Teach-In Higlights the Injustices Against the Syrian People

Human rights violations, peaceful protest and pillars of government were some topics up for much discussion on Thursday, Oct. 27th’s teach-in: “Syria: What Is Really Happening?”

The lecture, held in Humanities Hall, featured guest speaker Ammar Kahf, Ph.D. Kahf recently graduated from UCLA with a degree in Islamic Studies — his dissertation topic: “Syrian Authoritarianism, Persistence or Change.”

Kahf is also the research manager at the Strategic Research and Communication Centre, a Syrian opposition group based in London that lobbies for various sanctions against current President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.

Biotech grad student Asaad Traina is a member of the Muslim Student Union, the group who coordinated this event, and has known Kahf for ten years through their correspondence at a community center. Traina claims Ammar is one of the most reliable people in the state when it comes to Syrian history and political change, citing an interview with NPR’s Amy Walters and  one in the Los Angeles Times article “Snags in CIA’s Arab Outreach.”

Syria is one of the latest countries involved in the “Arab Spring,” an unprecedented series of revolutionary demonstrations and protests in  nations including Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Bahrain. Each country bears significant reasons for their uprisings, but themes of freedom, justice and equality span every demonstration.

Syrians are protesting against Bashar al-Assad, a repressive leader whose heavy-handed rule is equivalent only to his own father, Hafez al-Assad, who was in power for 29 years before his death in 2000.

Yet the uprising in Syria, where anti-government protests are highly unusual, remains relatively unknown, says Kahf. He deems a need for awareness one of the key ingredients to garner support for the cause.

This necessity was the theme of Kahf’s teach-in, the second in a two part series that, a week prior, had first featured local activist Hussam Ayloush.

“The original idea was to support efforts for democracy, efforts to remove tyrants and support the basic rights of people all over the world,” said Traina.

Kahf began his presentation with a short film produced by the Syrian American Council that provided historical background in addition to up-to-date perspectives.

In 1971, Hafez al-Assad took hold of the government, got rid of all opposing parties and instated an oppressive police state, the most noted event of the regime being the horrific Hama Massacre of 1982. When he died in 2000, his son took power, but the young ruler was no less violent than his predecessor.

Collective unrest and discontent with the rulers of Syria led to demonstrations that started on January 26, 2011. Despite slow momentum in the beginning stages of the protests (some Syrians claim this was due to internet restrictions that made it difficult to use social networking resources), the revolutions in cities like Hama, Damascus and Latakia have gained power in numbers of late.

The morning of the lecture, former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi was captured and killed. This, Kahf claimed, is yet another vehicle for Syria to use to continue working towards an even-handed government.

“It gives inspiration that people have the power to overcome,” he said. “People have the power to take hold of their affairs. This is the lesson we keep learning every few hundred years, every century, as one of the traditions of renewal.”

The current government, he continued, is a regime based on several pillars by the Ba’ath party, a political faction of which President al-Assad is a member.

According to Kahf, the party empowers the rule with a psychological manipulation, an emotional and psychological game that creates illusions of democracy and fair representation.

“Assad uses a series of tactics to portray himself as all-knowing, kind and merciful,” said Kahf. “These traits are portrayed in public education, the public space, in cinema and practically every angle of your life.”

The injustices occurring in this country are vast, Kahf continued, citing a reported 17,000 people missing (although the figure may be close to 50-60,000) and the various peaceful demonstrations that were met with brutal violence. The United Nations estimates more than 3,000 people have been killed since the beginning of this year.

Traina claims most should be knowledgeable of the subject, even if we’re not.

“The main action is just to know. I went to a [politically involved group on campus’] meeting and asked people how many had read anything about this topic. Two people raised their hands,” he chuckles. “As American citizens, we have to ask ourselves, what is our role in that part of the world? We need to read up on it.”

Kahf ended his teach-in urging all to get involved, study main points and follow up on the news.

“The people of Syria’s perseverance in the face of the most oppressive regime in the Middle East is a testament to their commitment for freedom and democracy,” he concluded. “The young generation said enough is enough.”