We Crossed A Bridge And It Trembled (Book Review)

To compile the voices in We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled, journalist Wendy Pearlman spent years curating interviews with Syrian people to “convey the lived experience of [Syrians] historical journey exclusively in Syrians own words.” The book is easy to read, and breaks down the basics of what has happened in Syria over the past 50 years told by the people who know it best.

Pearlman begins the book by given a brief introduction to the history of Syria, how it was split into different states by the French, and how this led to chaos as well as the anti-imperialist roots. In 1970 Hafez al-Assad (Bashar al-Assad’s father) came into power, and created a single party security state. One Syrian states about the people’s mindset at the time:

“[At the time Syrians] were like, ‘I know the regime is corrupt. I know that my kids will have a shitty future under this system. I know that security forces can break down my door and take me to prison and torture me anytime. But I’m not going to be a slave to imperialists and capitalists!’”

Hafez al-Assad was in power until 2000, at which time his son, Bashar al-Assad took over. Bashar continued his fathers politics of Baathism, pan Arabism and anti-Israeli sentiment, which was used to justify the security state. When asked about who should lead Syria if not Assad, one Syrian comments that this is a stupid question.

“Everyone who opened their mouths to talk about what was happening in the country was shoved in prison. The regime puts all the movement leaders in prison, and then comes and says that the movement has no leaders. Well, how do you expect there to be leaders when you arrest them all?”

In 2010 the Arab Spring took place, and Syrian joined in, with the resistance taking many forms and groups.

“For every action there is a reaction. When the regime is killing in this way, people become what we call jihadists and you call terrorists. I swear to God that I have nothing but respect for you regardless of your ethnicity, religion, or nationality. But when my sister is arrested and they rape her, I have no problem entering any place in the world with a car strapped explosives. Because no country in the would is paying attention to me. Not a single one is doing anything to protect any fraction of the rights that I should have as a human being living on earth.”

Another Syrian speaks about how the Syrian community had expected more solidarity from the world during their revolution.

“The problem is that the world did nothing. It’s that they told us “Rise up! We are with you. Revolt!” Erdogan declared that the bombing of Homs was a red line, and President Obama said that chemical weapons were a red line. People were encouraged to stand by the revolution because they thought they had international supporters. And when the regime crossed these lines and there was no implementation of these threats, the population was left in a state of desperation. It understood that it could count only on itself.”

Reflecting on the past seven years, a Syria mother explains what she has witnessed:

“After the revolution we discovered that we were all suffering from the same oppression. We discovered that we had not been working together, and that is how the regime was able to dominate us.”

For those Syrians who were able to come to the United States as refugees, they still have not discovered the feeling of safety and a life of freedom.

“Since the last election, we think, “Now what?” Everyone is scared… My friend has been living in West Virginia for more than five years. His wife has worn a headscarf her whole adult life, but now has decided to stop wearing it. She was very sad but, in this environment, felt like she had to take it off. The worst part is that people ran away from their own countries because they were being threatened. They come to the United States to feel free, to feel democracy, to feel like they can achieve anything. Now their vision of the United States has changed.”

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