by Shrikant Ramdas
It was by chance that I joined the international peace delegation led by Mairead McGuire, and hosted by Mother Agnes, to go to Syria in November 2015 during a most testing period for its people. As someone who is neither a journalist nor an activist, but rather an ‘observer’ with a deep desire for peace, it was saddening to see another country plunged into war by outside forces. We have seen this pattern repeatedly: Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Yemen even now, and countless other places, and I often felt helpless as a concerned and proud citizen of another country as to why this happens and what anyone can do. One option, a difficult one for most, is to see for oneself, and what i observed during my visit was too many emotions to adequately and justly describe what the people of Syria have been and are going through.

The people we met were across different faiths and walks of life. Few were under the illusion that their popularly elected and, indeed, generally popular leader, was perfect, yet most admired him. But even a smaller section of society who at one time may have opposed with genuine concerns had understood – this was a time to unite and defend their land and for this, they did come together to defend their little towns and cities, guarding their churches, their mosques, their schools, their children, their heritage. I developed a deep respect for them very quickly; I was sure if there was a Hindu or Buddhist or Jain temple or a Sikh Gurudwara, they would guard that too with their lives, such is their respect for humanity, such is their character.

During our visit, one of the many striking things even in their hardship and grief was how appreciative the average Syrian man, woman and child were for our presence. As a Hindu from India, I was touched by the sheer hospitality and the kind words they had for my land, even in these most trying of times. I too conveyed my deep appreciation and told them the world was awakening slowly, and hopefully more will, to their plight, their bravery, and this injustice. It is hard to pick a story among many worthy stories, but certainly “The Boy who said Mabrouk” to his martyred father upon receipt of his remains, a father who may have prepared his child for this sad outcome, will never leave any of us.

I remember meeting young men and women not yet out of their teens, and telling them that I will return soon, just to check if they are ok, and that I expect they will have fulfilling lives and that they must keep the faith. The people of Syria are proud and beautiful representatives of the forces of good, and i will pray that they overcome the dark forces from outside and the few misled within who have turned yet another proud nation and people into a war-ground in the geo-political landscape controlled by the western global elite and their allies in the Middle East. To be overrun and to valiantly fight back, one can only salute not just the bravery but the resilience of the Syrian people. My biggest hope is that this ends soon, that the people of Syria survive and live in a way that many of us take for granted: a life of family, of love, of cooperation, in a society and land that had and hopefully will go back to what it was, a beautiful nation of many cultures living together in happiness and mutual respect. In my language, Syria or Sooriya as it is pronounced in Arabic, sounds similar to Surya, which means the sun, and my hope is this land will shine brightly, soon.

Shrikant Ramdas, Bangalore, India

14 Dec 2015