As President Obama appeared on national television Saturday afternoon seeking to make his case for a military strike on Syria, Syrian-Americans and antiwar activists gathered on Boston Common to protest any proposed attack.
Standing in front of Syrian flags emblazoned with portraits of Syrian president Bashar Assad, speakers decried US plans to launch a limited strike against the country in retaliation for an alleged chemical weapons attack on civilians on Aug. 21.
The ideologically diverse crowd of about 100 included members of the Green-Rainbow Party and other antiwar protesters.
Protesters also marched to Secretary of State John Kerry’s home on Beacon Hill, knocking on his door, before continuing on to Faneuil Hall, where they dispersed.
“We don’t want intervention,” said Ramy Al-Taweel, 20, of Methuen. “Allies of Syria will go in to help and I think it will escalate into World War III.”
Al-Taweel, who was born in the United States to Syrian parents, admits the prospect of armed conflict between the two countries is “strange” for him. “I was brought up by two cultures,” he said. “My heart is Syrian, but I love America. . . . I pray every night for Syria to be united once again.”
Like most Syrian-Americans at the protest, Al-Taweel expressed strong support for Assad, whom he praised as a secular leader capable of holding together Syria’s many ethnic and religious factions.
But while those at the protest were strongly pro-Assad, many Syrians in the United States oppose the president, who took power after his father’s death in 2000. Some have long called for US intervention in Syria, where a 2011 crackdown on protesters quickly spiraled into what most observers now call a civil war.
But Al-Taweel and others reject that label, arguing that the vast majority of rebel forces are not Syrians, but are rather opportunistic foreign fighters and terrorists aligned with Al Qaeda.
“Obama promised there would be no unjust war under his administration,” said Dr. Elias Zavaro, 52 of Wellesley, a Syrian-American. “Sending our boys, our missiles, our fighter planes to protect Al Qaeda — is that just?”
Zavaro, who moved to the United States from Syria in 1986 and studied dentistry at Boston University, said a US strike against his home country would harm civilians while doing little to end the conflict.
And like many others at the rally, Zavaro suspects that the chemical weapons attack was perpetrated by Saudi Arabia, not Assad’s forces, as a way to provoke Western intervention.
“Obama said using chemical weapons was a red line, and the Saudis took advantage of that to give an excuse for a missile strike,” Zavaro said.
Salim Alasmar, a 58-year-old Syrian-American from Methuen who attended the protest, said he felt the tug of competing loyalties.
“They are both my countries,” he said. “I love the US the same way I love Syria. But when the US government does something stupid like this, it makes me feel like I have no home.”
Alasmar said news reports of Syrian casualties disturb him. “For every death, I get a dark feeling in my heart,” he said. “All of my family is there. I worry every day. They have a bad feeling about the future. They say, ‘How did Syria get to this point?’ It’s a jungle.”
Like Al-Taweel and others, Alasmar said he empathized with some of the concerns that initially drove protesters onto the streets in Syria, but he also denounced the rebels for escalating the conflict.
The rally on the Common also attracted antiwar protesters whose reasons for opposing a strike were grounded in a general opposition to war and US intervention overseas.
“It would be unconstitutional, illegal, immoral, and a potential catastrophe to attack Syria,” said Jill Stein, a former Green Party candidate for governor and president. “If democracy or justice had anything to do with it, we wouldn’t act. It would just be pouring gas on the fire.”