'Inside Syria' author Reese Erlich to speak Oct. 14
By Lou Fancher
Journalist Reese Erlich will read and discuss his new book "Inside Syria" at an event hosted by the Mt. Diablo Peace and Justice Center at the Mt. Diablo Unitarian Universalist Church in Walnut Creek at 7 p.m. on Oct. 14.
Firsthand accounts and research are Erlich's professional stock in trade. Interviews with top leaders (twice, with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad) as well as rebels, foot soldiers, commanders and others add drama and provide contemporary context to "Inside Syria."
Exposing the roots of the Syrian civil war and other countries' involvement in the region dictates that his book, and conversations, will delve into ancient allegiances, treaties, rebellions and ethnic and cultural traditions. "Inside Syria" devotes early chapters to 20th century Middle East history, Syrian and Lebanese independence and the arrival of the Assads, before diving into wars, chemical weapons, military interventions and the most recent developments in a fluid conflict that changes daily.
Perhaps most useful and compelling are his book's answers to questions like Who is supporting Assad? What will happen to the Kurds? What role are Israel, Palestine, Russia, Iran, the United States and other countries playing in the conflicts?
"The Syrian uprising was a genuine, popular rebellion. It was brutally suppressed by the Assad regime. That gave rise to the extremist uprising, Now, it has become a proxy war: The U.S., Saudi Arabia, Turkey and others are lining up behind the rebel groups. Russia and others are lining up behind Assad," says Erlich.
Erlich says people in the Middle East do not hate Americans--they hate American policies. And Americans, he believes, are increasingly aware that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were disastrous. Getting American political leaders to talk about it, however, is "a no-go area," according to Erlich.
"You try to get a high-level source (for a story), understanding the higher you go the trickier it is," he says. "The higher up you go, the less interesting the interview. Diplomats and American ambassadors are almost useless, because they can't speak openly."
Peace and Justice Center Executive Director Margli Auclair says Erlich's deep knowledge about Syria and its people will add to local residents' understanding of the situation.
"We expect Erlich to move beyond a focus on current events and provide a broad historical context to the horrifying situation we are witnessing in Syria," she wrote in an email. "History shows that extreme fundamentalism and nationalism do not develop in a vacuum. We need to understand this in order to move forward."