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Fadwa Suleiman is a Syrian actress equivalent to Jennifer Aniston. Yet Suleiman’s never starred–and surely never will star–in a role quite like the one she’s currently playing in real life. In the last two months, Suleiman has gone from celebrity to protester to revolutionary-freedom fighter, and finally to a fugitive disowned by her own family. She’s now in hiding and has stated that if she’s caught she expects to be beaten, tortured, imprisoned, and killed. A recent Al Jazeera English profile ended with this stirring description, “Citizen journalist, activist, traitor–whatever she’s called, Fadwa Suleiman is embracing the role of a lifetime.”

However, here in America, her story is virtually unknown.

Barbara Walters recently scored an interview with the notorious Bashar Assad in Damascus that was broadcast on the December 7, 2011. Walters alluded to high-profile examples of violence during the interview.

“Well I will give you some examples and you can tell me if you’ve seen these, these are some of the images and stories and some of the images that I saw, a 13-year-old boy who was arrested in April, a month later his body was returned to his family bearing scars of torture. A famous cartoonist whom you know who was critical of you badly beaten his arms are broken. A singer, famous singer who wrote a popular song calling for your oust he was found with his throat cut. You have seen these pictures, have you not?” -Walters to Assad

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Suleiman’s story was conspicuously absent from the question. Amal Hanano, a Middle East journalist, explained how this was a missed opportunity, “I wish Barbara Walters would have mentioned her in the interview because I don’t think Bashar could have denied knowing her like he did with the others she mentioned.”

But where the media fails to give Suleiman’s story the attention it deserves, perhaps Hollywood one day will.

According to a profile in Veteran’s Today, her list of acting accomplishments says, “Born in Aleppo, Syria, Fadwa moved to the capital Damascus to pursue an acting career where she performed in numerous plays, including in No Comment, Dolls’ House, Maria’s Voice and Media, and in at least a dozen TV shows, including in The Diary of Abou Antar and Little Ladies.” Throw in risking her own life to fight against the oppression of the Assad regime, and you’ve got a story written for the silver screen. Making for a juicy Angelina Jolie vehicle. (Angelina Jolie has an uncanny resemblance to Suleiman, is there a future Oscar here?)

From Actress to the Front Lines of Revolution

On November 7, Suleiman travelled from her comfortable life in Latakia and travelled to Homs, a hotspot for the resistance. There she led a rally that wound up all over the news at media outlets like Al Jazeera. Suleiman, an Alawite like Assad, became one of the most recognizable faces of the resistance. Once Al Jazeera picked it up, the video was broadcast across the Middle East. That caused such a stir, that within an hour her brother appeared on Syrian-run television to publicly disown her and claim she was fighting with the resistance for money. She has since gone into hiding after popping up to do an occasional interview, lead a rally, and make several YouTube videos, which have gone viral.

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In fact, says Hanano, Suleiman has even teamed up with another Syrian celebrity in a show of star power against the regime, Abdul Basset Sarout. Sarout is a star soccer player in Syria. Hanano explained that significance to Rebel Pundit, “It is also important to note how she appears in the protests alongside the Homsi soccer player, Abdul Basset Sarout, who was recently injured by security forces after a protest. He has emerged as a leader of the protests in Homs. The partnership between the two defies the continuous references to the ‘sectarian’ nature of the Syrian Revolution.”

Amal Hanano also explained the impact her public display had on the revolution, “By leaving Latakia and going to the heart of the revolution (and currently the most dangerous place in Syria), Homs, to stand with the protesters as an Alawite, a woman, and an artist, is an act of extreme courage. She has become an inspiration for many Syrians who were on the sidelines and may have not identified with the people on the streets.”

Her YouTube videos are filled with powerful allusions to freedom, reminiscent of Mel Gibson in Braveheart.

At one rally, she said, “to come and see reality, to see your brothers in blood peacefully demanding freedom.”

At another, she said, “I am a Syrian and I care too much about humanity and that all people are free. We,” she continued, “all have to struggle for freedom, for the future, and raise it together.”

It’s been about nine months since an uprising against the regime of Bashar Assad led him to turn on his own people, killing thousands since with no way to verify any deaths. While the world turned on Muammar Qaddafi, the world has watched quietly while Assad has put down his own rebellion with much more brutal force.

Suleiman has been first hand witness to the terror perpetrated by Assad. In one recording, she says, “There are children dying, there are women having their honor taken, (and) there are men being tortured to death.”

In that one sentence, Suleiman, one could say, has summed up the violence perpetrated by Assad upon his own people in a better way than numerous world and regional organizations could do in months of meetings, delegations, and fact-finding trip. There are currently observers from the Arab League in Syria, but their trip has quickly turned into a debacle. It was doomed from the start given that the head of the mission, General Mohamed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi, is the former Spy Chief in the Sudan.

