KPU speaker Ahed Al Hendi talks Syrian crisis and student activism
Al Hendi escaped from Syria himself and wants to help improve the situation in the country
Syrian dissident and activist Ahed Al Hendi spoke to AU students about raising awareness for the Syrian refugee crisis and his work to help refugees during an event hosted by the Kennedy Political Union on April 11.
In his opening remarks, Al Hendi, who founded the pro-democracy organization Syrian Youth for Justice and spoke on behalf of the Help Syria Now group, made clear the difference in the freedom of speech between Syria and the United States.
“If we were in Syria, we would all be arrested,” Al Hendi said. “Because over there, it is illegal to listen to different ideas.”
Al Hendi was a student activist in Syria living under President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and participated in a series of protests for greater freedom of expression. He said that many liberal students were arrested and banned from the country for speaking out and that many of the protests were violently squashed.
Al Hendi said he was arrested in 2007 for allegedly logging into certain websites that were forbidden by the Syrian state. He was held for 40 days as a political prisoner and escaped to the U.S. after he was released. Since then, Al Hendi has worked to connect with both Syrian refugees and civilians still living under the Assad regime. Some of this work involved sending cameras and providing internet access to Syrians in order to record the government crimes against civilians, according to Al Hendi.
The Syrian Civil War that arose after the Arab Spring in 2011 has resulted in the arrest and killing of thousands of students in colleges and universities across Syria for chanting for freedom, according to Al Hendi.
“Atrocities in Syria are the most heinous crimes of the century,” Al Hendi said.
Al Hendi also said that the recent attacks on cities around the world by ISIS and other extremist groups have given rise to extremist right-wing groups in both Europe and the U.S., with both kinds of terrorist groups presenting dangers to Syrian refugees seeking safety. Negative portrayals of Syrians are also amplified by social media, and have resulted in a greater need to empower moderate voices in Syria to speak out, Al Hendi said.
In an interview with the Eagle, Al Hendi also spoke about the U.S. presidential race and comments made by Republican candidates on immigration and the treatment of Muslims. Al Hendi said that he remains optimistic about the policies that will result from the election.
“I think that the majority of Americans are welcoming [towards refugees],” Al Hendi said. “And I don’t think the Constitution will allow [the president to ban Muslims from entering the country or refuse to accept refugees].”
Al Hendi urged students who are interested in the Syrian crisis to go to syriastory.org to sign a petition and learn more about the issue.
“As a student, I believe in the power of students,” Al Hendi said. “I believe we can bring a lot of change.”