Me (Kristian Hansen) at the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria - July 2010
It was exactly one year ago that I was in the Republic of Syria. The question I have on my mind is: Have things changed and if so, to what degree?
During my trip to Lebanon and Syria last summer with Jessica we came across a number of amazing and beautiful sites (and sights). There were the ancient water wheels of Hama, the giant ferris wheel in Beirut, the blue Mediterranean Sea, the deserted Oasis of Palmyra, the Crusaders Castle of Krak des Chevaliers and a multitude of majestic destinations…
One thing lacking in this trip was the ability for us to have an honest conversation with locals about their government and its politics. Here we were a world away from the United States, we wanted to explore everything that is different from the Western World, but we were slighted by language barriers and a society that is still trying to understand the intentions of United States travelers (and US Govt).
Now we have had a full year of civil unrest in the region. The Syrian government is cracking down on demonstrators and the internet has been severed from many citizens grasps. The timing for our trip was impeccable. Had we attempted to venture there today it would have not been possible.
Hacker groups are jumping in to aid the citizens and are attempting to route out the injustices that the idea of “freedom of speech” encapsulate. The world sits idly, wondering what the next appropriate steps may be in order to rectify the unjust killings of demonstrators. In my conversations with a citizen of Hamas (who I met during my trip) I only hear that the demonstrators are “crazy people”. Now I can either side with a local or I can listen to the NY Times, CNN and United Nations to see what is really happening on the ground.
It was my hope in traveling to the Middle East that I would have a firmer grasp of society on the whole. I wished to ingratiate myself in a foreign culture and receive a glimpse of their heritage and normalcy. Although it was my hope that international travel to the region would be opening up, it appears with current hostilities that we are in fact stepping back in time to an arena of intolerance, hatred, and misinformation.
Let us all hope that Syria conquers their fears, opens up to democracy and allows a great flow of information to its citizens.