Unity for Syria

On Friday, April 7, groups of protesters gathered in downtown Los Angeles to demonstrate against the United States’ recent preemptive strike against Syria. The attack, which occurred the night before, saw some 59 cruise missiles strike a Syrian air force base near the city of Homs.

The demonstrators, including many Arab Americans, angrily condemned Trump’s attack and rejected the notion of America intervening in Syria’s bloody civil war, which is approaching its seventh anniversary. A majority of the protesters appeared to support Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad, who has frequently been accused by the international community of targeting civilians in his campaign, to regain control of his country.

As the group of protesters marched through Pershing Square towards City Hall, people could be seen wielding Syrian flags, including one with Assad’s face. Chants of “Hands off Syria!” and “Syria we’ve got your back!” filled the air.

While many in attendance were supporters of Assad, many others were simply against another war in the Middle East. According to Bella de Soto, a member of the antiwar LA ANSWER (Act Now  Coalition, the group “asked for this culmination of people in unity with organizations to protest yesterday’s bombardment of Syria under Donald Trump and the United States.”

Unlike most other demonstrators, the ANSWER Coalition has no personal connection to the Syrian conflict. Rather, the group considers itself “anti-imperialist” and seeks to promote peace by opposing military aggression around the globe. “We are here to tell the United States reallocate and readdress their funding to education, work, [and] housing the people need in this country and not to occupy and destroy other countries’ sovereignty and steal their resources,” de Soto said.

Some activists leading the march held up a Syrian flag with Assad’s face superimposed over it. One such activist was Ray Sayeed, a member of Arab Americans for Syria. “I am here today to protest the aggression which was ordered by president Trump against Syria… which is [not] of any common sense,” he said. “It’s against international law, it’s against our interests as Americans here in this country because if we want to defeat ISIS and fight ISIS and bring peace to the world we should help the Syrian army who is fighting ISIS.”

Sayeed also claimed the bombardment against the Syrian army is counterproductive in America’s concurrent battle against the Islamic State (ISIS.) “There [are] two forces on the ground who [are] fighting ISIS, the Iraqi army and the Syrian army. When you go and bomb the Syrian army, what does it mean? It means you are helping ISIS,” he said. “This is why I’m here: As an American, as a Syrian, I’m against the war. I want peace for America, peace for Syria and… Trump should be quiet. This is why we are here, just to let our American friends know that the truth is different from what you hear on FOX News and CNN.”

In addition to the hundreds of pro-Syrian/anti-war protesters, nearly half a dozen counter-protesters were also present. They stood across the street jeering at the others as they delivered their speech on the steps of city hall. Each counter-protester proudly wore typical pro-Trump attire — all but one.

Donning a Bernie Sanders tee shirt, self-described “FDR-style Democrat” Eamon Hartnett actually turned away from the anti-war march to join the small gathering of Trump supporters across the street. “I consider myself a leftist and a socialist,” he said, “I think Trump is awful; nearly everything about Trump horrifies me. However, I think that last night when Trump bombed Syria’s airfield, he actually did the right thing, believe it or not.” To emphasize his point, Hartnett carried a sign that read: “A broken clock is right twice a day.”

Hartnett also clarified that his stance on Syria comes from a “humanity first” mentality, as opposed to Trump’s “America first” ideals. “Assad’s regime is responsible for the vast, vast, vast majority of civilian deaths in Syria for the past six years. There are plenty of innocent civilians in Syria who support democracy, who support the West, who have been calling for international intervention for six years since this world began,” he said.

Following Friday’s rally in downtown Los Angeles, a similar event occurred at Pasadena City College (PCC) on Tuesday, April 11. Many PCC students stood in solidarity with the overall message — that the US must not intervene in Syria.

“Syria is never going to be saved by the US government, we need to de-escalate now, pull the troops in there out now and make sure we no longer attack directly the sovereign government of Syria,” said Lorenzo Oster-Hein, President of Students for a Democratic Society at PCC.

As Syria comes close to its seventh consecutive year of conflict, the American intervention against Assad dramatically changed foreign policy around the world in almost an instant. Russian diplomats are saying relations with the West are as bad as they were during the Cold War. Trump’s attack also drew harsh condemnation from Iran, but also praise from many pro-Western countries, even Saudi Arabia.

On the home front, Trump’s action against Syria has drawn additional criticism from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers, who have questioned his ability to launch such an attack without congressional approval. Russia and Iran have since warned the US that they will “respond with force” should any new attacks on Syria occur