If Britain Was Syria: As Britain is ravaged by a devastating civil war, British people speak out about their experiences

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“I want everyone in the world to know what is happening in Britain. People are dying, children who have done nothing wrong are being killed. We need help, please don’t ignore us.”
Matthew, aged 8

The story of the conflict so far

The civil war in Britain has been raging for four years, as Britain’s President and his government fight to maintain control and prevent Westminster from falling into the hands of rebel forces. There has been widespread destruction; more than 200,000 British people have died in the conflict, and 12 million have been forced to flee their homes. An estimated 4 million are now refugees; most are in neighbouring France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. More than 600,000 British refugees have attempted to travel to the East this year, risking their lives in perilous and often fatal journeys.

In the years leading up to the civil war, life had been good for many British people. Big cities such as London, Birmingham, Leeds and Glasgow were thriving cultural centres boasting top class restaurants, hotels, bars and night clubs. Students travelled to study at its top universities, and tourists from all over the world were attracted by its beautiful countryside, and the rich and fascinating history that still echoed through its stunning architecture and ancient monuments.

The political system had the support of many British people who felt the President was leading the country forward, and keeping it safe and secure. If you supported the government, you were free to live a peaceful, happy life, earn a decent living and support your family. People ate well, went on holiday and had access to good healthcare. There was, however, a notable divide between the political elite and the majority of the British people. Many people felt that the best jobs were reserved for friends of the political elite, while the rest of Britain was being hit harder and harder with high prices, high taxes and low incomes. The gap between rich and poor was growing, and discontent was intensifying.

In March 2011, a group of teenagers in Leeds sprayed graffiti onto two walls with anti-government slogans. The group of 10-15 boys were arrested, interrogated and tortured. In response to this shocking government brutality in the face of peaceful protest, thousands of people took to the streets in cities across Britain to demand political reforms. At first the protests were peaceful, and security forces used tear gas and water canons to disperse the growing crowds. On 18th March, the first shots were fired at protesters at a rally in Leeds, which turned peaceful protest into armed rebellion.

The Free British Army (FBA) was founded in July 2011, and is formed of defected officers and soldiers from the British Armed Forces. It is the main military force of the political opposition.

Christian State, or CS, is a group of fundamentalist militant Christians from around Europe, Britain and the US who capitalised on the chaos in Britain and have taken control of large areas of the country. They believe that ultimately all people must become Christians, and they seek to convert people using force, and use violence and brutality against anyone who refuses to accept their beliefs. They have carried out ethnic cleansing on a massive scale in Europe. They are also targeting non-Christians all over the world, and have claimed responsibility in recent years for mass killings of innocent civilians in various Eastern countries. Political leaders around the world have condemned the actions of CS as terrorism and are waging war on the group. Many Christians have spoken out strongly against CS, claiming they have strayed widely from the teachings of Jesus and the Bible. Nevertheless, Christians in the East are increasingly finding themselves the subjects of prejudice and suspicion as fear of CS grows.

The British war and the resulting flood of refugees is a humanitarian crisis on an unprecedented scale. Many countries are struggling to cope with the numbers of people crossing their borders, and many British people are being forced to walk great distances with very little food, water or shelter. Many who have witnessed horrors, lost loved ones but managed to escape, are now dying tragically on their journey towards freedom.

Below are the testimonies from ten British people, including children caught in the conflict, refugees, a rebel fighter, a government supporter and a member of CS.

Mike Wilson, 37 – father of three from Swansea, now in refugee camp in Belgium

Last Christmas I was in prison. My wife and children used to call me and say “Daddy, come home”, but each time I would have to tell them “I can’t, the door is locked”. My children didn’t even get Christmas presents.

The rest of my family – my parents, brother, sister and their families, are still in Wales. My older brother, James, was killed last year. He was shot in the head. Very often I feel like I want to pack up and head back home to try and protect them or help them escape, but my family here needs me too. My youngest daughter is only eighteen months old and my wife is six months pregnant.

We are a long way from home and life is very difficult but at least we will be together this Christmas, away from the bombing and shooting.

Anna Spencer, 24, from Somerset

“My brother was snatched from his bed by security forces, accused of being a militant. We found his body on our doorstep the following morning.”

My husband and I are from Taunton in Somerset, and we moved to Bristol for work. He was a secondary school teacher, I worked as a secretary for an accountancy firm.

In March 2011 I joined in a few of the protests in Bristol to campaign for political reforms to make the system fairer for everyone. We never imagined the government would turn violent against the people they were supposed to protect. It was truly shocking.

