Qassem can’t go back. As he tells me his story he even says «Come on do it, write down my real name, there is nothing else to loose». And I do not write down his real name anyways, but I do write the real name of his village, which is Salamiya. And anybody a minimum familiar with this region knows Salamiya for being a cradle of drunkards, swearers, ismailis and communists – it’s the local tradition. «Yeah, so much for those fundamentalist sunni muslim terrorists the government accuses of generating chaos in the country», Qassem points out: because it was Salamiya, the Syrian town of communists and ismailis, to be the first one protesting. «How can you go around calling us salafis? They say people of Salamiya swear against god every time their foot hits the ground» . As for Qassem, he doesn’t believe salafis even exist, for he never saw one at their protests – it takes me a while to convince him that I actually saw salafis with my 2 eyes, and that they tend to have two legs two arms one beard and a strongly washed brain. “Ok then, but not in Syria”, he agrees.
Qassem is on the run since that day his father called him saying not to come back. He was in Homs when they came looking for him. First, long before, they took his brother. That was in march, when things were just starting, and a protest in Damascus ended up in a raid of massive arrests – his brother was jailed and tortured. I insist asking which tortures, “The usual ones”, Qassem answers with a scroll of shoulders. Beatings, elettroshock, the wheel, the German Chair. This one needs a bit more explanation, as apparently it is a local specialty I never heard of: it’s a sit you’re tied to, with two metal stick pushing so hard against your shoulders that your nerves running to the arms sometimes get permanently damaged. As your legs are then tied towards your back, pain is umbearable for more than ten minutes. Qassem’s broche was lucky, he explains, because he’s a strong man so when Bashar al Assad declaired in public that all political prisoners would be released, he did not have scars – apparently Syrian authorities never let prisoners out if they bear dangerously revealing signs of mistreatment. As for Qassem, they don’t want him for the German Chair, they want him for recruitment. Recruitment is what his cousin just finished. “They take you for two weeks, place you in squads of ten men each, and use you as irregular, non-uniformed snipers. They give you a weapon and tell you to shoot. If you don’t shoot, they shoot you. My cousin wa sent to shoot on protesters in Banyas. He kept shooting in the air, fearing they would catch him cheating, but the resto f the group shot on people. And shot and shot and shot. If you refuse, they just return you to your family wrapped in a white bedshit, calling you a marthyr ad saying it was the terrorists who killed you». And Qassem he swears to to me, if they order him to shoot he will shoot at his commanders. So he hides around, even if everywhere there’s mukhabbarat and shabbiha and police; sleeps here and there with no plan, no job, no idea on how to continue his university. In the meantime, as they did not find him, they decided to drag in prison the rest of the family. Elders included.
Qassem can’t go back and I don’t know what to say. His troubles started during one of the marches, when a thugh from the pro-government gangs irrupted in the middle of a protest. He slapped Qassem’s aged mother as she screamed at him to take off his picture of Bashar al Assad. Qassem lost control, jumped on the thug, beat him up, and now he can’t go back. Because few days later recruiters came asking for him. Qassem’s only anger now is for missing on the protests. He just wants to return to Salamiya and go on until the end, do his duty, and he says it with such a dignity for the young man he is, that for a second I look at him like a giant.
Qassem can’t go back. He comes towards me with such a grave expression, doesn’t say a word, opens his hand on the table and two empty bullets fall down. I look at them, they’re too short for the army’s machine-guns. «Kalashnikov», I comment, «AK-47», he nods. «I picked them in the main street of Homs, the floor was covered of those after the protest», Qassem continues as I turn them in my hands. Kalashnikovs, they are rough, cheap gear. It’s the illegal groups, the Shabbiha and the snipers enrolled by the day, who use this kind of stuff. So in the end shooting on marching people is a job for militias, up to the extent that floors are covered with AK-47 bullets, and that way they can keep on blaming “unknown armed groups” for the violence and the deaths, and people is more afraid, especially religious minirities, and and and. «Look at the red one in your left hand, look at the numbers on it, you see? That’s not syrian made. That’s made in USSR». Soviet Union was decades ago. If this is the case, they are arming citizens to go shoot on other cityzens with second-hand bullets. «That’s how cheap us people are, for this regime», grins Qassem as he takes the bullets and walks away.
Qassem can’t go back and I don’t know what to add.