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February 14, 2019 48 mins

A peaceful gardener from the Lower East Side determined to make the world a better place left his newborn child to go fight Isis in Syria. He saw action and trauma. He wrapped wounds. He came home to his family and to discuss the experience with Fatherly Podcast hosts Joshua David Stein and Jason. The big question: How can parents know when it's better to focus on changing the world or to focus on their families? The answer: Complicated.

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:05):
This show is a little bit different from the other
shows because we are just going to bang in right
to our guest. His story is pretty um unbelievable, and
I'm gonna let him tell it. Welcome ter Fogly Podcast.
I hope you'll enjoy this show. Welcome to the Fatherly Podcast.

I'm your host, Joshua david Stein. That dude is Jason Gay.
My co host hid Jason. Gentlemen, and our guest is, Well,
why don't you introduce yourself? My name is Shresh. I
was grew up in Laurie Side of New York, and
I'm a father of a two year old and last

winter I went not for the reveal. I don't want
to hear the reveal yet. We're holding that, holding it
until the end of the show. So tell me about
the lower site. No. Um, yeah, so Arresh is our guest.
It's his I can say this right, it's your no
m to get it's not your given name, and we'll
get into the reasons. Why. Um, you have a two

year old? I have a five seven year old to
two kids. Jason, you have two kids? Yeah, that's I
saw you yesterday. Yeah that checks out. I have one
so far. You have one so far. Sometimes we talk
to people because, like I have questions about things I'm
struggling with or Jason struggling with, although mostly me as

a dad. Um. And then sometimes we talk to people
because they have amazing stories, which is very far from
our life path. And I think you fall into that
latter category. I was trying to think of, like what
in your story relates to my story and struggles I
might have as a dad, but it's so far removed

from my experience. Yeah, I I have no amazing stories.
I'm sorry, We're just too We're three Brooklyn dads. But
one of us has done something amazing. I bought milk
last night. That doesn't really count. It was it was
oat milk. Yeah. Yeah. Living on the edge, Yeah, real vanguard, um,

but trash. What did you do last winter? Yeah? Last
winter I volunteered with the ypg um in their project.
The YPG are. The YPG are the predominantly Kurdish forces

in Syria that are combating ISIS and trying to build
a democratic society. Um. So you were what what what
are you doing in yours living internet? And You're like, hey,
you know what I am? This dude? You said you
grew up in the Lower East Side, you had a
young kid, there was like a pop up ad or

something like that, well like bomba socks, Casper mattresses. Yeah, so,
um yeah, I guess my path down that road to
end up in Syria. Uh started with the World Trade
Center attacks in two thousand one. Um. I was in
high school at that time and um, yes, suffered barely

survived those attacks myself. Um you're in yeah, three blocks
away in high school, and um yeah, I started to
I was forced to pay attention to the rest of
the world in that time and started participating in the
anti war movement m um, which I participated in throughout college.

And yeah, okay, that looks like a normal, relatively common
backs the idea. Obviously, you know for a lot of people,
that was an awakening and and and certainly you know
a lot of people got involved in you know, the
postal Rock invasion anti war movement. But but how do
you go from there to this, you know, major significant

life move Yeah. So um. I also want to put
this in the context of the climate crisis that living
in um it's expected that we will have up to
three million refugees by and UM during the Syrian Civil War,

which was instigated by h large scale drought and food shortage. Uh,
we've had to deal with about one million refugees from
Syria that have migrated to Europe and the United States.
So the way that we deal with refugee crises now,

I think, well, um, is important for the future of
how society looks. I guess I'm just like I agree
with you. And we just had Kamila Mora who was
who's a professor at University of Hawaii who his study
was a one slug in the New York Times is
like it will be like a horror show, you know,

like he's a he He was the guy who synthesized
like five thousand climate change studies into one that kind
of shows the interwoven effects of climate change. So I
understand that, and like I I get it. I'm trying
to draw the connection between the relatively common story of
like September eleven motivated to look at the world. It

affected me personally, Um, like I engage in the anti
war movement to some extent, which you know I did too,
and I think a lot of people did. But then
to go from there right into getting on a plane
and going to Syria to fight is so or I
don't know, to fight. I mean, we can get into

what you did there, but like that is wildly divergent.
Like at some point something changed. I don't know if
it was in you or it developed in you, but
when did you decide to put your body in life
and to some extent the life of your family on
the line. Turned this abstract thing into something very concrete. Yeah.

