(CHURCH AND STATE) — George Salloum is just another Aussie. I really don’t think about people’s backgrounds when I get to know them. It’s their character and conversation that forms my first impressions. But over a few years of at first casual acquaintance and then working together on the occasional project, I’ve learned just how fascinating his family background really is. I’ve known “Papa G” as a popular pastor at a big church, but his journey has been much more interesting than “average”.
Can you imagine your first day of kindergarten when your mum left you for the first time, and how much harder it would have been on you (and your mum) if you didn’t speak a word of English? Little George cried to his strange teacher in fluent Arabic that his mummy wasn’t coming back, but his teacher had no way of knowing what he was saying.
The first son of immigrants from Syria in the early 1970s, George grew up in an Orthodox Christian family. Surrounded by other Syrian immigrants of both nominally Christian and Muslim families, they added to the cultural melting pot that all Australian cities have become.
And back in Syria, his extended family now surpasses 127 first and second cousins – at last count (ten years ago).
It was those family members who started giving contradictory reports about what George and all Westerners were hearing was going on in Syria. We heard the democratically elected President Bashar al-Assad was a hated dictator, his government a brutal regime, the invasion of terrorists a civil war.
Yet George Salloum’s family told him of men in obviously fake uniforms forcing them out of their homes at gunpoint to “protest” the secular government, and of those same fake soldiers then shooting into the crowd and videoing it.
They tell of tens of thousands of dead rebel soldiers whom no one is Syria knows, suggesting a mass invasion of extremists from the many nations bordering Syria. This supports their assertion that it is not a civil war, but a war against terrorists such as ISIS and Al Qaeda. Even those once critical of President Assad deny he is massively unpopular.
In his interview with me for “Church And State“, George also shared with me confronting videos he’d uncovered in his subsequent research trying to get to the bottom of the truth. One showed an obviously staged car bomb with “victims” brought in to safely act hurt for the cameras after the explosion. Clearly not everything we see with our own eyes is evidence of the narrative it’s usually presented with.
The narrative surrounding Aleppo is that the “regime” regained it from the rebels and the citizens fled in terror. But inconveniently for those partisan perspectives, the locals filled the city’s large sports stadium to celebrate their liberation – which wasn’t shown on the news.
Is Assad an angel? I don’t think so. But imposing our political values on a sovereign people, no matter how well-intended, is imperialistic and short-sighted. Such significant culture change takes generations. There’s no quick solution. Western society has had centuries to evolve our laws and governments since the Magna Carta. Middle Eastern states are observably prone to tribalism, dictators and military regimes, and so thrusting democracy upon them only serves to destabilise the delicate existing power balances.
Bashar al-Assad does not present as the caricatured Middle Eastern dictator with a military uniform with more decorations than a Christmas tree. What we do know about Assad is that he has been moving Syria away from the benevolent dictatorship he inherited from his father and towards shared Western values such as a pluralistic, secular government, encouraging foreign investment and infrastructure development, and pardoning those citizens who fought against him by offering amnesties to put down their arms and return to their homes.
We also know that the surrounding nations which oppose his government are rather fond of their Islamic theocracies.
So what conclusions can we make with this information. Perhaps only that we can’t make any conclusions because of how little information we have and how poor a quality of information we’re often presented. Certainly, we can conclude that all media must be chewed well before being swallowed.
Watch the full and fascinating interview with George Salloum one segment at a time below.