'Zaid Ojjeh is glad that he is in America and safe from the fate befalling many of his Syrian countrymen in their war-ravaged homeland. In Syria, “every day it was getting worse and worse,” he said in an interview before his talk. There people knew not to talk about politics or their ruler, Bashar al-Assad, whose father had ruled the country before him. You never talk about the president,” said Ojjeh. “He’s like God. It’s been like that for 40 years.” A friend of his had a conversation about Assad with his parents and that friend was arrested, said Ojjeh.
“I heard from him how much he was tortured,” said Ojjeh. His older brother was drafted into the Syrian military and saw horrible things, but escaped and is trying to leave the country, he said. However, his parents remain in Syria.
“All my friends left the country,” he said. “Either you’re with the government or against them … People can’t go back anymore. Everything is gone. I want everybody to understand these people are just running for their lives,” said Ojjeh, about his fellow Syrian refugees. “You don’t have to be scared. People just want a place to live. A lot of my friends got killed by gas or by things that fall out of a plane (bombs),” he said. “ISIS is not Islam. It is not religious.” '