So I really believe that we all have a responsibility
to make the world a better place, and we have
an opportunity every day and uh, the actions that we
take or don't take today and tomorrow dramatically affect the
world that our kids are going to grow up in.
So if if we don't deal with ah, the big

problems that we face today, our kids are and to
have horror show to deal with in the future. Now,
I don't mean sound good, but how do you get
in touch with YPG? How does that begin? Is it
an email? Like how does that correspondence start? Yeah? So
I just started like reading about the situation there and

about who the actors were, and um, yeah, I just uh.
After after a time, I was I was really drawn
to the project in northern Syria where they're trying to
create a plural, pluralistic society, um, without a prejudice against

religion or ethnicity, UM or gender. And so yeah, I
decided that I was going to go with my wife
after lots of long discussions, and and you had sent
an email you had you already had a kid at
that time, she was she right? She uh, my my son.

I'm sorry, Yeah, he was um quite young, yes, yes,
just he was still kind of a newborn before one
year old. So, um, but you went by yourself, not
with your family. Okay, although because you mentioned okay, so

you have this conversation, is it? Uh, what's that conversation?
You know, I have a hard time getting out of
house to go to a nixt game. Is it complicated
to negotiate? Yeah, of course, although we've been talking about
it for years. Um, so the timing seemed to line up,
you know. An Yeah, Well, it's tough um for new fathers, right,

especially with breastfeeding. Uh, there's only so much that newborn
father can actually do around the house. Oftentimes, UM, working
my full time job, I would wake up before they
wake up, and then by the time I get home,
they're already asleep. So I don't know how much you're
comfortable with talking about on the air. You don't have

to talk about at all. But what was your job
at the time. I'm a landscaper, so you are just out,
um working all day, so you didn't see them anyway. Um. Yeah, all,
I feel like that's a common experience, and so yeah,
it's tough, right, Um, what are we doing with our lives,

working our nine to five? How are we participating in
the lives of our families. Um, it's a tough question.
I don't have good answers about it, but so yeah,
just pursue it to Jason's conversation. Jason's question about the
tone and tenor of the conversation that you had been
talking to your wife about specifically going to Syria or

just in general about like, um, being active and fighting
for what you believe in it. You know, no, you
know every day I do my activism, mainly around gardens
and ecology. UM. Yeah, So it's it's always a negotiation
of how much time you give to your activism compared

to the time at home and all of it to sacrifice.
You try and bring your kid out as much as
possible and spend as much time h being there. So
how do you how do you go get there? Like?
What what is the process in terms of you know,
going from this is something I'm interested in and motivated

to do to actually getting on the ground. Uh. Yeah,
you send you send an email to the YPG and
u YPG at gmail dot com. It's easy to find
the internet. And and they sent me a long questionnaire, uh,
making sure it wasn't some nut case, and the in

English asking me the reasons I wanted to go that
the reasons I wanted to participate, um, making sure I
was going for the right reasons, which were that I
cared deeply about the sacrifices of the people over there, Um,
that I cared deeply about the struggle that they're participating

in to try and build a more just society. Um.
And yeah, was it hard to get there? Uh? Yeah,
because you can't just fly into Syria, although the United
States have been able to do that, but um the
United States military. But yeah, I had to fly into Iraq,

which is actually like pretty nice place. It was surprising
to me. And then we had to cross by foot
over the border. Had you traveled extensively before in that area. No, no,
and I it's my first time really spending time in
the Middle East. Yeah, so you flew where did you

fly into in Iraq? Slomani which is in the Kurdish
Northern region. Did you have a they Did you have
a cover story or did you need one? Or is
it just like, Hey, I want to go here, here's
my passport. There's no legal reason why I can't let
me through. Yeah. They they offer you a short visa. Um,

there's lots of reasons people from the United States go. Um.
And my friend had been over there working as a paramedic.
So my cover story was that I was going to
support him ah with his medical work, even though I
don't have any medical training. Well, speaking of training, you know,

when I first came across your story, UM, it's kind
of under the mantle of guy goes to fight isis
And I don't know what fight isis means, like what
did you do? You don't have military training? No? No, yeah,
And I didn't really know what that would look like either. Um.
I kind of thought, you know, because I've no almost

nothing about guns, uh, you know, to volunteer militarily. I
thought they would kind of like put me in some
random outpost in the desert, you know, stands guard. Um,
but from the lower side, like there aren't really any
guns around. I mean, you know I've been shot at

