Q. Why did you go to Syria?
A. I went to Syria to produce a documentary about the resistance fighters who opposed Bashar Assad’s rule. I wasn’t 100% sure what I would find. Would I find a collection of fighters only looking for blood with no true path to achieve their goals other than killing? I just didn’t know but I felt, as a journalist, it was something that needed to be found out and told.
Q. What happened when you entered Syria for the first time?
A. I entered Syria with a group of Syrian resistance fighter’s. When I crossed over into Syrian territory I expected that a bomb was going to land on my head. My heart was racing.
Q. What did you see when you started your work?
A. After spending time with mostly Syrian groups, and they were an impressive lot themselves, I became interested in foreign fighters. I wanted to document what made them leave their comfortable lives in the US, UK, Europe etc. and risk their lives for a people they
Q. Is that when you met the British Mujahid Ibrahim Mazwagi?
A. Yes. He was such a character! He was a naturally jovial person in his own right so we got along very well. I went out to film with him as he and his group were going to raid a regime military installation in a place called Daratul Izzah. He, the Canadian Abu Muslim, and the others were a lot of fun to be with. They were so relaxed it was as if they were preparing to go to the market or visit to a friends house. However I was not relaxed! I remember someone said a few hours before the fight started: “Take a good look around you because some of those who are here now will not be here tomorrow. ” That gave me a lot to think about in the lead up to the fight. That was a night I think I will never forget. Ibrahim and his group were tasked with having to clear a well fortified hilltop. I saw him, Abu Muslim, and the others become intensely serious and focused before they started the climb. They were being shot at with RPGs, rockets from planes, and much more and they would just shout: “Allaahu Akbar”, and keep going. They eventually took that hilltop after an exhausting full night of fighting.
Q. How did that make you feel?
A. It made me angry because these people were labeled as terrorists when they were doing something that seemed to be other than that. I myself saw the regime military forces firing mid range artillery in the direction of civilian areas. These fighters took that compound away from regime forces and the firing stopped. I felt that people should know who these people were and what they were really doing so they can judge for themselves whether they like them or not.
I watch news programs and how they bring on so called “experts” to speak about Islamic fighters when they never met one! These fighters were not calling for a global jihad or laying explosives in a bus station. They were clear about what they wanted: 1. An Islamic State and 2. To save the blood of the Syrian people being slaughtered by their own government.
Q. But isn’t that an issue in itself, an “Islamic State?”
A. It is not my goal to convince someone to love or hate Islamic law. My job as a journalist is to present the facts and people can make the determination for themselves. I ask, what do most people really know about Islamic Law? They should spend a bit of time learning about it then once they have a clear idea they are free to say whether they accept it or reject it based upon true realities. The choice is theirs.
Q. What is the predominant view of these fighters concerning the west?
A. For the vast majority of these fighters they are not focused on a global jihad of any kind. The Syrian people needed help and they responded. However they are very mistrustful of western governments’ stated commitment to the welfare of the Syrian people and they cite the harsh punishments that certain countries a preparing for Mujaahideen fighters looking to return to their home countries. They believe that no country sent any troops to help the Syrian people so they came to their aid and somehow they are being targeted for simply because they are practicing Muslims.
Q. Most would say that the west has begun to shun the revolution in Syria because Al Qaidah has taken over the revolution.
A. This is not what I’ve seen. Is Al Qaidah an active part of the resistance? Yes, but are they the most dominant? No. Are they the largest group or control the most territory? No. Those titles belong to the group called The Islamic Front. I believe that some are grossly over emphasizing Al Qaidah’s presence to discredit the revolution. There are many other voices speaking in the circles of jihad calling the fighters away from the global jihad idea and to focus strictly on the Syrian conflict. This message had been successful and well received by the fighters for the most part and even served to sway fighters from joining the Al Qaidah group in Syria. However recent efforts by some western governments to strip all fighters in general of their citizenship and rights doesn’t serve their cause in the least. It actually gives weight to the narrative that Islam and the west can’t co-exist and therefore they must fight. Cageprisoners did an excellent report regarding the perceived “blowback” effect of returning fighters to the UK from Syria. I would recommend taking a look at it.
Q. What do you see as the next step?
A. That all depends on who I am talking to. If I am talking with someone who feels that all they need to do is drop a few more explosives, increase arrests, and keep up the media campaign of demonization then I would say I have no idea what the next step is and each side will be burying their dead for some time to come.
If I am talking to someone who is mature and genuinely wants to create a win-win solution then I would say that the west must engage Islamic fighters in sincere dialogue. I am not referring to those who are keen to kill innocents, I mean those who have a clear Islamic methodology and agenda. I have said many times that what the two parties want is much more compatible than most people realize.