Official Syrian media reported that the men had been killed by “armed gangs,” the phrase usually used by the government to describe protesters. No one who knew Matar believes that.
But as word of Matar’s death spread, despair deepened among some activists that peaceful protests alone won’t be enough to bring down the government, Page said. And calls for the protest movement to acquire weapons have grown, he said.
“We know how peaceful this guy was, and he was tortured to death, and it shows that if we continue like this, we’ll be treated like anyone who had a gun and was a terrorist,” he said. “Everyone’s really, really angry.”
Ford and seven other envoys to Damascus attended Matar’s wake because they hope that his death will instead serve to reinforce the commitment to peace that has finally earned the Syrian protest movement a measure of international support in recent weeks, according to a Western diplomat in the capital.
“There’s a growing frustration in the streets that a lot of people are being killed and wounded and that they should take up arms,” said the diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive subjects. “This young man understood the importance of the protest movement staying peaceful, even as he was confronting a lot of violence.”
Minutes after the ambassadors departed, security forces attacked the tent in which the wake was held, firing live ammunition and tear gas and shouting curses against Ford and the other envoys, according to a witness, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Matar’s relatives and friends pledged to uphold the pacifism he preached. His wife, who is seven months pregnant with their first child, has been receiving condolences at her home dressed in white, not the traditional black. Mourners handed out flowers at the wake, in honor of Matar’s chief legacy — the practice of distributing roses to soldiers.
“There are many views, and one of them is to take up arms,” said a close friend of Matar’s who asked that his name not be used because he fears for his safety.
“But for me, and for his friends, and for his family, peaceful resistance is the only option.”
“His death is a grave loss for us,” he added. “But there are many people who have been killed before, and there are many more deaths yet to come. The revolution is still there, and it cannot be shut down.”