before or like not shot at, but like had bullets
close by me, you know, lower side. It was kind
of back in the day, in the day the coffee
and cigarette. But um yeah, it wasn't the first time,
like having a it was by my head, but UM yeah,
I was certainly, I was certainly extremely What did you

think you were going to do when you went there? Well,
there's lots of ways that people volunteer, and almost every
day I was there, I was working on one gardening
project or another when I wasn't on the front line. Um.
I also learned some medical skills that I was able to. Uh.
I was saved a lot of people's lives just by

having some tourniquets on me and applying them in the
right ways. UM. I h the product the project in
northern Syria UH is deeply rooted as well in ecology. UM.
The the civil Wars started because of a food crisis,

they've been forced to do mono cropping across the region.
Rich Crown. They do a lot of wheat, they do
a lot of cotton. Um, and yeah, they're here and
regime prohibited the planting of trees and doing kind of
agroforestry stuff and so a lot of people are working

on these projects. They're pretty important for the development of
autonomy in the region. To go back to the training thing, yeah, yeah, yeah,
so I didn't I was able to do all sorts
of volunteerism. UM. I also ended up doing a bit
of carpentry and masonry. Who was there, But they asked

me to participate in frontline defense of the space. They
said that it's important, um for everyone to fight shoulder
to shoulder, you know, and h due to my ethics,
it was hard for me to disagree with that, you know, UM,
I don't see myself as better than anyone else. UM.

I went there to be to offer my s this
is and that's how they asked me to participate, and
I I was glad to agree to that. So I've

been thinking about like this interview and what I'm going
to ask you because I'm also I'm just really curious
about your moral and ethical dilemmas that you were facing. Yeah, so,
like you basically went there to help people, right, and
you get there and I don't know if you knew

this was going to happen, but it seems like you
were down to do it. Basically also asked you to
fight and presumably kill people. Yeah, yeah, like I did. You.
Was it even a possibility in your mind, not only
that you might die, but that you would kill another
human being? Yeah, I guess you know. I came to

terms with that. Um. The reality on the ground is
is what it is, um. And yeah, when you're serving
on the front line, Uh, you'll have these jeehidest guys
with bomb fest come straight at you and all they're
trying to do is kill you and before they die themselves,

and so yeah, it's really a matter of self defense
too to shoot and kill them. And that was you know,
my father is a lifelong pacifist, uh, participated anti war movement. Ah,
So that that wasn't um. Nobody wants to kill somebody else.

Were you scared? Um? Only like the first time I was, Well,
I don't know, your your heart just as beating so fast.
You don't have time to be scared. You just have
time to like do your job. So did you feel
the sense of commitment once you got there that you
felt before you got there in that you know, you

felt driven to participate in this. And you know, so
we've heard stories in the past of other people who
have volunteered their services and in causes and then got
there and started to feel disillusionment and and and you
know feel that things were a lot messier once you
got into it and got onto the hood of it.
How did you feel once you were there? Did it?

Was it clarifying or was it more confusing? Yeah? I
mean obviously, Ah, my view of war and conflict is
much more nuanced now than when it was when it
was like holding a science sing stop the war. Um yeah. Uh.

The the area of northern Syria is like a deeply
religiously conservative, historically a place and um so yeah, to
go with alongside people that are struggling for progressive values
and like dealing with all the contradictions that come in

with that, Um, it's complicated deals. Would you run into
another American if at all? Um? Yeah? Pretty often? And
there were other American volunteers, people like yourself who have
been drawn to it, and as as well as like
a lot of United States utial forces actual US because

YPG work well worked, yes, who now worked with the
US to fight ISS. Yeah, like side by side. Um,
I would be like in the same place as that
right relationship with you, I mean, like not to be

a weirdo or an un gracious host. But like your
story is so far to me, it just seems pretty
far out there. Like it seems like the accepted UM
route for an American to be in a conflict zone
is to join the U S military, especially when the
U S Military is active in that conflict zone, but
you chose instead to volunteer um with a U S ally.

I mean the Kurds are US ally UM through a
non traditionally military route route. I'll accept both, okay, um,
you know. So there you are in the battlefield, this
dude from the Lower East Side landscaper motivated by altruism

with U S Special Forces, who just judging from the
demographics of the all volunteer force are like vastly different
from you, motivated by different things, have a whole lot
of training our professional soldiers. So what is that interaction
like between you guys. Yeah, and with proper equipment as well. Yeah, yeah,
like I had to buy like uh, I bought like

a bullet proof vest in Iraq for fifty bucks. You know,
So what did they think of you? When you ran
into US soldiers? They were like excited they were to
see an American with the YPG, and they sometimes they
communicated a bit of jealousy that I was going to
actually the front line, whereas their position in support roles. Um.

