One of the best ways to understand the deep-rooted conflicts in another country that has descended into near or full civil war is to talk to someone from that country. This morning I had a long talk with the cashier at my local drug store, who has been in Canada since 1989, and has not been back to Syria since 1991, but whose three brothers and their families still live in Syria.
News reports focus on the fighting, the atrocities, the declarations by each warring faction. She described, rather, a situation that has been building for a decade, and it certainly helped me to better understand what Syria is dealing with now. She and her three sisters left Syria in the late-80s since they are Christian and their parents deemed Canada safer. The remaining family lives in the north, away from the areas of worst conflict. She is extremely worried for her brothers - the airports have been closed, and the phone lines have been cut so she hasn't spoken to any of her family there in the past few days.
She describes the problem in Syria as a long term infiltration of terrorists who have been building support and smuggling in what are now arsenals of weapons undercover. In her view, those terrorists come from Muslim countries, or are backed by them. The situation is more complex though. Is it simply Muslim and Christian at war? No, she says. Muslims and Christians have lived peacefully in Syria for many years. It's not that, it's power. Kofi Anannan's pull-out from a peace-keeping mission attests to how hopelessly complex the situation is, and how impossible reconciliation is presently, and, more accusingly, what a mess the UN Security Council is.
I read a lot of news. Maybe 5-10 on-line newspapers a day. Yet I often find with areas of conflagration in other parts of the world that are alien to me, like Syria presently, that articles focus on the immediate atrocity, battle, tragedy, without enough background. Articles that attempt to explain background tend to be biased and very long winded.
Talking to someone whose roots are deeply embedded in a country, in this case a Syrian, is the best way to understand the history that's led to the current crisis, and to get a sense of the oppositions that have broken out into war not just through their eyes, but in their worried, scared, or angry emotional responses.