Milwaukee Syrians divided on U.S. intervention over chemical weapons

Members of Milwaukee’s Syrian community will be watching intently as the U.S. Congress debates this week whether to take military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for his suspected use of chemical weapons on his own people last month.

It is a debate of grave consequence, a life and death decision for this community, many of whose members still have family and friends living in that war-torn country.

“The situation is terrible; they hear the bombs falling around them,” said a Brookfield woman whose parents and siblings live near the Syrian cities of Damascus and Homs.

“They go to work,” she said, “under fear of death.”

Syrian Muslims generally support a limited strike that would weaken Assad’s power, saying that ignoring the August attack would invite Assad and every other despot to use chemical weapons on their own people.

Syrian Christians appear staunchly opposed, insisting that an attack will only inflame hostilities in the region and drag the United States into a long-term conflict.

That same divide is evident in Milwaukee’s Syrian communities, whose members laid out their concerns after religious services last week — Muslims at the Islamic Society of Milwaukee on Friday and Christians at St. George Melkite Catholic Church on Sunday. Most asked not to be identified, fearing reprisals against loved ones in Syria.