But yeah, it was kind of mutual respect. Um, did
it change your impression of US? Melts? Yeah? Sure in
what respect? Um? The United States military is all volunteer
and the people that are in Syria really care about, uh,
what's going on there, and they're in did in it

and cared deeply about trying to do the right thing.
So this caricature of US as being you know, a
country of you know, just professional soldiers and not invested
in it, you didn't find to be accurate. No, I don't,
not from anyone that I talked to. No, uh, as
well as like there were people that have been in
the US military or were on leave and had gone

to volunteer alongside me. So I actually got some training
from them on the side. You know, it wasn't like
the official training, which was pretty ah, like here's how
you clean your rightfle training. Um. So I got some
sort of tactics from the folks the United States ex

Military folks that were volunteering with YEPG. I just want
to go back to because this is I think about
it a lot. It's like, you know, to take another
human life is such a profound thing to do. And
in the United States, and there's in a lot of
places we wrap being a soldier and duty, like you know,

national duty, moral duty, and that it's your job. And
then you have all the structures of the military and
the unquestioning loyalty and all these things. And I think
we have all of that to some extent to um
insulate us from the moral suffering that must occur when
you take another human being's life. Regardless of whether they're

running at you with a suicide vest or whatever, you're
still taking a life. You are a strange case because
you didn't have all those other trappings that so many
people bring with them. You didn't go through the basic
training of being stripped down and then rebuild as a soldier.
You're a guy who was motivated to head into the battlefield,

you know, to bring it back to fatherly obligatorially obligatorially.
It's like you had a new born at home, you
had just brought life into the world, and there you
are in the battlefield and northern Syria taking human lives.
How did you um in your own heart? How did
you balance those? Well, I mean from everything that I've

heard from folks that have escaped living under isis is
the brutality is immense um, mass work, camps, sex, slavery,
um and children being raised to be soulless in regards
to that. And so when people would escape, it was
incredibly empowering and inspiring to see to see people burn

their burkas um um, to have like first cigarette and
tremendous joy and relief on their faces. Is. Yeah. So
you're saying that you're there's a struggle for humanity and
and definitely I felt, well, just on the don't field,

do you have an obligation to stay alive? And that's
the that's the ethics. Well, yeah, that's part of this
I imagined too, is your bearing witness. And and you
know in this country, Syria is treated oftentimes as a
you know, terribly complex uh war that you know, we
have passing involvement in and disputed involvement in and there

are all sorts of competing sides and geopolitics involved. And
I wrapped ten people on the street, you probably get
ten utterly different impressions of what's happening. And do you
feel since people would have and then I think that's accurate, um,
but since coming back, you know, and whether or not

your child is able to process any of it is
probably still very young. But do you feel responsibility to
sort of elucidate for people what's happening? Yeah, I mean
what you saw definitely. Uh, there's a lot of over
generalizations of the conflict there. It's not it's not the

simplest uh of situations. There's a lot of geopolitical actors
at play UM. But there's also you know, you'll hear
a report on Syria in the news that's like two
minutes long, and they talk about the rebels and the
regime and they would they don't mention the Kurdish people

at all, and they think they act like that's the
only thing that's going on UM or they'll talk about, uh,
the area in northern Syrians say oh, like the United
States allies and not talk about the project for democratization
of women's rights and um ecology that's going on, right.

They won't talk about the interdependence that's being built between
Kurdish people, Arab people, Assyrians, Turkmen, all the minority people
that are living there that are forced to work together.
Is really inspiring. It's like a vision for the future.
And it kind of comes into contradiction or it comes

into the narrative of oh the Kurds, we need to
back the Kurds, or we need to back the Shiites
or the Sunnies. Um, that's not what society looks like.
There are groups of people aren't monolithic and um yeah.

The fact that people are working together in the Democratic
Federation Northern Series and something that it gets talked about
it all and um yeah, I hope people realize that
this is uh, this is an opportunity for something better
in the Middle East. I mean, in a funny way,
some of these ideas you're expressing are sound neo conservative classically,

you know, the idea of nation building, the idea that
there is an opportunity to you know, bring democratic ideals
to a country that didn't have the ore reagion, that
didn't have them before. You know, I know that's not
a explicit willly what you're saying, I didn't you didn't
go like with my own ideas trying to impress them exactly.

