WASHINGTON – While most Americans and many members of Congress appear happy to see a possible diplomatic solution in Syria, a number of Syrians in Maryland are disappointed that President Bashar Assad and his regime were not punished with military strikes.
Syrian-Americans in Maryland interviewed for this article said they have no faith in the promises of Assad.
“(Diplomacy) is good,” said Ahed Al Hendi, who lives in Rockville and works for Cyber Dissidents, a human rights organization. “We don’t want more killing. However, we can’t let…it go unpunished. They used (chemical weapons). We don’t believe Assad.”
But a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted last weekend found that 6 in 10 Americans opposed military intervention.
And members of Congress have jumped to endorse the new diplomatic option that promises the possibility of taking chemical weapons out of the hands of the Syrian military.
“I strongly support working with the international community,” said Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin. “If this can be achieved diplomatically, this is our preferred route.”
U.S. lawmakers have collectively received thousands of calls from their constituents expressing opposition to U.S. action in the country. Rep. Andy Harris, R-Cockeysville, the only Republican in Maryland’s delegation, publicly opposed a U.S. strike.
The rest of the U.S. lawmakers from Maryland – all Democrats – were either undecided or supported their president. Thanks to the diplomatic efforts, congressional Democrats no longer run the risk of displeasing their constituents by siding with the president’s desire to strike Syria.
“The United States should take full advantage of this opportunity to get international monitors into Syria immediately,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, in a statement released Wednesday. “The elimination of all chemical weapons would ensure greater safety for the Syrian people and enhance our own national security.”
Al Hendi said the majority of Syrian-Americans he knows in D.C. and Maryland “are for the strike.”
“I am anti-war,” he said. “I don’t want the U.S. to get involved in any war. I’m not pro-genocide at the same time.”
Although some of the expatriates left Syria decades ago, they still remember the suffering they experienced while being citizens of the country.
“You feel like you are in prison in your own country,” said Salwa Dakheel, a Mitchellville resident who left Syria more than three decades ago, when she was 18.
The Syrian expatriates in Maryland were taught to hate America in school. They guarded their speech, because even jokes about Assad could be reported by an informant and lead to their detainment.
One was arrested for months and beaten after peacefully protesting near the start of the Syrian revolution two-and-a-half years ago.
Their close association with the hardship in Syria comes from their close ties with the country. A number of those interviewed visit or used to visit yearly either to see family or because they are active in organizations that provide aid to the country.
“This is a world issue. It’s a world conscience issue. We’re all human after all. We have to help each other,” said Dakheel, who has family in Damascus.
Jeremi Suri, a professor of history and public affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, said he understands American war wariness.
Suri believes Americans have projected the Iraq war onto their debate about Syria and that the American media doesn’t give proper attention to the inhuman misfortunes taking place there.
“I don’t think (opinion) changes based on a president’s speech but based on what happens on the ground,” Suri said, adding that the public could feel different about military intervention depending on how Assad behaves.
Of the Syrian-Americans in Maryland, many are glad for their current freedoms, but hope their home country has the same someday. Many hold the opinion that early military intervention in the Syrian revolution would have ended the bloodshed.
Now, they say, there are too many foreign interests and extremist groups in the country.
“We should act now. The situation is really bad,” said Hadin Kouki, a Rockville resident who was once a political prisoner in Syria. “I don’t believe that troops should go there, but maybe strike.”