Syrian Defector: More Guns, Less Gandhi

By: Dan Bilefsky

With his slight figure and pensive disposition, Ammar Cheikh Omar seems more like a contemplative German philosophy student than a would-be Syrian Rambo. But the 29-year-old defector from the Syrian Army insists it is time for the Syrian opposition to shed its passive philosophizing. It is time, he says, to take up arms.

Syrian rebels need to emphasize the aggressive in what has largely been a passive-aggressive resistance, according to Ammar Cheikh Omar, a Syrian Army defector. One rebel in Homs manned a checkpoint — and took tea — with his AK-47.

Only months ago he used to dread it when he was a member of the army and armed agents of President Bashar al-Assad’s fearsome security apparatus would menacingly prod new recruits like him to shoot at unarmed protesters.

But now that he has defected and joined the rebel army fighting Assad, his erstwhile gun-shyness has transformed into a new resolve to fight.

Like many members of the rebel Free Syrian Army whom I met in the dusty Turkish border town of Hatay, Mr. Omar was fed up with the passive resistance espoused by the Syrian opposition. Gandhi’s ideology, he said ruefully, is no match for a loaded AK-47. Guns must be met with guns, he insisted on a recent day. He and his comrades bemoaned the chronic passivity of the Syrian National Council, the political wing of the Syrian opposition, in the face of a cruel dictator using violence against his own people.

“All they do is talk and talk while people are dying,” he said of the politicians.

His views laid bare one of the biggest challenges facing those revolting against Mr. Assad: a divided opposition that has proven no match for a resilient autocrat determined to retain his grip on power, even as mass demonstrations have unseated leaders in other countries like Egypt, also buffeted by the Arab Spring.

Nevertheless, Mr. Omar and his fellow soldiers say that the rebel Free Syrian Army, a rag tag group — some as young as 16 — is becoming increasingly radicalized.

On a recent day in Hatay, where members of the Free Syrian Army were living in a tent encampment that was off-limits to visitors, smugglers on motorcycles could be seen moving hospital supplies and guns across the border into Syria.

Mr. Omar and other Syrian activists said one of the challenges facing the resistance was that many Syrian defectors were forced to leave their guns behind when they fled, which left them exposed and vulnerable.

He and his friends are now desperate for the international community to enforce a buffer zone within Syria, a place where aid workers could deliver aid and defectors could find refuge.

But so far, there seems little political will for such a measure. While unsubstantiated rumors have circulated that French and British intelligence agents are helping to train the Free Syrian Army, they remain severely outgunned. Stymied by Russian intransigence, the international community has struggled to find a unified voice to raise against Syria, even sanctions have been strengthened.

Mr. Omar is undeterred. He braved death to escape from Syria. For many like him, freedom is worth dying for. A profile in the Times of Mr. Omar and the story of his defection can be found here.

Source: New York Times

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