Tuesday, September 10, 2013 at 6:40 PM
As President Obama and Congress weigh their options on possible involvement in the conflict in Syria, Syrians in Northeast Ohio are watching closely. ideastream’s Nick Castele reports it’s a complicated issue that has led to divisions in the region’s Syrian-American community.
Fares Raslan is a doctor who has gone back to Syria to tend to people wounded in the conflict. He says U.S. action should help usher Syrian President Bashar al-Assad out of power.
“He cannot, after killing all these people and leveling and destroying our infrastructure, he cannot be a president anymore,” he said.
Raslan invited several local Syrians to speak with me at his home in the Cleveland suburbs. Among them was Bronia, a Northeast Ohio woman who worries daily about the conflict. She didn’t want us to use her last name because she fears for the safety of her relatives in Syria. Sitting at Raslan’s kitchen table, she says the anxiety sometimes sends her browsing Facebook at odd hours for news from her homeland.
“I have family there,” she said. “My whole family’s still there. Sometimes I don’t sleep, I wake up at 5 o’clock just to see what’s going on, because very day there’s some atrocity being committed somewhere, and my nightmare came true, the chemical.”
That’s in reference to the chemical attack last month that left an estimated 1,400 Syrians dead. Assad has denied U.S. accusations that his regime perpetrated the attack.
Khaled Issa, like his host, is also a doctor who has trekked to Syria to help some of the millions of displaced people in the region.
“When we go on missions, we do our best to distribute as much medication, medical relief, clothes, money sometimes, whatever it takes to help those people,” Issa said. “They have nothing. They lost everything.”
Like the others at the table, Issa wants the Unites States to act against Assad.
That’s not the opinion of Tony George, a Syrian-American businessman in Greater Cleveland, interviewed earlier in the day. George strongly opposes U.S. involvement in Syria. He says if Assad is toppled, what follows him will be worse.
“If you degrade the Assad regime and the Syrian government, you degrade the fabric of Syria,” George said. “There’s chemical weapons there that will need to be secured. Are we going to trust the Free Syrian Army?”
George is Maronite Catholic, and he has family in Syria. He worries that if Assad is gone, radical Islamists in the country could unleash violence against Christians and moderate Muslims.
Marwan Hilal is a doctor who has lived in the Cleveland area since the 1980s. He’s Christian, and insists he’s not pro-regime or pro-opposition. But he doubts that a U.S. strike would do much good. He says the American government could have gotten involved years ago, and worked toward a negotiated peace.
He says if people can’t see the destruction in Syria, “and how the death and the illness and the inflation and the hunger has inflicted so much pain on people, I think we should really look ourselves in the mirror and see what is it we want of all that.”
Hilal says the conflict has divided many Syrians in Cleveland. It’s a sentiment I heard around Fares Raslan’s kitchen table, too.
Bronia says she can’t speak to some of her friends anymore. She’s both a Christian and an opponent of Assad, and while others at the table are Muslim, she says among Syrians worldwide, she doesn’t believe the divisions fall along religious lines.
“To me, as a human, I am a human first, before I was Christian or Muslim,” she said.
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