Saturday, March 2, 2024
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Saturday, March 2, 2024

Blanche Michael reflecting on Syria from autocracy to genocide

Blanche Michael

Blanche Michael is an independent copy editor and content writer, currently based in South Africa. Much of her industry exposure includes working for numerous publishing companies, print media, and non-governmental organizations. From 2006 to 2010, Blanche lived and worked in the Middle East and Syria became her focal point of interest leading to her extensive travel in Syria at the time. Blanche contributes to Syriawise on a freelance basis.

“I would never have imagined the genocidal horrors that would be inflicted upon Syria’s people in the wake of the Arab Spring.”

Blanche Michael
Blanche Michael in al-Hamidiya Souq, Damascus, in pre-2011 Syria

Syriawise: Why did you first get interested in Syria’s issues?

Blanche Michael: During the many years that I worked in the Middle East, Syria became my home away from home and it really felt like home. I would stay in Damascus for extended periods and use it as a base from which to travel around the country where I experienced nothing but warmth and hospitality from the people I met. Like many Syrian ex-pats, I chose to believe that the country seemed to be transforming over time. I would never have imagined the genocidal horrors that would be inflicted upon Syria’s people in the wake of the Arab Spring.

“Saying nothing and doing nothing implies complicity on my part, which is why I have chosen to be more active in Syrian matters”

Blanche Michael

I feel a sense of personal responsibility for the state of affairs because I stared the Assad monstrosity in the face and chose not to see its darkness. Saying nothing and doing nothing implies complicity on my part, which is why I have chosen to be more active in Syrian matters, even if only on a very small scale.

Blanche Michael in pre-2011 Syria

Syriawise: For many years there was racial conflict in South Africa under apartheid but now there appears to be an equally, if not worse, situation on the rise. Is there a lesson that can be found in South Africa for Syrians?

“Unfortunately, it is possible for the oppressed to become the oppressor and this is the lesson that we humans just fail to learn each time.”

Blanche Michael

Blanche Michael: I would not say worse, but I would definitely say that we have gone full circle as a country.

Unfortunately, it is possible for the oppressed to become the oppressor and this is the lesson that we humans just fail to learn each time. We experienced extreme racial prejudice (and brutality) under the Apartheid regime largely through governmental policies that deliberately sought to disenfranchise people of color on all levels. Sadly, the post-Apartheid African government has also implemented racially divisive policies to provide redress for our African majority at the expense of racial minorities such as my own. I am essentially paying for a crime that I did not commit.

“Syrian people are being murdered by the Assad regime and the most vulnerable sectors of Syrian society, women, children, the frail, and the elderly, have no support”

Blanche Michael

Syriawise: At this point in time the situation in Syria appears to have become stagnant and life is miserable for everyone. Do you think that Syrians should give up their ideals of freedom, dignity, and justice and concentrate on rebuilding their lives, or should they continue what they started with their uprising in 2011?

Blanche Michael: This is a very difficult question because while I would be inclined to encourage people to strive for equality and freedom, Syrian people are being murdered by the Assad regime and the most vulnerable sectors of Syrian society, women, children, the frail, and the elderly, have no support and struggle to make it through just one day.

“Syria needs the same level of support that Ukraine received in 2022 and Gulf countries need to change their stance and policies towards the Assad regime.”

Blanche Michael

Without firm support from abroad and around the Gulf, the Syrian struggle is no more than a dream. Syria needs the same level of support that Ukraine received in 2022 and Gulf countries need to change their stance and policies towards the Assad regime.

Blanche Michael in the Ummayad Mosque in the pre-2011 Syria

Syriawise: What are your fondest memories of the time you spent in Syria?

Blanche Michael: The warmth and acceptance of the people I engaged with during my travels. I would often have families inviting me to join them for dinner when they could see that I was a lone traveler dining alone. On many occasions, I would have complete strangers opening up their homes to me, insisting that I not waste money on a hotel and stay with them instead. This level of hospitality is unparalleled.

“I knew that the Assad regime was corrupt and undemocratic, but I never imagined them to be akin to a bunch of Nazis.”

Blanche Michael

Syriawise: For many of us what happened in Syria resulted in a loss of innocence that was replaced with cynicism. Has that been your experience as well and if you had an opportunity to work in the Middle East again would you go back?

Blanche Michael: I knew that the Assad regime was corrupt and undemocratic, but I never imagined them to be akin to a bunch of Nazis. This was a massive shock. Autocracy is one thing but outright genocide is another.

I would go back to the Gulf, but I would be more skeptical of where I go and whom I trust.

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