Author: Haley Gray
More than 20 students stood in silence beneath the branches of the acorn trees and a nearly moonless sky in the Academic Quad, circled around a Syrian flag, flickering candles in hand. Eyes fixed on the ground, attendees of the Muslim Student Association’s (MSA) vigil for the people of Syria on Thursday night shared stories and sentiments for the Syrian people, listening intently to each other’s grim accounts of the situation.
The group wrote messages to victims of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown on protesters and the Syrian people, which began in March 2011, with chalk surrounding the flag. While most wrote general messages of support and solidarity, a small handful etched personal expressions of love and concern for friends and family on the ground in Syria and those seeking refuge in neighboring countries. To demonstrate its support, MSA documented the ceremony with photos and video intended to be posted online for the people of Syria to see.
“[The purpose of the vigil] is to help raise awareness more than anything, to just show support,” MSA member and organizer of the vigil Dina Yazdani (first year) said.
Yazdani began the event with an overview of the situation in Syria. “Even though the Syrian people want the bloody crackdown to stop, they’ll keep protesting until Assad steps down,” Yazdani said.
Former Syrian citizen and current Occidental Arabic Professor Iman Hashem attended the vigil as a guest speaker.
“When I knew about [the vigil] I felt very fortunate to be working here and to know that the students are aware of what’s happening in the world,” Hashem said.
While the group circled around the flag, Hashem stood at the head of the circle and shared personal accounts of life on the ground via her contacts in the country.
An estimated 8,000 people have lost their lives so far in the crackdown, according to Hashem. Another 15,000 to 40,000 have fled their homes and are living mostly in Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan. While fear of bombs, tanks and snipers haunt the Syrian people, economic strife is another serious hardship– some of it resulting from the economic slow-down due to the violence and a drastic increase in inflation, according to Hashem.
Hashem spoke of Syrians being afraid to leave the house for fear of snipers. Each time someone leaves the house, they say goodbye to family members as if they are saying goodbye forever, said Hashem. They also say the Islamic prayer one says before dying.
“It’s only by God’s mercy that things will change fast,” Hashem said. “We never know.”
She raised concerns about Russia and China’s support of the Assad regime, who are supplying the Syrian president with weapons and diplomatic support in the form of veto-power in the UN Security Council. On the other hand, she mentioned that the UN General Assembly recently voted nearly unanimously to condemn the Assad regime and economic sanctions on Syria. Assad’s supporters are, meanwhile, are starting to deter Assad’s wealthy friends.
“[Many] are standing by the Syrian people, but there are limits to what you can and can’t do,” Professor Hashem said.
As the vigil came to a close, Hashem mentioned that the one-year anniversary of the Syrian protests, March 15, is fast-approaching.
“I will work with MSA and anyone interested so they can learn more,” Hashem said. “I hope that the educated people here continue their support . . . I look at the new generations as having the new ideas, a better understanding of what works and how we can help.”
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