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Meanwhile In Damascus: Pro-Regime Optimism Far From Aleppo Siege

The worst fear in the capital is a lasting truce between Russia and the United States, which they believe would halt the Assad regime's offensive and delay the total victory.

Syrian children playing in Al-Ghouta, Damascus
Syrian children playing in Al-Ghouta, Damascus
Giordano Stabile

DAMASCUS — At the Masnaa border crossing between Syria and Lebanon, mothers and children wait in line to return to their homeland. For the first time in Syria's brutal five-year civil war, the flow of refugees has inverted — though just barely. Returnees only number a few dozen out of the 1.5 million Syrian refugees that have fled their country.

The border officials are curt with the new arrivals. "We treat them a little badly at first," says one official. "They were wrong to flee when things were bad, now that things have changed they're coming back. But we'll help them, they are welcome."

Other buses stream into Syria from Lebanon, bringing Shia Muslim pilgrims from across the region — mainly Iraqis — continuing their travels from Beirut and a Shia sanctuary in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, toward the Syrian capital of Damascus. Thousands more arrive by plane from the Iraqi cities of Baghdad, Basra, and Najaf, as well as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Many fly in via low cost airlines like Cham Wings, now Damascus' dominant airline, replacing the state-owned Syrian Air, hit by sanctions and left with only one functioning plane.

In the capital, hotels and restaurants are full nowadays, revitalized by a boom in religious tourism that has replaced the European tourists who no longer come. There's an air of optimism around the city not seen since before the war began. Supporters of the Assad regime feel that victory — maybe even peace — is within their grasp.

The tide has been turning for Assad since August, when the large Damascus suburb and rebel stronghold of Darayya surrendered to government forces. Darayya had been a symbol of opposition to the regime and a constant source of rockets and mortar fire for residents of Mezzeh, a primarily Alawite, pro-Assad hilltop district of the capital.

Darayya's rebel fighters and residents were deported to the rebel-held northern province of Idlib, following the model of previous surrender and "reconciliation" deals between the government and rebel forces. The regime's victory in Darayya created a buoyant mood in the capital, and now Mezzeh's three-lane main road, lined with palm trees planted by French urbanists in the 1930s, is abuzz with life and clogged with traffic. Blackouts that used to last half a day now last only three hours.

With the lights back on in Damascus, the crisis in Aleppo, where civilians are being massacred and left without water or electricity, seems more distant than ever. Residents of the capital fear one thing above all else: a new truce between Russia and the United States, which they believe would halt the regime's offensive and delay the total victory they insist is close at hand. Conquering Aleppo, Syria's second-largest city, would also bury Turkey's aims in the area — a move that would strike at the true roots of the Syrian conflict, in the eyes of President Assad.

Three ways

"There are three ways to take Aleppo, but it will be taken back in any case," says Wael Almawla, director of the Beirut-based pro-Hezbollah Al-Manar television channel. "It will be taken with force, with an international accord, or with a reconciliation treaty between Syrians. We expect diplomatic talks to continue, but if there isn't an accord, military operations will resume."

Without the conquest of Aleppo, the Assad doctrine of total victory cannot succeed. "Aleppo was Syria's richest and most industrialized city, retaking it means restarting the entire economy," says Almawla, who accuses rebels of dismantling factories and selling machines to Turkey.

If the regime manages to take the city, any scenarios for splintering Syria into separate nations will be moot, because no other rebel-held city is large enough to act as a "second capital" to Damascus — not even the Islamic State's headquarters of Raqqa.

Almawla says that the massacre of civilians — hundreds have been reported killed in recent weeks in air raids — is the price being paid because the rebels in Aleppo are using locals "as human shields."

The Hezbollah commentator says there have also been many Shia victims of anti-regime forces, like the residents of the large Shia villages of Fouah and Kefrayeh, strangled to death by members of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat Fatah Al-Sham.

Relatives of the victims of those attacks have been conducting a sit-in for 20 days at the Shia sanctuary of Sayyida Zeinab, south of Damascus, site of the reputed grave of the daughter of the legitimate successor to the prophet Muhammad according to Shias.

The drive to the shrine from the capital requires a long detour around the southern periphery's pockets of the sniper fire of anti-regime resistance. Elderly soldiers and young men oversee regime checkpoints that block the road, the ages illustrating the toll the war has taken on the army's ranks. The women at the sit-in, haggard in their black veils and sitting on white plastic chairs, could just as well be the grieving women of Aleppo on the other side of this internecine conflict.

Wafa had come to Damascus from Fouah to visit her relatives, but now she can't return home. It's been two years since she has seen her four children or her husband, who has a heart condition and has run out of medicine. "His name is Hassan al-Mustafa, please help him," she says. The world's attention is rightly focused on the great suffering in Aleppo. Tragically, there are a hundred, even a thousand Aleppos in this devastated country.

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The Colonial Spirit And "Soft Racism" Of White Savior Syndrome

Tracing back to Christian colonialism, which was supposed to somehow "civilize" and save the souls of native people, White Savior Syndrome lives on in modern times: from Mother Teresa to Princess Diana and the current First Lady of Colombia, Verónica Alcocer.

photo of a child patient holding hand of an adult

Good intentions are part of the formula

Ton Koene / Vwpics/ZUMA
Sher Herrera


CARTAGENA — The White Savior Syndrome is a social practice that exploits or economically, politically, symbolically takes advantage of individuals or communities they've racialized, perceiving them as in need of being saved and thus forever indebted and grateful to the white savior.

Although this racist phenomenon has gained more visibility and sparked public debate with the rise of social media, it is actually as old as European colonization itself. It's important to remember that one of Europe's main justifications for subjugating, pillaging and enslaving African and American territories was to bring "civilization and save their souls" through "missions."

Even today, many white supremacists hold onto these ideas. In other words, they believe that we still owe them something.

This white savior phenomenon is a legacy of Christian colonialism, and among its notable figures, we can highlight Saint Peter Claver, known as "the slave of the slaves," Bartolomé de Las Casas, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Princess Diana herself, and even the First Lady of Colombia, Verónica Alcocer.

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