Tag Archive | "Arab American Association of New York"

Syrian Protest Unites and Divides Bay Ridge

Families gather in Leif Ericson Park before the protest. Photo by MaryAlice Parks.

MaryAlice Parks, Syrian Beat Reporter~

“One, two, three, four. Bashar Assad out the door.” Their chanting could be heard blocks away. “Five, six, seven, eight. Stop the killing, stop the hate.”

Over 200 people gathered on Saturday in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, home to one of the largest Arab-American communities in New York City, to show support for the rebels fighting against the Assad regime in Syria.  Although the revolution is thousands of miles away, the march demonstrated how outrage over the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria is uniting people here in New York.

In the crowd there were people from Lebanon, Yemen, Egypt, and other countries across the Middle East. Linda Sarsour, director of the Arab American Association of New York, addressed the group before the march began. “I am Palestinian-American, and I am today a Syrian. I have always been a Syrian,” she punctuated. “We are all Syrians here today.”

Bassam Maalouf, a Christian Syrian who participated,  explained that the revolution has brought Christians and Muslims from the country together. “At first, a lot of Christians were scared. Is it an Islamic revolution? But month after month people saw what this criminal is doing.” According to Maalouf, people who were skeptical are coming around. “They’re convinced now that this regime is the obstacle.”

The group’s message was clear; they were pro-revolution and anti-President Assad. Young and old, everyone gathered seemed to have a sign, some displayed graphic images of children who had died in the fighting, others called President Bashar Al-Assad a terrorist. One showed President Obama and read, “How much Syrian blood will it take to buy your election?”

The event began at Leif Ericson Park, near the corner of Sixth Avenue and 67th Street. A series of impassioned speakers, including volunteers and leaders from the Arab-American community in New York City, addressed participants in front of a Syrian opposition flag that hung on the park’s chain-link fence. They called for the U.S. to get involved in Syria. They lead prayers for the children who have been killed in the fighting.  A representative from UNICEF collected checks for a fund for Syrian children. She estimated $300 was raised at the event, though a number of people said they donated online.

Around 5 p.m., event organizers lead the walkers from the park to Fifth Avenue, a busy, commercial street. The group marched south along Fifth  Avenue for over a mile before looping back to the park. When they arrived at the park again, it was getting dark. Many participants stayed and sang national songs from Syria in Arabic until dispersed by the police.

The march revealed ongoing discord and skepticism, both within the Arab-American community and Bay Ridge. During the march, police broke up a small fight between demonstrators and a bystander who made comments supporting the Assad regime.

“There are also some divisions,” said Donna Moustapha, a 31-year-old Syrian-American. “That is going to be the case any time you have something as big as a revolution. But ultimately, we have to be on the side of humanity.”

Despite the large Arab presence, Bay Ridge is diverse. People in the neighborhood live close together, yet some remain worlds apart. Markets offering halal meat are crammed between Irish pubs.  Italian-Americans, with strong Brooklyn accents, make up the single largest ethnic group in the area.

“Islamic spring? More like terrorist spring,” asserted one man, who introduced himself as Micky V. and watched the group go by along  Fifth Avenue. “They think they are supporting democracy, meanwhile they are supporting the terrorists. They are just trading one regime for the other.”

Another middle-aged man from the neighborhood, Steve, who declined to give his last name, watched the march from inside a bar a few blocks away. He did not understand why it was being held in Bay Ridge. “They should take it up to somebody who would care. Go to the U.N.,” he said. “No one really cares. Maybe down further in the other part of the neighborhood, where the other Arab community lives.”

But other onlookers expressed sympathy. Among the headscarves and Arabic chatter, Janine Louqet stood out. She is not Arab. She is a school bus driver from New Jersey. She was moved by images of violence in Syria. “You see a number and it is easy to glance over it. When you see pictures, you can’t glance over.” Hesitating, she removed her glasses and pressed the corners of her eyes to stop the tears. “I drive children and it got to me. I am picking up children in their frilly little dresses, but there are other kids that are being murdered and it got to me. That’s why I’m here.”

Those walking, Arab or not, Syrian or not, were dedicated.  A young woman who wore a long, austere, black Islamic robe for the walk, but when she moved, there was a glimpse of glitter underneath. “I have to go to a bridal shower right after. I am going to be so late, but I don’t care,” she explained. “I have my heels in my bag. I am going to walk in my dress and Converse.”

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