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'I can’t get these images out of my mind': Syrian Americans on revolution, death and social media

Protesters in San Francisco, June 2011
Protesters in San Francisco, June 2011
Photo by Steve Rhodes/Flickr (Creative Commons)

As violence between Syrian government forces and anti-government rebels spreads, it's having emotional repercussions in Southern California, where Syrian immigrant families have been trying their best to follow the events remotely. Many are relying on social media for the latest updates. Last week, KPCC's Yasmin Nouh caught up with several who shared their thoughts, most requesting their last names not be published for fear of loved ones' safety in Syria. Her guest post:

Any video posted on Facebook or tweeted from Syria these days is most likely set against a backdrop of heavy shelling and pummeling from machine guns as the eleven-month-old uprising in Syria intensifies. Facebook has become a common news source for many Syrian Americans, who follow pages like The Syrian Day of Rage, Syria Breaking News and The Syrian Revolution.

But as the violence between opposition activists and those loyal to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad grows deadlier, some Syrian Americans’ hopes are dwindling. Some have already lost family members. There are some who want to see the international community provide aid, while others want for it it to recognize the Syrian National Councilthe opposition coalition, as a legitimate representative of the Syrian people. Here are their thoughts, in their own words.

Reem is a civil rights attorney who lives in Los Feliz. The majority of her extended family lives in Damascus, the Syrian capital. She keeps in touch with her relatives via phone.

"To be honest, it’s really hard for me to follow the stuff because it’s so personal. There is this sense of hopelessness. It’s just so atrocious and cruel. This is totally not me, but sometimes I kind of check out because it’s hard for me to hear about it and read about it and listen to it."

Noor, a law student at Chapman University in Orange, has already received the traumatic news that is becoming increasingly common, intensified by what's being posted online. Some of her relatives live in Damascus, others around the city’s outskirts.
“I have had three family members killed in one day. In their case – when a neighbor was shot and killed outside my uncle’s grocery store, my uncle heroically stepped outside to save his neighbor’s body and bring it inside. At this point, regime thugs charged into his store and shot my uncle, his son, and another friend in the head. I saw their pictures post mortem online.

"It’s something else to see their injuries and bodies; it’s absolutely horrifying. But then multiply this feeling over and over and that is how I feel everyday when I see images of dead and injured children, mothers wailing over the bodies of their babies, husbands and wives screaming in agony as they say goodbye to their beloved, and children on the ground crying next to their dead daddy. I can’t get these images out of my mind. This is happening every day.”

Sabreen, a student at the University of California, Irvine, is among those in the U.S. who are calling for the removal of Syria’s honorary consul general, Dr. Hazem Chehabi, from the university’s board of trustees. Sabreen’s relatives live in Damascus. She calls them when she can, but their conversations are guarded for fear of surveillance.
“My uncle and cousin were imprisoned while another cousin and uncle were bargained out of jail. My other uncle was shot and killed when he was helping someone who was injured off the street. My family couldn’t tell us much. It’s basically like, ‘Oh he got shot and he was helping someone.’

"We can’t ask too many questions because the phones are monitored. Our conversations are like as if nothing is happening in Syria. If they don’t give us any news, that’s good news.”

Omar is a student at Loyola Law School in downtown Los Angeles. Like many others, he said he does not want a Libyan-style, western-led form of intervention in Syria.
"International intervention is a double-edged sword. I’m American, so I want to pressure my government in the United States to do something to help out. But at the same time I’m Syrian, and America doesn’t have a good track record in the region and I don’t want my country (Syria) to suffer at the hands of selfish interests like those who suffered in Iraq and Libya."

Ammar Kahf, of Hawthorne, works on various fronts with the Syrian American Council, a pro-revolutionary group that tries to mobilize Syrian Americans, organize protests and fundraising efforts. He has been organizing protests in the L.A. area since last March 15.
"I am in contact with family members in Damascus, and it's a scary town now. Communications are on and off, very unsafe and unpredictable. My cousin was at the University of Damascus and witnessed someone next to her get shot point blank in the head. People in Syria are resilient even more than before to get rid of Assad and the entire regime. The more the violence, the more hope and persistent Syrians have become."