Forced from the Spotlight to the Underground

After making a splash in November, Suleiman went underground until she reemerged on the January 2, for a busy day. In the interview, Suleiman was asked about the effectiveness of the observers. According to a translation on YouTube, she said of the observers, “they did not do much–they really done nothing–actually it is the opposite; they only went to Baba Amr and didn’t go inside and only stayed at the entrance and only met with one person so they could say to the world they were there, and we asked them to come inside Baba Amr when they were there and we got no response and the observers’ cell phones had bad connection.”

Prior to appearing on Al Jazeera, another YouTube video has her leading a rally earlier that same day. And yet another YouTube translation had her calling again for revolution, “The SNC must support the Free Syria Army fully and unconditionally. The SNC must support the Free Syria Army financially and politically, The Free Syria Army is protecting the civilians. She also says the minorities must support and join the revolution.”

She was also interviewed by a Reuters reporter based in the Middle East. In that interview, which was released on January 5, Suleiman spoke about how the resistance was a cross-section of sects and religions, “The regime portrays Homs as a hub for extreme Islam, but I walk in Sunni neighborhoods distributing flyers, and go like this, without a veil, into the homes of religious families and discuss politics and organizing the next protest.”

Suleiman has staked herself in the hotbed of violence, Homs.  Homs is a city in Syria, about three hundred miles North of Syria’s capital, Damascus. As one of the flash points for the revolution, it has both a heavy presence of Syrian troops along with heavy presence of the resistance. In fact, who controls what often comes down neighborhood to neighborhood, with the resistance powerful in some neighborhoods and almost non-existent in others, and vice-versa.

Presumably, Suleiman has gone underground in neighborhoods loyal to the resistance. In one video, Suleiman explained the complicated and scary dynamic of her current life.

“Since yesterday, neighborhoods in Homs are being stormed in search of me. People are beaten and tortured for information. And if I’m located, or the repressive apparatus arrests me, I’ll have to make a televised confession and say I’m part of a terrorist conspiracy against the regime.”

The Ongoing Battle against Oppression

Suleiman has earned praise the world over. For instance, Walid Saffour, spokesperson for the London-based Syrian Human Rights Committee, issued this statement, “The SHRC believes that Fadwa is a true example of the citizen who strives sincerely  for freedom, dignity and democracy. She sacrificed her career and reputation as an actor and chanted with her people for simple things; rare and almost unavailable in Syria. She chanted for freedom, honour and dignity, democracy and the rule of the law, the unity of the Syrian people regardless their religion, races and other affiliations.

“She chanted against dictatorship, the rule of security and intelligence apparatuses, sectarianism. Fadwa renounced  condemned publicly fear and suppression imposed on Syrians … Fadwa according to us has a pure conscience not contaminated with the dirt of reputation that pulls persons to stay silent of many violations and breaches of the simplest human rights.”

The last time she appeared in mainstream American media, she was  quoted in a New York Times article “Sharp Spate of Killings Traumatizes a Syrian City,” she told that reporter, Anthony Shadid, “If they want to play the sectarian game here, they can,” continuing, “If they want to play the militant Islamist game here, they can. They can play all kinds of games in Homs.”

Suleiman was quoted at the end of the article and it was in support of a larger story on the violence in Homs. Suleiman’s own story was quickly summarized and not the focus of the piece. The author, Anthony Shadid, did not return an email for comment. So, while her real life is better than anything that almost any great Hollywood script writer could come up with, the American media has barely mentioned her.  The media has simply taken the lead from the State Department, which hasn’t mentioned her at all.

While Bassam Haddad, director, Middle East Studies program, and assistant professor, Department of Public and International Affairs at George Mason University, said that Suleiman showed remarkable courage, the story of the revolution is about the courage found among hundreds of regular citizens, who all rose.

“The courage is ubiquitous,” said Haddad, in an exclusive interview about Suleiman. He says it is the story of courage in all Syrians currently rising up against the Assad regime, that is one of the most underreported here in America.

That, coincidentally, is a thought that Suleiman herself agrees with. In one YouTube video, an English translation records her saying, “In the end, this is Syria, my country, and those oppressed are no less than me, nor I less than them.”

2 Responses

  1. Marcel Reid

    A great piece and hopefully, your calling out the State Department and American media will help focus light on Suleiman’s story. Finally a celebrity that is really doing something truly inspiring.

  2. Chris Kuhne, M.D

    So the Syrian thug bails today. The video above is largely sited for the reason. Just add this to the list of great, but mostly otherwise ignored topics, he seems to sniff out. The significance of how on target he is here can not be over-stated. The only way to look at this now is that Mike Volpe catalyzed an historical event. I hope people are paying attention. Apparently Marcel Reid was.


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