UC Irvine students met to discuss the crisis in Syria and what could be done to help those affected.
ASUCI and concerned students held a discussion on the Syrian Civil War called “Stop the Bloodshed: Save Syria” on Tuesday, Nov. 19 at 6 p.m. in the Student Center’s Balboa Island A. The talk featured guest speakers Hussam Ayloush, a representative of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and critic of the Bashar Al-Assad regime in Syria and his daughter Maria Ayloush, a second-year student at UC Riverside who spent a summer in Lebanon helping refugees from the fighting in Syria. Hussam believes the people of Syria deserve freedom but knows they are facing a violent enemy.
“In that part of the world to ask for freedom is to ask for death because dictators don’t want to give up their power,” Hussam said.
In 2011, the Syrian people began demonstrating against the Al-Assad regime after police officers arrested a group of boys in the southern Syrian city of Daraa for anti-Assad graffiti and tortured them. This began a series of demonstrations across Syria for reform.
“Their demands were to please free some political prisoners, allow some freedom of speech, and open some dialogue. They would have allowed Assad to stay for life,” Hussam said. “The revolution started off as non-violent just like Dr. King and Gandhi.”
But soon the Assad regime ensured the conflict would be militaristic in nature. According to Hussam and reports from Syria, the Syrian security forces began shooting protesters and killing activist leaders.
In response to the killings, many in the Syrian army began to defect and fight against the Assad regime. As time went on, the opposition created a series of organized militias and military forces.
However, while Hussam opposes Assad, he did not support some of the opposition to Assad as it has become known that Al-Qaeda linked groups have taken power in some parts of Syria. He feels this is a dangerous time for the Syrian people.
“Now the Syrian people are squeezed between a corrupt and evil regime and a small but growing extremist movement that is not interested in Syrian democracy,” he said.
In response to the violence in Syria, many have fled their homes. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Refugees, over 2.5 million people have fled the violence in Syria. Ayloush’s daughter Maria went to help some of these refugees in Lebanon after seeing what state they were living in.
“This past summer I was visiting family and not concerned about the war, I was not planning on helping refugees,” Maria said. “I began going to these women’s houses and seeing that they lacked basic needs. No food, water, laundry detergent.”
According to her, many refugees are in a desperate state of need for basic supplies and strongly encouraged everyone to give what they could.
Hassam Ayloush later went on to say that helping the anti-Assad fighters would help the Syrian people. However, not everyone in the audience agreed with Ayloush and regarding Assad. Of the seven students who said they were Syrian, some disagreed with Ayloush and believed Assad’s action could be justified in order to prevent Islamic extremists from taking over the country. One student said “once you take him [Al-Assad] out, these extremist groups are going to take over.”
Ayloush retracted this statement saying, “We shouldn’t listen to dictators. When Mubarak was under attack he said if I leave then the extremists will come.”
Another student who did not identify himself and had family in Syria said, “A lot of what you are telling me is not matching with what people are saying. A lot of people are switching to the Assad regime because the revolutionaries are kicking them out of their homes and making their neighborhoods a battlefield.”
Other students supported Ayloush and asked what could be done to support those affected, to which he responded with a call for political activism.
“We can all call the White House, and if nothing happens that shouldn’t mean we all do nothing. We must do something to help.”