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Violence in Syria and Afghanistan has Bay Area residents in the street

I. Spring rain has been sweeping the Bay Area. At this time last year, the world watched as revolutions swept across the Arab world. The uprisings ended decades-long dictatorships in the Middle East in what was called “the Arab Spring.” 

This spring, as millions of people in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen celebrate the success of their revolts, the people of Syria are living a different story. Though they, too, took to the streets last spring, today they’re still living under the regime of Bashar Al-Assad. This week marks the one-year anniversary of the Syrian revolt. It’s been a year of brutal crackdowns on the opposition.

As the people of Syria fight or flee Assad’s regime, Syrian Americans here in the Bay Area have rallied in support. KALW’s David Waldorf attended a protest last Sunday in Union Square, and brings us this audio postcard from that day.

CROWD (chanting): There is only one solution! / There is only one solution! / Revolution, revolution! / Revolution, revolution! JABAD MIRABDAL: My name is Jabad Mirabdal, I am from Berkeley. TARIQ AL-SANMAN: My name is Tariq al-Samman. I was born in Aleppo, but raised in Damascus for 26 years. MUSTAFA AL-MASRI: My name is Mustafa al-Masri. I came from Santa Clara. MIRABDAL: Today we are hear with a group of Iranian-Americans from North Berkeley to support the revolution – the change for freedom and democracy in Syria. AL-SANMAN: All my family, my parents, are still in Syria. My friends, I try to talk to them on Facebook and Twitter. And whenever I hear about something going on in my parents' area, I try to call them and talk to them to make sure they are fine. MIRABDAL: We are hoping that this kind of rally will get the attention of the people first – that there is a massacre going on in Syria – and second, that people will call their representative in House and Senate and raise the issue that there is a massacre going on. We have to help the Syrian people. MIRABDAL: To be honest, I don't think this rally will do anything except just showing solidarity and showing Syrians inside Syria that people are in California, are everywhere in the world. We are still thinking of them, that they are in our hearts and we wish they could get their freedoms soon. AL-MASRI: I hope this rally sends a strong message to my president, Obama, to say the people of Syria have stood up against oppression and injustices. The same thing we did for Bosnia, we did for Libya, we did for other places, we hope peace can be brought to the people of Syria. We're not asking extreme things, we're just asking equal rights, like people who live here, who live in Europe, who live in other parts of the world. So that's what I'm asking for really. Equality of life for all.

II. Across the bridge in the East Bay, another group of people were rallying this weekend. Afghan Americans held a protest and rally on Saturday afternoon in the Fremont neighborhood known as “Little Kabul.” Despite the rain, about 200 people waved Afghan and American flags to protest last week’s massacre of 16 Afghan civilians in Kandahar, allegedly committed by US Staff Sergeant Robert Bales. On either side of a large speakers’ stage hung huge photos of the victims’ bloody bodies – including several children.

One of the rally organizers, Wais Haider, had a clear message for President Obama.

WAIS HAIDER: But I guess we should all be satisfied, right? After all, President Obama did apologize and offer his deepest condolences to the families of those killed. But what, I thought we heard that apology when our body parts were collected as war trophies, and then again when Afghans were urinated on, then again when our holy book was reduced to ashes. With all due respect, Mr. President, your pre-scripted recycled apologies for these atrocious acts carry no value after a decade of warfare and thousands of civilian casualties!

Brandon Ott, a former US Marine, stood in a military jacket and said he wants the American people to connect more closely with what the military does overseas. I asked him what he hopes rallies like this will achieve.

BRANDON OTT: I’m really hoping that events like these can educate people that don’t know about the Afghan community, their culture, and what’s going on in their country. And I hope we can eliminate that apathy and tell our government that we don’t want this war anymore because it’s crippled our economy, it’s polarized us as a country, it’s creating xenophobia in this country and it’s also – above all of that – it’s caused hyper-partisanship and we can’t even agree on what we want to do.

Madina Omar is an Afghan American, and said, while some are calling for an immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan, she feels differently.

MADINA OMAR: I understand where they are now. It takes a lot of planning and money and efforts to pull out now. Just looking at it politically, it’s not as easy to pull out right away. It takes a lot of planning to make sure that the security remains once you pull out. So my personal opinion is that the focus should be on humanitarian efforts, providing social services, providing long-term services there that will stand once the troops pull out.

One speaker, who identified herself only as “Fatima,” is a fiery young Afghan-American woman with a group called Afghans for Peace. Taking her place at the podium, she expressed doubt that any meaningful change can occur under the current political system.

FATIMA: If this was a time before the revolutions happening in the Arab world, I would understand if you still believe that you can vote and change the system. Unfortunately, by now you should know that voting and trying to go through the political system is not going to end wars. This is a time when the Occupy movement is happening in America – Americans are taking to the streets because they don’t believe in the political system. I, myself, have been involved in Occupy Oakland. Even when I was pregnant, I was beat up by the police. I was tear-gassed.

After she got off stage, Fatima said her unborn baby, due in just a few months, is a major motivator for her.

We’d like to hear your views on the US military presence in Afghanistan. How do you connect to the conflict? Call our feedback line: 415-264-7106. 

Hana Baba is host of Crosscurrents, KALW's weeknight newsmagazine that broadcasts on KALW Public Radio in the San Francisco Bay Area.