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Vigil couples Syria, Boston crises

 
 

When two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday, killing three on the eve of a planned campus vigil for an ongoing Syrian civil war, the choice for the student organizers was clear – light candles for both.
Members of the A&M Arab Student Association held a vigil Tuesday in Academic Plaza for a pair of crises that organizers said seem unrelated at surface level, but are bound by a global context.
Damen Smien, event coordinator and junior international studies major, said the decision to incorporate the Boston bombing with the Syrian-awareness vigil was an easy one.
“The fact that it happened on our own soil, we want to acknowledge that and honor those who were hurt from it while incorporating what’s going on in Syria,” Smien said. “There have been 80,000 people killed already [in Syria]. It’s a global issue that as Americans, as global citizens, as Aggies, we need to be aware of and combat.”
Syrian warplanes swooped over the quiet town of Saraqeb in the country’s north Saturday, the Associated Press reported, dropping bombs on a residential district and leaving 20 dead. Activists say an average of 120 people are killed daily in violence and clashes related to the Syrian civil war across the country.
“In Syria, it’s not Boston every day, but many times per day,” tweeted Jean Pierre Duthion, a French expatriate in Damascus, Syria.
The United Nations said more than 70,000 people have been killed in Syria’s two-year-old conflict.
Smien said civil war erupted between rebel groups and the authoritarian regime of President Bashar al-Assad at the beginning of the Arab spring
“Syria is a very sectarian country,” Smien said. “They just want freedom from the dictatorship.”
Two explosions at the Boston Marathon on Monday wounded more than 170 people and killed three. The FBI is investigating the blasts as a terroristic act, but little is yet known regarding those behind the attack.
Maggy Ibrahim, vice president of Arab Student Association and senior international studies major, said she has a joint vested interest in both crises.
“It’s my duty as an Arab and as an American to remember both, and that’s the reason we incorporated them together – a massacre anywhere is a massacre,” Ibrahim said.
A&M students from Syria stood at a unique cultural crossroads at the vigil Tuesday. One such Syrian student, senior industrial engineering major Ahmad Tarabichi, said he and the other attendees stood for the people of Syria as well as Boston under the common bond of Texas A&M.
“Once you’re an Aggie, you’re always an Aggie,” Tarabichi said. “I represent Aggies in Syria, so I stand with Aggies because we grew up in a community here at Texas A&M and we don’t accept such a thing no matter where it is.”
Ibrahim said urgency among students for situations such as those in Syria is important in order to prevent future terroristic attacks. She said war-torn environments such as Syria allow terrorist groups to reach out to the underprivileged and provide food in exchange for assistance.
“Terrorism in general sprouts out of places that are unstable,” Ibrahim said. “If this continues, it’s a very good chance that any terrorist organization can choose Syria, for example, as a location to have people and they can reach anywhere in the world, even here in College Station.”
Smien said many students aren’t aware of events in Syria but that Americans would benefit from a stable middle east.
“This is a humanitarian appeal to the conflict that’s going on there because in the end, what’s going on there affects us, whether directly or indirectly,” Smien said. “A stable Middle East is important to us as Americans. Having a democratic Middle East can only help us. Democracies are less likely to go to war with democracies and having that spread is a good thing for both us and them.”
Among those who follow events in Syria, Ibrahim said the focus is often on the regime or politics rather than the people of Syria. Twenty percent of the population requires humanitarian assistance, she said, and 5,000 are fleeing the country daily, resulting in 1 million refugees.
Matthew Kohman, junior environmental design major, said side-by-side media comparisons of both incidents are intriguing.
“I found it pretty interesting that something as horrible as Boston is so prolific in the news, but without trying to sound inconsiderate, the Syrian crisis is massive in comparison,” Kohman said.
Students in attendance shared varied insights into manners in which Americans and the A&M student body can support both international and domestic disasters.
Tarabichi said, while fund-raising for relief and support is important, informing people as to what’s going on – in Boston and in Syria – would be more beneficial.
Kohman said one way to increase awareness involves something that can be accomplished behind a computer screen.
“Something like booking a news site as your homepage on your computer instead of Facebook goes a long way to being the world-minded person,” Kohman said. “This is probably one of the first times in history that we can communicate with people all over the world, so why not take advantage of it?”
Others say collective campus knowledge of an issue can lead to change. Alyssa Gainer, junior environmental design major, said the Aggie community has sway beyond College Station.
“As Aggies, we make an impact when we get behind an issue,” Gainer said. “With the publicity we’ve gotten recently for sports and other things, people care about what we care about.”

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