Op-Ed: Gabbard right to oppose extremists fighting Syrian government
By Salah Zakkour
As Syrians, we stand with Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard to end the war in Syria, and support her “Stop Arming Terrorists” bill (HR 6504) as the most effective way to bring an end to five years of suffering and bloodshed in our country.
Some claim that efforts to stop arming the “rebel” forces fighting to overthrow the Syrian government undermines the Syrian people’s struggle for democracy and reform. They incorrectly believe that the rebels fighting against the Syrian government today are the same people who were peacefully protesting in 2011. In reality, the “rebels” in Syria today have been overtaken by Salafist extremists who are aligned with the likes of al-Qaeda, ISIS and other terrorist groups.
It’s easy to oversimplify the situation in Syria because of misinformation, propaganda, and a lack of understanding of Syria’s history and culture. While there were peaceful demands for reforms within Syria’s political system in 2011 — more freedom for political parties and the press, and removal of the state of emergency that had limited democratic freedoms — this peaceful reform movement was quickly hijacked by armed extremists, who came under the control of Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda and other Salafist groups.
The nonviolent opposition resisted all forms of external intervention and violence and called for “a democratic national regime,” through “peaceful” and “gradual” change. But it was the violence of those sectarian extremists that forced the nonviolent protestors off the streets.
This is the reality of the Syria conflict: On the one hand we have extremists, supported by foreign fighters and terrorists from over 100 countries trying to overthrow the elected government of Syria, and on the other hand, we have the Syrian government and army who are defending Syria, with many innocent civilians caught in between. If Syrian President Bashar Assad is removed from power, the nonviolent opposition, religious minorities, and others will be wiped out as Syria will be taken over by the strongest fighting force on the ground — extremists led by groups like al-Qaeda.
Imagine what would happen to the people of Syria if these violent extremists, who have been carrying out some of the most brutal and disgusting acts against innocent civilians, took over our country. We only have to look at the chaos, devastation and terror in Libya or Iraq to see what will happen to Syria if they are successful.
These terrorist and extremist organizations who make up the “rebel forces” would not have lasted long without support from the United States, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and others. That is why Gabbard’s “Stop Arming Terrorists” bill is so important to our struggle in Syria. This bill neither supports Assad nor does it ignore the democratic rights of the Syria people. It simply prohibits U.S. government direct and indirect support for terrorist groups like Jabhat Fateh al-Sham or Ahrar al-Sham, and aims to put an end to a war that has led to the death of hundreds of thousands of Syrian people, resulted in the displacement of millions, and destroyed our country’s infrastructure. It will give the people of Syria the peace we need to decide for ourselves the future of Syria.
As Syrians and Syrian-Americans, we wholeheartedly support Congresswoman Gabbard’s courageous work. Furthermore, we do not object to robust screening of immigrants from regions beset by terrorism. Far from treating us as a “threat,” Gabbard has shown utmost concern and respect for our community, the Syrian people and for all new Americans, which is why so many Syrians at home and in the U.S. support her tireless efforts to bring peace to Syria.
Salah Zakkour is a Sunni Muslim Syrian-American from Aleppo who now works in Ohio. This was co-signed by fellow Syrians and Syrian-Americans: Rami Muamar • Micheile Muamar • Immanuel Kaplo • Hannah Youssef • Nabil Kaplo • Bairt Alkass • Malk Kouki • Ghazoah Hanna • Zane Alabdine Zakkour • Anne Zakkour • Fahed Zakkour • Nahla Zakkour • Saleh Zakkour • Khaled Baram • Afif Ghalwanji • Nadeem Habbal • Simon Khoury • Shawqia Adboudan • Geneivra Scott • Mamoun Alabbassi • Amen Tomeh • Rana Kouki • Mario Tomeh • Georgio Tomeh • Emanuel Wasouf • Tigram Hanonick • Lena Obied • Jamil Ibrahim • Talal Bitar • Mike Matook • Basal Rahal • Silva Barsoum