While the U.S. Embassy announced Monday that it is pulling out of Syria amid peaking violence during the year-long struggle between government officials and rebels, a group of USF students worked on a banner to ensure that the people of Syria did not feel abandoned.
Sumayya Saleh, a senior majoring in psychology and a member of the national Syrian American Council, gathered a group of friends to create a banner to hang at USF – part of a global movement to show support for Syrian civilians.
“We thought in Tampa, what better place (to hang the banner) than USF, where it would serve a double purpose of informing college students of the massacres going on in Syria, and it’s one of the most prominent locations in Tampa,” Saleh said.
The massacres, she said, are important for students to know about. An Al-Jazeera report from mid-January reported more than 5,000 casualties as a result of conflict since the heat of the Arab Spring in 2011, as Syrian revolutionaries called for the resignation of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose family has ruled the country for more than 40 years unopposed. The New York Times estimated that more than 200 people were killed during an attack by the government on insurgents last weekend alone.
Though the banner’s exact location is yet to be determined, it should be at least two meters long and 2.5 meters wide, according to the Facebook group Banner for Syria Challenge, and will include messages to the state. The banner movement, which was organized by the Syrian American Council, will compile photos of banners everywhere from Australia to Switzerland in a YouTube video after Sunday, according to the group.
In a Monday press release from the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Embassy emphasized its qualms with Russia and China, who vetoed a United Nations resolution that would formally condemn Assad for human rights violations.
“The deteriorating security situation that led to the suspension of our diplomatic operations makes clear once more the dangerous path Assad has chosen and the regime’s inability to fully control Syria,” the release said. “It also underscores the urgent need for the international community to act without delay to support the Arab League’s transitionplan before the regime’s escalating violence puts a political solution out of reach and further jeopardizes regional peace and security.”
Yet, Saleh said few USF students are even aware of what is going on in Syria.
“I’ve spoken about what’s going on to classmates of mine, and usually when I speak of it, it’s the first time they’ve ever heard of it,” she said. “We’re lucky that now (CNN anchor) Anderson Cooper dedicates, like, 10 minutes every couple of nights. But there hasn’t been a lot of Western media attention devoted to what’s going on in Syria, and college students tend to not be very attuned to the media anyway.”
Much of the lack of media attention stems from a lack of real “vested interest” from the U.S., said Iman Khalil, a sophomore majoring in public health who is working on the banner.
“There’s no reason to care,” she said. “Which is unfortunate because it’s not even about resources, it’s about humanity. We pride ourselves in democracy, but people are losing their lives because they want freedom. America became a country because of a revolution.”
Khalil, whose father was born in Syria, has extended family in the country and visited frequently as a child.
“To see the streets and markets I used to roam around lined with artillery, it broke my heart,” she said. “I broke down crying.”
But Saleh, the majority of whose family fled from Syria in 1980, said the issue extends far beyond the students’ connections with Syria.
“The issue of what’s going on is an issue of humanity, not nationality,” she said. “Yes, maybe I feel more than a lay person, but this is an issue that anyone who knows what is going on should care about. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t shed tears when I watch the news.”
When the group hangs their banner Wednesday, it will join banners in major cities across the world. But Saleh’s hope is that the banner creates awareness on campus.
“In America we take democracy for granted, but it’s not like that all around the world,” she said. “If anyone sees the sign, hopefully this will give them initiative to go out and do their own research to find out for themselves what’s going on.”