Matthew VanDyke is an American filmmaker whose new 14-minute short documentary, Not Anymore: A Story of Revolution, was filmed in the battlegrounds of the Syrian civil war last year. It has won 10 awards at film festivals and follows the lives of Syrian rebels.
VanDyke graduated from Georgetown University with a Master’s degree in Security Studies. From 2007 to 2011, he drove across North Africa to Central Asia, including visits to the war-torn countries of Iraq and Afghanistan.
In 2011, VanDyke joined the Libyan rebel forces after the Qaddafi regime killed the family members of his friends there. He was captured in Brega, Libya on March 13, 2011 and spent six months in prison. He was freed on August 24, 2011 and returned to the frontlines as an infrantryman and heavy machine gunner and participated in the Battle of Sirte.
VanDyke returned to the U.S. after Qaddafi was killed and later traveled to Syria on his own expense to document the civil war. You can watch the powerful trailer here.
The following is Clarion Project National Security Analyst Ryan Mauro’s interview with Matthew VanDyke:
Ryan Mauro: Based on your recent time on the ground in Syria, what is the biggest misconception Westerners have of the conflict there?
Matthew VanDyke: The biggest misconception about the conflict in Syria is that the revolution is dominated and run by Al-Qaeda.
This is a myth that has taken root because headlines about Al-Qaeda sell, so the media gave the public what it wanted and ran stories about extremists, terrorists and Al-Qaeda month after month. It has been seriously overdone, with the result being a major misconception about who the rebel fighters in Syria are and why they fight. Most Syrians do not like Al-Qaeda and do not support Al-Qaeda.
The Free Syrian Army (FSA) is not part of Al-Qaeda, and at times, the FSA has even been involved in military clashes against Al-Qaeda. Some rebel fighters in the FSA have privately expressed to me that when the Assad regime falls, they will fight against Al-Qaeda and kick Al-Qaeda out of Syria.
The FSA has been fighting against Hezbollah for some time. Prior to 9/11, Hezbollah had killed more Americans than any other terrorist group. The FSA are not our enemies, they’re actually on our side and opposed to the same terrorist groups we are. They are a very useful, important potential ally in the region and we must seize the opportunity.
Mauro: What proportion of the fighters are Islamists?
VanDyke: Virtually all FSA fighters I have spoken with have said that they are fighting for democracy, and that the rights of minorities like Christians and Alawites will be respected. In the end, it is their choice.
Syrians won’t tolerate a government that isn’t democratic after they have sacrificed so much to achieve democracy. But if it is democratic, and they choose to pass laws that are based on their religion or anything else, that is their choice and it is none of our business whatsoever. We should help people get the ability to take control of their own destiny through the democratic process, and then step aside and let them do it without our interference.
Mauro: Why is helping the moderate rebels in Syria in America’s interest when the country is so far in debt and involvement overseas risks blowback?
VanDyke: Americans should support freedom in Syria because it is a moral imperative and consistent with our values as a nation founded out of a revolution. However, helping to overthrow the Assad regime and bring an end to the war is in America’s interest as well.
It would help stabilize the region, settle financial markets and reduce the price of oil, weaken Iran and Hezbollah, weaken Al-Qaeda in the long term, and most importantly, provide America with a loyal, grateful ally in the Arab world and a long-lasting friendship between Free Syria and the United States. Free Syria would become what we had always hoped Iraq would become: our ally in the region instead of Iran’s.
The resurgence of Al-Qaeda in Syria can only be snuffed out by empowering the moderate rebels to take control of the revolution and then end the war against Assad in victory. The longer the war continues, the greater the influence and recruitment of Al-Qaeda. And Al-Qaeda’s acquired weapons, expertise and experience, it will be later used later elsewhere in the region.
The potential for blowback is far greater if the U.S. does not support the rebels in Syria. Do we want armed insurgents to be allies who are appreciative of our support, or do we want them to hate us because we did nothing while they and civilians were slaughtered?
Mauro: If elections are held in a post-Assad Syria, who do you think prevails?
VanDyke: I believe Syria’s elections would closely resemble Libya’s first elections, where the Islamist parties lost and a moderate, secular government was elected. People have spilled a lot of blood for their liberty and they aren’t going to surrender it to the Muslim Brotherhood or any other Islamist political party.
Mauro: Isn’t Syria bound to disintegrate because of its ethnic and ideological divisions?
VanDyke: Syrians got along fine before the war, and over time, they’ll learn to get along again. Lebanon went through a very brutal sectarian civil war for 15 years and the country did not disintegrate.
Ryan Mauro is the ClarionProject.org’s National Security Analyst, a fellow with the Clarion Project and is frequently interviewed on Fox News.