UB students, faculty from Syria weigh in on conflict
Published: Thursday, September 12, 2013
Updated: Thursday, September 12, 2013 19:09
On Tuesday, President Barack Obama addressed the nation about the conflict in Syria. Though he mentioned “encouraging signs” of a diplomatic solution, Obama stressed the importance of keeping pressure on the Syrian government.
As Congressional approval for the initial resolution seemed unlikely, the United States began working with Russian, French and United Nations (U.N.) officials on a diplomatic solution that would have Bashar al-Assad and his regime hand over or destroy their chemical weapons stockpile. Not all Syrian students, however, are happy with the seemingly peaceful resolution.
“This is the world letting [Assad] know he can do whatever he wants,” said Lemma Al-Ghanem, a sophomore architecture major. “It’s disgraceful … we’ve just told an entire population that they don’t matter at all.”
Al-Ghanem, a student from Syria, is a staunch supporter of the proposed U.S. cruise missile strikes. She believes the United States is “flaking” on its responsibilities by meeting with Russia and the U.N. Allowing Assad to go unpunished, she feels, would be a failure to take action in preventing the future slaughter of innocent people.
Akram Shibly, a junior media studies major and son of Syrian immigrants, agreed with Al-Ghanem. He expressed his doubts over the French-backed resolution.
“I think it’s an odd solution to the problem,” Shibly said. “It raises some important questions about modern-day politics that people need to start asking.”
Shibly was originally against the proposed intervention, saying the United States was acting only on its own interests. He said that select “elite” nations shouldn’t be the only nations allowed to own chemical weapons.
Russia has held on to nearly 76 percent of its chemical weapons stockpile, almost30,000 tons, since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, according to Itar-Tass, a Russian news agency. The Pentagon reported the United States currently has a stockpile of more than 3,000 tons of chemical weapons – including illegal mustard gas, napalm and nerve agents – in various facilities around the nation.
U.S. foreign policy experts expressed doubt Tuesday, to The Jerusalem Post, that Syria could effectively disarm its estimated 1,000-ton stockpile by the end of the week.
Shibly warned against the potential double standard. He believes that forcing some countries to give up their chemical weapons stockpile over others would cause a “dangerous” tip in the balance of world power.
"This further proves that this is about power and politics, not about the people,” Shibly said.
He said Assad is doing whatever he can to appease the United States so he can continue to hold on to power and commit genocide unimpeded by a Western intervention. Shibly added that the diplomatic approach was a “step higher” than the proposed cruise missile strikes.
Al-Ghanem said, however, Assad’s actions have made a diplomatic solution to the crisis no longer viable.
“There is one way this will end: [the Assad regime] either steps down and gets tried at a criminal court ... or he kills every single [Syrian],” she said. “End of story.”
She thinks the new resolution will empower the Assad regime by giving it a diplomatic “victory” over the West.
Al-Ghanem believes people have lost sight in what is important. She believes protecting the Syrian people should be the chief concern.
“I could write a novel about how my family has been affected by the war,” Al-Ghanem said.
Shells from government tanks hit her uncle’s farm, destroying portions of it and nearly killing his family. She said her aunt came home one day to find the Shabiha – armed groups of pro-government vigilantes – had broken into her family’s home and stolen everything.
Shibly also expressed concern for his family overseas. He said his mother’s cousin was killed and his own cousin was caught in the crossfire. His family has the news on television at all hours of the day.
Akram Shibly’s father, Dr. Othman Shibly, an associate professor in the UB Dental School’s Department of Periodontics and Endodontics, believes if the United States does not punish Assad, the country would be sending the wrong message to other dictator regimes – that international norms can be violated with no consequences.
“We can give diplomacy a chance,” Othman said to BBC reporters on Wednesday. “But it has been close to three years now, with Assad breaking his promise time after time … Assad should be brought to justice.”
His son agrees. Shibly said because Syria is handing over its chemical weapons, Assad would no longer be held accountable by the West for his actions.