Syria

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Photo Credit: Albert Lee | Daily Texan Staff

Fighting terrorists never works out as we hope. The threat of violent extremists is not new to this millennium. Fears of small, organized groups undermining authority at home and abroad go back at least to the 19th century in Europe, North America and other continents. The fears of harm usually exceed the realities of danger, but the dangers are real nonetheless. Although terrorists have never brought down a major power, they have caused major dislocation and suffering in countless societies (including Russia, Germany and China.)

The contemporary Middle East has endured decades of terrorism since at least the early 1970s. The extremism has silenced moderate voices and the violence has splintered governing institutions into tribal tyrannies. The disintegration of Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Yemen and other countries, and the rise of al-Qaeda and ISIS, among others, are recent manifestations of this historical process. The terrorists have hijacked the region’s politics and replaced civil society with gang warfare. Citizens are defined by the group they belong to; disloyalty is punished with death.

Recognizing that terrorism in the Middle East threatens the broader international community, Americans have spent decades trying to fight it. The nature of American counter-terrorism has shifted in regular fashion between two schools of thought.

One school, the “development” approach, has emphasized investments in education, health and economic growth to encourage citizens of terrorized societies to embrace good government. The goal has been to build a grassroots constituency for civil authority and a broad cohort of citizens with the skills to run a prosperous, open society. The Peace Corps, the World Bank, USAID and many other American-sponsored organizations pursue this approach of treating the poor conditions that appear to produce terrorism.

The second school, the “combat” approach, defines terrorists as foreign armies that must be defeated. Proponents of this approach deploy overwhelming force to kill and capture terrorist leaders, destroy their resources and punish their supporters. Through aggressive intelligence work, including the torture of suspected terrorists with valuable information, the combat school aims to grind terrorist organizations to dust, making them more pathetic than threatening. Unmanned aerial vehicles (“drones”), Army and Navy Special Forces and CIA covert operatives are the lead actors for those who seek to go in hard and fast to defeat the extremists.

In our long history with counterterrorism, Americans have alternated their emphasis between these two schools, experiencing the frustrating limits of each. In the 1990s, after the end of the Cold War, the United States focused on development in the Middle East, encouraging investments in business enterprises, the rule of law and education throughout the region. Each of these areas of development showed some progress, but powerful actors (including the oil-rich leaders of the Gulf states and wealthy individuals like Osama bin Laden) also expanded their support for terrorist groups. While regional development contributed to a new generation of entrepreneurs, it also inspired a new generation of extremists among those who turned to religious fundamentalisms rather than more cosmopolitan ideas.

Following the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, Americans decisively favored force over development. That seemed necessary to stop the groups that had shown a desire and a capability of killing thousands of citizens. Force also appeared to produce results in the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the removal of Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. After 2003, when insurgencies in both countries exposed the limits of this strategy, Americans accepted that they could not totally destroy the terrorists, but they hoped to keep them scattered and under heavy pressure. Even as he withdrew American forces depart from Iraq and as troops withdraw from Afghanistan, President Barack Obama held to this strategy through the use of increased drone attacks on terrorist leaders, and special covert interventions, including the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May 2011.

Of course, the use of force against terrorists has not proven more successful than prior development efforts. Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen are more dominated by terrorists today than they were in late 2001. The United States has spent billions of dollars training counter-terrorist forces in the region and bombing from the air, but it is not clear if these actions have killed or inspired more terrorists.

There is no proven solution to terrorism in either the development or the combat schools. Ignoring the problem, as many Americans might prefer now, is no solution either, especially when the fate of an economically vital region like the Middle East is at stake. The future of American counterterrorism policy will involve new innovative ways to mix the promise of development with the power of combat. The United States has failed to strike the correct balance in recent decades. Finding the pathways to civil order between corrupting handouts of foreign aid and alienating attacks from the air – that is the supreme challenge for a new generation of policy-makers. It is an intellectual opportunity for our best minds to help bring some order to a violent, fragmenting world.

Suri is a professor in the Department of History and the LBJ School of Public Affairs.  

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

The last decade has witnessed a proliferation of proxy wars throughout the Middle East, Africa, central Asia and Southeast Asia. These are violent, often genocidal, conflicts between local groups fueled by larger foreign actors. The Pakistanis have been a notorious practitioner of this strategy, funding the Taliban and other extreme groups throughout war zones in Afghanistan and Kashmir. Iran has played a similar game in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories.

