Freedom, Oppression, and Experiencing both Simultaneously

Most people would consider me an “activst”. So far, I have raised over 150,000 dollars in aid, shipped 1000 pounds of medical supplies to Syria, raise awareness, and other things.

However, I used to be a runner. And while I am registered for a half marathon, training with a group, and even ran today, I no longer consider myself a runner.

I first started running to feel free. I would run and run and run, no matter the pain, weather, or how tired I was. I ran because when I did, I felt free. Running free made me an awesome runner because I did it with passion and love, passion and love for what I called freedom.

Then, the Syrian revolution happened and I became an activist. There are time where I’ve gone with so little sleep that I’ve started hallucinating, I’ve lost four pounds in a week because of worrying, I’ve cried countless times just wanting to give up, I’ve watched a country fall apart as the rest of the world remained silent, I’ve spoken to people who don’t even know what Syria is, I’ve spoken to people who think Syria is Afghanistan, I’ve yelled, I’ve been angry, I’ve hated, but most of all, I’ve lost my freedom.

You see, my ability to run isn’t remarkably dependent on my fitness level, it is more dependent on my ability to free myself and just run. Now, I am a terrible runner, and I can’t do that anymore. I am no longer free.

I am constantly checking my phone, computer, and email. When I’m not doing that, I am thinking about all of my Syria projects. Every possible action I can do in my day has been consumed by Syria. I think about Syria when I wake up, eat, listen to music, drive my car, visit my parents, watch TV, and when I run. I am constantly thinking about the worst humanitarian crisis of our time.

Oppression is defined as, “prolonged cruel or unjust treatment or control”, and as, “mental pressure or distress”. While I am not in a war zone under constant shelling, thankfully, knowing that there are people dying, starving, being raped, tortured, and shot as we speak causes my great distress. To know that no matter what I do, I will never be able to take away the pain and suffering the Syrian people have felt greatly distresses me. To know there are child amputees who will likely never get a prosthetic gives my great distress. These are things I think about constantly, and so does every Syrian Expatriate.

When the city was Qusayr was lost to Hezbollah, I cried. I didn’t just cry, I blamed myself for it. At some points in the revolution, I was so desperate for a solution that I began to fantacize being kidnapped by the Syrian regime knowing that this would result in me being tortured, raped, and many other terrible things. But I didn’t care. I was so desperate for anything that I thought, “If I were kidnapped as an American, maybe they would speak out, maybe they would come and save the Syrian people”. I was willing to make that sacrifice if it meant that the people of Syria would be saved. But I am also 21 years old. Thoughts like these don’t come to 21 year olds. 21 year olds are supposed to enjoy every second of life, I work and worry every second of mine.

The Syrian people, and non-Syrians who also feel strongly about the revolution, live and breathe the fight for freedom. We have internalized the revolution so much so, that a gain for the Syrian people, feels like a gain for us. A loss for the Syrian people feels like a loss for us. We feel it, we think about it, and yet, anything we do to help is only a drop in the bucket.

We live in a free country where we are free to do whatever we want. So, we have freedom. But, we also live a life of constant worry, sadness, anger, frustration, heartache, and, worst of all, helplessness, held hostage by a regime that is given de facto permission to destroy an entire people and country. You can ask any Syrian if they have sacrificed since the revolution has started, and while they can give you varying monetary amounts, they can all tell you they’ve lost their lives as they knew them before. They will also tell you that they will likely never be able to go back. Because they have seen so much that life will just never be the same. You can’t just see 1000 dead children and go about your life like nothing has changed. And after the war, there is rebuilding, and we will all be there to rebuild. Syria will take up the rest of our lives, and we accept. We want to help a people who have made us who we are today, who have empowered us, who have been so patient while the world has silently watch them suffer and die.

Mentally, we are tired, frustrated, alienated, and disillusioned. So while we live in a free country, we are oppressed by a regime and a crisis happening 11,000 miles away. Every Syrian suffers through this. Every Syrian Expatriate experiences freedom and opression at the same time.


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About nshakfeh

Activism is more than just advocating for others, it's about making yourself into a person who can make a difference. I document how I do that here.

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  1. Free Yourself for a Free Syria | ThoughtsOfAnActivist - October 12, 2013

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