Note: This is part of a series. You can read part one here.

“Mr. President, I would like to ask you about your future vision of Syria.” President Assad looked at me, nodding his head for me to continue. “It seems that the institutions of Syria have been so damaged and the social fabric of the country pulled apart in so many ways that I wonder if it is possible to reconstitute Syria in the way that it existed before the war. I was wondering if you could talk about the reconstruction of Syria and the reintegration of these rebel-held areas?”

Sitting in the presidential palace in Damascus with five other journalists and researchers, I was fortunate enough to be able to pose a few questions to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Much has been written about the Syrian conflict, but little news or information has come out about any post-conflict planning after ISIS and other jihadi groups are defeated. This seems to be a worrying development, particularly on the part of American policy experts, as much like Iraq in 2003, we have little idea as to what is supposed to come next. I jumped at the opportunity to ask President Assad directly.

“You would be surprised if I tell you that this fabric you talk about is actually much better than before the war,” President Assad answered. “This is surprising for me because everything they say, how you say, in everything there is a silver lining. In this silver lining you learn a lesson. Society has learned by de facto because we had a lot of extremism and fanaticism that was spreading in society in different ways. It is part of the perception of society that it couldn’t stop before the war came and it opened the mind.”