Dylan Connor's Song 'Blood Like Fire' Evokes Syrian Civil War's Dark Heart
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Reem’s father, Taha, is a retired general in the Syrian military who served under Hafez al-Assad. He says it feels like a “mafia” is running the country, not a government—members of the Assad family controlling the presidency, as well as facets of the economy and the military for years. A former air force pilot, he taught Bashar al-Assad to fly during the dictator’s youth.
“He says when he taught Bashar, he was like an idiot,” explains Reem, translating for Taha. “Not an idiot in terms of he didn’t know what was happening, but he had zero personality. He didn’t really have charisma. He would come to the academy just like anybody else, dressed not even properly. No one thought that he would actually turn into what he is.”
“If we knew, I would have assassinated him,” adds Reem, speaking for herself. “If I had a crystal ball to tell me he was going to be this in a few years, I would have definitely killed him.”
Despite the obvious anger from his wife, Dylan, through marriage, has been adopted into a family of peaceful protesters, activists and dissidents bent on seeing the Syrian regime fall. Reem has close family members and friends who are still involved with nonviolent activism inside the country. Her cousin Zai-doun al-Zouabi, whom Dylan calls his “muse” and dedicates the song “Syria Healer” to, reported on the ground for CNN and was imprisoned by the regime twice, held in solitary confinement for months in a cell so small he couldn’t even lie down.
“I think actually the regime focuses on that kind of activism, because they really don’t want the revolution to come across like it’s all these intellectuals who are asking for freedom,” says Reem. “All the lawyers and intellectuals and doctors and professors go to jail because those are the people they’re really afraid of.”
While Reem first thought it unsafe to return home because of her family’s role in the resistance, her husband has now made a prospective trip even more dangerous. Dylan has become something of an underground celebrity in the country, old friends of Reem’s telling her to listen to his music, unaware that the two are married.
“I can’t go back home because of my own views and my family history with activism, but now I can’t even go back home because of him,” she says with pride. “They probably know who he is, have his name at all the borders.”
The Syrian civil war is not black-and-white, nor is it plainly good versus evil. Rather, what started as citizens speaking out for basic human freedoms has turned into a proxy war for sides so splintered and fragmented that it is, indeed, hard to make out a light at the end of the tunnel, easy for one who cares so much to feel like he’s drowning.
“The one thing that most people don’t understand is that Syria is the Brooklyn of the Middle East. It has all sorts of Christian sects, it has a whole variety of Shiite sects,” says Marc Ginsberg, a former U.S. ambassador to Morocco and White House Middle East adviser. “Every ethnic group and every clan has its own militia. The country is completely pockmarked by different battle lines.”
This conflict in Syria is one of regimes and rebels, Sunnis and Shiites, Islamists and secularists, despots and democrats. The United States, Russia, Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Hezbollah and al-Qaeda (among others) all have deep-rooted interests in what happens in the country. And meanwhile, amidst the ancient tribalism and geopolitics, innocent people are being murdered by the thousands.
Dylan Connor has toured the U.S. playing benefit shows for Syria. This summer he will go to Jordan and Turkey to teach displaced Syrian children to play music. All of the proceeds from his album are going to aid the war-torn country. He cannot stop the killing, but Syrians will continue to sing his songs in the streets, drawing inspiration for the cause of democracy. He wants to tell the stories that otherwise would be forgotten.
“That’s what motivates me to sing these songs now,” he says. “I can’t sit still knowing what’s happening.”