'No one likes violence...But people know there is no going back. If they return home, they will die one by one'

The Long View

The Syrian general opened an envelope and upended its contents on his desk.

Out spilled his army’s messages to the people of Damascus and Hama and Aleppo and Homs and Deraa. “We have a special department with analysts who write these,” he told us. “We give every chance to the people.” And so the generals do, if you trust these little flyers, rectangular sheets of paper – some illustrated with smiling children, others with grim faced gunmen -- dropped by helicopter over the streets of Syria. The general smiled at us. “Do you see how much trouble we take?” I had heard before of these little strips of paper – how they had cascaded down on the Palestinian Yarmouk camp in Damascus and on Homs and Aleppo – but I had never seen them, least of all in such profusion. Each was signed ‘the Administration of the Security Forces.”

They ranged from the banal – “Brother citizen, help us get rid of the criminal gangs by cooperating with the security forces” – to the sophisticated. This, for example, is the Syrian army’s message to all armed men: “The security forces have the will to restore security and stability to all the regions of our precious homeland and will not permit the wasting of innocent citizens’ blood. Time is vanishing, so take advantage of this chance: drop your weapons – as many have already done – and remember that the government is as merciful as a mother is to her children.”

If this evocation of maternal care does not appeal to President Bashar al-Assad’s opponents, Islam might -- though the word ‘Islam’ does not appear in the texts we were shown. “Think with your mind, religion is love – religion is tolerance. Religion does not call for killing…Let’s work together according to religious instructions, not at the call of criminals.”

And if you are approaching Syrian troops, here’s a little note you might like to have to hand, a ‘safe passage’ paper that can save your life. “When approaching a checkpoint, make sure you are not holding any kind of weapon. While doing so, approach slowly and make sure your chest is not obscured by anything suspicious. Hold this bulletin in one hand while putting the other on top of your head.” ‘Anything suspicious’ is clearly a reference to a bomb strapped to the chest of a suicide bomber. Yet other papers suggest that armed opponents of the regime “take advantage of the special treatment granted to you by the authorities.”

The problem -- and Syria’s army is wise enough to understand this – is that the violence of the present was planted long ago, and there are many in Syria who remember with great bitterness just what kind of ‘special treatment’ has been granted to their relatives over the past years. Indeed, the day after meeting the general, I sat down to tea with a middle-aged Syrian who wanted to tell me why he hated the regime. He was a mildly-spoken person who met me in a down-town Damascus café, his voice almost drowned out by the screech of birds from an aviary attached to the wall.

“My brother was part of the (Muslim Brotherhood) revolution of 1980 and even my family didn’t know this,” he said. “Then one day the ‘mukhabarat’ intelligence men came in three cars to arrest him. Nobody knows where they took him – not even till now, 32 years later. Official documents said my brother was alive, but in 1996 we got some news from ex-prisoners who said they had seen my brother, and that he had been hanged or shot in Tadmor (Palmyra) prison. For me, the revolution started a long time ago, when my brother was arrested. Now my revolution is getting bigger.”

Without shooting, without arms – this man’s revolution, he told me, would be non-violent. “There is nobody in Syria who likes violence. What happened is that if you have a balloon and keep putting a lot of air in it, it will explode. When the people started to protest last year, the government used force to stop them and arrests -- and drip, drip, drip – there was an explosion.” The people, this man said, “got outside of silence” – in itself a remarkable expression – and “started to use a little bit of violence against the government.” Now these people would never return to their homes, he said, “because if they go home, they will die at home, one by one. That’s why they know this is the end. They have taken the decision never to return back.”

But would he accept a truly democratic parliament with real elections even if Bashar stayed, I asked? “We have known this government for 40 years. You cannot trust them to give you the correct temperature during the day. Democracy and violence don’t meet together. My reply to you is this: No. No. No. No. No. No. No.” Even the army leaflets don’t repeat themselves this much. But his words were as adamant as any leaflet.

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA powerful collection of reportage on Egypt’s cycle of awakening and relapse
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little