With Donald Trump in the White House and on Twitter, it was easy to overlook some of the other stories in the world — including the civil war in Syria. But this week the news out of Syria was sufficiently tragic to make even the frenetic U.S. news cycle stop and take note.
Dozens of Syrians, including children, were killed in a chemical bombing allegedly carried out by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, potentially the deadliest — and most gruesome — attack on civilians in Syria since Trump took office.
The nature of the attack sparked outrage around the globe, and here in Colorado, it pushed one of the most well-known Syrian-Americans in Denver to break a self-imposed period of silence.
Over the past few years, Obeid Kaifo has been one of the most-outspoken Syrian Americans in our state. But two months ago he announced he halted his activism.
He said his family and their restaurant (the Shish Kebob Grill, located just across from the state Capitol building in Denver) received too many threats, and he needed to step out of the spotlight to keep them safe.
But this week, Kaifo felt he had no choice. “Staying quiet in the face of such violence is driving me crazy,” he said.
During the Obama years, Kaifo repeatedly called out the president’s inaction in Syria, saying that “Obama’s lack of leadership on Syria will be his legacy.” Now, Kaifo is calling out President Trump.
“Trump needs to act or his presidency will by tarnished by this, like Obama’s was — he needs to take action before it’s too late,” he says.
And as for the ongoing threats against his family, Kaifo says he hasn’t been able to identify who is behind them — or the exact motive. “I don’t know if it’s because of me, or simply the restaurant, or because we’re Syrian,” he says.
Syrian-American Amal Kassir loses eight family members in attack
Meanwhile, another Syrian-American in Colorado — the poet-activist Amal Kassir — was directly affected by the gas attacks.
She announced on social media that nine of her relatives were killed, and that others were severely injured.
Many of Kassir’s poems weave the history of her family (her father is an immigrant from Syria, and her mother is from Iowa) into stories about the war that’s dragged on for over five years.
On Wednesday night, just a day after learning of the deaths of her family members, she performed some of those poems at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. Announcing the event on Facebook, she said that this week’s attacks would be at the top of her mind when she takes the stage: “You know exactly what I will be talking about. #FREESYRIA.”