In 2011, I was one of a group that dreamed about living under the shadow of freedom, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Unfortunately, a dream does not always come true. Mine turned into a nightmare, as I spent 40 days in prison because of a dream.
I was 19 years of age, a law student at the University of Aleppo. In early March 2011, before anyone had marched against the dictator in Syria, I was sneaking with my friends from one venue to another distributing flyers that called on Syrians to march in the street for their freedom. As a result, my freedom was taken a few hours after that. I was tortured and placed in solitary confinement. I had no access to a lawyer and denied the right of visitation. My family was almost mourning me until a Syrian Secret Service patrol forced me out of my cell to direct them to my apartment in Aleppo. There I made sure to be seen by a man who knew my family, who later told them that he saw me with the “Visitors of the Night,” as we call them in Syria.
In prison I was denied all of my basic needs. I was denied any products for hygiene, and the cell was rotten and full of rodents. I said to myself, “How foolish you are; freedom, liberty, and pursuit of happiness? Are you getting all of that in this cell now?” Yes, this is Syria.
Syria is ruled by a regime that can easily make you appreciate the freedom of just being out of prison. I was released after 40 days and I said to myself, “Never again, freedom is when you keep yourself out of trouble.” I left my cell to see that Syria was on the march. People were chanting for freedom in every city, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators holding flowers and roses, calling for a peaceful transition. I could not resist the charm of their chanting. I joined the protesters, only to get arrested again, and later for a third time. My family could not see me at the risk of being arrested themselves, especially after news about the killing and torture of peaceful activists started to circulate. I left the country in December 2011 when the protest was still peaceful, brave, and amazing.
Almost four years have passed. Secular and peaceful activists are either under the soil, buried, or in Assad's notorious prisons. Others have been killed and arrested by radical Islamic groups like ISIS, Al Nusra, and Jaish Al Islam, and many others have fled the country. Such an environment forced many of the Syrian Christian community, to which I belong, to leave the country. More than 40 members of my family alone arrived in Europe recently. Some of them risked their lives by smuggling themselves to Europe by boat.
Recently, ISIS has attacked Christian families that were not able to leave or refused to leave their historic land in northeastern Syria. The region was controlled by Kurds, Christians, and moderate Sunni groups. However, due to the lack of sufficient arms, ISIS was able to capture a large part of that region. Hundreds of well-trained foreign jihadists have attacked Christian villages, taking tens of civilians as hostages. The ancient archaeological history in many areas have been destroyed by the savages of ISIS. The West seems to be helpless in helping the Syrian Christian community there. The Christians are not fleeing the death that they are facing in their historic lands, neither are they being armed in order to defend themselves.
I am not yet an American citizen, but I am very grateful to this country. This country let me know what liberty, freedom, and pursuit of happiness means. My 2-year-old daughter was born in the U.S.; this should allow me to voice my protest against the policies of this administration. The current administration seems to be kowtowing to the Islamic groups rather than helping the minorities in the Middle East, who have always proven to be great allies of the United States. The administration has supported Islamic rebels in Libya and Syria, some of whom have even turned against the U.S., similar to what happened in Benghazi, while the friends of the U.S.—the Kurds, the Christians, and the real secular Syrian groups—are left without any backing. The Christians of Syria are the survivors of 1,500 years of forced conversion to Islam. Now, ISIS is forcing them to either convert or die, but my people are not willing to abandon their ancient faith. Would the administration extend a hand and save them?