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Friday, December 19, 2014

Activists protest proposed Syria strike

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By Gabe Ortiz / New Mexico Daily Lobo

Lissie Perkal chants along with the crowd at a political protest Saturday. About 100 people attended the protest which sought to bring attention to a potential U.S. military strike in Syria.

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Honks echoed in Nob Hill Saturday morning in response to local activists’ “Honk for Peace” signs as they protested the United States’ proposed intervention in the two-year-old civil war in Syria.

Sayrah Namaste, a member of (un)Occupy Albuquerque who helped organize the protest, said the protest aims to prevent a U.S. military strike in Syria. She said U.S. military action in the Middle Eastern country is against international law.

“I was very upset that the U.S. might illegally attack Syria,” she said. “As American people, we need to say that we are opposed. We should not be involved in illegal military actions in Syria. This would be the ninth Arab country that the United States has attacked in 15 years. This is wrong.”

Talks about military intervention in Syria started among the permanent members of the United Nation Security Council last week after the U.N. started an investigation into Syrian President Bashar Assad’s possible use of chemical weapons against rebel forces. The five permanent members of the Security Council are China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

On Thursday, the British Parliament rejected Prime Minister David Cameron’s proposal for military intervention in Syria. That day, Russia and China officially stated their support for Assad.

But on Saturday, Obama announced that although he is willing and ready to start a military strike against Syria, he will seek Congress’ decision on the matter first. He said he plans to seek a Congressional vote on the planned intervention after Labor Day.

According to French news agency Agence France-Presse, French President François Hollande said Saturday that he “has felt the same resolution beside Obama” and that he has decided that France will serve as the U.S.’s principal ally in the proposed operation.

Eight Albuquerque organizations helped organize the protest, Namaste said. She said the organizations started planning the event Thursday after word got out of possible U.S. intervention.

About 100 people attended the event.

Namaste said by approving military intervention, Obama is misrepresenting the country’s national interests. She said going to war is a waste of taxpayer dollars and is illegal according to international law.

“We’re demanding that Syria follow international law with their chemical weapons,” she said. “But in the meantime, this attack would not be following international law, so this is hypocrisy. They should not illegally bomb a country.”

Joel Gallegos, a member of the Act Now, Stop War, End Racism Coalition (ANSWER) who helped organize the event, said his organization attended to urge the U.S. government to prioritize its problems in its territory.

“The United States government likes to claim that they don’t have money for housing, for food programs, for health care,” he said.

“But they have money for war? … They would rather go and kill people in other countries than to provide for their own people here.”

Danya Mustafa, a member of the UNM organization Students for Justice in Palestine, said she attended the event because it affects her personally.

“As a person who is Arab, I feel like there is so much division in the Arab community because of the issue,” she said. “It affects me in the sense of community relationships. I’m originally from Palestine, and what happens in Syria destabilizes the region. I’m worried for my friends and family.”

Mustafa said her organization urges the U.S. not to go to war in Syria. But she said that instead of siding with any country in the international conflict, she said her organization calls for peace and humanitarian aid in the region.

And she believes diplomatic talks can solve this “complicated” situation, she said.

“This issue has a lot of effect on how I see the world,” she said. “We’re here to take a stance that we do not want the U.S. to intervene in Syria because it will only create more problems, and there is no end goal.”

Namaste said she also demands a ceasefire and more humanitarian aid in Syria. Still, she said she is uncertain about how the Congress vote will turn out.

“I hope our Congress is smarter than Obama,” she said.
Various organizations have been calling the offices of New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich and New Mexico Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham and the White House “to put pressure on Congress” against the military intervention, Namaste said.

But Gallegos said that although he “would be disappointed, but would not be surprised” if the U.S. followed through on its attack, he still urges the Albuquerque community to express its opposition to war.

“Albuquerque may be a small city,” he said. “But our voice is loud, and we can make it echo throughout the nation.”

Congress is set to vote on whether or not to intervene in the Syrian conflict Sept. 9, when members return from recess.