But you do seem to have this belief now that
there is a progress happening, but also the progress is
worth protecting and growing. Yeah, yeah, for sure, although it's
not it's not like exactly nation building because they're not
trying to separate from Syria. They just want democratic autonomy.
When did you you were there for seven months, when

did you decide and how did you decide it is
time to go back to Brooklyn. Well, they ask for
a minimum participation of six months, so I definitely wanted
to fulfill my obligations there. Um, and yeah, there was
an interesting time when I got injured on the battlefield

and um what happened? Uh, my rifle exploded in my
face in the middle of a firefight. It was like
kind of like an old rifle, so you're like, motherfucker.
I was like, oh, I'm injured, damn it. And I
was able to get back to a medical point where

there were you have special forces that treated me, and
one of them after putting some splinting my hand and
putting some burned cream on my face, cleaning me up
a bit, asked if I wanted to get air lifted home,
and I said, thank you, but you know it's only

January and I still have a few more months to
to participate here. Um. It was kind of like my
nightmare recurring that someone would convince me to go home early. Uh,
which is kind of strange, you know, you would think
would be the opposite. Um, But I really wanted to

fulfill my obligation. I knew that it was like my
one opportunity to participate there. You know once Uh, my
kid I was older, a is there's no more chance?
So you said no in January? Yeah, and then I
came back in April. You got airlifted back or did
you fly commercial? Yeah? Flew commercial. The YPG bought me

a plane ticket home and yeah, I mean too, to
what extent were you doing this to fulfill your like
personal ambition? Sounds like a cynical word. I don't mean
it cynically. I mean like, you know, this is your
one chance, this is something you want to do to
what extent where you like you wanted to do the

thing versus um, this will have the biggest difference yeah,
so maybe, yeah, maybe I said that a little and
the communicated a little bit. I felt more like, yeah,
this is really like what I'm supposed to be doing
at that time is the best opportunity to create peace

in the region. Um and And I need to be
able to tell my son when he's older that I
did everything that I could to try and make the
world a better place for him. I took every opportunity
that I could to make the world a better place
for him, because if if things keep going down this direction,

we're gonna have to answer questions to our kids that
you know, sometimes us, a thirty year old asked to
my parents, you know, like how did you let this
climate crisis get so far? Um And So when your
son asked you, you'll say, well, I thought I did.
I did everything that I could. I'm sorry, Like, the

world is tough, but you know, we have to lead
by example, you know, we have to teach by example
and be good parents in a lot of different ways.
Are you staying in touch with people you knew over there? Yeah,
of course, yeah, it's some of them on what's you
know about the US pull out of Syria? Yeah, it's

tough because um or I don't know, I'm scared betrayed
and I would be furious. There's Yeah, there's a lot
of conflicting emotions. Um. It depends who you're talking to,
of course as well. Um, the Kurdish folks are more
willing to like let the regime take over border security, um,

you know, because they're not trying to separate from the state.
They're like, um, right, they just need protection from Turkey, right.
Uh So, whereas like some of the Arab folks are
are like, they lived under the regime and then we're
with the f s A before having to live under ISIS,

and now they're with the YPG and they're not feeling
the Um. How was your return to the States. You
hadn't seen your kid in seven months, he's all grown stop. Yeah,
but you went, You left being a non veteran kind

of came back veteran. What was that re entry like? Yeah,
so I was worried, you know, my kid wouldn't remember
who I was, even though you know, I stayed in
touch with them as much as possible, talk with them
almost every day when I wasn't on the front line. Yeah, well,
the internet wasn't good enough for that. But um, I

could send like voice messages and we'd like communicate voice
message back, voice message back, kind of like extended conversation
where you say, like, you know, fifteen twenty seconds at
a time and then yeah, um, but yeah. It took
a day and a half for him to remember who
I was. It was awesome. We're in like the grocery

store and he was like on my chest and uh,
he was like hap, And I was like, Yes, what
did you miss the most? You know, obviously your family,
but what did you miss like about New York life
that you're like to get back to when you got home? Oh? Man,

everything I don't know, you know, in the subway, the people,
um ut. Yeah, you can't find a hot dog out there. Um.
But also it must see. I don't think it's just
for you, but I think for a lot of UM

