A few weeks ago, a Syrian friend of mine, Kassem Eid, came to talk to the class I teach at Columbia. Kassem comes from Moadhamiyeh, a suburb of Damascus that had been besieged, starved and bombed. One August morning in 2013, he woke early for his morning prayers. As he tried to go back to sleep, he heard air raid sirens. Then he heard his roommates screaming - they were being attacked with chemical weapons.
Kassem lived through that awful day and wrote about the attack, as well as his subsequent decision to become a fighter against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Five more years of war left Kassem an exhausted and frustrated survivor. His words to my class were harsh and angry, the words of someone whose country has been beaten down by seven years of conflict.