WHAT IS “THE WAR SHOW” ABOUT?
OZ: The main character is Syria, with the film about a group of friends, myself included, and what happened to us there. It is our private journey and our personal story. We had been together for a long time. We decided to go on a journey and traveled around the country together – this journey brought a higher perspective to our friendship. The film captures different moments – almost like postcards during the uprising and beginning of the war, and up until now. We meet a lot of different groups in the film and it is definitely a unique view into what actually happened inside Syria and what is still happening. These moments felt exceptional while we experienced them and now it is like a treasure, because of what happened to us... It is a huge thing for us.
AD: Once you have seen the film, I believe you get a whole other understanding of the war in Syria. The film is not told from a political angle, but from an angle of friendship. It shows in a very human way why things went so wrong. This group of friends is very easy to identify with. I have Danish friends who are very similar to the characters in the film. These Syrian friends are just like any other collection of people within the artistic environment in, for example, Europe or the US, and they don’t fit into a Western stereotype of Muslims, but they do want to connect with the world and with each other. They find inspiration from everywhere, Jim Morrison, Sufi philosophy, ancient Greeks, Lebanese hip-hop, and much more. They don’t strive for a ‘Western culture’, but they do admire some of the freedoms European states offer. They are very media savvy and highly critical of both Western and Middle Eastern media. The media is constantly telling stories about this big group they label ‘Muslims’ that are very stereotypical – you have the radical Islamist, the woman fighting for freedom, the assimilated young man. All labels are defined by us, and media interest is too. It’s close to the Bush doctrine of ‘either you’re with us, or you’re against us’, and it robs Muslims of the ability to define themselves more freely. Obaidah is a strong believer in Jihad, as the word contains a beautiful concept: ‘To strive for good’. To be a martyr is to be someone who sacrifices their life for others. The way Western media uses these labels is wrong, and a word like ‘Islamist’ is both misleading and offensive because it robs from the world community of Muslims the ability to be religious and not be labelled extremist. These labels matter a lot, and so does our use of words. Radical extremism is not the same as Islamism and we should differ. The current media world is driven by clicks and ratings. This creates a death cult as a result, of who can deliver the most dramatic footage. The speed is so fast that there is not time to analyze or criticize sources or the validity of news coverage. When we see news footage from Syria it is almost always the most dramatic scenes – the battles that we are presented with. It is not only the Western media’s need for drama that it feeds into, but a general need for drama that feeds into social media as well. It helps increase violence inside Syria. If you get attention in the media, this means more support in terms of money, foreign fighters and weapons. ISIS probably has one of the most clever media campaigns of our time, one that has brought tens of thousands of people together and has resulted in violence and terror. Our film criticizes this phenom￼enon and it offers a different way of seeing, which is focused on the moments in between the battles and on the encounters between people that somehow are all affected. Oby and her friends represents that large group of Syrians we rarely get to see in the media. They are spiritual people and, just like others all over the world, they are enjoying, searching and exploring life while trying to understand the events that happen around them.
OZ: I did radio for seven years in Syria and this is my fifth war I have experienced in the region. I felt changes were coming. We all felt that the film would be a good way to document this change by following this group of friends – almost like a reality show, in the sense that this is their experience during those years. But the difference is this is not a staged reality – this is the truth. This is what happened to us... So the film may not show the whole picture, but it documents a slice of the truth that represents hundreds of thousands of people. The film is a streaming of the war crimes that are taking place in Syria. Our dictator didn’t want the change, but the winds were blowing in that direction and you cannot stop that. So we knew war was coming. In order to change things, war can be necessary. The conflict in Syria goes way back. It isn’t something that just happened – it has deep historic roots. This way of filming however, is a new media platform for us. Even though so much violence has taken place in Syria and in the footage we have gathered – the film celebrates life. The film is showing how much we were ready for change, how we wanted to live more freely. We were all part of the artistic environment in Syria. We all wanted to take part in the changes and this I believe is the responsibility of an artist – to show what is going on in the world even though it may put you in danger. We knew death was just around the corner. I just never expected it to hurt so much.
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST MISUNDERSTANDING IN THE WESTERN WORLD IN REGARDS TO THE CONFLICT AND WAR IN SYRIA?
OZ: That it is about religion first and foremost. It is not. Religion is just the way to get people to follow. It is about money and it is a conflict that has roots way back in history. I feel sorry for Europe because I believe it is going to get worse. What we have seen so far in terms of terrorism is just the beginning. Any kind of liberal way of life is a target for others that don’t agree with the liberal lifestyle that Europe represents. This violence will be even more spread out. I hope people will seek knowledge and vote for the right politicians. Every time you place a vote in a political party that represents fascism, you are actually supporting extremism, so it is a big misunderstanding to place a vote on those parties if we want this all to stop. We have to start thinking that what we send out in the world is what will come back to us in the end.
AD: The biggest misunderstanding is also that “nothing could be done”. It is very clear to me after my own research that there were strong forces in the Syrian society – fairly moderate ones – that could have been given a lot more support. Us not intervening dealt the cards in Assad’s favour. Therefore, I am hoping that we learn from this even though it is too late to change what has already happened.
OZ: The reason why no one is doing anything to stop the war is a fear of confronting Russia and Iran. They are the ones making sure that Assad stays in power. A lot of times the Assad supporters will say: ‘do you prefer ISIS to Assad?’ But there are other ways to go than one or the other, and also ISIS was created to keep people in their place and to create fear. ISIS came from the outside. Al Qaida and the Assad regime came from the inside.
HOW DO YOU SEE THE FUTURE FOR SYRIA AND SYRIANS, INCLUDING YOURSELF, OBY?
OZ: I don’t see this war ending. I fear the worst for Syrians so I am not hopeful in that sense. I think the world will be divided into two from now on. It already has been. And I don’t think we will ever be able to go back. I want the world to open their eyes. Three-hundred thousand people are kept in prison in Syria or have disappeared. The world has to stand up and demand they be released and see to it that this is no longer happening. In South Africa when apartheid was going on, things started to change when the people started standing up and a global action took place in terms of boycotts etc. People are dying in prisons from torture, but mainly from dehydration often due to lack of space and no food and water. For myself – I want to put the film behind me and live in quietness for a while so I will get my creativity back. There are so many projects I wish to do.
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE FOR THE AUDIENCE TO TAKE WITH THEM, WHEN WATCHING THE FILM?
AD: I hope that people will recognize that we all share a big responsibility in terms of this huge crisis with refugees and war, and act on the fact that Syria is a horrible tragedy of historic proportions. But this responsibility is no bigger than it has been before in history. Look at World War II or the war in the former Yugoslavia. I truly hope that the film will affect both politicians and everyday people in a sense that they will think about what they, and we, can do. I hope that the film will challenge our understanding of Syria, the refugee crisis and how radical extremism and media work in relation to violence and power. The struggle is not about Islam, but religion is used cynically by criminal gangs and politicians to gain power – the Assad family most notably.
OZ: The film is not just for Europeans and Americans, it is also very much a film for Syrians. I know that we will get criticism for it as well, but I do believe that it is a ’slice’ of our history – a ’slice’ of Syrian history and of course an important document that tells the story of what happened to a group of friends that loved life and celebrated life. I hope the film can make outsiders understand why people are fleeing in small boats. I hope the film will bring people knowledge and that everyone will start checking the information that the media gives us. I believe it is important if we want to change the world. I am not too hopeful about the war coming to an end in Syria, but I hope it will. I will say this: I don’t like it when the media victimizes us. Like, ‘they killed our revolution’. No they didn’t. The resistance is still there. It is living inside us as Syrians and it will never die.