Syrian journalist and author Samar Yazbek has been an influential figure in the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad and his regime, advocating for universal human rights and lending voice to the Syrian people. As an Alawite — the minority sect of Shiite Islam of which President Assad is also a member — her opposition to the regime is especially controversial. After participating in the 2011 anti-regime demonstrations and publishing work highlighting the atrocities of the regime, Yazbek was detained and tortured by Assad’s security forces. She was finally forced to flee Syria, and now only enters the country in secret to continue her coverage of the revolution.
On September 20, 2012, Yazbek visited Brown University. In addition to giving a lecture at the Watson Institute, she sat down with Annika Lichtenbaum ’14 to discuss her experiences since the start of the revolution. The interview was conducted mainly in Arabic, with translation assistance from Brown Lecturer in Arabic Miled Faiza.
What was your original purpose in speaking out against the regime?
What are you trying to accomplish through the work you have published since leaving Syria?
Do you think your ability to effect political change is altered in any way because you are an Alawite woman?
Since the beginning of the revolution, there has been a lot of media attention on the children taking part in the anti-regime protests. You yourself have a young daughter whom you have taken with you into hiding. How do you think growing up during the revolution will affect this generation of Syrians?
In an interview with Beirut39, you said that you think discussing taboos like politics, sex and religion in the Arab world will “pave the road to eliminating those problems that have obstructed its development.” In light of the recent outcry over the trailer of the anti-Muslim film produced in America, do you still believe this is true?
We have had despotic systems ruling Arab countries for half a century. These regimes have left behind unsolved problems, among them religious fanaticism. The first step to solving these problems early on is the fall of the tyrannical regimes themselves. When the despotic regimes fall, there will be free speech in politics and society.
And even if Islamists come to power and try to eliminate these freedoms, particularly the freedoms of women, our battle with them will be a democratic battle. But the first step to establishing this democracy is the fall of the regimes. Many issues will have to be deferred until later because the region will experience many years of chaos. I believe that this will be a difficult stage, but it is a natural part of revolution. Major historical changes are accompanied by devastation and chaos, murder and blood. But all revolutions pay exorbitant prices to attain their goals.
What effect, if any, do you believe the recent anti-American protests will have on the Syrian revolutionary effort?
In Syria, there have been no actions committed against America; no flags were burned, and no one started any demonstrations. The rebels watched the violent reactions that occurred in other cities, but Syria is not a country of religious Islamic fanaticism. The Free Syrian Army has demanded the expulsion of the Islamists that have entered the country because we do not want them among us. Syria is a varied and open country, but today it is in danger of becoming radicalized by such hard-line Salafist movements.