Soon the security forces started storming houses looking for activists. I was arrested late one night, interrogated for eleven hours, beaten and thrown into a prison cell with other women of all ages, including young girls and elderly ladies. It was tiny and we were so tightly crammed in that we had to take turns lying down on the bare floor to sleep. The smell was dreadful, there was only one tiny window. I was there for three months. During that time some women were raped, tortured, and some never came back.

After I was released, a siege was imposed on our area of Bristol and we fled home to Taunton. (I heard from friends who stayed that some people were forced to eat their family pets to survive). We lived with my parents and my 19-year-old brother, Nathan. My older brother, Tom, lived 15 minutes’ drive away with his wife Sarah and their two young children.

In November 2013, Nathan was snatched from his bed by security forces, accused of being a militant. We found his body on our doorstep the following morning. Three months later my other brother, Tom, was taken. We still have no idea what has happened to him.

Earlier this year my husband and I managed to smuggle ourselves to Spain. We do not have legal residency so still feel fearful and unsettled.
My parents stayed in Taunton, helping Sarah to take care of the children. They still hope to hear about Tom.

John Cunningham, 34, from Barnsley – Free British Army Officer

“We were fighting for freedom for the British people, we never intended for our beautiful country to be destroyed.”

I served in the British Army for two years after graduating from Birmingham University. I joined in the protests in Leeds in March 2011 to campaign for political reforms. I felt sure they would offer at least some tax reductions or something – it wouldn’t have taken much to calm people’s anger. The way the government reacted to crush the protesters was completely shocking. I defected to the Free British Army in August 2011. We were fighting for freedom for the British people, we never intended for our beautiful country to be destroyed.

In 2012 I became an officer in a FBA brigade in North London. I fought for over a year with 3000 armed fighters, and in March 2013 we were only 2 miles away from Westminster. But then they started using air strikes and tank shelling in the centre of London and we were forced to flee to Croydon, South of the capital. We dug out trenches and hid, waiting for the shelling to stop. Often we would be hiding all day, and on until midnight. I saw many of my friends killed.

The British people used to love us, now they hate us for destroying their country. Many feel that life was much better before the revolution.

The FBA is still fighting the government forces, but we have lost many men to CS. They attract people with their religious talk and the offer of money – I think for some it’s a matter of earning a living.

Callum Jennings, 15, from East Kilbride – now in a refugee camp in France

“I ask all the world leaders to help us, to save children in Britain. All children should be allowed to laugh and play and be happy.”

The children in Britain need help because they are being tortured, shelled, shot at. They use children as human shields, the soldiers put children in front of them so people in the town won’t shoot at them. I’ve seen them do it and I’ve seen little children get shot.

Being in the refugee camp is better, there is no shooting or bombing. But we are not children anymore. I used to play video games, play football, go to the park with my friends. I was popular in my school, I used to have girlfriends and wind up the teachers. Now I never laugh, what could I laugh about? The children are all sad and terrified, even the youngest ones. They are crying all the time, they don’t understand what is happening.

I miss my old life, my school, my friends, going to football matches with my dad. I want to train to be a doctor, but now I am worried that I am missing so much of my education.

I ask all the world leaders to help us, to save children in Britain. All children should be allowed to laugh and play and be happy.

Edith Williams, 73, from Bicester, Oxfordshire

“I feel the world leaders are ignoring us in our suffering. We need them to help us, they are our only hope.”

This war has brought us great destruction and terrible suffering. The beautiful country I have loved is gone forever and its people are scattered and dying. We are helpless. How can this have happened to us?

I lived in the same house all my life, and would go for walks in the local woods with my husband, children and grandchildren. Now the houses are all destroyed and the woods are burnt down. How can we ever recover?

I feel the world leaders are ignoring us in our suffering. We need them to help us, they are our only hope.

Peter Brown, 52, from Kingston upon Thames – government supporter

My wife and I laughed when people started protesting. What were they complaining about? Britain was a good place to live. Safe, secure, a strong and proud country. The government knew what they were doing, the protesters had only their own selfish interests in mind.

I have two daughters, 19 and 21, both studying medicine at the University of London. They have always done well at school and they are still doing well.

The FBA had control of Kingston between February and November 2013. During this time I never removed the Union Jack from my roof, and they kept threatening to kidnap my daughters because of it. When the government forces came to liberate Kingston there was constant gunfire and shelling for almost a month – we survived by staying in our basement where we had food and supplies stored up.

Now our area is liberated we feel safer again, my daughters are able to go to university.

