Some members of Michigan’s Syrian community sat “glued to their TVs” when news unfolded of 59 U.S. missiles barreling into a Syrian airbase.
It was the first direct American attack on the Syrian government and President Donald Trump’s most dramatic military order since taking office just over two months ago.
A few local Syrians expressed support for Thursday’s action and called for increased fighting against the Syrian regime. Others said Trump’s missile strike will amount to a “slap on the wrist” if there is no follow-through to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“We, as Syrians, have a feeling like finally somebody is doing something,” said Syrian Dr. Khaldoon Alaswad, who emigrated to the U.S. in 1995 and lives in Pleasant Ridge.
“President (Barack) Obama said that chemical weapons were a ‘red line,’ and the Syrian government escalated all the way up to chemical weapons. Then President Obama didn’t keep his promise.”
Alaswad said the U.S. and other countries for too long watched from the sidelines as violence escalated in Syria.
Chemical weapons have killed hundreds since the start of the recent conflict, with the U.N. blaming three attacks on the Syrian government and a fourth on the Islamic State group.
One of the worst came Tuesday in rebel-held northern Idlib and killed dozens, including women and children. It was the pictures of young children caught in the attack that appears to have moved Trump to act, ordering the missile strike on Thursday.
“I really fear that the missile strike is not going to be strong enough. You have to have a strategy that will end the war in Syria,” Alaswad said. “There is no end in sight, and there will be no end unless Assad goes.”
Niman Shukairy, a member of the United for a Free Syria, also said the airstrikes were years “long overdue.”
“This is something that should have been done in 2013 when (a chemical weapons attack) happened the first time,” said Shukairy of Flushing near Flint. “President Obama, unfortunately, didn’t do anything, but it’s good to see President Trump taking action against President Assad.”
Shukairy said he is hopeful this will not be “just a one-and-done deal,” but fears it might because “Trump has not articulated whether he plans a campaign. It’s kind of up in the air.”
“People are dying,” he said. “We hope to see a little bit more to get protection to the innocent civilians in Syria.”
As for the refugees fleeing Syria and the president’s resistance to letting them into the U.S., Shukairy insists that the “refugee would rather be in Syria if they were given a no-fly zone, safe areas, they would have the option of going back home.”
Since Trump’s Inauguration Day, Michigan has taken in 135 Syrian refugees, most of whom have settled in Clinton Township, Troy and Dearborn, according to the Refugee Processing Center. Michigan is tied with California with accepting the most refugees since Jan. 20. The U.S. has had 1,347 Syrians arrive under Trump as of Friday.
Shukairy hopes the recent chemical attacks would prompt Trump to revisit refugee acceptance, especially if the president only plans the one targeted bombing.
“We can’t have a policy of shutting the doors on refugees and not providing them some kind of plan to get a safe zone for them,” he said. “Any Syrian will tell you, ‘I would much rather go to my home country if it’s safe and if I can live there with safety and security.’ ”
Amjad Rass, who leads the Michigan Chapter of the Syrian American Medical Society, said leaders who use chemical weapons against their own should be dealt with.
“Remember when Saddam Hussein did this … he was brought to justice,” said Rass of Bloomfield Hills. “And we thought we wouldn’t see any more of these types of chemicals in any part of the world.”
Rass, who is traveling throughout Europe to discuss with various leaders about the Syrian crisis, said that while he was in the southwest part of Germany near France’s border on Friday he noticed how many Syrian refugees had resettled there.
“The best way to deal with refugees is to produce less of them,” he said. “When we provide Syrians with a safe environment to live, you will have less of them leaving the country.”
Syrian-American business man Ishmael Basha had a simple reaction to news of the strike: “God bless America.”
“I hope this will send an unmistakable message to any thug willing to kill his own people,” said Basha, a Bloomfield Hills resident. “This is about humanity, this is about the future and the United States that will stand with the civilians caught in the crossfire.”
Dr. Abdalmajid Katranji said the missile attack will have a positive impact on American security.
“This was a necessary move on our part in regard to our national security and global interest,” said Katranji, a Syrian-American surgeon based in Lansing, whose parents came to the United States in the 1970s.
“I think it sends a stern warning that (Assad’s) time has run out and his behavior, his continued decimation of his own people, is no longer going to be tolerated.”
The physician, who has gone to the country on medical missions with the Syrian American Medical Society, believes humanitarian work there can also benefit from the intervention.
“This definitely provides a buffer for those efforts,” he said.
Abdullah Haydar, a Syrian-American activist from Canton Township, was cautiously optimistic.
“On one hand, it’s good to finally see some international action against Assad as he’s killed so many civilians time after time after time,” he said. “On the other hand, President Trump has shown himself to have a quick trigger. I’m afraid his actions may not be proportional or may not be well thought out or end prematurely. … Hopefully, it turns into an overall positive movement.”
Jihad Alharash, a physician formerly working in Michigan and who has been active with the Syrian American Medical Society, said he had mixed feelings about the attack, saying he supported the strikes aimed at sending a message to Assad, but he worries whether it will stop him.
“This has been continuous suffering. We have to see our own people killed in front of our eyes,” he said. “We’re trying to help in terms of medical relief, but we don’t see any end to the suffering of the Syrian people. For us, we’re looking for the light at the end of the tunnel. We’re just hoping to stop the suffering of the innocent.”
Members of the Coalition for a Democratic Syria, a coalition of six Syrian American advocacy organizations, supported the strikes and pushed for more action.
“The U.S. must ground the entire Syrian Air Force, which has ruthlessly bombarded civilians with chemical weapons and explosive barrels for years with impunity,” said Mouaz Moustafa, executive director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force and policy adviser for the coalition.
“Seeing the devastation of families who lost small children to the regime’s chemical weapons compels the United States to finally take leadership. We must consider striking military runways used to launch these heinous attacks against civilians.”
Associated Press contributed to this report.