June 26, 2019 | 82° F

Students organize candlelight vigil for victims of chemical attack in Syria

Photo by Jeffrey Gomez |

More than 50 members of the Rutgers community attended Monday’s night’s vigil to honor the victims of the April 4 chemical attacks in Syria.

With tears in her eyes, Hiba Raza explained that on Wednesday morning, she woke up to watch violent videos of 5-year-old children convulsing in Syria after the chemical attack Tuesday night. Reminded of her own 5-year-old sister, she knew something needed to be done.

The School of Arts and Sciences junior organized a candlelight vigil for the victims of the attacks, which was held Monday night. More than 50 students and staff gathered on the steps of Brower Commons to honor the victims of the April 4 attacks that left 90 people dead, according to Bloomberg.com.

“The trend that I’ve personally seen is that unless you’re European or American, your death doesn’t matter,” Raza said.

She said there is a lot of suffering going on in the Middle East that the general public is unaware of, and said it is the job of the community to bring attention to such events, especially since so many children died in the recent attacks.

“And these children, especially, children because you cannot get purer or more innocent than a child. Think back to when you were a child, what were the things that you cared about most, what were the things that mattered to you? Think about a time where you still believed in good. Think back to a time when you still believed your parents were superheroes, and your family is the most important thing in the world to you. And then to have that all taken away from you, to have that snatched from you,” Raza said.

The one-hour vigil consisted of eight student speakers, all of whom were Syrian, Raza said. She asked all speakers to keep any politics out of their speeches. Some students read commentaries while others performed poems. After all of the students spoke, the Muslim Chaplain Kaiser Aslam offered a few words and then a closing prayer.

Raza said she wanted the space to provide anybody affected by the attacks to speak up and take the lead.

“Right now, no one cares. As a Muslim woman, I know what it’s like to be spoken for, to have someone say ‘this is what you should do, this is what should happen to you,’ and that’s the exact opposite of what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to make sure that these people come and see that I’m not going to speak for them, I’m going to make sure they’re heard. That’s what’s most important — I want them to take the lead in their own marches, in their own protests, in their own movements, and they want to take the lead, but how can they take the lead when other people are already deciding what’s best for them?” Raza said.

She said the reason she held the vigil is to allow people who are personally affected to take that lead.

School of Arts and Sciences first-year Leen Kharboutli said she came out because she is a person who is very concerned with ethical issues, but also because she is a Syrian who has family who is affected by attacks similar to the one last Tuesday.

She spoke of her personal connections to Syria and the attacks going on, starting with a memory she had years ago in which she felt Syria was actually safe and compared it to the reality of the country now.

“While the chemical attacks grabbed the news attention, every single day are these banal stories of tragedy that are so easy to forget and write off as just another thing going on in the world. But the fact of the matter is that we do keep these things in our memory and really all I can do is try to relay these stories so people can possibly take from them and learn from them a little bit longer,” she said.

Despite only hearing about the vigil a few hours prior, Aslam said he had been looking for vigils to attend and was extremely happy when he learned students at Rutgers would be hosting one.

He spoke at the vigil, saying the importance of having one shows what is important. It also reserves a moment for the community to express mourning and show dissatisfaction.

He said whether someone is attending a public vigil or holding a vigil in the privacy of their own home, they hold the same value.

“The idea that when there is a loss of human life, when there’s a tragedy that takes place, whether it be a natural disaster or a manmade disaster, like this, a vigil represents that that is not okay for us, and as a community, that is not okay, that is something that needs to be mourned,” Aslam said. “When a human life is lost, that has some sort of value, you don’t just look at it as some sort of statistic … We feel it within our hearts that at the very least, if this is the world we live in, I’m not okay with that and I’m willing to show up somewhere to show I’m not okay with that.”

Chloe Dopico is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in political science and journalism and media studies. She is the associate news editor for The Daily Targum. Follow her on Twitter @ChloeDopico for more.

Chloe Dopico

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