|Local Muslim to raise awareness for Syria|
MURFREESBORO — MTSU student Lema Sbenaty and Murfreesboro friend Adnan Shamdeen hope their Sunday demonstration will call attention to the plight of Syrian citizens being killed by that country’s dictatorship.
“I’m not doing this to benefit my sovereignty,” said Sbenaty, a born and raised American whose parents moved here from Syria. “I’m doing it to benefit the people who are being slaughtered mercilessly every day.”
Sbenaty and Shamdeen have organized a demonstration from noon to 3 p.m. Sunday at Centennial Park in Nashville, located off West End Avenue and 25th Avenue North.
“The killing hasn’t stopped,” said Shamdeen, an American and Syrian citizen. “They started using acid rain on the people. All we want is a peaceful revolution. We want people to be able to speak their minds without being sniped or without being tanked. We need the killing to stop. The Syrian people have spoken. They have no fear after today. We will not let another massacre happen.”
They are encouraging anyone with concerns about a Syrian government led by President Bashar al-Assad, whom The New York Times reports inherited Syria’s harsh dictatorship from his father, Hafez al-Assad, to attend Sunday’s demonstration.
“Humanitarian efforts to bring much needed aids to the civilians under siege by the Syrian army have failed so far, and the free press is banned from covering this tragedy on the ground,” states the news release from Sbenaty and Shamdeen. “We are calling on people of conscience to join us and condemn the targeted killing of civilians that is occurring every day in Syria. There will be guest speakers, including a refugee that has recently escaped from Syria during the time of turmoil. Several Tennessee Legislatures have expressed their interest in attending the demonstration. The event is free and open to the public.”
The news release notes that more than 8,000 Syrians, including 400 children, have been killed, while thousands of others have been injured, detained and collectively punished during an uprising that began March 2011.
“The whole focus of the Arab spring is to bring democracy to a world that has never seen it before,” said Sbenaty, who is president of the Muslim Student Association at MTSU and is a junior majoring in bio-chemistry pre-medicine and international relations.
She’d like the Syrian people to discover “our dream” in America.
“My parents came here for freedom,” said Sbenaty, who graduated from Siegel High in Murfreesboro as a valedictorian.
She noted that Syria is a diverse nation of Sunni and Shiite Muslims, many Christians, Kurdish people and others.
“This is not a revolution that’s led by one group of people,” Sbenaty said. “It’s led by all of those groups of people. And they have one goal, and that’s to get rid of a regime that’s been there for 40 years.”
Her father, Saleh Sbenaty, came to America in 1982 to study electrical engineering at Tennessee Tech.
“I considered myself an American the moment I placed a food in this country,” said Saleh Sbenaty, a 19-year engineering professor at MTSU.
He shares his daughter’s concerns about his native country, such as the conditions for his 80-year-old mother having to live without clean water, sufficient food, electricity and phones during the government’s response to the uprising.
“My mom was babysitting my brother’s kids, and all of a sudden bullets were flying through the window,” he said. “She had to take the children into the bathroom and stay there all day. They targeted the water tank each house has, so people would suffer.”
Lema Sbenaty’s mother, Fetoum Sbenaty, said the government in Syria controls about 95 to 96 percent of the wealth.
“The government is like a gang stealing our money,” the mother said. “We are standing for our rights and our freedom, and they feel like killing us. That’s why we left.”
Fetoum Sbenaty said she grew up with Muslim and Christian friends in Syria, and she has many Muslim and Christian friends in America.
“We know how to live with each other,” said the Fetoum Sbenaty, an American citizen who moved to this country 24 years ago.
She’s traveled to Syria to visit family many times, including once to be with her mother while giving birth to her oldest child, Dima Sbenaty, who was also a Siegel High valedictorian. Fetoum Sbenaty’s other two children, Lema Sbenaty and Salim Sbenaty, a Central Magnet School student, were born in America.
The mother supports her second child’s efforts to call more attention to the problems in Syria.
“She is so proud to be an American,” said the mother, adding her daughter loves the people in Syria and wants them to have the same freedoms enjoyed by people in this country.
“I do feel attached to Syria by the fact that I’ve been there and the fact that my parents are from there,” Lema Sbenaty said. “But it’s much more than Syrians fighting for this.
The whole world is watching and trying to figure out what to do in this situation. It’s not really about me. It’s about them.”