On May 22, Al-Talib, the campus’ Muslim community’s newsmagazine, published an opinion article titled, “The American Muslim Imperative to Study and Oppose US Intervention in Syria.” The piece’s goal was to denounce American intervention in Syria. In that pursuit, it politicizes the suffering of the Syrian people to a disgusting extent that can even be characterized as hate speech.
The article begins by criticizing imams, or religious leaders, who prayfor the victory of the Syrian people against their tyrant, Bashar Assad. It then goes even further to equate their prayer to a prayer for the victory of al-Qaida and the Islamic State.
The piece effectively equates the anti-Assad stance, which many American Muslims take, to supporting terrorism – an inherently Islamophobic statement. The article then critiques the American Muslim community’s designation of Syria’s Assad as a tyrant because its members supposedly do not have the capacity to question “US media” that portrays him as such.
Much like in a pro-Assad media fashion, the article continues by calling the Syrian opposition “insurgents” and claiming that they used the photos and articles of 7-year-old Bana Alabed and 4-year-old Omran Daqneesh – the famous bleeding boy in a White Helmets ambulance after Assad’s airstrikes in Aleppo – as propaganda pieces. The author’s argument is that Omran’s parents have denounced the opposition and vocalized their support of Assad on pro-Assad Syrian and Russian outlets.
That, however, overlooks how Assad’s forces can extort Syrians for statements, threatening them with physical and sexual violence. As a Syrian, I cannot imagine anyone even coming close to criticizing Assad on his media – it would be suicide to do so.
“We are apt to believe the pro-insurgent claims made by families who have left Syria precisely due to a Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated politics that originated from well before the war,” the Al-Talib author writes.
This statement clearly denies the years of suffering the Syrian people endured under Assad before the 2011 revolt – from mass imprisonment with no public trial, to daily killings on the streets of dissidents, to the hundreds of thousands of cases of rape at the hands of Assad’s forces. The article brushes all that off as “Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated politics.” This is more than just an appalling statement to those whose families have endured crimes against humanity by Assad’s regime. The piece cites numerous dubious podcasts and blogs to back its claims, but not one reports from an established source.
Assad has committed many acts of genocide against the Syrian people. For example, two of Syria’s largest cities – Aleppo and Homs, the latter of which is my mother’s birthplace – were blockaded and bombed until the near-extinction of its inhabitants. The crimes against humanity and acts of genocide committed by the Syrian government are matters of public knowledge, and facts long-established by the international community and the United Nations – facts that don’t need to be cited via random podcasts and blogs. In addition, this is my peoples’ reality, my mother’s, and my murdered or raped relatives’. I have even been witness to that reality in the time I spent growing up in Damascus or helping in refugee camps in Northern Syria. That is also the case for many Syrian UCLA students.
For a UCLA student to deny and politicize these crimes is heartbreaking for those of us who havebeen subject to them. For decades, denial of genocides such as the Armenian Genocide or the Holocaust has been rightfully categorized as hate speech.
The article’s denial is no different.
Concerned students organized an event May 29 with an open invitation to the student body to discuss the article and Al-Talib’s response. Syrian students who were personally attacked by the article and representatives of Al-Talib attended the discussion. Many members of the UCLA Muslim community requested Al-Talib to take down the horrifying piece and apologize for publishing it. Instead, the newsmagazine released a statement in defense of the writer’s right to publish his “controversial opinion.”
The writer has the right to hold his offensive opinions – that fact was never up for discussion. However, the magazine should not be publishing a piece that delegitimizes the suffering of the Syrian people, cites shady podcasts and blogs and perpetuates Islamophobic sentiments. Not all opinions should be given aspace, let alone the Muslim community’s space. The Muslim community at UCLA should take a stronger stance against the publishing of the article, and so should the larger UCLA community.
I submitted this piece to the Daily Bruin instead of Al-Talib for two reasons: first, to include the larger campus community in the dialogue regarding what is and what is not appropriate publication for on-campus publications; second, to raise awareness of the ongoing plight of the Syrian people, as well as the presence of students on this campus who have been victims.
We students need to come together to explore and understand the experiences of our peers, not discount them as products of “American media.”
Arafat is a third-year chemistry student. He previously held leadership positions in the UCLA Muslim community, including external vice president and director of public affairs of the Muslim Student Association at UCLA .