Guilford community reacts to troubling Syrian situation

For over two years, the active Syrian government has been at war with opposing rebel forces. Escalating hostility has pushed millions of refugees to flee the country. On Aug. 21 the violence intensified when chemical weapons were unleashed, killing nearly 1,500 people – most of whom were innocent civilians.

While it is still unclear whether the government or the opposing forces are to blame for these chemical attacks, this level of inhumanity has left the world in shock.

Guilford campus is no exception.

The level of intervention that other countries should have in this sensitive and complex conflict is still up for debate, and perspectives fall all over the board. Guilford offered opportunities for the community to get involved with this overwhelming issue — even in small ways — without ever leaving campus.

On Sept. 6 students and faculty gathered in The Hut for a brown bag lunch to discuss their feelings toward the civil war in Syria.

The event was organized by Max Carter, the director of the Friends Center and campus ministry coordinator.

“The main points were the personal anguish of (senior) Omar Hamad, who has family in Syria and is torn between his pacifist leanings and the realities of a despotic regime, and the Quaker leanings of others in the room, who have a sense that when Jesus said, ‘love your enemies,’ he probably didn’t mean, ‘kill them,’” said Carter.

Carter finds military intervention to be destructive and ineffective.

“It just doesn’t make logical sense to throw a bunch of missiles in there when it actually won’t do anything positive in terms of the real crisis in Syria,” said Carter.

Carter insists there are non-violent alternatives to addressing the conflict, such as through coalitions with others, embargo, boycotts, working with the Arab League and the U.N., and applying Geneva Convention and international law.

Research Assistant Susan Ikenberry, who attended the discussion, also believes that intervention needs to be intentional and non-violent in order to reduce the risk of more violence or continued chemical weapon use.

“The brown bag discussion was helpful in illuminating the complex human dimensions of the situation,” said Ikenberry in an email interview. “Conveying the urgency, and reminding us of the importance of non-violent action by an international community rather than military intervention by an individual player.”

Associate Professor of English Diya Abdo echoes Carter and Ikenberry’s standpoints on military action.

“It is difficult to watch innocent civilians slaughtered by the thousands without crying out for the world to intervene, but a Western intervention has proved time and time again to be much worse for the region,” said Abdo in an email interview.

Hamad, who attended the discussion, has a direct, more personal connection to the crisis overseas. He is half-Syrian and has many family members living in Syria today.

Unlike Carter and Abdo, however, Hamad struggles with seeing non-violent intervention as a realistic solution.

“It would be shameful from a moral stand point if we didn’t intervene at this point,” said Hamad. “Assad is not going to suffer, even if the rest of his people are suffering, so he doesn’t really care if they’re going to suffer from an embargo.”

Hamad feels a targeted attack on Assad could be more beneficial.

“Strike missiles on his compound … until he is dead and his advisors are dead,” said Hamad.

There were other opportunities on campus for the community to try to grapple with the situation.

On Sept. 9 the Campus Ministry Office sponsored a day of prayer and fasting, while the Moon Room in Dana Hall was open for quiet reflection and meditation.

Some students even stepped off campus to get involved by attending a rally in front of the Federal building downtown. The protest emphasized anti-U.S. military action.

Ikenberry thinks there are many actions the community can continue to take in the future, such as holding a teach-in, look at suggestions from peaceful organizations such as Friends Committee on National Legislation and American Friends Service Committee, connect with other colleges and universities in the area holding forums or taking actions and discuss the questions Syria raises in class.

Carter finds it important for community members to keep world news in perspective even from our small, enclosed campus.

“I would just encourage people to inform themselves and not fall into the Guilford bubble,” said Carter. “It’s easy not to follow the news, but this is something that can have long-range impact, and it’s not that distant from its impact on Guilford.”