As the international community and the US Congress debate the use of military force in Syria, Syrian-Americans found themselves sharply and passionately divided over whether such action would resolve the deadly civil war that’s raging in their homeland or virtually assure that the violence and turmoil would continue. In an action alert sent out Tuesday, the non-profit Syrian-American Council (SAC) said, “Congress must show the world that America isn’t afraid to act when a brutal dictator continues to disregard American warnings and defy international norms against the use of chemical weapons. American action must be decisive and strategic enough to end the war in Syria”. The group asked its members to call on Congress for “decisive and strategic” American intervention that’ll “pave the way” for a Syrian future that doesn’t include its current president, Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian Civil War has raged on since early 2011, with estimates putting the death toll at more than 100,000. Whilst the USA and several other nations provided humanitarian aid, they haven’t intervened militarily. However, according to an American intelligence report, the alleged chemical attack on civilians last month… forbidden under the Chemical Weapons Convention… killed more than 1,400 people including hundreds of children. The report builds a case that the Assad régime was responsible for the attack, and prompted calls for quick retaliation.
Doured Daghistani, a paediatric oncologist in Florida and a Syrian-American who came to the USA in 1982 and became a US citizen in 1990, said, “We know the régime owns chemical weapons and the regime is capable of firing them, so I’m very confident from the history that the régime did it, because it’s a sophisticated weapon. It was fired by missiles, and it killed an opposition area. Why rebels would attack themselves?” Daghistani said that his brother recently fled from Syria to Lebanon with his family, but their 94-year-old father, who has Alzheimer’s disease, remains in Damascus along with Doured’s sister, who cares for him. He said, “We can’t move them, and the last thing I want is for them to die with a chemical weapons attack, him and my sister. That’s just my nightmare”. Daghistani serves on the SAC board, which has been active, along with several other Syrian-American groups across the US, in organising rallies to call for American military intervention. He noted, “A hundred-thousand people have died, and, now, you have chemical weapons. It’s crazy! It’s mad! And it’s time to stop the madness”.
However, other Syrian-Americans are just as emphatic, insisting that the Assad régime isn’t responsible for the chemical weapons attack. Fr Anthony Sabbagh, who was born in Syria and who leads a largely Syrian-American congregation at St George Orthodox Church in Pennsylvania, home to one of the largest groups of Syrian-Americans in the USA, said, “I don’t think chemicals were used by the government at all. They didn’t even use it in the war against Israel when they were fighting. Our government must be smarter than that!” The church is raising funds to help Syrian refugees, and offers graphic details about Christians… including clergy… that they said were violently killed by rebel forces in Syria. Fr Anthony said, “Never, ever, did Bashar or the Syrian régime consider Christians to be the enemy, because we’re peaceful people. So is the régime, too. That’s proof for us that it isn’t the Syrian régime or even the Army that used chemicals against its own people. This is why England, our best ally, backed off”, in reference to a vote by the British Parliament last week not to support a military strike on Syria.
Moussa Abdallah, a member of the church who moved to the USA from Syria in 1979 and still has many family members in in his native land, said that he, too, doesn’t believe that the Syrian government is responsible for the attack, saying, “I believe and I’m quite sure who used the chemical weapons, it’s the rebels. I’m sure because I know my country, I served in the army, I know exactly what’s going on. Do you believe the Syrian government used chemical weapons before the inspectors came? Common sense, just put it in your head and ask yourself, would they do that? Like we are animals coming from the jungle?” He believed that Saudi Arabia supplied rebel forces with chemical weapons, and that Qatar provided protective masks that the rebels didn’t know how to use, so, the accidental explosion that resulted killed hundreds.
A call to action by the International Action Center (IAC), which opposes American wars abroad, including intervention in Syria, emphatically stated, “Hands Off Syria!” The group is organising roughly a dozen marches and rallies in various American cities in the coming days, including a march from the White House to Capitol Hill on 9 September, the day Congress returns from summer recess and will consider US President Barack Obama‘s request for a congressional vote approving military action in Syria. An IAC statement said, “President Obama is using the same tactics as President Bush did before the Iraq War. Ten years later, Iraq lay in ruins. A million Iraqis died, millions became refugees. More than 1.5 million American soldiers were deployed to Iraq”. Friends of Syria, a volunteer group that says it “spreads the truth to prevent war”, posted an online photo of the Twin Towers burning in New York on 9/11, with the stark message, “Who knew that 12 years later we’d have a president who wants to arm and come to the defence of the people who did this?” It’s a grim reference to concerns that al-Qaeda has joined rebel forces in Syria.
Russia blocked a vote by the UN Security Council to approve military force against Syria, a move that strained American-Russian relations. Dr Daghistani said that when former US President Bill Clinton was faced with evidence of genocide that killed tens of thousands in Kosovo, he acted “on his own, without the Security Council, without the UN, without the blessing of every other country on earth, to do the right thing at the end of the day, to save the people that were dying. So, why we care about Russia right now? Russia has their own Putin, he’s half-naked all over the place, he wants to show like he’s a superman, and they want to show like he can snap Obama’s hand into whatever he wants. Russia is nothing! Now, we care about Russia? It’s crazy!”
3 September 2013
The anti-war people amongst Arab-Americans tend to be Christians (of all traditional “flavours”, by the way), whilst the pro-war people tend to be Sunni Muslims (although, truth be told, perhaps, not a majority of this cohort) and assimilated sorts who’ve converted to Sectarian Evangelicalism. That is, Orthodox (both Eastern and Oriental) and Catholics tend to oppose American intervention. I know of no major religious leader of such groups who advocate the use of American military force in the region. NONE. This will set up tensions in the AOCANA… the ethnic Arabs are solidly anti-war, whilst many of the konvertsy amongst them are neocons who support American warmongering throughout the world. We Russians support our Syrian confrères in the Orthosphere to the hilt. So do the Greeks, Serbs, Romanians, and other real Orthodox… there’s no hesitation… an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us. This may drive a wedge between traditional Arab-American Christians and those who’ve assimilated into a more “American” pattern. It’s what I see. God willing, there’ll be no war… please, God, let that be so. America has spilt enough blood in its insane drive for global hegemony in the last twenty years… it has to end.