Posted on 02 March 2012.
Anti-Syrian regime protesters in Homs carry the body of a man who witnesses say was killed in shelling by government forces. Photo by AP.
HOST: The Syrian Military today prevented a Red Cross convoy from delivering much needed aid to the besieged city of Homs. The city has emerged as the geographical center of the opposition to the government of Bashar al-Assad, though members of the Syrian diaspora are also working from abroad to further the opposition’s cause. Russ Finkelstein reports that music has played an important role.
FINKELSTEIN: Malek Jandali is a composer and pianist who has played to sold-out crowds in London, Cairo and Paris. He grew up in the Syrian city of Homs and now lives in Atlanta. Last year during the first months of the Syrian uprising, he was inspired to compose this song.
SOUNDS: Music, dips under.
FINKELSTEIN: It’s called Watani Ana, which is Arabic for “I am my homeland.”
SOUNDS: Music comes up, dips under
FINKELSTEIN: The song is an expression of Jandali’s pride and passion for Syria, but it also poses a provocative question.
JANDALI: It says, I am my homeland, my homeland is me. My love for you is fire on my heart. When am I gonna see you free?
SOUNDS: Music comes up, with singing in Arabic. Dips under.
JANDALI: The word “free” bothered the dictatorship.
FINKELSTEIN: His elderly parents still lived in Homs at the time,
JANDALI: I had no doubt in my mind that I’m gonna be facing the ugliest reactions and atrocities and crimes against humanity.
SOUNDS: Music swells and ends.
FINKELSTEIN: Last July, Jandali performed the song at a pro-resistance demonstration in front of the Whitehouse. A few days later the reprisals started in Homs.
JANDALI: The Assad security thugs attacked my parents, beaten my mom, broken her teeth, ransacked my home.
FINKELSTEIN: Jandali’s parents were able to leave Syria, and have joined Jandali in the U.S. Homs has since become the focal point of the opposition movement. Jandali’s song, “Watani Ana” has become an unofficial anthem of the Syrian opposition. Its most widely recognized voice is The Syrian National Council. George Stifo is a member of the Council in Boston.
STIFO: The humanitarian crisis that is going on is major to us and we are focused on that.
FINKELSTEIN: In addition to lobbying for international support, the Syrian National Council has also begun to coordinate with The Free Syrian Army, a resistance currently fighting a losing battle against Assad’s well equipped military. David Newton, is a former US ambassador to Iraq and Yemen and member of the Middle East Institute.
NEWTON: If the army is willing to put down it’s own citizens; it’s very hard to succeed.
FINKELSTEIN: He says the Free Syrian Army doesn’t stand a chance in an armed conflict with the Assad regime without outside help. So far that hasn’t happened.
NEWTON: This country is well armed, it has an air-force, it has a large army of 300,000 which was created because of wars with Israel and it would be a formidable opponent for any outside power to try to change it by force.
FINKELSTEIN: In recent weeks, Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council proposal for tougher sanctions on the Assad regime. Even further sanctions, Newton argues, would likely prove ineffective.
NEWTON: The historical record of economic sanctions really having a decisive effect in a situation like that is not good, especially with a regime that really sees this struggle as an existential struggle.
FINKELSTEIN: The United States, France and England have called on Assad to step down, and this week, the European Union went so far as to recognize the Syrian National Council as a legitimate representative of the Syrian people. The opposition is still not fully united, however, and money is a major problem.
STIFO: Until very very recently, all the funding was coming through the Syrian diaspora.
FINKELSTEIN: Stifo says promises of money are now coming in from various countries, however.
STIFO: Mainly Qatar is one of them, that has actually opened a bank account for the Syrian National Council to fund it and that should be starting soon if not has already started.
FINKELSTEIN: Despite the setbacks this week, Stifo believes that progress, however slight, is being made, especially in internatioinal perceptions of the uprising. Jandali, is optimistic but sees continued sacrifices ahead.
JANDALI: The Syrian people, are gonna be free. (begin music) The time has come. We are going to pay the price, we are paying the price already, but we will be free.
FINKELSTEIN: That price is rising. More than 7500 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising began in March of last year. Russ Finkelstein, Columbia Radio News.
SOUNDS: Music ends.