I am fiercely proud of my country, and I am devastated by all that has happened. So much has been lost. But Britain is strong, and we are already starting to rebuild homes, schools and roads. I believe in a few years the war will be history and we will become great once again.

Jodie Adams, 16, from Maidenhead

“We used to be normal children, we would go to the park, watch TV, laugh with our friends. Now children as young as three and four are being arrested and tortured and killed for absolutely no reason.”

We could hear when violence was coming – people shouting or gunshots. We would run and hide in a hole in the garden, my brothers and I, and my dad would cover it over with corrugated iron. We would hide in there for hours, sometimes all night, terrified of the men with guns and the planes and the shells. Every time I would wonder if I would see my parents again.

Children in Britain have seen things that no person should ever have to see. They shoot people randomly in the street. My mum was shot in the leg but she survived, her best friend died.

Once they came into our school in the middle of the day and chose fifty children at random and took them into the hall, and I could hear them beating them with rifles and kicking them. They took those children away and nobody knows what has happened to them, not even their families.

We used to be normal children, we would go to the park, watch TV, laugh with our friends. Now children as young as three and four are being arrested and tortured and killed for absolutely no reason. Every British person is shocked by what has happened.

Now I’ve seen these things I can never forget. I feel I will never be OK again.

If there were any decent people in the world, any compassion or humanity, this would not be happening to us.

Craig Smith, 27, from Manchester – joined Christian State ten months ago

“The prison was actually an old school, the prison cell was a classroom. I was kept there for eight months. I was tortured with electric shocks, many of my mates were tortured and killed.”

I grew up just outside of Manchester, and left school at 16. I had a few jobs but from the age of 23 I was unemployed and living with my parents as I couldn’t afford to rent anywhere. I felt angry with the government, most of my family and friends did. We felt they weren’t listening to us and were treating us unfairly.

When the protests started in Manchester I joined in. When they turned violent we all went and bought weapons, selling stuff to get the money if we had to. I was arrested in June 2011 and thrown into a prison cell with a load of other men, I knew a lot of them. The prison was actually an old school, the prison cell was a classroom. I was kept there for eight months. I was tortured with electric shocks, many of my mates were tortured and killed.

I was released from prison and discovered that my entire street had been levelled and my dad was dead. Mum had managed to leave the country. I joined CS about two months later.

I went on a six week training course where I learnt about the Bible and True Christianity. Instead of lying on the sofa playing video games, I spend my time fighting the enemies of the one true God, defending the Christian state by the power of His spirit. I used to go out clubbing and sleep around, I now see how sinful that lifestyle was. I am committed to living a life of purity as a blessed child of God. Victory is ours, praise and glory be to Jesus.

The people of Britain know that the East is not waging a war against CS, it is the Muslims and non-believers waging war against Christians.

Matthew Jones, 8, from Milton Keynes

“When I try and sleep it is very cold, and I always have nightmares and wake up crying.”

I used to run so fast when the shells were falling. I was so scared I was crying and kept tripping over.

When Milton Keynes was being bombed we couldn’t get any food or water. We used to eat just once a day to make our food last. My dad would go without for days so that we could eat.

One day some soldiers broke into our house, and took away all the food we had left. So we had no food, nothing at all.

Now we are in the refugee camp there we have food and there is no bombing. But when I try and sleep it is very cold, and I always have nightmares and wake up crying.

I want everyone in the world to know what is happening in Britain. People are dying, children who have done nothing wrong are being killed. We need help, please don’t ignore us.

Emily Baker, 26 – witnessed a massacre in her town, now living in a refugee camp in Sweden

“Everyone in Britain is shocked that this could happen. We used to believe Britain was a safe country.”

The situation in Britain is horrifying. I want everyone to know what is happening to innocent people there. Children are on the frontline in many ways, they use them as human shields, hold them in front of them to take the bullets. I’ve seen children strapped to tanks, so that the people in the town wouldn’t get in their way. They knew they wouldn’t kill their own children. After I saw this I cried so hard I thought I was losing my mind.

One day I heard shouting and walked out of my house and down the street. They had dropped a bomb that we would later find out had killed over 200 people, including over 100 children. People were everywhere, frantically searching for their loved ones, their children. Bodies were scattered all over. We carried bodies and injured people to the church, then the church was bombed. We realised it was too dangerous to bury everyone separately as they were still firing rockets and shooting. So we dug a mass grave for all of them in a field.

Everyone in Britain is shocked that this could happen. We used to believe Britain was a safe country.

