More than 300 students gathered Thursday night on the Diag for a vigil remembering the lives lost in a recent chemical attack in Douma, Syria. Students placed water bottles with flowers and the names of those killed attached on the steps of Hatcher Graduate Library. The names of the victims were later read by students.
The attack, which took place April 7, left more than 80 civilians dead and hundreds injured. The city of Douma has been under government siege for several years and is in constant struggle to attain food, water and medical supplies.
LSA freshman Basil Alsubee was one of the opening speakers at the vigil and explained the meaning of the water bottles and flowers. She referenced Syrian non-violent activist Ghiath Matar, who was known for distributing water bottles and roses to soldiers and civilians. Matar was tortured and killed in 2011, the specific details of his death unknown.
“What is really important, both on campus and globally, is that we start viewing statistics with a conscience, and we start understanding the weight of what we’re reading when we talk about humanitarian disasters,” Alsubee said. “Just understanding that these are individuals with lives, with stories, with passions and dreams, instead of just like reading them off and going on with our days as if it’s just another killing happening across the world.”
Nour Al-Nahhas, national student director of Students Organize for Syria, also spoke briefly about the importance of students mobilizing and raising money for organizations that have had a history of effectively aiding civilians in Syria. He mentioned the Syrian American Medical Society as a non-profit that has consistently and rapidly provided aid to Eastern Ghouta and Douma.
“At the end of the day, this is not a political cause, this is a humanitarian cause,” Al-Nahhas said.
All speakers at the vigil highlighted the importance of educating the public about the reality of the conditions in Syria to strategize ways to aid civilians and push for political change.
Public Health sophomore Lilah Khoja stressed the student role is more crucial than ever before.
“I think it’s really important as students to be actively engaged, because we often times forget the power that we have in pushing movements forward, and into calling for global accountability,” Khoja said. “When I think back to the South African struggle against apartheid, students were really crucial in that and launching student demonstrations and everything. I think it’s important to not strip ourselves of our agency and to recognize that a lot of us are over 18, we do have access to our representatives, to congressmen, to council members, so that we can rally for action in that way.”
Khoja expressed the importance of understanding the impact of student action in the University, Ann Arbor and the world.
“We exist beyond the University of Michigan, a lot of us as students exist beyond Ann Arbor. I’m from California but my family is in Syria, and I exist in many different worlds,” Khoja said. “I want to make sure I’m bringing that forward and representing that in the best way that I can, and I know that a lot of the other students feel the same way.”