Sebastian Junger & Nick Quested - How Syria Became "Hell on Earth" - Extended Interview

Extended - June 7, 2017 - Sebastian Junger & Nick Quested 06/07/2017 Views: 43,130

Sebastian Junger and Nick Quested discuss their documentary "Hell on Earth," which examines the Syrian civil war and how Bashar al-Assad positioned himself against ISIS. (9:14)

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Please welcome Sebastian Jungerand Nick Quested.

-♪ -(cheering, applause)

Welcome to the show.

-Thank you so much.-Thank you so much.

Uh, thank you and, uh, wow.

This documentary filmtackles so many issues.

I knew of manyof the stories individually,

I understood a pieceof what's happening in Syria,

I understoodabout the rise of ISIS,

I understood about the conflictbetween Assad and his people,

but never before have I watcheda story that so...

effortlessly encompasseseverything--

because there's so much in it.

What did you want peopleto take away

from this documentary film?

I think we wantedto do two things.

We wanted to explainhow the civil war worked.

These aren't crazy people;

these are good, ordinary people

just like peoplein this country,

and yet they were trappedin this civil war.

And the other thing, I think...

My father was a war refugee.

Some of my best friendshave come from war zones.

I helped establish themin this country.

We wanted to humanizeAmerica's view

-of people who haveto flee violence. -Right.

Um, where... this country'sa beacon in the darkness

for people who are desperateand in terrible situations,

and we are hopingthat our country

can continue being that.

Now, I will admit,I did not really understand

how Bashar al-Assad...

started the civil war himself.

It was not a war--it was an uprising

and it was protests

about people being treatedwith dignity and freedom.

And yet he is the one who wantedto make it a war. Why?

Um, because he'swon a war already.

In 1982,there was a rebellion in Hama,

and he violently... his fatherviolently suppressed it.

And he knew thathe can prolong his presidency

by a military conflict.

You have a story hereof a leader

who's really started something

essentially just to, you know,quash a rebellion.

It started with kidsspray-painting

"Assad, you're on the way out"on a wall,

referring to the Arab Spring,

and this really becamethe catalyst

for one of the largest conflicts

that we're experiencingin the world now.

I mean, keep in mind,these kids,

who spray-painted graffiti,

were arrestedby the secret police.

These kids are15 and 16 years old.

They were tortured.

The parents showed upin the street

demanding the releaseof their children,

and that led to protestswhere civilians

were machine-gunnedin the street.

And that is simply so thatthis regime could keep power.

That is howthe civil war started.

And you know, when you watcha documentary, normally,

it's oftentimes donepost the-the story.

You know, they'll go,this happened.

This is what happened;we talked to the people.

We show you a bit of footage.

This is one of the first stories

where I feellike it is happening.

You have first-person views.

You have the White Hats

actually pulling bodiesout of the wreckage.

You have ISIS fighters,

from their point of view,killing people.

You see recruitments.

You see what it is like to beon the front lines.

When making this kind of film,

how do you get intothat head space?

And, like, what are yourgreatest fears

when going into these zones?

Well, we built a network ofjournalists and activists

in northern Syria that did a lotof the hard work,

and it was really just toodangerous for us to,

at this point, to enter the--enter northern Syria.

But what we do, is we gavethe family a camera.

And the family documentedtheir own life

under the Islamic State,

and how they crossedthe various front lines.

They crossed theFree Syrian Army front line,

and then the Kurdish front line,

and then the frontierinto Turkey.

And then we followed them again

as they tried to make itto Europe,

but were pushed back on the day,the first day

of the Turkey-EU treaty.

What's really interestingabout this story

is it shows you how America,in many ways,

didn't follow throughon what could have been

a really strong move, you know.

Barack Obama has said publicly,

that he regrets not takingaction in Syria,

and couldn't figurethe situation out.

Donald Trump seemedto take action,

and then now has juststepped clear of it.

It seems like the quagmireof all quagmires.

Does America go in?Does the world go in?

And if so,does that not create

a further conflictwith more deaths?

I mean, the time to go inwas early on.

I mean,these wars can be stopped

if action is taken very early,

and a lot of pressure puton the regime.

Right now,Russia's backing Assad.

