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Syrian Graduate Student: Fadi Dib MAG
Could you describe yourself and your family?
I am from a Muslim family in Syria. I have a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Syria and am pursuing a master's degree in economics at Wichita State University. My father studied and received his master's degree in mechanical engineering from the same school 30 years ago. He owns a consulting business and represents several American companies in Syria. My mother lives in Syria and is atypical housewife. I have one older sister who lives in Rhode Island with her husband and daughter.
Why did you come to the United States?
I want to be in a business similar to my father's. The best way to succeed was to come here and see for myself how Americans do business. It is also known in Syria that the United States provides the best quality of education in the world. The number of Nobel Prize winners in the United States attests to this.
What do people in Syria think about the United States?
We need to separate what Syrians think about American people from what they think about the American government. There are no hard feelings about the American people. One of my best teachers in Syria is an American, and I love him dearly.
Most people in my country, however, strongly disagree with America's policy in the Middle East, especially concerning Israel. We believe that America's support of Israel has hindered and damaged its relationship with Arab countries. While the United Nations passed a resolution in 1968 demanding that Israel withdraw from the land it occupied in 1967, the United States has never supported this resolution. People in the Middle East sometimes extend their disagreement with the American policy to other issues. This may explain why people in Syria demonstrated against the U. S. bombing of Iraq, an event that has nothing to do with Israel.
What are the main differences between the United States and your country?
First, the majority of Syrians are Muslims, with about ten percent Christians, and some Jews.
Second, the United States is much richer than Syria. Syria's personal income is only one tenth of the United States'.
Third, there is no private university.
Fourth, Syria has 5, 000 years of history. Its capital, Damascus, is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. Did you know there are ten cities in the United States called Damascus?
On the other hand, Syria has a democratic system that is similar to that of the United States. People elect the president, and women's status is much higher than in other Middle Eastern countries, such as Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. You can see mini skirts in Damascus. Women there vote and have equal rights. In fact, there are three female ministers in the government.
Is the United State show you thought it would be?
Since I had already been here four times, I had some idea. Those who know America only from movies and media would be shocked. In the United States, everyone can do basically what they want. It is so free and prosperous. The service at places like the post office and grocery stores is wonderful. There are ample parking spaces everywhere and there is rarely a wait for service. What surprised me is the amount of discrimination against minorities, which obviously violates the Constitution.
What was your reaction to the September 11thattacks?
I was shocked, angry and could not believe it. Those who did it must be sick-minded.
Were the terrorists justified in their attacks? Why do you think they did it?
There is no way to justify killing thousands of innocent people. I don't know exactly why they did it. Is peculate that bin Laden hates America. He knows that people in the Middle East are very sensitive about Israel. He uses the close relationship between the U. S. and Israel to gain sympathy and as an excuse for the attacks.
The main reason could be traced back to 1991, the year the U. S. established military bases in Saudi Arabia. Osama bin Laden was against that and led several protests. Saudi Arabia forced him out and he became even more aggressive. Since then his hatred has grown. He supports the terrorist acts with money he inherited.
Could you describe the responses of your family and your friends, both here and in Syria?
Nobody I know supports the terrorist attacks. My family and friends are angry. They blame bin Laden for exacerbating the relationship between the United States and Middle Eastern countries.
Do you feel you have been treated differently since the attacks?
Even though I have been singled out at the airport for additional security checks, I consider it necessary to ensure a safe flight. I did read that a Middle Eastern person sitting in the first-class section was forced off an airplane because the pilots didn't feel comfortable. It surprised me that this could happen in the land of freedom. How can we criticize Third World nations for violating human rights when this government is discriminating against its own people?
Do you have concerns about your safety? Do you want to go back to Syria?
I'm not concerned so much in Wichita. IfI have to travel to other cities, I probably would be more conscious of my background. I have no plans to return to Syria.
Do you think fewer students will come to the U. S. from Syria?
There are two ways to see the issue. On one hand, Congress is discussing the possibility of not giving visas to countries identified as having relationships with terrorists. On the other hand, unless students hear anything serious in the United States, they will keep coming. Students in Syria like the U. S. better than Europe. They think it is full of opportunities. At least, it is easier to find a job here than in Europe to support their studies.
What is your response to the U. S. bombing in Afghanistan?
The Taliban wanted bin Laden to be tried in their country. Had that been done, there would be no war. Bombing kills children and women. Bombing also destroys homes and hospitals. The U. S. should have sought alternatives. Every time innocent people are hurt, it will be used against the United States.
What is your response to the U. S. helping Afghan refugees?
Helping the refugees is a humanitarian act that should be welcomed. There is an Arab saying, "If you are wounded, better to be treated even if it hurts. " I believe Afghans share a similar feeling when they eat food air dropped by the United States. But improving the U. S. image or relationship with the aid is difficult, if not impossible. How could Afghans appreciate the United States when they have lost their homes and relatives because of the war?
Do you have suggestions for improving the relationship between Americans and Muslims?
This is a wrong statement, it should be the relationship between America and countries in the Middle East. There are Muslim people in the United States as well. To improve the relationship with countries in the Middle East, the U. S. needs to change its foreign policy. The United States should think about why people in the Middle East are not against the governments of Germany, France or China.
What have you learned that you want teenagers to know?
The media can be biased. Don't believe everything you see on TV. Research before you believe, or make, a point. Everyone should be open to learn the truth. Don't judge a person by whether he or she agrees with you. Don't discriminate against any religion. We're all in this together.