The civil war in Syria and President Bashar al-Assad’s attempts to quell rebels have led to an increase in extremism in the region, according to a talk by Alexander Marquardt (SFS ’04), ABC News foreign correspondent, Monday evening.
Marquardt has covered significant world events, including the 2008 United States presidential election campaign, and has reported from North Africa and the Middle East since the Arab Spring in 2011.
He has also covered the Syrian Civil War, reporting on both the government and rebel factions, which have been at war since March 2011 for control of the country. Marquardt said the conflict was by far the most difficult and complicated war he could have covered.
“I want to focus on Syria, which is closest to my heart, is a story that I’ve probably spent the most time on since the last 6 years of the Arab spring and frankly is the only place in the Middle East these days where you are seeing an ongoing element of the Arab Spring,” Marquardt said. “Although, for all intents and purposes, the war in Syria is over.”
Assad’s efforts to quell the revolution had a catalytic effect on extremism in Syria and the Middle East, according to Marquardt.
“[Assad] started to propagate that protesters were terrorists and that’s why he needed to crack down,” Marquardt said. “The Assad regime fomented the unrest by cracking down, by fueling the rise of extremism, by fueling secularism, by bringing in people like Iran and Hezbollah from neighboring Lebanon. At the same time on the other side, you had Saudi, the other Gulf countries, Turkey and the U.S fueling the rebels.”
Marquardt saw the rise of extremist Islamism unfold before him while reporting in rebel-held areas. He said Turkey played a key role on the ground supporting rebel factions.
“They would be down there with briefcases full of cash facilitating the buying of weapons and the transfer of soldiers, of fighters – this was a time when Turkey wanted to defeat Assad so they just let anybody across the border willy-nilly,” Marquardt said.
According to Marquardt, the border regions were a hotbed for the rise of extremism.
“We started to see the rise of this extremism, you know, spending time on the border. I would fly down and it would be a bunch of Turks and my team and all these guys who probably shouldn’t have been flying down to the border with bright green Saudi passports and thin wispy beards and sandals – all the tell-tale signs of a jihadist,” Marquardt said.
Sitting in on ABC’s interview with Assad, the first broadcast interview with Assad, Marquardt said that having to hold back a smile was his strongest memory.
“I knew down the line it would come back to haunt me,” Marquardt said.
Additionally, Marquardt has made extensive use of social media in his reporting, using Snapchat to report from Mosul, where Iraqi forces were attempting to reclaim territory from the Islamic State in 2016.
Following the event, Marquardt said in an interview with The Hoya that he uses social media to connect with larger audiences, including those in Syria.
“I put an extra effort into things like social media so that people all around the world start to follow my work, but also when I’m dealing with officials in Aleppo they know who I am, not because they’ve seen me on World News Tonight, but because they’ve followed my Twitter feed,” Marquardt said.
Journalism has an ever more powerful role to play in the world, according to Marquardt.
“You are seeing the best and the worst of humanity, and I think that at the end of the day there is an argument to be made that ignorance is bliss, but I’m just really happy that even if most of the stuff I’m seeing is awful, that I get to see it,” Marquardt said.