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Conversation on Syria

Conversation on Syria

Hussam Ayloush speaks during the Conversation on Syria.

At the end of June, Hussam Ayloush snuck into Syria through Turkey. Near Aleppo, Ayloush saw in vivid detail the catastrophic damage that has wrecked the country and caused more than two million people to become refugees and 100,000 to die.

“I grew up in Lebanon, and lived through the Civil War,” he said. “I thought I saw the worst, and then I went to Syria. Towns were completely destroyed, and not a single house was intact.”

Ayloush, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations-LA, shared this experience with about 40 people Sept. 11 during the Office of the Chaplain’s Conversation on Syria. The event, held inside the Hall of Letters, was a new way for the University of Redlands to commemorate Sept. 11.

“For the past 12 years on campus, we’ve remembered the events of Sept. 11 with candlelight vigils and moments of silence,” Chaplain John Walsh said. “Tonight, we start a new annual tradition for remembering 9/11, with a faculty forum on global issues.”

The panel consisted of Dr. Graeme Auton, professor of government; Dr. Patrick Wing, assistant professor of history; Dr. Sharon Lang, professor of sociology and anthropology; and Ayloush. The event was planned over the weekend, when “we had no idea what would be happening tonight,” Walsh said.

Wing started the evening off with a brief presentation on the history of Syria, its borders, and its population. Essentially, Wing said, Syria has been a two-man dynasty since the 1970s, when Bashar al-Assad’s father, Hafez, became president.

“Bashar was not groomed – he didn’t want to be president,” he said. “He wanted to be an ophthalmologist. His brother died in 1994, and when that happened he stepped up and became the successor.”

In 2011, the Arab Spring began in Tunisia, and spread to Egypt, Bahrain, and Yemen, countries where “there was popular internal dissatisfaction with the political status quo,” Wing said.

The movement gained traction as social media users saw images of protests and new ways of life.

“People wanted to be free,” Ayloush said. “In the information age, they were seeing how other people in the world were living and envying them. They were saying, ‘Why can’t I have a different opinion and not worry about being arrested? Why can’t I be free?’”

During his recent trip to Syria, Ayloush saw that many refugee camps are filled with women and children, as the men have either been killed, are defending their villages, or have been jailed.

“In Syria, over 200,000 people are detained,” he said. “The first thing mothers say when they hear their child has been detained is say, ‘Please die.’ If they’re not dead before, they are dying every day from torture.”

Ayloush also spoke with every day citizens, who are dealing with not only the war but also foreigners coming in to fight.

“They all said that these guys are out of place,” he said. “They said they are coming in with good intentions, that they saw their brethren being killed and went to their aid. They appreciate that, but they don’t want them here. Extremists have no place in Syria.”

Following Ayloush, Lang shared her perspective on the “dizzying” amount of information to digest about Syria, while Auton brought up the implications on global politics.

“I take my hat off to Putin,” he said. “He’s been almost ingenious in manipulating the U.S. over this.”

The panel took questions from the audience, which touched on isolationism, the morality of action and inaction, and the plight of refugees and what will happen if their needs are not met.

“If we don’t address the problem in a serious way, the next generation tends to get radicalized,” Lang said.

At the end of the forum, after several audience members brought up mistakes made by the United States in other foreign matters, Ayloush gave one final thought on the crisis and why intervention is necessary.

“It’s not acceptable, in my opinion, for us to deny that Assad is a criminal and what he is doing is brutal, and that inaction is a solution,” he said. “We are not a perfect country, but it doesn’t mean we’re bad and it doesn’t mean we can’t do anything.”

Posted: Sept. 11, 2013
Written by: Catherine Garcia


The University has a long tradition of encouraging and supporting study abroad.
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More than 47 percent of Redlands undergraduates participate in study abroad programs.

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