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Syrian-Canadians have mixed responses to Trump’s missile strike

Tima Kurdi helps her nephew Sherwan Kurdi to go outside at her home in Coquitlam, B.C., on Monday. Kurdi, whose three-year-old nephew Alan died in 2015 and was photographed face down on a beach, drawing worldwide attention to the plight of Syrian refugees, said in an interview that she disagreed with the U.S. operation.


U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to order a military strike against a Syrian air base in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack on civilians prompted a mixed response from Syrian-Canadians, with some in favour of the strike, others opposed, and uncertainly all around on what comes next.

The irony of Mr. Trump – who had listed Syria among the Muslim-majority nations whose citizens would be barred from entering the United States – coming to the aid of Syrians was not lost on those who spoke with The Globe and Mail. In his statement on the strike, Mr. Trump said the refugee crisis continues to deepen and he called on all "civilized nations" to help end the bloodshed.

Tima Kurdi, whose three-year-old nephew Alan died in 2015 and was photographed face down on a beach, drawing worldwide attention to the plight of Syrian refugees, said in an interview that she disagreed with the U.S. operation.

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Ms. Kurdi said the conflict can only be resolved politically, not militarily.

"This is going to create a big mess. People are going to die, and more people are going to flee," she said on Friday.

Ms. Kurdi added she was disappointed with the Canadian government's support for the U.S. strike.

"We're adding fuel to the fire," she said.

Mohammed Alsaleh, who arrived in Canada as a government-assisted refugee in November, 2014, said in an interview that the Syrians he has spoken with have expressed worry about how the situation will unfold.

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"I'm very concerned [Mr.] Trump is just reacting to what's happening without having a plan," he said.

Mr. Alsaleh noted this is not the first chemical attack that has been linked to Syria's Assad regime, recalling an incident in 2013. Former U.S. president Barack Obama backed away from military action at the time.

Mr. Alsaleh said he was arrested shortly after the 2013 attack for filming a protest and posting the video online. He said he spent four months in a Syrian jail, where he was tortured. He fled to Lebanon when he was released and now works for an agency in Vancouver that assists immigrants and refugees.

Mr. Alsaleh said this chemical attack appears to have garnered more international attention than the last.

"Syrians are not happy with this strike in general. … But we're happy with the fact that the message we sent to the world six years ago [through the initial protests against the government of President Bashar al-Assad] finally was heard," he said.

Marwan Masri, president of the Arab Cultural and Heritage Centre in Hamilton, said he was "not happy but comfortable" with the missile strikes.

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"We were opposing any foreign intervention on Syrian soil," he said. "We were dead against it. We wanted to fight our own fight, with our own hands, our own resources, our own people."

But he said his views changed when he saw the world mostly turned a blind eye to the sufferings of the Syrians.

"Our children are burned alive and bombed by chemicals. Our heritage, our town, our mosques, our churches are destroyed, not only by the regime but by Iran, by Russia. You have to be realistic," he said.

Mr. Masri said there was hypocrisy in the outrage over the use of chemical agents when civilians in Syria already suffered from conventional bombs.

Rahim Othman, a spokesperson for the Syrian-Canadian Council's Vancouver chapter, said he viewed the U.S. strike as a positive development.

"Whatever protects innocent people's lives, I think is something a lot of people would see as a positive thing, including myself," he said.

Other Syrian-Canadians counted themselves among the sympathizers of Mr. al-Assad.

Roy Khoury, the owner of a Halifax coffee shop, alluded to past interventions by western military in Arab countries.

"We don't need any scenario like what happened in Iraq, like what happened in Libya, happening in Syria," he said.

He was skeptical that Mr. al-Assad's military was behind Tuesday's chemical attack. Mr. al-Assad's forces had been gaining the upper hand and had no need to engage in such action, Mr. Khoury argued.

"He's on the ground, controlling everything," he said. "Why would he do something this kind of stupid?"

Mr. Masri doubted the United States would have the fortitude to wage a long campaign against the Assad regime.

"At last somebody gave him a slap, but I know it's not going to do anything," he said. "Nothing is going to happen. Mark my words."

Opinion: Saunders: Trump's surprise airstrike part of U.S. political tradition (The Globe and Mail)
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News reporter

Based in Vancouver, Sunny has been with The Globe and Mail since November, 2010. More

National reporter

Tu Thanh Ha is based in Toronto and writes frequently about judicial, political and security issues. He spent 12 years as a correspondent for the Globe and Mail in Montreal, reporting on Quebec politics, organized crime, terror suspects, space flights and native issues. More


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