University professors and Durham residents took to the streets Monday to protest possible United States military intervention in Syria.
A group of Duke graduate students sought to unite the Durham community against proposed U.S. airstrikes in Syria, as Congress reconvened to debate the issue Monday. The students also enlisted professors with relevant research interests to speak at the event, making it a “teach-in” to educate protesters about the gravity of the issues at hand.
Protesters gathered with signs reading “F--k the police,” “Bombs won’t make peace” and “No War With Syria” and the crowd mingled cheerfully. Located in CCB Plaza of downtown Durham, the rally had an attendance of about 50 people, mostly in their twenties. Some families came out to celebrate the event, with young children perched on their father’s shoulders to witness the speeches from above.
Professor of literature Michael Hardt was the first to speak and criticized the country’s desire to pursue an imperialistic foreign policy when the time for that has long passed.
“U.S. imperialism is dead in the sense that it can’t create stable territories,” Hardt said. “In fact, the failures of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are demonstrations of how dead U.S. imperialism is. The problem with dead U.S. imperialism is that it won’t stay buried.”
Frances Hasso, director of international comparative studies, noted that her academic focus on the Middle East informed her understanding of the situation in Syria. In her speech she dismissed the United States’ motivation for entering the war as ill-intentioned.
“The motives for this war are, quote-unquote, U.S. national security interests—not peace, justice or democracy for Syrians,” Hasso said. “There shouldn’t be a war because we’re okay with U.S. regimes, deadly violence and degradation of people and environment.”
Hasso noted the implicit contradiction in the United States’ hope to aid a country where its prisoners of terror were once sent to be tortured.
The students also held another protest Aug. 31 in honor of the National Day of Action Against War with Syria.
“Our little coalition created the first event, but this is really the reach-out event,” said Mitali Routh, a Ph.D. student in art history. “We’ve had a hard time reaching out to the [Durham activist community.]”
The protest organizers are looking to move past the regional forum and affect change on Capitol Hill in addition to the Triangle. Rania Masri, School of the Environment ‘95 and one of the organizers of the event, called for rally participants to contact their Congressional representatives and urge them to vote against involvement in Syria.
“There have been 3,000 phone calls [to Congress] demanding constituents say no [to intervention in Syria,]” Masri said. “Only three people from North Carolina have called in support of the issue.”
Masri passed around an open letter that participants could sign to show their support for the cause. She said the letter would be sent to members of Congress to show the outpouring of public outcry.
Masri noted the possible negative effects that could come from United States military involvement in Syria. She cited an increased death toll and an increase in number of refugees that could result from U.S. intervention. She suggested a political solution would solve the crisis rather than a military attempt.
But Carl Kenney, a former columnist for The Durham Herald-Sun, appealed to spectators’ emotions. He referenced Sept. 11, with its anniversary fast approaching, and simplified it and the Syrian conflict to their base qualities—the loss of innocent lives.
“One thing we continue not to learn is that when we launch bombs in a land not our own, we risk taking the lives of innocent people,” Kenney said. “I’m standing today as one who says... beyond race, beyond gender, beyond orientation, beyond religion, this is wrong. Because any time we take life, that’s one life too many.”