Syria crisis: Hints of a US-Muslim divide on Obama plan

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Anti-war protestors hold signsImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Nearly half the people in the US are opposed to a military strike on Syria

At an Islamic conference in Washington DC, the BBC's Tara McKelvey found delegates split about President Obama's plan to attack Syria.

Ziyad Shalaby, a graduate student at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, says the US should launch strikes against President Bashar al-Assad's forces.

Mr Shalaby and his fiancee, Amal Omar, were at the Washington Convention Center in the US capital on Sunday for a conference sponsored by the Islamic Society of North America.

The event was billed as one of the largest gatherings of American Muslims in the US.

People attended lectures on such subjects as spirituality and Muslim dating. But in the hallways they were talking about Syria.

Mr Shalaby and others are following the Syria debates on Capitol Hill. They are also struggling with the question of what the US should do to help ease the crisis in the war-torn country.

He said he believes Mr Obama should follow through on his statements about retaliation. Otherwise, Mr Shalaby said: "It makes us look very weak - and gives the US a bad reputation in the Muslim world.

"We say we're going to help, and then nothing gets done."

Standing in the cavernous hall of the convention centre, Ms Omar said the US should follow up on its threat.

"We shouldn't have to wait for it to get worse," said the Virginia Tech senior. "We shouldn't have to wait for an American life to be taken before the US steps in."

Overall people in the US are divided about the plans for a military strike on Syria.

'Really scary'

Forty-eight percent of Americans think the US should not launch airstrikes against Syria, according to a recent survey by Pew Research Center.

Twenty-nine percent of Americans favour the strikes, according to the Pew survey. The rest are unsure.

Image source, Xander Kott
Image caption,
Amal Omar, a Virginia Tech student, says the US should act

Kiran Ahter, a chemical engineer who also attended the Washington conference, said she has watched videos of the carnage in Syria - and believes Americans should act.

"It's really scary," she said. "They need help. They don't have that many resources, and we do."

Minhaj Baqai, a student at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, described the situation as "a modern-day holocaust". He also said he believes the US should intervene militarily in Syria.

"Just like we played a role in the 1940s, we should offer aid now," he said. "It's the right thing to do."

Not everyone agrees.

At Layalina, a Syrian-owned restaurant in nearby Arlington, Virginia, a manager, Husni Jarrar, was less worked up about the events in Damascus.

He sat at the bar on Sunday night, sipping a fizzy drink, in a room filled with photographs of diplomats and dignitaries from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and other countries.

Regardless of what happened in Syria on 21 August, Mr Jarrar said he does not believe the US should intervene militarily: "It's not their business."

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