In the summer of 1988, a young passionate football fan and technology addict from Syria was overwhelmed by the fantastic football of Oranje, the Dutch National Team. Not only the way they played and won the European Championship but also the constellation of the team. Gullit, Rijkaard, van Basten, a beautiful colorful team with sensational football. Majdi was impressed by it all and that summer he decided that he wanted to study in The Netherlands, that small country in Europe where football was an art and integration was normal, and universities offered esteemed programs in Information Technology which was Majdi’s wish since he was in high school. Getting a permit to study in The Netherlands turned out to be more difficult and complicated than Majdi had imagined but that didn’t stop this young man. Majdi had a goal and he did everything to achieve that.
So late 1989, I received a long letter from that young motivated Syrian in which he requested me to support his wish to study Information Technology in The Netherlands and all the wonderful details why studying in The Netherlands was so important to him. I was moved that someone felt so passionate about our beautiful country. Many calls were made, paperwork was done, obstacles were taken, making this happen was something personal because of how this guy reached out and how his motivation touched everyone who was involved, including myself. Majdi arrived in The Netherlands in the summer of 1990, accepted to start his studies at his preferred University and he impressed everyone how much Dutch he had already learned through an online course. That was the beginning of a long and beautiful friendship, in which my friend Majdi never stopped to amaze me with his personality and passion.
Majdi concluded his studies with fantastic grades and I demanded he would accept the job I offered him, Majdi did and became a valued member of our team. Majdi had friends everywhere, was highly involved in our society and did volunteer work as translator. Majdi was a free-thinker, an open minded person and a bridge builder. Passionate about his country and his culture, passionate about history and always looking for opportunities to learn. Majdi strongly believed that dialogue is the only way to develop understanding, and understanding is the only way to achieve acceptance and acceptance being the only path towards peace. With that mindset, Majdi had many friends in all areas of our society, amongst Arabs, Jews and Christians alike, and among supporters and opponents of the Syrian Presidency. In so many ways, Majdi reminded me of my mother.
Majdi himself wasn’t a fan of the Syrian Presidency and system, he wished for more democracy and less totalitarianism in his country. His nephew was once arrested and violently interrogated by Syrian Security Forces over a statement he made in a bar while discussing politics with some friends. This statement, an innocent expression of his opinion about politics, got his nephew 3 years imprisonment during which he was exposed to brutal violence and abuse by the state. No, Majdi was no fan of the Syrian President and his totalitarian system and control over the country. On the other hand, Majdi was convinced that this is up to the Syrians and nobody else. As strong as an opponent of the Syrian Presidency Majdi was, he was an even stronger opponent of foreign influence in his country.
When the so called “Arabian Spring” reached Syria, Majdi was on the one hand a supporter of the opposition and hoped they would be successful, but Majdi strongly opposed the foreign influence in this movement. When it became clear that this would quickly turn into an armed conflict in his native country, Majdi became an even stronger opponent of the opposition forces and the fact that they were armed by Western and Arab opponents of the Syrian Presidency. Majdi was forced into the mental split between being an opponent of the Syrian President and an even stronger opponent of the Syrian foreign armed rebels, raging war in his country.
In January 2014, Majdi’s father became lethally ill and it was clear that he would not survive much longer. With the medical system fully collapsed under the civil war, Majdi’s father couldn’t get the treatment which have at least reduces his suffering. At first, Majdi tried to convince his father to leave the country and come to The Netherlands to get medical treatment but his father refused. A proud Syrian, the old man refused to be forced to leave his country, he would rather die defending it. So Majdi decided to go back to Syria and spent the last days of his father at his side, taking care of him as good as was possible under very difficult and dangerous circumstances. We all tried to convince Majdi of the dangers of the war torn country but that only strengthened Majdi’s decision to be with his father during his last days. Majdi left for Syria in February 2014 and promised to return when his father passed away. Majdi never returned.
Much later I learned that Majdi and his father were killed in the shelling of their house. Civilians as so many other in this war, with just one big difference for me. I knew them personally, Majdi was my friend for many years. I met his father twice during summer vacations in The Netherlands. An hard working man, retired NCO of the Syrian Arabic Army and like his son, far from a fan of the Syrian President. And just like his son, strongly opposing the foreign influences in the war in Syria, strongly opposing the abuse of the Muslim religion by armed rebels and Jihadist. Strongly opposing the ethnic cleansing, strongly opposing the brutal violence against civilians by all parties in the conflict. Strongly opposing the war in his country, just like his son.
Over the years, Majdi always impressed me with his capability to see something positive in everything. This was his magic trick, as he always told me. “No matter what happens, always look for positive elements and work from there”, is was Majdi told everyone in his surrounding and Majdi lived by that rule. Majdi defused conflicts by that rule, Majdi was able to build bridges by that rule. Majdi reminded me so much of my mother with this.
I’m trying to see something positive now, Majdi, I really am. I’m trying to see something positive in this but I can’t. How can I see something positive in IS and Al Qaida destroying your country, in Western and Arab Powers taking sides and arming whomever they support for the moment in this horrible war, in the USA and Russia arguing over who is allowed to bomb who, in refugees from your country drowning while trying to escape, in European fascists and racists seeding hate and fear against refugees fleeing the war in your country, in all the deaths that came from this war and the many more that will follow? I can’t, Majdi, no matter how I try. My heart and mind are filled with anger and aggression over your death, the death of your father, the destruction of your country and your people. Forgive me for my anger, Majdi, for all the dark thoughts you always tried to expel from my mind. Help me Majdi, help me once more to see something positive like you did all those years in our work and our friendship.
Farewell, my friend, rest in peace. Say Hi to my mom up in heaven.