I used to study, go out drinking with my friends, go on Facebook, watch movies. Now I’m in a tent in a refugee camp and I don’t know what will happen to me.

The events and experiences described here are based on real accounts from Syrian people. Does putting ourselves in their shoes have any influence on our attitudes towards them? Are we doing enough to help?

The real testimonies can be found here:

Save the Children – Untold Atrocities: The Stories of Syria’s Children

The Guardian – Syria: How My Life Has Changed

Amnesty International – Untold Stories of Syria’s Most Vulnerable Refugees

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5 Reflections on the Paris Attacks

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1. When atrocities like this happen so close to home, we sit up and pay attention.

The British media has, predictably, been all over the Paris story. I’m sure I’m not the only one to have been really shaken up by it. This is to be expected – France are our geographical neighbours, they are culturally very similar to us and we find it easy to empathise.

The horrendous truth is that things like this happen around the world on a fairly regular basis, but we largely ignore them. Somehow when 147 students are killed in Kenya, or mass executions are carried out in Syria or Iraq, we barely notice.

Why? Because those lives don’t mean as much? Because countries like that are used to it?

It is natural to be impacted by something more when it is close by. Many Brits have been to Paris, not many have been to Kenya or Syria. But with today’s technology, I don’t think we really have any excuse. We have the ability to know in great detail what goes on all over the world, we just often choose not to know. That highlights some pretty disgraceful aspects of our collective psyche that many of us would rather remain hidden.

That said, it’s got our attention now. Let’s turn our outrage into a driving force for good.

2. Events like this highlight what we already know about humanity’s enormous potential for evil. This is nothing new. 

It’s easy to feel like things are getting worse. That the world is becoming more messed up. In a sense that’s true – some things are getting worse, but other things are getting better all the time.

As long as people have been on this planet there has been conflict and violence. There’s something about human nature that means we naturally lean towards it.

To suggest that Islam is to blame for terrorism is just plain ignorant. Christians who assert this need to have a long hard look at their own religion and the atrocities it has been associated with over the centuries.

Many would argue therefore that religion itself is to blame and we’d be better off without it; I think people find reasons to kill each other whether or not they use religion to justify it. The problem is with human nature.

3.The ISIS fighters are victims of dehumanisation, just as much as those they dehumanise.

When faced with media images of ISIS fighters holding guns in the air and smiling, it’s easy to imagine that these people are pure evil. That they are a different breed of human, and that what we need to do is wipe them out, drive them to extinction.

The more difficult thing to imagine is that these are people who started out just like you and me. They have mothers. They grew up in a family, made friends, hurt people and were hurt, nurtured hopes and dreams, searched for meaning and purpose in life. Just like any one of us.

Something along the way led them to believe, at a particular moment in time, that joining that group, fighting that cause and seeing the world in that way was the right decision. I am not in any way justifying their actions, I just don’t think these things are ever as simple as we like to believe.

I have no idea what their lives have been like; whether they have suffered huge injustices as a result of global inequality, war or political corruption, or whether they had a privileged upbringing but felt that their lives lacked meaning and purpose. Probably all of the above and everything in between. Either way, I don’t think ISIS fighters are born evil, I think they are victims of something much bigger.

ISIS fighters dehumanise themselves when they are hateful and violent towards their fellow human beings. In doing so they dehumanise others, viewing people as unimportant and worthless in order to justify violence and murder. And we dehumanise them by assuming that they are intrinsically evil, a  breed of human entirely different to us.

4. Events like this bring out the absolute best in people as well as the absolute worst. 

Humanity has enormous potential for evil, but also an incredible capacity for good.

When terrible and tragic things happen, there are always people who demonstrate extreme bravery, compassion, strength, selflessness and unity.

This is the other side of human nature, the side we need to nurture and embrace.

5. We can respond to attacks like these by becoming fearful, suspicious, hateful, vengeful and violent. Or we can let them teach us to embrace life, work towards radical unity and peace and demonstrate extreme love.

There really is no point in being afraid. If we live in fear we lose our freedom. Let’s instead be reminded to embrace life, to appreciate everything and everyone we have, and to live every day to the full as best we can.

Let’s not exacerbate the situation by putting blame onto religious or ethnic groups, increasing segregation and hostility.

Let’s fight disunity by being radically unified, by offering unexpected love, respect and friendship to those who are different to us.

Let’s find imaginative ways to fight extreme hatred – not with even more extreme hatred, but with extreme love.

Let’s not allow darkness to extinguish the light.
Let’s get it burning brighter than ever.

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