Don’t Drone Us, Dudes

by FRANKLIN LAMB

Damascus.

Students everywhere are special people and this observer has discovered that Syrian students are among the very best.

Meeting and interviewing students again this past week, before and following, a frank and enlightening discussion with Dr. Mohammad Amer Al-Mardini, the indefatigable President of Damascus University, about the situation of the students and current instruction at the University, one cannot ,even as a foreigner, fail to feel pride in Syrian students.

Good meeting places, among others on campus, include “outdoor cafes” – a ‘street student union’ of sorts- consisting of a few chairs and portable tables. They are scattered among the dozens of vendor stalls that line “DU Boulevard” outside the main DU campus in central Damascus. Here students can buy everything from school supplies to mobile phones, to snacks, and it’s a perfect place to meet and chat with students.

One learns from them about the many effects on the education system in Syria of the US-led sanctions. Some argue that the Obama administration actually fuels the current crisis with its sanctions and achieves the opposite result of what the White House and its allies claim they are seeking. These freewheeling discussions leave a foreigner with a reminder why this university and its student body ranks among the best in the World.

More than 200,000 full-time and ‘open-learning’ students at Damascus University, the 6th largest in the World and founded in 1901, are feeling some effects of the harsh Obama Administration’s civilian targeting sanctions. Iran’s millions of students are also increasingly in the cross-hairs of the “humanitarian sanctions which Washington and Brussels claim “exempt food, medicines and medical supplies” and therefore “should be considered humane.”

Among DU Faculties most severely affected by the US-led sanctions are the Science Departments and the Medical and Nursing schools according to administration and student sources.  Chemicals used in various science classes, medicines and medical equipment cannot be found as before and if some are brought in from Europe or elsewhere, the University often has to pay four times the normal price.

Utah’s Brigham Young University gained the respect and appreciation of many in Syria for its shipments to DU’s nursing school of medicines and equipment and even “model doll babies” which in Syria use in baby care classes.  All are now banned by the US sanctions which claim to exempt medical equipment and medicines.

Damascus University, with its 43 specialized faculties is no banking-hours institution and its proven commitment is to give the highest quality education to as many students as possible. Syria’s largest university, it is now open for classes 365 days a year minus a few holidays—partly due to increased number of students arriving from across Syria, as the Administration and faculty work with colleges in war zones to guarantee students can continue their studies without missing key exams required for semester advancement.  Still, about 18% of college level students are unable to attend due to transportation and displacement problems.

One direct and predictable severe impact of the US-led civilian targeting sanctions in Syria is that the sanctions have essentially stranded approximately 700 Syrian students in Europe and half a dozen in the US, forcing some to drop out and find a job to survive.  This is  because, as well known among the US Treasury Department “craftsmen” who devise the sanctions, these students are no longer able to receive funds to pay for their foreign tuition or living expenses because the banking system has been essentially shut down.

If families can scrape together some money for their children studying abroad and do manage to send it via Western Union, for example, a new “sanctions surcharge” of 7 euros for every 1,000 euros sent, is demanded by WU and other money transfer agencies, suggesting another form of war profiteering.  To make things even more difficult for the students, foreign Universities who might consider lending their stranded Syrian students tuition money or  might even  consider aiding them with scholarships or a grant  have been “chilled” and are backing-off because these institutions do not want to be accused of ‘sanction-busting’  by the US Treasury hound dogs.

Few food or medicine suppliers, given the sanction regulations language and uncertain legal meanings-even for their lawyers, some of whom have declared that the language is incomprehensible, want to risk the wrath of the US Treasury Department and be slapped with severe penalties including, but not limited to, very expensive fines by dealing with anyone in Syria concerning food and medicine.

One of the US Treasury ‘hound dogs’ noted above, is David Cohen, Under -Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. Mr. Cohen made a trip to the region late last month to brief allies and businesses as well as NGO’s, including discussions in Israel, “to be sure the sanctions were biting hard” to use a favorite phase of UN Ambassador Susan Rice. The Obama administration, reportedly frustrated by the fact that its multi-tiered sanctions have failed to topple the governments of Syria and Iran, has been attempting to find and plug sanction loopholes and are intensifying warnings to the international community, in no uncertain terms, not to mess with the US Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence (TFI) or the Office of Financial Assets Control (OFAC) by getting all wobbly-kneed and going soft on full sanction and complete  enforcement.

