By Contributor on December 09, 2013

By Qusai Zakarya

"Freedom." It's not just a word. Mouhammad Bouazizi knew that.

He set himself on fire for lack of freedom. The people came pouring out for him, in Tunisia. People poured into a square named freedom in Egypt. Ever since then, our lack of freedom became unbearable to us in Syria. We started protesting for freedom and dignity in Syria in March 2011. I'm the same age as Bouazizi, and I want to live free before I die.

Everyone who has an atom of goodness knew this was right, this was the day for freedom. We went out and shouted "Freedom!" and it was like we were alive for the first time, saying what we really thought, at the top of our lungs.

I want to live. I love life. I am a man in love. I want to marry my sweetheart, have children, and have them live in a world where they are not in danger of being tortured in prison for living free honest lives.

Thirty months later, this is where I find myself: My hometown, what is left of it, ringed by Syrian regime army. Bombed because we want freedom from this dictatorship. They want to starve us out of our need for freedom.

Out of Syria's dozens of besieged cities, Moadamiya is the most sealed. Not a single bag of bread can get in since July, and our reserves are gone. I saw a toddler named Rana starve to death before my eyes. She is not the only one. I'm witnessing the children die here, and I have little sisters. I see my little brothers' faces in their thin faces.

I grew up in Moadamiya, an olive-growing town in the farmbelt around Damascus called the Ghouta. I'm a Palestinian Syrian, and this is the only hometown I have ever known. My parents were displaced from their olive-growing village by the fighting in 1948. "Just leave for a few days while we liberate the land," the Arab Liberation Army told their families. A few days....

I know what a lifetime of displacement means. We are 8,000 left, of an original 53,000. I helped to negotiate four evacuations, the last group shot at by the regime army, and no one trusts evacuations anymore. My townspeople in Moadamiya want to stay, live, eat, and be free.

What the regime is doing is illegal. Depriving whole towns of food and medicine is a violation of international law. The regime is using the cover of fighting the FSA to punish civilians.

I won't kid you, I have thoughts of getting a rifle and joining the front at the edges of town. I did, for a week in August. I'm not a fan of armed struggle and I know the ills it has brought this revolution, but there are moments when a man feels reduced to a choice between dying in bed or dying fighting, and of those two I prefer the second.

But I made a third choice. I began a hunger strike on November 26, 2013. If children are going to starve, if we are all going hungry here anyway, I will make my hunger purposeful. Like the women hunger striking in Homs, another besieged city, I want the world to know what this is about: not just the right to food, but the right to freedom. We are only human, made of flesh and blood, and we need both to eat bread for the body, and to be able to live and breath as free human beings.

There has to be a way out of this impossible stand-off in Syria, for the world to choose. Choose life. We chose it. Find a way to help us.

Photo: Flickr user Freedom House, creative commons licensed.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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