The United States is asking Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to turn over information about the country’s chemical weapons. The US government blames a poison gas attack last month in Syria on that country’s government. The attack killed more than one thousand people. Now, the US has put the threat of air strikes on hold, as the international community tries to force the Syrian government to turn over its chemical weapons. The debate over how to respond to the use of chemical weapons has been heated in this country. We spoke with people in Charlotte’s Syrian community to understand how those who straddle both worlds see the situation.
Many Syrian-Americans, like Mohammed and Bouchra Idlibi, still support the idea of limited air strikes. The Idlibis grew up in Charlotte. He works for his family’s medical lab company; she’s just finished a graduate degree in international relations at UNC Charlotte.
Mohammed was 3 years old in 1982, when he came with his parents to the US.
“I’ve had two of my uncles from my father’s side and one on my mother’s side that have been murdered by the Assad regime, and that’s how we came to this country, for fear of that happening to us,” he says.
The Idlibis have family who still live in Syria’s largest city, Aleppo. Bouchra says for the past two weeks, they haven’t been able to get in touch with anyone they know in Syria.
“It’s complete silence," she says. "Nobody knows what’s going on.”
Like most Syrian-Americans I talked to, they support a limited American airstrike against the Assad regime. Mohammed says it could level the playing field in Syria by taking out military assets that give Assad an advantage over the rebel groups, like planes and missiles.
“It’s crucial that we tip the scale in the human atrocities in Syria. It is a strategic interest for America; it’s something that will spill over in the region," he says. "And if at all, we can maybe influence what happens on the ground there, if we can do a very small scale military intervention.”
Bouchra adds, “we need to stop the bloodshed, more and more people are having to leave the country, and more people are dying.”
Reports say more than 90 thousand Syrians have been killed since the violence started more than two years ago. Nearly six million people have had to leave their homes, some fleeing to other parts of the country, others leaving altogether.
Now, Maya Hadaya doesn’t blame Assad for the situation there. She lives in Syria’s capital, Damascus, but spends the school year here as a student at UNC Charlotte. She spent the summer at home, and came back to Charlotte about a week before the chemical attack. Hadaya recently took part in a rally against possible U.S. military intervention.
She says she doesn’t know anyone personally who’s been harmed by the conflicts. She calls the groups fighting the Syrian government forces “terrorists,” and she says that she’d like to see Bashar al-Assad stay in charge. After he took power in 2000, she says, things started improving in Syria…
“There was a freedom in Syria," she recalls. "Churches were next to mosques, nobody had a problem, and everything in Syria was going up, from 2000 and into 2011, and everything was going up and everything was getting better in Syria.”
And while the Idlibis and Maya Hadaya disagree over nearly everything about the Syrian conflict, they all agree the violence needs to end quickly.