A shooting war with uson the ground

is too dangerouswith Russia there.

I think what might happen--

I think the good scenario,amazingly, the good scenario,

is that ISIS gets crushedon the ground.

-I think they will be.-Mm-hmm.

Assad's not gonna be toppledwith Putin backing him,

so Assad stays in power.

And effectively, there's apartition of the country

that at least getsthe shooting to stop,

at least protectscivilian lives.

When you lookat the relationship

between Assad and ISIS,

it's a verystrange relationship,

one, which I don't thinkmany people understand.

But, essentially,it's almost like

the shark and the remora fish.

They're not working together,per se,

but Assad has realized thathe benefits from ISIS

going after his enemies,

whilst at the same time,not really being his ally.

How, like, how does that work?

Well, I think that he said,"You think I'm a bad guy?

Here's some really bad guys."

And he just,he deflected attention

from himselftowards the Islamic State.

And all the animus of the west

is now transferred towardsthe Islamic State.

But-but he allowed, like,he purposefully let...

He facilitateda Salafist uprising

by three general amnestiesthrough 2012.

He released the jihadiststhat he had in his custody

to fight against himself,and provided them

with materials and videothat facilitated

their fund-raisingthroughout the world

and particularlywith the Gulf states.

If the alternative to youis a decent democratic country,

then you're in danger, right?

If the alternative to you,as a dictator,

-is the Islamic State...-Uh-huh.

...then you're safe.

And I think that'swhat his strategy was.

And this is a paranoid regime.He'd seen Mubarak,

he'd seen Gaddafi,

-he'd seen Ben Ali fall.-Right.

And he was like, "We're next.We're on the list.

We're co..They're coming for us."

One of the most interestingparts of the documentary

is when it turns its lensnot on Syria,

not on the Middle East,

but rather on the countries

in and around the conflict

that are enabling what'shappening through finance

or through smuggling oil

out into the rest of the world.

Because, at one point,they were producing,

what-- 45,000 barrelsof oil a day?

Someone in the worldhas to be buying that oil.

Some country out there that actslike they're not a part of it

is participating.Some countries, maybe.

Was there no senseof where the oil was going,

where the money was coming from,that funded ISIS?

Well, there's a murkynetwork of existing

smuggling, uh, routesthat have...

were there withSaddam Hussein, so, um,

this oil has been movingfor a very long time,

and it continued to move throughthese established routes.

So we followed trucks,and it wasn't just the oil

that was being used to financethe Islamic State.

They taxed their own peopleand they mined antiquities,

um, in an industrial scale

to finance their, um, caliphate.

If we, uh, lookat where we are today...

The documentary talks aboutyoung people being radicalized--

uh, of all races and religions,by the way--

young men all over the worldwho feel like

their lives are boring, feellike they don't have purpose,

and they've beenso engaged by ISIS

that they feel likethere is some purpose out there.

If we look at ISIS today,if we look at Syria today,

when watching this film,

what is the one messageyou hope people will take away

and what is the one changeyou would hope

the wel... the worldwould help contribute towards?

Uh, I hope peoplehave some compassion

for the... the-thevast majority of good people

that are trappedin wa-in war zones.

Um, and I.. and I thinkthere's a lesson here.

And I think it's a lessonthat this country needs to hear

at this moment,uh, very crucially.

Um... thank God this countryhas been spared

most of the kinds of attacksthat Europe has been suffering

-the last few years.-Mm-hmm.

Um, the theory for why that is

is that the Muslimpopulation in America

has been really successfullyintegrated into our...

into our economy,our culture, our society.

In Europe, it has not.

And I think the lesson,for America,

is let's make sure

that we are as inclusivea society as possible,

because that is actuallywhat protects us

from the kind of violence,

the tragedies,that we've been seeing

almost every weekin Europe on the news.

Well, I honestly couldtalk to you forever on this.

(cheering, applause)

It's really one of the mostcomprehensive films I've seen.

Thank you so much for your time.

-I hope everybody watches it,because, uh, -Thank you.

I know it changed my life. Hell on Earth premieres

June 11 at 9:00 p.m.on National Geographic.

Sebastian Jungerand Nick Quested, everybody.

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