We had the opportunity to hold an interview with sophomore from Homs, Syria, Mahdi Sahloul, one of Loyola’s most active and highly esteemed student leaders. Simply being in the presence of the young Syrian was inspiring; his cool, yet captivating charisma speaking long before he did. Here’s what he had to say.
CY: Last year you launched a student organization called Students Organizing for Syria (SOS), can you talk to us a little bit about why you started it and what you all hope to accomplish?
Mahdi: When I got to Loyola, my friends and I got to work on starting a Students Organize for Syria (SOS) chapter on campus. SOS is a student run organization, aimed at standing in solidarity with the Syrian people in their struggle for democracy, justice, and dignity. Our organization raises awareness about the Syrian revolution through social events, fundraising campaigns, and social media. Most recently, we launched our campaign “Books Not Bombs,” a call for U.S. universities to provide full academic scholarships to Syrian refugees in the States. I am disappointed in the Loyola administration, for their lack of action and support, as I have personally reached out to members of the administration about the campaign.
CY: How do you feel the Syrian Revolution is covered in the media? Do you think it receives the amount of attention it deserves?
Mahdi: Unfortunately, the revolution in Syria does not receive the attention it deserves. When you have 430,000 civilians killed (w/ 96% of those civilians killed by the Assad regime and only 1% killed by ISIS, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights); over half the Syrian population displaced in neighboring countries, in Europe, and North America, arguably the largest exodus of our generation; over 50 chemical weapons attacks on civilians; a lost generation of children who will forever live with the scars of war…. To only focus on syria when it’s in the media’s best interest to cover it aka when the Paris attacks happened and the killers were linked to Syrian refugees with sources claiming a syrian passport was found on one of the killers…. The world has abandoned the Syrian people. The coverage the Syrian people have received is complete bull shit.
CY: For many of us who have no direct ties to the revolution, we can only empathize with what we see through the news and media. As a Syrian with family still living in your native country, what kind of impact has it had on your life?
Mahdi: I live and breath Syria. My family in Syria resides in Homs, a city that now resembles Hiroshima and Nagasaki following the second world war. My grandparents’ home was hit by a rocket. Their second home was also hit by a rocket. My aunt’s home was hit by a rocket. My cousin, an orthopedic surgeon, was arrested and tortured for treating injured civilians. My cousin was shot in the head and killed by a regime sniper in front of her children. My country bleeds, everyday. I must take advantage of all the blessings and rights I have here in order to serve my country. I will vote in my country’s elections because people my age died and continue to die for that same exact right in Syria. I will study and pursue a degree because people my age died and continue to die for that same exact right. I am obliged to become a professional in some field, whether it’s medicine, architecture, engineering, investment banking etc because it’s up to me and the rest of the Syrian diaspora to rebuild our beautiful country. It is our obligation.
CY: Can you give a brief description of some of the work you, your father, and your mother have done with regards to Syrian advocacy, activism, and health?
Mahdi: Since the revolution’s beginning, my family and friends used to gather with other community members to demonstrate in the city of Chicago, in an effort to raise awareness about the Syrian revolution and Assad’s crimes against humanity. It was important to go out to those demonstrations early on in the revolution, to show our solidarity with our Syrian brethren, but it wasn’t enough to shift the tides of the revolution. In the summer of 2012, I had the privilege of embarking on a Psych-Social mission with the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), a non-profit, non-religious, non-political humanitarian organization that supports medical personnel and facilities inside and outside Syria. On this mission, I worked with orphaned children in Al-Zaatari refugee camp, the world’s second largest refugee camp. At the beginning of the mission, we had the children draw something, anything really. All of them drew pictures of death, destruction, and chaos in their homeland. It was a reality that I had a hard time processing; children ranging from the ages of 5-12 drawing people with severed limbs, burning homes and mosques, when kids their age usually draw suns with smiley faces, parks, and their family. During the mission, we engaged the children in various activities, such as finger-painting, soccer, dancing, and singing/chanting. By the end of the mission, we asked the children to draw something and this time, they drew pictures of a rebuilt Syria, with people who are smiling and holding hands, heck you even had a few smiling suns in there. I participated in SAMS’s pysch-social mission the following two years, but this time in refugee camps in Turkey.
CY: Syria is undoubtedly in the most dire humanitarian crisis for as far back as many of us can remember. With many refugees being forced to flee the country, how has this impacted your view on the immigration discussion?
Mahdi: I just want to remind our lawmakers and the American people of our country’s inception. America’s “ancestors” were refugees who fled Europe because of religious persecution (of course these refugees were responsible for mass atrocities against Native American communities, lest we forget). Never forget that Steve Jobs is the son of a Syrian migrant. His impact on telecommunication and technology is enormous. Renowned comedian Jerry Seinfeld is the son of a Syrian immigrant. Former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels is the descendant of Syrian immigrants. Rosemary Barkett, the first woman to serve as a justice for the Florida Supreme Court and was also its first female Chief Justice. Her parents were Syrian immigrants. Paula Abdul, a singer-songwriter, who is a dual Canadian-American citizen (like me), is the daughter of a Syrian Jew, born in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city. Let’s keep that in mind. Syrians pouring into Europe are there for one reason: to escape terror, destruction, and chaos. The people must continue on with their studies, their careers, their lives!
CY: What can we Loyola students do to stand in solidarity with the Syrian community?
Mahdi: Raise awareness about the Syrian revolution; sign the Books Not Bombs petition if you haven’t done so already and spread the word; visit SOS @ Loyola’s facebook page (like and share); attend SOS’s meetings and events to learn more about the revolution. Donate to the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) to help alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people; donate to Syrian Community Network (SCN) to help support Chicago based Syrian refugees. Pray for the Syrian people.
CY: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us, we truly value your insight and our viewers were extremely excited to have you featured on Culturally Yours!
Want more information on Loyola students whose communities are impacted by global issues? Do you have a story you would like to share on how your community has been affected? Let us know by tweeting us at @CulturallyYours