service members or people have served overseas. It's such a
craze the parallel universe that here we have whole foods
and living so blithely, and that there is suffering so um,
so prevalent and so pressing. Well, you know, here's another
thing that's really misrepresented in in the media that we

see here and by what I just said, is that
you know that there's like m widespread devastation and everywhere
in Syria and in the north east of Syria, a
lot of places never saw conflict people and they think

that as the whole country. That's the whole country, And
and these places are peaceful. This is where refugees went
to to flee the fighting. There's a huge amount of
internally displaced people that live there. Um, that are getting
to to live in peace, you know, and in security.
So um. You know there's grocery stores. I like found

an ice cream, but there's no hope. That's my point. Um.
So you didn't feel that that juxtaposition so much, No,
I mean, of course it's like totally different. And then
I had took like quit smoking when I came back. Yeah,

your your wife, you picked up some bad habits. No, No,
I was like, I'm very good at quitting cigarettes and
a hundred times. What was the debrief like with your
own father? You know, I think of what you said
about his you know, life of pacifism, and this must
have been, you know, in some respects a very strange

turn for him to process. And what was that like, Yeah,
I mean talking with him ahead of time. Uh, he
really was against the idea of me going, and so
I had to kind of leave, um without saying good
I to him, which was tough. It was really he

he he was going to try and stop me physically
from doing so that was that was tough. And then like, um, yeah,
my mom was pretty piste too, you know. Um, as
soon as I saw she started like punching, like damn
you leave with your family when you got back, I

get it, I get it. Yeah, And I had that
you know thought a little bit. Yeah, yeah, for sure. Yeah,
it took a little bit of time, but yeah, yeah
we're able to like tell stories and yeah, yeah, would
you do what he did me? Yeah, I have a

hard time volunteering to coach soccer, Like I'm I'm afraid
of any kind of commitment. You should know that by now, Joshua. No,
if you have, you have, you have you know articulated
it like a few times in this interview, Joshua that
this is you know, your story is extraordinary. I mean
I've not met anybody who's gone and done what you've done,

and I can't think that this is a wildly common
thing to do. Um. Yeah, no, there's no part of
me that I could do it. Yeah, I'm a bull
blown coward. I think it's very courageous what you did.
I'm not sure it's cowardly not to do it, though,

because I keep on going back. I keep on going
back to like the personal karma that you also incur,
and like how it changes you. And I think, like
for me, I mean, this is something that I think
a lot of Dad's wrestle with. There's an injustice in
the world in some way. How are you going to

best address that? Like for me, I think about Okay,
maybe it's very It's much easier to give money, you know,
it's much easier to find the policy level that you
want to impact, like for me, money and politics. Right,
for me, it all goes back to that. So I
donate to whatever common cause. Like I'm not putting myself

in danger. I'm also not putting myself in danger of
committing accident. I'm not sure I would be able to
live with with myself, you know, And that calculus is
just so different for me, and the way that I
would want to impact it is so not It's kind
of like not as physical, not as direct as the

way you did it. And so I'm I really am
struggling trying to understand. Although look, we're just different people
and you have your way of impacting change and your
value system and I have, you know, a different one.
But just like I don't think I could ever um
enter into that situation. You know. Yeah, I really believe

deeply in doing uh your part to like physically you know,
I'm a gardener, like like to plant a tree. I
don't want to like give someone five bucks to say
that they planted a tree in the rainforest. Motherfucker who's
like the carbon mitigation like, you know, like an extra
I'm the Captain Trader. You're the guy who's in their

planting trees. Yeah, so I think I feel like it's
important for everyone to actually physically do their part. Um.
I've always lived my life that way. And volunteerism, I
think is really really crucial. You know, whether you're volunteering
for a free food program or um volunteering for Northern

