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:
Hilary Wainwright argues against reclaiming populism for the left and for a leadership that supports people’s capacity for self-government
It may seem as though these apps are working for us, but we are also working for the apps, writes Kurt Iveson
It's over 100 years ago that domestic workers began to organise to demand the same rights as other workers. Yet with LSE cleaners on strike this week, historian Laura Schwartz asks: how much has really changed?
Omar Barghouti asks whether Donald Trump, in his recent break with America’s long-standing support for the two-state solution, has unwittingly revived the debate about the plausibility, indeed the necessity, of a single, democratic state in historic Palestine?
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'
In 1972 David Widgery wrote about the bitter intensity of love in capitalism
Andrew Dolan on how the left must match the anti-establishment rhetoric of the right, but with a different politics
Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.
In the first of a series of interviews with migrants' rights and racial justice activists from the US, Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out
Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant