On Friday, Aug. 19, National Public Radio's Melissa Block interviewed Syrian activist Alexander Page (a pseudonym used for protection).
I conducted an interview with Alexander Page on July 31, via email. In this brief discussion, I learned quite a bit about his background and his motivation for continuing protests against a government that is pushing back hard against its own citizens.
Dr. Jeffrey H. Toney: What is your background and education?
Alexander Page: My alias name is Alexander Page. I'm 29 years of age. I've studied journalism and lived in Europe most of my life. The reason I use a fake name is because I'm working inside Syria, and this means if I am found, I will be detained and tortured and most possibly killed.
JT: What motivated you to protect human rights in Syria?
AP: First of all, I am Syrian, so of course I feel for what's happening in the region, but most of all I've seen the atrocities and massacres that Assad's regime is willing to inflict, and I know that we must do all we can to spread the word on exactly what is happening in Syria. Otherwise, we will see another massacre [like] that of 1982 in the city of Hama, where the Syrian regime killed tens of thousands and the international community wasn't even watching or listening.
JT: Have you witnessed abuse of human rights? If so, what have you done?
AP: As I am taking part in protests, yes, of course I have seen much human rights abuse; in fact, every protest that takes place is soon followed by a heavy crackdown by security forces and regime thugs, who will not hesitate to hunt down people in the streets like animals and detain them and later torture them, some not making it out of this ordeal alive, only because they demonstrated their demand for freedom in a peaceful manner. I have also been a victim myself, as I was arrested at the beginning of the uprising, when I was caught filming at an anti-government demonstration.
JT: How do you take "part in the demonstrations to try to bridge between Western countries and Syria"?
AP: Very much so. The main reason I chose to speak to international media is because I see a lack of understanding of exactly what is happening in Syria as well as other Arab countries. When going to demonstrations, I try to stay away from danger, focusing on any filming or reporting I can get done, and then reporting to news agencies as quickly as possible. I think international emotional support is very important, which I think is part of bridging between Middle Eastern and Western society.
JT: Do you consider yourself an activist, or a citizen participating in civil disobedience?
AP: No, I am an activist who believes that freedom is priceless because I have lived those freedoms and see no reason why any human being on Earth should not enjoy this universal right.
JT: Do you feel safe in Syria, or threatened?
AP: Given that there is a very tight crackdown on activists, especially those that speak to international media, as they are considered to be traitors and, if caught, will receive the full punishment, I can say I'm terrified, but it's that fear that keeps me going. I'm not quite sure how to explain that.
JT: Can you tell me what's going on now in the streets? What is the mood, the environment?
AP: Well, as of this moment [July 31] in Hama, 100 people so far have been killed since the early morning siege by the military on the city. A bombardment is intact, and the Syrian government is not hesitating to kill anyone in sight. In Damascus the army has surrounded a number of suburbs, which seems to be a preparation for some kind of bombardment or crackdown. To walk in the streets of central Damascus is confusing because you will see signs of normal life, but if you look closely, you will see people whispering; look closer, you will see fear in their eyes. We are all terrified of what our future may become.
JT: How can Americans help? How can scientists and engineers help? (The American Association for the Advancement of Science has a "scientists on call" program to help human rights issues, working with non-governmental organizations.)
AP: I think this is a vital question. The Americans, I think, are haunted with what happened in Iraq and what's currently happening in Libya. It has been criticized for its intervention and blamed by many for the unrest in places like Iraq. I can see clearly why the U.S. is very sensitive about how it deals with the Syrian situation. We need more bridging, as you mentioned to me earlier. The Syrian regime is very sensitive about international media, and I think this gives us an idea of just how important it is. We need more pressure from academics who may speak on behalf of the Syrian people, and more direct incrimination [of] the Assad regime, holding him 100-percent accountable for those crimes taking place. We need international countries to withdraw their ambassadors and/or kick out Syrian ambassadors. This can only be done with a widespread promotion [of] exactly what is happening in Syria. We have no Islamists or terrorists; the Syrian government has depended on such lies to help it continue its rule. The government feeds the population lies about the West: imperialism, Masons and hidden governments that are all in a conspiracy against the Arabs. Syrian people are sick of such fairy tales and want to go on living their lives. We are in fact a very open society, and I think people around the world should be aware of this and learn more about Syria, as this would help them relate to what is happening and stand emotionally with the Syrian people in such bad times.
Here I spoke live with CNN Friday [July 29], just after being fired on by security forces in central Damascus at a peaceful anti-government protest:
Thank you for your interest in helping our situation in Syria.
With sincere regards,
Follow Dr. Jeffrey H. Toney on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jefftoney