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F&M Community Debates Options in Syria

By Krissy Montville '14

Nearly 200 Franklin & Marshall College students, faculty and community members came together Sept. 10 to discuss the recent chemical weapons attack on Syrian citizens by the country's leader, and the prospect of American intervention in the Mideast country.

F&M faculty members convened a panel talk, "Interventions in Syria: An F&M Conversation," in the Lisa Bonchek Adams Auditorium in Kaufman Hall.

On Aug. 21, world news agencies reported that the attack killed more than 1,000 people. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is widely believed to be responsible for the attack. President Barack Obama last week called for an airstrike against the Syrian government, but diplomatic developments internationally and strong opposition in Congress has, at least temporarily, put a hold on that action.

  • syria talk
  • From left, Assistant Professor of Music Sylvia Alajaji, Visiting Assistant Professor of American Studies David Kieran, Associate Professor of Government Jennifer Kibbe, and Assistant Professor of History Hoda Yousef discuss recent developments in Syria during a panel talk Sept. 10 in Franklin & Marshall College's Lisa Bonchek Adams Auditorium in Kaufman Hall. (Photo by Melissa Hess)

The panel, led by Assistant Professor of Music Sylvia Alajaji, comprised three F&M professors: Associate Professor of Government Jennifer Kibbe, Visiting Assistant Professor of American Studies David Kieran, and Assistant Professor of History Hoda Yousef. The four touched upon historical context, American intervention and chemical weaponry in Syria. Their talks were followed by a question-and-answer period.

Alajaji, who has participated in two prior discussion panels on Franklin & Marshall's campus, organized the event to bring the campus together to tie classroom discussions to real-world events.

"It's easy for students and faculty to fall into our own 'bubble' because we all have our research areas that we focus on," Alajaji said. "It's a breath of fresh air to step back and realize how what happens in the classroom can be applied to current events."

With attendance maxing out the original location, Weis College House Commons, the discussion was moved to Kaufman Hall to comfortably accomodate the attendees.

Yousef began the conversation by discussing how Syria evolved from World War I to the present and the rise of the Assad regime, which dates to 1971. Kieran then discussed the reasons why America would get involved in the conflict -- humanitarian and economic -- and also why such involvement isn't gaining much traction.

Citizens and the military are too war-weary to proceed in Syria, he said. The dilemma Obama faces, he said, is "How do you convince Americans that attacks will be small while still convincing the people you're trying to bomb that it is serious?"

Kibbe focused her part of the talk on whether the chemical nature of the attack makes it a more heinous act in the eyes of the public, and what sanctions the United Nations might bring against Syria.

She said she believes the international community would press for a peaceful accord before advocating military action. "If there is the possibility of a diplomatic option, you have to work that out," Kibbe said.

During the Q&A that followed, remarks varied, but most in attendance said America should not intervene. The discussion was briefly put on hold so the audience could listen to Obama's televised address to the nation on Syria, which aired during the event.

Alajaji said she hoped her audience recognized that this issue is not just black and white.

"My desire was to move past that and to realize that there are more options than military interference. It is important to understand the difficulty of events and how thousands have been affected in Syria."