Russia, however, has become the worst offender. Its direct military support for violent forces in Syria and Ukraine poses one of the greatest threats to international stability today as we have seen in the recent downing of Malaysia Airlines flight 17 by Russian-supported Ukrainian rebels. In Syria, Russia’s aid to the military of Bashir al-Assad has contributed to the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians and a civil war that is breaking apart the states in the region. The rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a rump group of extremists in control of territory stretching from the Syrian border with Turkey to the Iraqi cities of Ramadi and Falluja, is a result of the fighting surrounding Assad. He and his Russian, as well as Iranian, supporters have attracted a transnational Islamic revolt that has drawn fighters from across the region and beyond. The extremists have filled a political vacuum in the areas that Assad and the deeply divided Iraq government cannot control. Through its military support and its veto of United Nations action, Russia has prevented a solution to this crisis.

Recent events in Ukraine fit the same dangerous pattern of Russian behavior. On March 21 Russian President Vladimir Putin forcefully annexed the Crimean Peninsula, taking the Black Sea territory from Ukraine. He had done this by sending irregular Russian forces into the territory, motivating local Russian-supporters to stage a Moscow-inspired rebellion against Ukrainian authorities. The international community universally condemned Russian aggression, but Putin falsely claimed this was a legitimate act to protect Russian speakers.

Putin made a similar argument for the eastern part of Ukraine, which also has a large Russian-speaking population, especially in industrial cities like Donetsk.  Russia has deployed advanced weapons, military trainers and its own soldiers to support a violent separatist movement in Ukraine. It is fueling a proxy war, designed to create a separate Russian Ukrainian state that will stand against the European Union (EU) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO.)

The brutality of Russia’s proxy wars in Syria and Ukraine created the Malaysian Airliner tragedy that resulted in the tragic death of 298 innocent civilians, none of whom had any connection to these conflicts. On July 17 Russian-supported rebels in Ukraine, and perhaps Russian military forces, fired a surface-to-air missile at what they thought was a Ukrainian government airplane. They were using these missile attacks to destroy government aircraft threatening rebel-held areas. The accidental destruction of the civilian aircraft was the result of this aggressive use of force against the Ukrainian state, made possible by the most sophisticated Russian military hardware. Without Putin’s support, the Ukrainian separatists would never have threatened the Malaysian airliner, flying 30,000 feet above the ground.

The escalating violence of Russia’s proxy wars undermines hopes for stability in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. These conflicts will continue to produce a large death toll, destabilize local governments, and demand American and allied intervention in response. President Barack Obama has condemned Russian behavior and he has led efforts to implement stiff economic sanctions on key Russian actors, including many of Putin’s closest business supporters, the “Oligarchs.” President Obama has had mixed success encouraging the European Union and other key international actors to act similarly.

The time has come for a more significant American response. The United States should initiate a firm policy of containing Russian meddling beyond its borders. The President should offer a detailed public account of Russia’s actions, he should forthrightly condemn this behavior, and he should isolate Moscow from full participation from all American-influenced trade and diplomatic organizations until Moscow abandons its support for proxy wars. The purpose is not to isolate Russia permanently, but to make Putin and his supporters pay a heavy international and domestic cost for their aggressive behavior. Negotiations can continue with Moscow, as they always should, but Russia should no longer benefit from status as a respected international actor. It is indeed a rogue state, and will remain such as long as Putin continues his current proxy war policies. Nothing is gained by operating from old, wishful fictions. 

Suri is a history professor who specializes in international modern history. 

Editor's note: An earlier version of this column misidentified the author as a "biology graduate" of the University. Galyon is currently a chemistry senior.

This past weekend, I saw a girl draped in giant black cloth in such a way that only her eyes were showing. I was not in Saudi Arabia or Iran; I was at a costume party in Austin. I immediately knew what the girl’s costume was supposed to portray: the generic, ever-present image of an oppressed Muslim woman in a “burqa.”

As a post-9/11 Muslim-American woman with a grandmother, a handful of aunts and cousins who practice wearing the niqab [the black strip of fabric that covers half the face below the nose], I did not hesitate to confront her. While I may not personally wear the niqab — I don’t believe it’s obligatory — it was frustrating to me that a woman had so casually donned a garment that non-Muslims have used to generate serious misunderstandings around Muslim gender expressions.

The girl told me that she was dressed as a woman in a burqa to generate discussion, even though she admitted she was no expert on Islam. In her words, she had read a few articles.

