Cars honked their horns, voices of laughter resonated throughout the streets, and the sound of constant footsteps increased in volume as Hassan approached the front door of his household. Zaina ran outside before her two siblings to welcome her father back home after Friday prayer. Her mother, Mona, watched in admiration as the children jumped onto their father’s legs. She folded her arms across her chest, leaned along the side of the doorway, looked up at the light-blue sky with tears in her eyes and proclaimed with solemn appreciation, “praise be to God.”
Later that evening, the family was happily conversing over dinner when a sudden knock on the back door revived the imminent fear that was thankfully but temporarily suppressed during the prolonged period of civil unrest. Hassan motioned for his family to remain seated and left the dinner table to investigate the disruption. A few minutes later, a loud explosion shattered the silence of the summer night in Qusayr, Syria. The children ran outside in search of their father. Mona suddenly ran after them, overlooking the religious custom of wrapping a hijab around her head and instantly fell to her knees at the sight that would utterly ruin the rest of her life.
As the smoke faded, Zaina threw herself upon the newly-discovered lifeless body and shook her father back and forth in an effort to awaken him from an endless sleep. While her siblings trembled with fear and her mother slowly concealed her wet face with bloodied hands, Zaina ran across the street in an effort to find assistance.
The sound of recurring gunshots broke the shortly established silence of the night. The children wept even louder, and as soon as Mona noticed that the sound of her daughter’s footsteps had faded, she collapsed near her daughter’s body and lifted her hands up to the sky to question why she hadn’t been taken instead. The mother who had been praising God on the exact same day had been emotionally and physically devastated after this nightmare of an occurrence. Tears streamed down Mona’s face as she began questioning her very faith. She called out, “What have I done? What have I done to deserve this?”
That very night, Mona miserably decided to escape the violence in Syria with her remaining children. Her family currently resides in Lebanon in a two-room apartment with three other families. The situation that Mona and her family face is only one of many that highlights the political situation unfolding in Syria. For the past two years, hundreds of thousands of Syrians have unwillingly left their belongings and centuries of history to burn with their houses; all the while, the hundreds of strong-willed civilians who refused to leave were likely unwillingly drafted into the armed opposition, arrested on the spot or left to die in their homeland. The fact of the matter is that the Syrian civilians, and others across the Middle East, are fighting for freedom and democracy.
Though we don’t live under the same circumstances, we should be thankful that we prosper in a country which guarantees us the same rights that people like Mona are deprived of. We should appreciate the very fact that our representatives don’t hold office for five decades, but for terms between two and six years at a time. We live in a country where men and women risk their lives on a daily basis to ensure that freedom is appreciated by all citizens. We live in a country that allows its citizens to shape and formulate a democratic identity—a country that permits each and every civilian to extract from its tradition the values and resources that build a just and moral society.
We must learn not to take our rights and privileges, such as freedom and democracy, for granted. Despite the recent challenges and inadequacies, our democracy is thriving and flourishing. For the people who are engaging in anti-government protests and demonstrations, our country remains a strong symbol of optimism, opportunity and prosperity—an emblem that people like Mona hold near and dear to their hearts on a daily basis. Democracy and freedom are privileges that should be appreciated every second of our lives—privileges that are prayed for by the people who are dictated and suppressed by abhorrent leaders on a daily basis. Mona said it best when she told me over a phone call that though she had lost her daughter and husband, her soul remained strong.
I will continue to say, until I take my last breath, long live freedom.
Mousa Alshanteer is a Trinity freshman. His column runs every other Tuesday. You can follow Mousa on Twitter @mousaalshanteer.