Writer: Shreyas Raman writes from India where he notices the different perspectives that thousands of diverse people have.
An interview with CNN’s Clarissa Ward who went undercover into the Syrian battlefield
Everyday, we see reports on various news channels of airstrikes, carpet bombings, and the increasingly alarming spread of the influence of ISIS. Such is the nature of the situation that very few, if any, Western journalists are able to make the journey into Syria and report from the field of battle itself and show the world what they cannot see. As such, what we tend to see, read and hear through the media is often very diluted, and does not portray an accurate image of what the land of Syria is truly going through. Most of us are aghast at the pictures we see and the reports we hear or airstrikes on hospitals, civilians being mercilessly slain and jihadists committing atrocious crimes. However, the grim reality is that nine times out of ten, what we see is underwhelming in comparison to what the true situation really is. In order to see the true extent of the bloodshed and the violence, someone must step in. Someone must go undercover and make their way to the front-lines, and show the world what it is really like.
That ‘someone’ happened to be Clarissa Ward, a journalist who, along with her crew, risked her life to enter into Syria and report from the heart of the bloodshed.
Talking about her experiences and what she saw, heard and felt, as well as the people she met, Clarissa answered questions live in an interview on CNN’s Facebook page.
Q1: What does an airstrike really feel like?
Ans: We were filming footage in the town of Ariha, when we heard the sound of fighter jets flying overhead. The feeling you get when you hear the sound of these jets flying overhead is indescribable. It is a sickening feeling in the pit of your stomach, because you know a strike is coming in, but you do not know where it will hit. People are unable to hide, because one doesn’t know where the site of the bombing will be and every place is a potential target.
You really begin to feel a sense of vulnerability and of being exposed, and shock and adrenaline kicks in when you feel the bombs hit. You can see people stumble out the rubble, dazed and concussed but somewhat cognizant of what they are doing. However, these people often succumb to their injuries in hospital because the force of the blast combined with the chaos and the rubble does them in.
The sight really is hideous and frightening. We saw, in one day, a young boy, a woman and a man killed. 11 people had died that day. The unfortunate reality however, is that this has become part of the fabric of everyday life for Syrians.
Q2: Can you tell us about some of the families you met?
Ans: During our journey, we came across some amazing families and people. Many people here were incredibly brave. In the Syrian society, the family unit is very strong and the sense of family togetherness is very important to the people.
Many people in Syria belong to large families, and oftentimes people will have 4, 5 or even 6 children. However, despite the size of these families, they are very close and their love for one another is very strong. We interviewed a 70 year-old woman who had lost 2 of her 3 sons to airstrikes and violence. In total, she had lost 9 members of her immediate family. Her only grandson was a fighter for the rebel forces and he was constantly in danger of being killed. However, she still encouraged him to fight for his people if that was his wish. People in Syria are facing desperate times, and yet they are willing to sacrifice everything for what they hold dear.
Q3: What is it like to be a female journalist in Syria?
Ans: The answer certainly is not what you’d expect. You’d think that in a conservative place like the Middle East, being a woman could actually be a major disadvantage in many places. However, it could also be a boon for an undercover reporter. Strangely, it allows us to operate under the radar and remain unnoticed and undercover. Men are unlikely to confront a woman as long as she has conformed to the appropriate attire, because it may be seen as rude and disrespectful. It allows us a degree of anonymity and freedom, especially since we were an entirely female crew. We never really experienced any major discrimination, however that may have been because we had traveled to rebel held areas.
Q4: Do you think more footage of airstrikes should be shown to show the humanitarian side of the war?
Ans: While we were traveling through a smaller town in Syria, we witnessed a series of vicious airstrikes on a fruit market in the area. The scenes were extremely graphic and distressing, and certainly are not acceptable to show on national television. However, we must still air footage of the war and its effects, because that is one of the most effective ways to get the message across. We need footage to be more than just airstrikes and explosion, because then we run the risk of people becoming desensitized to it. Since there are such few Western journalists who have entered into Syria to report the story, it falls on us as a responsibility to bring back footage and show the world what the truth really is.
Q5: How clear and obvious is Al-Nusra’s presence?
Ans: So Al-Nusra is basically an organization that operates in Syria, and it has been classified as a terrorist group by many nations. They are a rebel faction that is affiliated with the Al-Qaeda. While the Syrian people are categorically opposed to the Islamic State, they bear some sympathy towards Al-Nusra. Their presence on the ground is extremely potent and obvious. Al-Nusra posters and propaganda is visible all across the areas we visited, with signs instructing women to cover up with the hijab and encouraging young men to join the jihad.
The reason Al-Nusra is slightly more acceptable to the people is because they have been more lenient than ISIS in implementing strict Islamic law. In general, they have been less harsh to the Syrians than ISIS. Although they do have some foreign fighters, they are largely a Syrian organization and as such they are more embraced by the people. While they may not be liked, they are tolerated. A Syrian-American doctor we spoke to explained to us that it is a measure of desperation of the Syrian people. If you’re drowning and you beg for help, and someone you don’t like offers you a hand, you will still take his help. That is a representation of the situation of the Syrian people with regards to Al-Nusra.
Q6: Who do the Syrian people think is their greatest enemy?
Ans: When we went on our undercover mission, we went mostly only to rebel-held areas so the opinions of people were more or less the same. These are areas that have been under bombardment from Bashar al-Assad’s forces from day one. It started as bullets, then it turned to artillery shells and then barrel bombs. Now the Russians have intervened, the airstrikes have become much more potent, and much more punishing.
People I spoke to absolutely, categorically see Bashar al-Assad as the number one enemy and his state apparatus and military as their greatest enemy. While the ceasefire implemented has resulted in a slight calming of the situation, it doesn’t have much traction and cannot hold out any longer as long as Assad is in power.
Q7: How prepared are hospitals and emergency personnel in Syria?
Ans: Unfortunately, hospitals have been targeted excessively in Syria. We visited three hospitals that had been hit by airstrikes, and it seems that in the rebel areas there is only one hospital still remaining intact.
The bravery of the doctors, nurses and medical personnel who still come to work and save lives daily is astounding. With their medical degrees and qualifications they could easily travel to another country and find a job with ease. However, they feel like they have a moral obligation to their people and stay on the ground regardless of the risk.
Another group of immensely brave people we saw are called the ‘White Helmets’. They are civil defense workers who run into wreckage and rubble to save people trapped in there. They fearlessly run into the site of an airstrikes just seconds after the bombs hit, despite knowing very well that a second strike could hit any at any second (a technique called the double tap used by military bombers).
The bravery of these people – reporters, doctors, nurses and soldiers – is truly exceptional. These people deserve to have their voices heard and their deeds showcased to the world outside. The true victims are often obscured by the international frenzy surrounding the issue, and they never make it to the spotlight. Therefore, it falls upon us, the people of the world living far away from strife and bloodshed, to bring to light what those less fortunate than us have to endure. The more awareness we spread, the more action we take, the more support we can gather, the more likely the true heroes of Syria are to see another day.