Muhammad Bakr Ghbeis is worried. Although he’s been in the United States for a decade, most of his family is still in Syria. In the last two years of fighting there, he said six cousins and one uncle have been killed by the Syrian government.
“All my extended family are under immediate risk from shelling in the neighborhood where they live, because it’s been targeting civilian neighborhoods for the most part,” Ghbeis said. “This is definitely a disaster — it has been going on for two and a half years now.”
The UN has estimated that more than 100,000 Syrians have died since fighting broke out against Syrian President Bashar Assad in 2011.
With Congress set to consider a resolution authorizing President Barack Obama to use military force against the Syrian government, Americans from all sorts of backgrounds are also weighing in.
Ghbeis was among more than a dozen Syrian-Americans that gathered with signs on the sidewalk outside U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s office in Minneapolis on Friday afternoon. While the protesters were flashing peace signs, they don’t have the same position as hundreds of anti-war protesters who gathered there earlier in the week. They instead want military action in Syria, which they believe will destabilize the Syrian government and help the rebellion.
Recent polling has showed that more Americans oppose military action in Syria than favor it. Ghbeis understands the hesitation some Americans feel following the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said Syria is a totally different situation.
“Ethnic cleansing, mass crimes against humanity — people are rebelling against a dictatorial regime that has been in control for the last 40 years,” Ghbeis said. “This is not to start a war, this is to end a war.”
Ghbeis, who is a physician, said he knows some Syrian-Americans do support Assad, but that politics shouldn’t be used to obscure the fact that there’s a humanitarian crisis going on in Syria.
Suzan Boulad is a law student at the University of Minnesota whose parents came from Syria. She was born in Jordan but raised in California, and she saw the turmoil the last decade of wars involving the United States caused.
“Any risk of military involvement is going to come with huge consequences,” Boulad said. “I also make this decision with a very heavy heart, but I think U.S. military strikes overall will prove an advantage to the revolution.”
Boulad traveled to Syria with a group called the Syrian American Council in March. It was there that she saw firsthand the violence that Syrians have experienced since the conflict started. She shared those experiences with passerby on Washington Avenue on Friday.
“We weren’t exactly directly engaging with the topic of the strikes, although we did have some posters of that earlier,” Boulad said. “We mainly wanted to humanize the Syrian revolution and to remind people that this is a genuine struggle for a better life.”
She said concerns about extremists in the rebel ranks are overblown.
“There are of course extremist groups that are incredibly worrisome and they’re going to have an effect, but the vast majority of Syrians are taking pride in their revolution, they want an independent strong Syria,” Boulad said. “The extremists are not an organic homegrown group at all.”
But while Boulad supports limited air strikes, she said that’s not the only option.
“We want strikes as a kind of catalyst to further action, to stronger diplomacy against Russia, to more awareness about the organized civil movements that are building in Syria, more humanitarian aid and all of these things that will actually strengthen the revolution,” Boulad said.
Anti-war protesters plan to protest Saturday afternoon at Lake Street and Hiawatha Avenue in Minneapolis.
The Senate is expected to take up the resolution authorizing limited military action in Syria next week.