Syria and UT: closer than you think

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A Syrian government solider aims his weapon during clashes with Free Syrian Army fighters, not pictured, in Maaloula village, northeast of the capital Damascus,Syria.

Photo Credit: AP Exchange | Daily Texan Staff

For a small community of Syrian students at UT, the Syrian civil war is more than just a heated political debate.

On Monday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem told reporters in Moscow that Syria will consider placing its chemical weapons under international control. They would do so in hopes of averting a U.S. military intervention prompted by an alleged poison gas attack that killed thousands of Syrians last month.

According to the University’s Office of Information Management and Analysis, 207 former Syrian students were enrolled at UT in 2012.

Lana Baumgartner, a Middle Eastern languages and culture junior who has family in Damascus and Homs, said the issue is deeply personal and said she feels allegiance to both countries.

“People don’t realize they’re asking me whether I think the country my grandma lives in should bomb the country my other grandma lives in,” Baumgartner said. “It’s weird and I don’t know what to think. What’s going to happen if we bomb Syria? Who will be affected? What will we do next? We know so little, it’s hard to pick a side.”

Lama Nassif, a Syrian foreign language education graduate student, said the consequences of an American strike on Syria cannot be controlled or predicted because of the complex situation her country finds itself in. 

“There is no side [in Syria] that is 100 percent good and another that is 100 percent bad,” Nassif said. “Radical extremists have taken over the Syrian uprising, turning it into a largely jihadist war with factions proclaiming allegiance to al-Qaida, drawing extremists from around the world. U.S. military action will only make things more complicated. Syrians do not need more bombs and weapons sent their way.”

Government professor Zoltan Barany said he is wary of seemingly “innocuous” mandates that have proven disastrous in the past, citing the U.S.’s decision to invade Iraq under similar circumstances.

“The first steps in Afghanistan and Iraq were innocuous and didn’t look so ominous,” Barany said. “And these were the first steps that led to wars that cost human lives and trillions of dollars.”

J.D. Newsome, vice president of Refugee Services of Texas, said Syrian refugees have not been approved for resettlement in the United States, although the state department has indicated that a number of Syrians will arrive this year.

“The indication [from the state department] that we’re hearing is that a limited number of Syrians are going to be eligible for resettlement this coming year,” Newsome said. “When I say limited, we’re talking a few thousand. I think that they are hinting that in 2015, assuming that the war is going on, it might become a much larger resettlement.”

Earlier this week, members of the International Socialist Organization spoke to students in the West Mall about the Syrian crisis. Computer science junior Mukund Rathi said his organization wants to gather public support to oppose any military intervention by the U.S. government in Syria. 

“We found over and over again — Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen are the best examples — that invading other countries and bombing the populous of those countries only increases extremism and only increases threats to national security,” Rathi said. “If President Obama and the rest of the federal government actually care about these things, they should be very strongly opposed to any military strike on Syria.”

Ultimately, the potential for another war is real, Barany said.

“[Another war] is something your generation will have to pay off,” Barany said. “Is this our national interest? We have far more to worry about in our backyard. We shouldn’t be isolationist by any means, but nobody wants a war … Let somebody else, for once, send the missiles.”

Nassif said the Syrian people deserve peace after “paying dearly” in all aspects of life for the past two and a half years. 

“Syrians … would like their peaceful country back with hopeful eyes on a future with more freedoms, democratic reforms and prosperity,” Nassif said.