Throughout our conversation, the girl was defensive of her right to wear the burqa as a costume. People dress up as doctors for Halloween, she said. How is this any different?

It’s different because “Muslim woman” is not a costume, and it’s only the American obsession with colorblindness that allows her to see it as such.

Colorblindness allows Americans to believe that not commenting on the color of someone else’s skin saves them from racism. It also promotes cultural appropriation: the idea that anyone can wear or do anything cultural without context, including a burqa at a Halloween party.

Even though her costume did “start a discussion,” it was irresponsible and harmful to start discussions that she didn’t have the knowledge to sustain. I asked her if she remembered 9/11, if she knew what Islamophobia was. In response to my repeatedly pointing out that she was not an expert on Islam, the girl replied: “I’ll point people over to you if they have any questions.”

Theoretically, that would be great — except that I didn’t attend the party to lead a class on veiling in the Middle East.

Nor did she show up to the party knowing that I would be there to handle people’s inquiries. The crowd was growing more inebriated by the hour; the space was not conducive to teaching people about the nuances of Muslim gender expressions.

While I know that this girl probably didn’t intentionally wear a makeshift burqa to hurt anyone, her actions are a part of a much larger problem.

As I mentioned before, my grandmother wears the niqab. I love my grandmother dearly, but I cannot see her: She lives in the besieged city of Homs, Syria.

In recent months, the American people have overwhelmingly failed to feel compassion for the Syrian people. When Syria entered the national dialogue in late August following the sarin gas attack, I saw just how much sympathy American people lack for the Syrian plight. And the numbers are telling: UNICEF raised $70 million for Haiti after the 2010 earthquake in five weeks, but only a paltry $4 million for Syria in more than 130 days.

During that time, I emailed my communications professor to ask him for advice: Could he and I dissect what is going on with the communications failure on the part of the Free Syria activists and revolutionaries?

So we met, and we talked. And I’ll never forget what my professor told me: Americans will feel sympathy with people that look like them. Those who seek donations for Syria should make sure any images coming out of the country don’t have people wearing funny clothing.

Now come back, full-circle, to the girl wearing the “burqa” at the costume party. She is self-admittedly not able to educate people on Muslim veiling traditions, and is perpetuating the idea of the “Othered” Middle Eastern Muslim, and I, as a Muslim woman, was rightly insulted.

My friends had been socializing a distance off, watching my confrontation with the girl. One friend came over and told me to let it go so that we could have fun.

“What she is doing is not OK, but you’re not going to convince her of anything,” my friend said.

 I reluctantly went with my friends. As I chatted with them, I watched the feathers of a Native American-style headdress bobbing through the crowd.

People shirk certain symbols only when they realize the meaning behind them and anticipate public rapprochement. But what we say or wear, especially in public, is political. When we don’t confront those who misuse cultural symbols, our voice and our silence add a vote to what we deem as acceptable and unacceptable in society. I don’t regret confronting the girl about her insensitive costume. And should you find yourself in a similar situation this Halloween, you shouldn’t, either.

Galyon is a chemistry senior from Sugar Land.

Left: Mouna Hashem Akil.     Center: Shiyam Galyon.     Right: Nadia Husayni

Photo Credit: Zachary Strain | Daily Texan Staff

President Barack Obama has called for Congress to delay its vote on his request for permission to make a limited strike against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria in response to the regime’s use of chemical weapons on civilians. The conflict hits close to home for three UT students — one Syrian immigrant and two Syrian-Americans — who have focused their attention on humanitarian relief and activism efforts in response to the conflict.

Mouna Hashem Akil

For senior Mouna Akil, the war in Syria gives significance to the degrees in business and psychology she’s pursuing. Akil, a Syrian immigrant, said she hopes to use her education to help Syria rebuild after the war. In the meantime, she’s leading humanitarian efforts from the U.S.

When protests first broke out on the streets of Syria in 2011, Akil said she wanted to take action and help in any way she could. Two years later, Akil is now the director of Watan-USA.

The organization focuses on long-term civil and humanitarian work that will benefit the Syrian people, Akil said.

“We try to rebuild the country, empower women and men and adults [and] those who are refugees,” Akil said.

With her education at UT in tow, she plans to return to Syria once the war ends and work with children affected by the turmoil. 

“I want to focus on the children, [the] child psychology aspect, so when I go back, hopefully, I can help those thousands and thousands of kids who are refugees and orphans who lost their families and homes due to the shelling,” Akil said.

Akil said the hardships of those suffering abroad help her overcome the hardships she faces at home leading a humanitarian effort while still in school and raising two boys.

“You cannot compare this to what people are going through inside Syria,” Akil said. “That’s what drives it, [what] drives me to keep up the work and continue with what I do.”

 

Shiyam Galyon 

A Syrian-American, Shiyam Galyon was born and raised in Houston. Her parents immigrated to the United States from Homs, Syria, more than 30 years ago. Following her graduation from UT last year, Galyon decided to involve herself with relief efforts in Syria (Galyon is a former Daily Texan staffer).

“All I could think about was Syria and I just wanted to get over there,” Galyon said. 

But no nonprofit would accept her offer to teach English at the Syrian border for free because of liability issues. Galyon’s family and networking led her to the UK-based humanitarian group Watan.  

Galyon found herself in a war-torn country and involved in relief work on the Syria-Turkey border.

“We spent the night with shells hitting our neighborhood,” Galyon said. 

While working with a civilian council in Aleppo, Galyon said she realized the turmoil in the area had become an inescapable aspect of everyday life for the individuals she met there, including a student from the University of Aleppo named Mohammed. 

“By the end of that week, I could step out of that area and I could go, but he couldn’t,” Galyon said. “And I think that’s the fundamental idea behind privilege.”

Since returning to the U.S., Galyon continues to work with Watan and the Houston chapter of the Syrian American Council as a media relations officer while taking classes at the University.

The chemical attacks have pushed Syria into the media spotlight. While Galyon said the rhetoric surrounding the crisis in Syria has improved, she said there isn’t a clear understanding of the current situation.

“I always try to think what a non-Syrian might feel,” Galyon said. “There is still a lot of education to do.”

After the chemical weapons attack, Galyon and the council have organized rallies in response to the anti-war rallies that broke out across the country. 

“We don’t believe those rallies are organized behind a rhetoric that fully understands the Syrian situation,” Galyon said. “Everybody is talking politics about a humanitarian crisis and the people who are going to lose out at the end of the day are the Syrian people.”

Nadia Husayni

Business senior Nadia Husayni’s roots and extended family are based in Syria. Traveling to Homs every summer meant family reunions and days spent in the mountains and beaches. 

But most of her extended family fled to Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan and Dubai when protests broke out in the area in early 2011.

“When the conflicts first happened, my parents told me, ‘Don’t post anything on social media,’ because whenever someone would post about social media, the government would go and find the family [and] either harass them or invade their home,” Husayni said.

A mutual friend connected Husayni with Akil. Since then, she’s been involved in activism efforts on campus.

Two days after students of University of Aleppo were killed in a bombing on Jan. 15, Husayni participated in a vigil held in front of the UT Tower. 

Husayni has helped Akil table in the West Mall where they talked to other students and helped raise awareness for the crisis in Syria. 

“I strongly do encourage people to look at the facts, to look at the numbers, look at what’s happening over there [because] the violence is not acceptable,” Husayni said. 

Moving forward, Husayni said she hopes to continue working with Akil because the activism work has helped her develop her perspective on the situation in Syria.

“She kind of helped me voice out my opinions,” Husayni said. “Before, I was really afraid just because my parents told me, ‘You need to watch out.’”

 

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. 

Can you imagine being killed by a government sniper while protesting for reforms in your own country? For many Syrians, this is no stretch of the imagination.

In March 2011, during the middle of the Libyan Revolution, a handful of Syrian school-age boys were tortured by government officials for spray-painting the words “Doctor Doctor You’re Next,” referring to Syrian president Dr. Bashar Al Assad.  This set in motion eight months of peaceful protests calling for freedom of speech and an end to corruption, among other issues.  And for eight months, the Assad regime responded with snipers and police brutality that routinely left innocent men, women and children dead.

Right now, Congress has postponed voting on the matter, and it seems that the proposition will not pass due, in part, to a war-weary nation. I understand these sentiments, as I too am anti-war. However, in this instance the U.S. would be engaging in a conflict where an overwhelming percentage of the indigenous people are asking for assistance.

Russia has offered to diplomatically end this political chess game by offering to contain Assad’s chemical weapons, a proposal the Assad regime has accepted. However, chemical weapons experts bring up that this is nearly impossible to do in Syria’s current state of war. Furthermore, this “diplomatic solution” does not take into account Assad’s arsenal of TNT, tanks and Russian-supplied SCUD missiles. These weapons have already killed upwards of 100,000 people and displaced more than 6.1 million. The violence these weapons have caused has indirectly destabilized neighboring countries.

Most alarming is that this hell has been created for the Syrian people, who chanted for a free, democratic, pluralistic, inclusive, secular Syria, by their own government.

The national discourse on Syria is confused at best. Articles contradicting each other come out every day. But what the American public needs to realize is that our administration (along with the international community) is playing politics with what the UN calls “the humanitarian crisis of our time.”

In June of 2012, the Assad regime shot down a Turkish reconnaissance plane and created a legal justification for NATO intervention. The U.S. could have put pressure on Russia to stop providing arms to the Syrian regime. We could have also put pressure on our close ally Saudi Arabia to fund the moderate Free Syrian Army with more sophisticated weaponry rather than jihadist groups. Syria has been making the news for the past two and a half years, yet our administration did not make it part of the national discourse until two weeks ago, when, almost exactly one year after Obama said chemical weapons would change his “calculus” on Syria, 1,400 people died in a sarin gas attack outside of Damascus. Senator Martin Heinrich, D-New Mexico, called this attack “a part of a long and predictable pattern of behavior” from the Assad regime.

The Assad dynasty continues to utilize a cult of personality, propaganda and ruthless force to keep power. The father, Hafez Assad, built the country without room for freedom of speech and crushed an uprising in 1982 by leveling entire neighborhoods. Twenty thousand people died in 27 days and were buried under concrete to avoid accountability. When Syrians began protesting during the Arab Spring, Assad claimed they were false, Western-backed movements led by terrorists and sent his army to deal with the people.

Assad has kept up his false rhetoric, and in a recent interview with French magazine Le Figaro, said the only way to deal with the opposition is to “annihilate” it. Later, in an interview with Charlie Rose, Assad coolly warned Americans to “expect everything” in the face of an American strike.

Thanks in part to Assad’s systemic terrorism against civilians, his propaganda and support from powerful countries, some wealthy, out of touch Syrians and misinformed global citizens believe the Syrian government is purely fighting extremists. The well-documented truth, however, is that jihadists entered the conflict only after the Free Syrian Army received no international support. After Assad is gone, Syrians will have to refocus their efforts on getting rid of these well-funded jihadists that have swooped into their country.

Human Rights Watch wrote an article in 2004 criticizing the invasion of Iraq and predicting future cynicism toward humanitarian intervention that would be “devastating” to peoples in need. The article goes on to outline when a humanitarian intervention would be appropriate:

1)    If the people experience imminent threat of harm or genocide by their government.

2)    If diplomatic options have been exhausted.

3)    If the people ask for assistance from the international community.

Syria qualifies for intervention under all these points. Because the U.S. has the world’s most powerful military, I am calling upon my government to lead an international coalition that will take immediate, meaningful, decisive action against the Assad regime and in support of the freedom-loving people of Syria.

Galyon is a biology graduate from Sugar Land

“It is now your turn Doctor…”, read the graffiti on the outer wall of a school in the southern city of Dara’a. 

That graffiti sparked the Syrian revolution. 

The phrase that had been written, in reference to Syrian President Dr. Bashar Al-Assad, was spray-painted by schoolboys in early 2011 in protest of the roughing up of their school principal by the Mukhabarat secret police for the principal’s stand against corruption. The kids were then unlawfully detained and tortured. When the parents protested and requested their release, the president’s cousin told the parents to forget about their children.

Two-and-a-half years later, one of those children has yet to return home.

In response to the incident, Syrians protested peacefully throughout the country for six months. 

But their protests were met only with a brutal campaign of killing, torture, arbitrary detentions and the denial of basic human rights. As the regime’s crackdown reached unprecedented levels of brutality, soldiers who refused to carry out the orders to shoot at demonstrators started defecting and eventually took up arms to protect their families. This led to the rise of the Free Syrian Army, a moderate force that is fighting to protect the people of Syria in the struggle to build a democratic and pluralistic society under the rule of law.

However, the continued lack of international condemnation and the continued support given to the Assad regime by Russia, China, Iran and the terrorist organization Hezbollah eventually led to the militarization of the entire process and the introduction of some extremist forces.

Unlike how it is being portrayed in the media, this is not a civil war. This is a corrupt regime intent on killing its people and silencing any and all opposition.

