Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Masoud takes us to a house full of refugee men from Hama. Almost all have been injured in resisting the Assad Regime. They identify as Free Army. Most were hit with missiles or shrapnel. Eleven sit together in one room on plastic chairs and thin mattresses.
One young lad with a beautiful, joyous whole-face smile has lost the ability to speak due to a brain injury. He’s getting it back but for now can only respond with nods and smiles, comprehension but no conversation. Another has been paralysed down the right side of his body. Another has lost a leg. Most are young – under the age of 30. Some sport beards that spell ‘Salafi’ to a prejudiced eye. All are covered in tattoos – considered ‘haram’ or a taboo in Islam.
The designs range from two swords crossed, names of loved ones, and sparsely sketched women’s faces with pouting lips and straight strips of hair (‘who is that?’ – ‘my mother’ deadpans one – to peals of laughter from the rest). ‘He; he’s a drinker’ points out one to a bearded, large man in his mid 30s – Abu Mohammed. He laughs. ‘They’re joking’ he says with a twinkle in his eye.
They’re working class guys – builders, brick layers, electricians, carpenters; but they’ve been through hell. Their families have too and not for the first time. In 1982 Hafez al Assad – Bashar’s father and ruler of Syria for 29 years sent his forces into Hama to put down Muslim Brotherhood insurgents. The result was a crackdown and massacre of as many as 40,000 inhabitants over a period of 27 days. Now again since the uprising, Hama has seen massacres reported in nearby villages of Qubeir and Tremesh, resulting in the deaths of over 250 people.
Abu Mohammed hands me a cigarette and shakes his head wearily. ‘You’ve been to Palestine yes?’ (I nod) ‘So you’ve met men who have been jailed and tortured yes?’ ‘Yes’ I reply, ‘Its almost a rite of passage there, most men from their mid teens onwards go through it, get rounded up, get arrested, go inside’. ‘Israel’, begins Abu Mohammed, slowly, ‘Is more merciful than the regime of Assad’. Pause. ‘We have been tortured with knives, slashed, we have been electrocuted, we have been drilled, with electric drills (he makes a drilling gesture with his hand) into our bodies.’ The boys around the room nod wide-eyed. ‘See this beard?’ says Abu Mohammed, pointing to his chin. ‘I’m shaving this off as soon as Assad is brought down’. It’s unclear how religious the guys really are. There are stories of some fighters growing beards to look more pious in order to secure funding from more religious Gulf state backers.
We eat: baba ganoush covered with mincemeat and tomato, pitta, omlette, and lentil and parsley soup. Our talk is about the first days of the uprising in Hama. I ask the guys how they felt. ‘By God’ says Abu Mohammad, ‘I started to cry.’ Another man in his 40s pitches in ‘Me too. I could not believe it. So many young people came out, they had lost their fear. Our town square was full’. ‘I felt such joy, we all did’ says Abu Mohammed, dipping his bread in olive oil. ‘Tears rolled down our cheeks with joy’.
Leaving the humble, overcrowded home with no running water, I see a young, clean cut, gelled-hair trendy guy of about 15 or 16 sitting talking to the other guys. I greet him in Arabic but they tell me he’s Turkish, a neighbour. It was good to see this friendship overcome the fear-stoked barriers being whipped up between refugees and locals. Would he be a man by the time they can go home?
*Some names have been changed
This is the third part of a six day serialization of Ewa’s trip to Syria, It accompanies Jon Sack’s beautiful reportage from the Syrian border in comic form: The Physio.
Ewa Jasiewicz is a journalist and campaigner. She is part of a small international solidarity initiative working to support grassroots groups in Syria. Please support these organisations:
Deregulation and tax loopholes are justified by saying that they 'protect growth'. But really, they just protect the wealthy, writes James Fox
Inequality is often treated as a law of nature - but really, it's the result of conscious political choices. It's time to choose equality, writes the IPPR's Carys Roberts.
Tom Palmer, aka Agent Kingfisher, was the 'messiah' of London's squatting scene until his death last year. But who was responsible for his fate? MI5, late capitalism or simply a drug overdose? Matt Broomfield investigates.
'Docs Not Cops' write that we must resist attempts to make our NHS any less universal
Louis Mendee explains the real human costs of climate change for the global south.
From climate change to automation to demographic shifts, Mathew Lawrence explains the challenges our economy will face in the coming decade.
Fifty years after the Abortion Act, women are still dying from being denied basic services, write activists from Feminist Fightback
We need to tackle the patronising ideology that lets Tory think-tanks sneer at social tenants, writes Emma Dent Coad
Acid Corbynism allows people to imagine a future beyond the paltry offerings of capitalism, writes Keir Milburn
'We wanted to use a shared love of the beautiful game to stand in solidarity with those living under occupation', writes Kate Hadley.
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism
Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists
Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson
As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win
The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution
Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright
Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones