INTERVIEW - ‘Don’t say you don’t know how to help.’ Vredeactivist Fadi Hallisso klinkt getergd als hij deze laatste woorden spreekt tijdens zijn actualiteitencollege op dinsdag 24 september in het Erasmusgebouw van de Radboud Universiteit van Nijmegen. Hallisso, priester en ingenieur, is afkomstig uit Aleppo en vluchtte vanwege de Syrische burgeroorlog naar Beiroet in Libanon. Hier zette hij samen met IKV Pax Christi een organisatie op die zich inzet voor de slachtoffers van de Syrische burgeroorlog. In zijn lezing vertelt Hallisso een publiek van rond de zestig man over de situatie in zijn thuisland en roept hij op tot hulp. Uit de vragen van het betrokken en met vlagen geëmotioneerde publiek blijkt duidelijk waar het pijnpunt ligt: we willen best geld geven, maar niet aan jihadisten. En dat is waar het uiteindelijk op neer komt. Of niet?
Vlak voor de lezing ontmoet ik Hallisso voor een kort interview. In het onderstaande verslag is ook een deel van de vragen van het publiek verwerkt.
What is the current situation of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon?
‘It is very bad. We estimate that there are over 1.2 million Syrians that crossed the border into Lebanon. That means that one out of five people that are now residing in Lebanon is a refugee. There are no camps. The refugees had to go to the cities looking for a shelter, whether it was a small apartment or basement. Families share rooms. There are no commodities, no sanitation, no blankets, no schools. And the winter is coming. One of the biggest concerns right now is the waiting period for the newcomers. They have to wait three to four months before being able to register as a refugee and gain access to necessary help and commodities. In the meantime they have nothing and are literally left to fend for themselves.’
According to some, the signing of the Chemical Weapons Convention by Assad is just an excuse for the international community to look away and let Assad continue with his killings, without too big a loss of face.
‘That’s correct. It is not the kind of weapons used that is the problem. It’s the continual killing that is the problem. The signing of that convention is insulting. The Syrian people have a basic right for freedom and dignity, which entails more than the right not to be killed by chemical weaponry. The killing is what needs to be stopped and for that Assad needs to be stopped.’
Jihadists are flooding Syria. The chaos seems immense. What will the future bring if Assad falls?
‘There is no worse scenario possible than the current one. The longer this crisis will last, the more fragmented the opposition will become, the more opportunity there is for the Jihadists to intervene. There is a now a big void in the rebel-controlled areas that the Jihadists are eager to fill. Already they are building their own schools to educate future generations of extremists. The international community should have long ago started to financially support the opposition to run the liberated areas and recompensate on the state’s absence. This support would have united them and the void that has now been created as a result of the lack of a united coalition with the means to offer basic commodities to the population of Syria, would not be there.’
You say that the failure of the opposition to unite is exploited by the Western world as an excuse not to act. You don’t believe that it is a valid point?
‘Is an opposition ever united? Is the Dutch opposition united?
The fear of chaos may never be the reason or the excuse to let a dictator stay in power. It’s is a common tactic dictators use: it’s either me or the chaos. Assad knows that what the West wants is peace and quiet. The chaos and the militarization of the conflict is all in his best interest. But we cannot accept the current situation just because we don’t know what comes after.’
But how can we help now without helping Jihadist forces gaining power? How can we help when we don’t know what’s going on? When we don’t know the truth?
‘The truth is a collection of different stories. There are extremist forces in Syria. We know that. But that is not the whole story. The jihadist interference is a big problem. They are not welcome in Syria. But terrorists don’t wait for an invitation to come. They come. Saying the West can’t do anything because of the presence of terrorist is only going to increase the problem.
We should stop focusing on who’s to blame and work towards a solution. We cannot yet talk about democracy today but on the streets of Syria democracy is starting on a small level. If you want to help you need to listen to those stories. Start with little steps. Support small courageous initiatives. It’s too easy to say that it’s too hard to help.’
What should the international community do according to you?
‘I am not asking for a military intervention. What we do need is long term political support and humanitarian aid right now. The most important thing is that Assad needs to go. For this to happen Russia and Iran need to be convinced trough political pressure to stop supporting Assad. Secondly, we need to stop the extremist forces entering the country. Assad could have kept the extremists from entering if he wanted to but he understood very well the chaos that would follow if he’d let them in. This means Turkey needs to close its borders. And finally the West needs to be clear in its support to the opposition. But right now, the main impression I get is that the West wants Assad to stay in power.’
How about Lebanon? Their refusal to let the UN build refugee camps threatens the lives of hundreds of thousands of Syrians. Why are they, a neighboring country, not taking responsibility?
‘They are doing all they can. I know many stories of great and courageous people working in small organizations, trying to help the people of Syria. But Lebanon is in a state of war that can start anytime. They are struggling to hang onto a critical, fragile balance and can’t do more than what they are already doing.’
What role can the Arabian League play?
‘The Arabian League has no credibility at all and therefore has no role to play. If anything, Arabian countries are more willing to offer arms than to offer help. They seem to have been pushing for the militarization of the conflict. The Syrian protest started of peacefully in the beginning. But now leaders all over Arabia are happy to point out the Syrian situation to their people. ‘You see’, they say, you see what happens when you want freedom?’
Kijkt voor meer informatie over Fadi Hallisso en zijn samenwerking met IKV Pax Christi op zijn website, of volg hem op Twitter: @fadiHallisso
Het actualiteitencollege is een programma van het Soeterbeeck Programma , Vox van de Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen en IKV Pax Christi.