In just over 30 months, there are over 120,000 documented civilian deaths — of whom 11,000 were children — hundreds of thousands of wounded and maimed, over 6 million displaced refugees and the destruction of 80 percent of the major cities. There is not a single family in Syria that has not been directly impacted by this revolution and no one is more war-weary than the Syrian people.

To allow the regime to massacre the civilians with impunity and without any international intervention will only lead to more death, more destruction and eventually an increased threat to the U.S. and its allies. This is evidenced by the latest brazen use of chemical weapons by the Syrian Government, which occurred on Aug. 21 in the suburbs of Damascus, where more than 1,400 unarmed civilians, mostly women and children, were killed in one day in a chemical attack. The only true “anti-war” strategy is holding the Assad regime accountable for its crimes and putting an end to this cycle of violence.

It is only with the leadership of the United States that the world will act to stop this injustice, and so the U.S. must send the message to Assad and all other dictators, tyrants and terrorists around the world that they must obey international laws or face the consequences. Syrians have risen against a brutal dictatorship and have thus far paid a grave price for their fight for democracy and freedom.

I ask that you support Mr. Obama’s call for a limited strike on Syria and to not forget about the innocent children who are dying every day on our watch.

Akil is a psychology senior from Damascus, Syria and the Director of the Watan Organization, a non-profit that seeks to help Syrian children. If you are interested in the organization, you can contact Akil at mouna.hashem@watansyria.org.

Recently, debate has swirled around a potential strike on Syria to “punish” the regime of Bashar Al-Assad for an alleged sarin-gas attack on the Syrian rebels that killed 1,429 people. Although U.S. President Barack Obama claims the authority to strike, he decided to put the decision to a vote in Congress, before announcing on Tuesday that he would seek a potential diplomatic resolution instead. 

Recent comments by Secretary of State John Kerry and the Russian government opened the door for a tentative agreement with Syria requiring them to place their chemical weapons into international hands, destroy them and sign a chemical weapons ban. Despite those positive diplomatic developments, armed conflict is still not out of the question.

UT students should write their Congressman to voice their opinion on this critical issue. I wrote Republican Lamar Smith of the 21st district, which includes part of Austin, asking him to oppose the strike and call for the president to respect Congress’ decision. Smith’s office’s response confirmed that the majority of his constituents are opposed and that he is skeptical of intervention.

Smith is right to be skeptical. Obama failed to make his case in Tuesday’s address to the nation. He failed to explain how an intervention, which certainly risks making the situation worse in the short term, will provide long-term stability to the region or advance U.S. objectives. In his speech Tuesday night, Obama made clear he did not want regime change, nor the responsibility for the chain reaction that would cause.

Although some allude to the U.S. bombing of Kosovo in 1999 as a precedent, the potential strike would bear more resemblance to past U.S. interventions in which we militarily supported a relatively unknown opposition only to receive blowback later. According to CNN’s Peter Berger, while only accounting for 10 percent of the opposition forces in Syria, foreign fighters, many of them Al-Qaeda affiliates, are among the rebels’ most skilled fighters. Arming them could prove disastrous in the long term.

Support of the rebels would echo CIA support for Islamic rebel groups in the 1980s during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, militants we are still fighting today. 

More recent controversy surrounds our support for the Libyan rebels in 2011. A year after our overthrow of the old regime, then-President Mohammed Magarief admitted that security forces were likely infiltrated by extremist groups, paving the way for the 2012 attacks on the Benghazi consulate that killed U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens.

Intervention would likely be ineffective. With the president having ruled out regime change, what exactly is his plan? How can he avoid putting boots on the ground? Practically speaking, how would Obama’s limited strike be any different from Clinton’s hapless 1998 bombing of a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan or Israel’s ineffective 2006 campaign against Hezbollah? As editorials invoke the memory of Bosnia, what are the differences and similarities between the ethnic conflicts in those two regions? Most importantly, to what degree can we positively affect the outcome?

Until these questions are answered, our focus should be on seeking diplomatic solutions, and protecting those minorities persecuted by both sides in this conflict. According to an August NBC report by Ammar Cheikhomar and Henry Austin, many of the 2 million Christian Syrians, mistrusted by both sides, have been forced to flee to neighboring countries since the conflict began.

Whatever you think, civic action is key. Although Syria is far away, our congressmen are close. The stakes are high and the potential to sway your local lawmaker is real.

