Freedom Fighter Matthew VanDyke's Syrian Revolution Speech in Lafayette Park, Washington, DC

Poster for the Hand in Hand for a Free Syria Event

March 16, 2013

"Hand in Hand for a Free Syria" rally in Lafayette Park, Washington, DC


I am an American citizen who has taken up the cause of freedom in the Arab world. I fought in the Libyan revolution, serving as an infantryman and heavy machine gunner in the Libyan rebel forces. As a prisoner of war in Abu Salim prison for nearly 6 months I experienced firsthand some of the horrors of life under authoritarianism, before escaping prison and returning to combat on the front lines.

But I am not here today to speak as an American rebel fighter. I am here to speak simply as an American. A citizen of a great nation born out of revolution. Two centuries ago, our forefathers did the unthinkable when they revolted against the British Empire. Their struggle was not all that different from what we see in Syria today. The American forces were a mix of regulars and militias and they faced many of the same difficulties that the Free Syrian Army faces today – a lack of supplies, difficulty with recruitment, and a population that was divided about the war.

The war lasted 8 years. The seeds of our democracy were watered with the blood of sacrifice. Revolutionary sacrifice.

The revolutionaries understood what they were fighting for, and they understood that liberty extended far beyond the shores of their own country.

Alexander Hamilton said, “Natural liberty is a gift of the beneficent Creator, to the whole human race."

Thomas Jefferson said, “Rebellion against tyrants is obedience to God."

And Benjamin Franklin wrote that “God grant that not only the love of liberty but a thorough knowledge of the rights of man may pervade all the nations of the earth, so that a philosopher may set his foot anywhere on its surface and say: This is my country.”

They understood that liberty is not an American concept. It is a universal concept, and a universal right that must be supported.

The men in that White House do not act as though they understand this. They are so restrained by taking only calculated risks, by political considerations, that they have forsaken what it means to be an American.

America freed the world from fascism. America defeated communist expansion. America has provided protection and support to democracies all over the world for the past century. America has been, and remains, the greatest protector of liberty in the history of mankind.
And why not in Syria? How did the men in that White House stray so far from what it means to be an American that our flag, our legacy, has been stained for 2 years with the blood of 70,000 Syrians?

Our so-called leaders are anything but leaders. They sold Syria out a long time ago. I will let you in on a secret. They do not want the Free Syrian Army to win. They have been playing a game, turning the flow of weapons and ammunition to the FSA on and off in a strategy to pressure Assad to step down while maintaining the institutions of government in Syria.

 Academically, it makes sense. They do not want Syria to completely collapse as Iraq did after the war. They want a new government in power, but they want all the institutions of government – the army, the police, the courts, maybe even the post office – to remain in place. They do not want Syria to implode and need rebuilding from the ground up. That is expensive, messy, and leads to regional instability.

So, several months ago a decision was made to sell out the Syrian people, and with it, to sell out everything my country, America, stands for. They let regional allies support the FSA just enough to apply pressure for Assad to step down. The goal was to have Assad leave and for Syria to hold fake elections that would leave much of the regime still in power, along with the institutions that Assad and his father had used to rule the country for over 40 years.

Politicians in the US and Europe would then declare that they had made the right decision by not arming the FSA, thereby averting a Lebanon-style civil war that would have wholly consumed and destroyed Syria, possibly for decades. The press would move on to another story, while Syrians would be left behind with a fake democracy and repressive regime with new faces, while the world patted itself on the back for a job well-done.

But things are not going as planned. Government analysts and advisors will never understand the Arab world from their cubicles. They do not get it. Once you taste liberty, you cannot accept anything less. The FSA kept going, they have bought or made their own weapons, and they have continued chiseling away at the regime for 2 years. And they, and we, will not stop.

Recent developments in the political landscape indicate that some Western nations are beginning to see or finally act upon this ultimate truth: that there can be no compromise on the legitimacy of democracy in Syria. Britain and France seem to be changing course, attempting to back up their words with some action. I hope that the US and the EU will follow the lead of countries like Britain and France. But so far there has been only talk. It is time for action. But so far the leaders of America, the men and women who work right here, in the buildings that surround us now, seem content to continue their game. And the cost is in Syrian lives.

Many Libyans have told me that they consider me to be more Libyan than many Libyans because I fought in the war. Some Syrians have told me the same thing in recent months because of my work for this revolution.

I appreciate their words, even if they make me uncomfortable. But I now understand what they are talking about, because when I look at the brave fighters of the Free Syrian Army, and then I look at the spineless cowards sitting in that White House who have forgotten what it means to be an American, I realize that there are some men in the FSA who are more American than Americans. Men who understand liberty and why it must be fought for. Men who are willing to take extreme risks to do what is right. Men who will water the seeds of democracy with their own blood.

Men who could remind those in that White House what it means to be an American.