had the unique opportunity to interview hundreds of Syrian refugees. The men and women with whom she spoke included “housewives and rebel fighters, hair-gelled teenagers and businessmen in well-pressed shirts, die-hard activists and ordinary families caught in the crossfire.” In this book, she gathers together the stories and organizes them into eight separate sections that reflect “the major phases of the Syrian revolutionary experience.” “Authoritarianism” and “Hope Disappointed” highlight the experiences of her interviewees during the pre-rebellion regime. Many speak of the uneasiness they experienced speaking ill of the government, even outside of their country: “even outside Syria you feel that someone is listening, someone is recording.” Others openly critique the regime, saying that at its best, Syria was “a country of closed communities held together by force” that only became more corrupt and internally divided over time. In “Revolution,” interviewees express the “sadness and happiness and fear and courage” they saw around them as men and women from all the different Syrian communities—Christian, Muslim, and others—protested against tyranny. In “Crackdown,” “Militarization,” and “Living War,” interviewees describe the regime’s efforts at “put[ting] sects against each other and turn[ing] everything into a toxic environment,” while one speaks frankly of how all the government-sanctioned killing transformed even the most peaceful Muslim citizens into “what we call jihadists and you [Americans] call terrorists.” In “Flight,” people talk about leaving loved ones behind in seeking asylum in the West. Some tell stories that end in success, others of lives lived “without dignity.” Pearlman’s book is not only important because it puts names to suffering, but also because it reminds readers—especially in the final segment, “Reflections”—that in the Syrian conflict, “there is no right or wrong,” only problematic “shades of gray.”
A poignant and humane collection.