On Monday morning, the names of 1,000 men, women and children who have been killed in Syria by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime were written in chalk across the Diag at the University of Michigan. These represented only a fraction of the more than 400,000 Syrians who have been killed during the conflict, now in its eighth year. While the demonstration was motivated by the war in general, the chemical attack in Douma, Syria on Sunday was a call to action according to LSA freshman Basil Alsubee, who participated in the demonstration.
“It is a response to the overall situation for the past couple years, but I think that what happened on Sunday really triggered this sense of, ‘We have to demonstrate,’” Alsubee said. “Sometimes we get a little complicit, and we start taking it for granted that humanitarian crises that are happening abroad are just going to happen. But the attack on Douma was in a way kind of a wake-up call, a reminder that we have a responsibility, so it definitely motivated this protest.”
Rackham student Nusayba Tabbah, one of the organizers of the event, agreed with Alsubee that complicity is an issue, especially when a conflict has been going on for a long time.
“Even last year, there were chemical attacks on civilians, and for a while, people acted outraged, but eventually nobody cared,” Tabbah said. “I kind of felt like it was a cycle, and when I saw it on the news again yesterday, I felt helpless feeling like I couldn’t do anything about it.”
In an attempt to combat this feeling of helplessness, Tabbah said she and a few friends got together to bring the conflict back to the forefront through action. By putting the names on the Diag, she hoped to humanize the conflict again and make people realize real lives were being lost.
Alsubee hoped by writing the names on the ground in the Diag, students would recognize as they went through their mundane tasks, they were stepping on the names of people who could no longer go through these types of mundane activities.
“There was an intended shock value that we were going for,” Alsubee said. “You’re on your way to class, you’re doing such a mundane activity and on your way there you’re stepping on names of people who died.”
LSA sophomore Layla Hak, who also participated in the demonstration, felt it was necessary to demonstrate in a public area to inspire people to take action.
“People don’t talk about it enough, so I think that if it’s in a very public arena, it will cause people to start talking and maybe take action,” Hak said. “It’s so easy to just donate and raise your voice about it.”
Alsubee said he thought the demonstration’s humanization of the statistics was important, and he felt it made it easier for him to relate to the victims, though the conflict is something he has been thinking about for a long time.
“A big part of why the idea specifically intrigued me was that it’s a lot more focused on the individual lives because we’re writing their names, and the idea that behind all of those names there are people who had lives and stories and passions and dreams, just like you and me,” Alsubee said. “All my life I’ve known about what’s happening in Syria, and all my life it has affected me a lot, but writing down those names, I was like ‘wow, a lot of those names resemble my name, and my name could’ve been down there.’”
However, at the same time, Alsubee said he found the students’ reception of the demonstration to be ironic, given that many people seemed to walk past with nothing more than a glance.
“There’s kind of an irony to the fact that a lot of people didn’t care,” Alsubee said. “They just kept walking, or if anything they shot a small glance. A lot of people did care, they did ask what we were doing, and maybe they stopped in the center to read what those names were, but it’s a little ironic to me that people keep going through their mundane daily lives, while at the same time stepping on the names of people who weren’t capable of going through their daily lives.”