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Civic Impact

Ellis School student with family still in Syria draws attention through July 30 panel


Thirteen members of Laila Al-Soulaiman's family have died in the clashes that began last year between Syria's citizens and its government, which started in her home city of Daraa. She can't discuss the specifics of her family's situation today; that "would compromise what they are actively trying to do," says the North Huntingdon resident, who will be an Ellis School senior this fall. "Many are active in the protest. Many are still silent.”
 
Laila believes none of us can afford to stay silent about the conflict, and so she is doing what few 17-year-olds do -- she is organizing a panel discussion to create citywide awareness of the Syrian situation, which she hopes will lead to further action.
 
“The average Pittsburgher – that’s who I want to come,” she says of the event, which will be held on July 30 from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Squirrel Hill Carnegie Library meeting room A/B. Besides herself, there are two other panelists so far:     Imam Abdu Semih of Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, and Syrian-American Dalel Khalil, author of From Veils To Thongs and a University of Pittsburgh alumna, who believes their common culture can unite Syrians, Laila says. Khalil is also Antiochian Orthodox Christian. That there are also many Christians in Syria may surprise Americans, Laila believes.
 
The panel, being organized with the help of Global Solutions Pittsburgh and the local Syrian community, will give Pittsburghers the idea that they are connected to what's happening in Syria, she says, and that "we have a lot of power to change it. I don’t want to advocate anything politically – that should be left up to the people at the panel."
 
In her opinion, a solution to the crisis "is something that needs to come from the Syrian people. I think the U.S. government should impose heavier sanctions on the Syrian regime. Right now they’re just letting it happen.”
 
In the future, she hopes to hold a rally in Pittsburgh. There have been public protests in other American cities, but those cities have had larger populations overall, as well as bigger communities of Muslims and of Syrians.
 
"I’m very hopeful that Syria will find freedom," Laila says, "and the first step is that the international community needs to act more like a community and help the Syrian cause. I hope this little panel will add up to something. Mostly, I hope people will care.”
 
For more information and registration, click here.
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Laila Al-Soulaiman
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