In late February, I was told that there was a film that would be shown at the Sijal Institute, and that I might find it interesting. By this time, I had established myself as something more than a tourist – I was taking lessons in conversational Arabic and asking questions about life in the Middle East. The film was being shown at the request of a group from Denmark.
The film was presented by a young man, a journalist from Syria, who, if I understood correctly, was involved in the making of it. The film was entitled “The Boy Who Started a War,” and it was called that because of the way events unfolded.
The boy was fifteen years old. Anyone who has known teenagers or remembers being a teenager, knows that fifteen-year-old boys and girls do not always think through the consequences of their actions, and sometimes make bad decisions – not because they are careless, but because they are adventurous and inexperienced.
In this case, the boy and his two friends thought it would be funny to use a can of spray paint to draw some graffiti on the wall of an empty building. While his friends drew silly characters, this boy was feeling particularly flippant, and his graffiti mocked and criticized President Bashar Assad.
The police investigated, and eventually they figured out who it was. They came to the boy’s house and arrested him. His parents were not allowed to come with him, and the boy was put in jail. His friends were jailed also, but were let go after a few days. The boy remained.
In the coming days and weeks, he was held in jail. He was tortured – hung from a railing with his arms slung over the rail behind him for several days. Beaten. Kept awake. His parents were not allowed to visit. The lawyer they sent was turned away.
When he was finally released, it was clear that he had been tortured, beaten, and cruelly treated, and it angered his parents, his friends, his neighbors, and they protested. Others joined in, outraged that the police, the government, would treat a fifteen-year-old boy so cruelly over some graffiti. Fifteen years old, beaten and tortured.
The protests grew and grew, and of course, then the government tried to put them down with tear gas and batons. As the protesters and the government forces clashed, the killing began. More people joined the protests. More government forces were brought in, and the rebellion was under way.
The movie then followed the action around the boy’s home and family a few years into the war, how they fought, what weapons they were able to use, and how the boy felt about the fighting that seemed to be related to him. He was not able to articulate any political argument, just that he wanted this to be over, his family and friends to be rid of the government harassment and fighting, and to have peace and freedom.
It would be interesting to know where the boy – now a man – is, whether he is still alive and at liberty or in jail again, since President Assad will continue in power now.
This is a photo of the journalist responding to questions after the film.