It's like it is such a strange juxtapon juxtaposition. Um,
why don't you ask you about in your experience over there,
the chidren and and encountering children. You know, obviously they're
a huge part of the refugee community. We've seen them,
you know, obviously in war zones and Syria. They've you know,

often times been casualties of of war there, um, and
they're used as human shield us, as human shields literally.
As a parent, as a new parent getting there, you
know that you can't help but feel even more acute
in you when you sort of witnessed that, Yeah, for sure,
as well as like what happens when someone over there

that's with the YPG falls and they had a kid,
you know, and I go to sit down for family
for dinner with their family and payment respects. That's heavy,
and you think, you we can't help but wonder what
that child is thinking and processing and will grow up

to be. Yeah, we I mean, we have to like
honor the sacrifices of the people that have I had
in this struggle for freedom and democracy, um, whether they're
people from the United States or Kurds or Arabs well Suresh.
I'm not sure I'm any closer to understanding your story,

but I'm I'm very interested in it, and I very
much appreciate you coming and being open about your experience,
and I'm glad you came back I'm really glad I
came back. Yeah, okay, awesome, thank you. Wow. I mean

that was really something. That guy's story is remarkable. I'm
glad he's back. I'm glad. I can't. I thought I
would leave that interview. I thought we would end that
interview with my understanding, um more about his motivation. But
I think what it really showed me it's like, at
the end of the day, some people, they function in

such a different way that I'll never really be able
to understand how we went from anti war protester, normal,
normative story into making this extraordinary decision, Like there's something
that ticks in him that made it make sense for
him to leave his newborn, that made made it make
sense for him to go fight and kill. And you know, Anthony,
you were saying that, um, he probably doesn't wrestle with

it as much as I wrestle with him, you know.
And I just have to come to terms with the
fact that that's ununderstandable for me. That's beyond comprehension. I'm
not going to relate. You like to put yourself in
the shoes of guests, and you can imagine yourself as
Luke Cage. Yes, Jamie Oliver. But you can't imagine yourself

getting on a plane, flying to a rock, crossing the
border into Syria and fighting again, diss. You just don't
see that for Joshua, you know, what I think is
that it would take all of these assumptions, which I
don't have, like that the best change that I can

the most impactful change I can make, is tactical, like
on the level being on the front lines, putting myself
in danger, endangering my family to the extent that I
might not come back right Like I would try to
make a change in a different way, and it's admirable,
I guess, and just a learning experience that that's not

how he sees it. Of course, that's why he went
to Syria. I mean, as someone who is relatively new
to this podcast, when I when the proposition was first raised,
I thought, you know, we'd be debating topics of you know,
how do we feel about iPads at bedtime? Or showing
kids PG thirteen movies before they're thirteen. I did not

think that becoming a freedom fighter for Kurdish forces was
in the rele of discussion. But that's what makes this great,
I guess. Joshua that's what makes you a wonderful host. No,
but don't you think that, you know, he justifies a
lot of why he went on the basis of I
need to make a world that my son will I

need to make a better world for my son to
inherit a and be What he said is that I
need to be able to justify to my son that
I did all I could do to fight for what
is right. Those things are so tied up with being
a dad. And I think what I find so interesting
about his stories, he's willing to make such big sacrifices

and in danger is very life in order to do that.
You know, I think in some respects if we were
to have an American soldier in here with the military
having a conversation about their own motivations, uh of, it
probably would sound similar. You know. I think that we
tend to treat military in this country rather monolithically like that.

You know, they're just forces and their people and other places,
and you know, we don't personalize it. But yeah, I
think some of the threads of what he was saying
are relatable to other soldiers. I'm sure. Well, I think
about it in terms of our other guests like that, Um,
Camilla Mora who we talked about, the climate change professor
who's like actually working really hard, um, not just studying,

but being active in the realm of climate change to
try to give his daughter a better world. I don't know.
It makes me think it's a dad, Like I don't
know what percentage of things do you do in your
daily life for your kids to inherit a better world
that mine is probably like um point oh five, Like
I don't use plastic straws and I have a reusable

La Colombe coffee cup. Well, I think you're you're good there.
That's pretty much making the world a better place. I
think I do zero things today. If I'm being honest,
I think that I'm more on the Jamie Oliver side
of teaching empathy to children and making them, you know,

good citizens, and that's going to be my legacy. But
what the hell do I know? Yeah? The difference is
like he's not teaching his kid, right, he's setting an example.
Yeah suresh. He's like out there fighting for that world.
The same thing with Camilla, and it's like, yeah, I
want to I want to be a I want to
be the best dad that I can. I want to

build the best world for my kids, but then I
have this whole other like and then I just want
to do me like I want to be. I mean
and and and and you know, in full candor, he's
he's on his own journey, and I don't think he
was trying to recruit UM. Today's podcast was produced by
Anthony Roman. I'd like to thank this guy, Jason Gay,

this guy Jesse Schultz from my heart. I'm Joshua David Stein. Oh.
It's also executive produced by Andrew Berman. And we'll see
you next week. M

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