Meanwhile, Syria’s Department of Education is joining the struggle to shield Syria’s education institutions and is being joined by various student associations. To date,  the Ministry has not cut its substantial disbursements to colleges.  Tuition remains among the lowest in the world at Damascus University, which also provides housing for 15,000 students. The DU administration is currently under pressure to find more dormitory space for those needing housing. Still, despite the conflict, even in Deraa near the Jordanian border where the current crisis started, DU’s campus continues to function.

Many DU students are also volunteering with assisting Syrian primary schools which urgently need their help. According to a December 2012 UNICEF education assessment of primary schools in Syria– at least 2,400 schools have been damaged or destroyed, including 772 in Idlib (50 per cent of the total), 300 in Aleppo and another 300 in Deraa. Over 1,500 schools are being used as shelters for displaced persons.  The Damascus University community has also taken on the humanitarian challenge of assisting sister educational institutions that have been affected by the current crisis including campuses in Homs and Aleppo, among others.  This observer has met several Damascus University students among the 9,000 volunteers, including Palestinian refugees, who are donating their time working with the Syria Red Crescent Society (SARCS). Many DU students are also volunteering with assisting primary schools.

The grim reality of Syrian families, hospitals and health care facilities across the country, and now its Universities, students and educational institutions, experiencing the claimed “humanitarian sanctions” which emphasize” exemptions for food, medicine and medical equipment exemptions, once again exposes Obama administration claimed humanitarian values to ridicule here and around the world.

Rather than target Syria’s future leaders, the White House would do well to cancel its student targeting sanctions and send Secretary Kerrey to Damascus to meet face-to-face with the Syrian people and government and demonstrate a real American interest in stopping the bloodshed.  Armored vehicles and assorted “non-lethal aid” to one side in this conflict will only prolong the killing, as any student here will attest.

Franklin Lamb is doing research in Syria and can be reached c/o fplamb@gmail.com

 

Franklin Lamb is a visiting Professor of International Law at the Faculty of Law, Damascus University and volunteers with the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program (sssp-lb.com).

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Michael Welton
The Conversable World: Finding a Compass in Post-9/11 Times
Brian Cloughley
Don’t be Black in America
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Kent Paterson
In Search of the Great New Mexico Chile Pepper in a Post-NAFTA Era
Binoy Kampmark
Live Death on Air: The Killings at WDBJ
Gui Rochat
The Guise of American Democracy
Emma Scully
Vultures Over Puerto Rico: the Financial Implications of Dependency
Chuck Churchill
Is “White Skin Privilege” the Key to Understanding Racism?
Kathleen Wallace
The Id(iots) Emerge
Andrew Stewart
Zionist Hip-Hop: a Critical Look at Matisyahu
Gregg Shotwell
The Fate of the UAW: Study, Aim, Fire
Halyna Mokrushyna
Decentralization Reform in Ukraine
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action
Norman Pollack
World Capitalism, a Basket Case: A Layman’s View
Sarah Lazare
Listening to Iraq
John Laforge
NSP/Xcel Energy Falsified Welding Test Documents on Rad Waste Casks
Wendell G Bradley
Drilling for Wattenberg Oil is Not Profitable
Joy First
Wisconsin Walk for Peace and Justice: Nine Arrested at Volk Field
Mel Gurtov
China’s Insecurity
Mateo Pimentel
An Operator’s Guide to Trump’s Racism
Yves Engler
Harper Conservatives and Abuse of Power
Michael Dickinson
Police Guns of Brixton: Another Unarmed Black Shot by London Cops
Ron Jacobs
Daydream Sunset: a Playlist
Charles R. Larson
The Beginning of the Poppy Wars: Amitav Ghosh’s “Flood of Fire”
David Yearsley
A Rising Star Over a Dark Forest
August 27, 2015
Sam Husseini
Foreign Policy, Sanders-Style: Backing Saudi Intervention
Brad Evans – Henry A. Giroux
Self-Plagiarism and the Politics of Character Assassination: the Case of Zygmunt Bauman