Check your ZIP code, find your congressional district, visit your congressman’s website and finally call or email your congressman (Democrat Lloyd Doggett for the 35th Congressional district, Republican Roger Williams for the 25th and Republican Lamar Smith for the 21st district).

I wrote Lamar Smith as a concerned U.S. citizen, but also as a UT student who believes in civic engagement. If we as students fail to inform ourselves about the activities of our government, especially in times of conflict, then we cannot complain about the consequences of their action — or inaction.

Knoll is a first-year masters student in Latin American Studies from Dallas.

Balloon Backlash

 

“Folks at @thedailytexan should be ashamed of the ridiculous race-baiting articles they’ve written about West Campus lately.”

Twitter user @TXTylerNorris in response to The Daily Texan’s coverage of the balloon thrown at government senior Bryan Davis, which Davis reported was filled with bleach.  

 

“+1 on the grammar ‘@thedailytexan: Meet Bryan Davis: the man who was attacked by a balloon attack in West Campus’”

Twitter user @walkerfountain

 

“@thedailytexan On a related note, I saw a UFO last night.”

Twitter user @dave_player in response to the tweet “Another student was targeted in a West Campus balloon attack” from the Daily Texan twitter account.

 

“@thedailytexan I got hit once 3 years ago. Is there a 1-800 law firm number I should dial? #WestCampusProblems”

Twitter user @MatthewSeliger, in response to the tweet “Keep up with the West Campus balloon attacks with today’s story” from the Daily Texan twitter account. 

 

Water Worries

 

On the day that Lake Buchanan has dropped to its lowest level since the great drought of the 1950s, in fact its lowest level ever, UT’s fountain near the LBJ Library was spewing a massive geyser into the air. In the middle of a drought second only to the one in the 1950s, when far fewer people lived in Austin and needed water here.

Usually that fountain is not on. It may be they were running the thing to “maintain” the machinery.  But the fact is, no fountain should be there at all.

Let me explain, if necessary: Austin’s average rainfall is 33 inches annually.  That of course means that in many years we receive less than that.  This is a semi-arid land.  It is NOT tropical.  We barely get enough rain ... a fact that is deceptive because of the rare reality of Barton Springs and the Colorado River, dammed in a series of holding lakes.  People are lulled by these gems, although they are seeing Lake Travis down to about 30 percent of its capacity.

Fountains can make hot, dry places seem cooler and more pleasant, but they use water for ornamental, pleasurable purposes, not for critical life support. 

If someone says that the UT fountain is recycling water, then the question should be focused on the evaporation rate. How much water has been lost today in the hours that fountain has been on, not only from its large surface, but also spraying so high in the air? How is this justifiable?  Extend this out to other fountains on campus.

Bottom line:  No water, no life. Think hard about this.  Nothing else is more important.

Submitted by reader Elizabeth Whitlow via email.

 

Students already get Syria

 

You pompous blow hard. Why is it that the Texan assumes that UT students are not capable of thinking about complex issues on their own initiative?

“Anne,” via the Daily Texan website, in response to the editorial “Why students should care about Syria.

Horns Up: Cornyn shows restraint on Syria

On Tuesday, The Dallas Morning News reported that Sen. John Cornyn had stayed silent throughout a meeting between President Barack Obama and congressional leaders on possible military action in Syria. Through an aid, Cornyn issued a statement saying that he would urge the president “to explain [to the American people] in detail what vital national interests are at stake, his plan for securing these interests and a clear definition of what success looks like in Syria.”

In contrast, House Speaker and fellow Republican John Bohener has already stated that he strongly supports the president’s plan.

In light of this, Cornyn’s thoughtful response to the situation seems even more admirable. We agree with his call for the president to provide more information to the American people.

Horns Down: Another blow for LGBTQ Texans

As of Tuesday, members of the armed forces can apply for benefits for same-sex marriages under federal law. The Texas National Guard, however, is refusing to comply. According to a letter by Maj. Gen. John Nichols, under the Texas Constitution’s strictly heterosexual definition of marriage, the Texas National Guard cannot process gay and lesbian couples’ applications for benefits. This despite that fact that other states that ban gay marriage, including Florida, Michigan and Oklahoma, will follow federal law.

Texas' decision to deny federally granted benefits to men and women who have volunteered to serve this country and tell them it’s merely their bad luck to serve in Texas is about as far from “supporting the troops” as one could possibly get. Fortunately, gay and lesbian service members can get around the prejudicial restriction by applying for benefits at any federal military installation.