'Syrian opponents to President Bashar al-Assad have been widely derided as extremist jihadis hungering to establish a puritanical Islamist regime. Even members of the U.S. Congress say the moderate opposition to the Damascus regime has been supplanted by sectarian extremists such as the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate.
But interviews with half a dozen fighters, photos, and video footage from the Daraya library east of Damascus paint a different picture of Syria’s uprising. They suggest the hopes for progressive social change, raised by the largely peaceful 2011 uprising against the Assad regime, have yet to be completely quashed.
“Despite what people think of us, we are people who have demands and a message to deliver,” said Omar Abu Anas, a 24-year-old former university student turned rebel fighter who frequents the library. “When we were attacked, we defended. Despite your calling me a jihadi, I’m Free Syrian Army and I want to bring down the regime to build a new government, to live in a free society.” '