Harrisonburg Residents Lobby and Pray for Peace in Syria

Demonstrators light candles, preparing to march around the courthouse in conclusion of the vigil.

Demonstrators light candles, preparing to march around the courthouse in conclusion of the vigil.

Court Square is no stranger to community gatherings. To the community of Harrisonburg, Court Square has served as a common ground and meeting place. It is a place for the members of the community to come together and discuss hopes and concerns, exchange stories, and, if need be, to gather together in prayer.

Last Monday, over 150 community members assembled on Court Square to “express their concern” towards President Barack Obama’s push for U.S. military action in the nation of Syria. Harrisonburg, along with more than 165 other communities, took part in a nation-wide vigil to demonstrate public resolve against military intervention, as well as pray for peace and healing for the people of Syria.

Following the accusations against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s use of Sarin gas on Damascus civilians on August 21, several U.S. leaders proposed a military strike on Syria, a proposal that many people take issue with.

“Many of us have concerns about the gassing itself,” community speaker Earl Martin commented as he opened the evening’s dialog. “But at the same time, we are also concerned that sending in tomahawk missiles isn’t the right call….there must be more creative ways, more imaginative and more effective.”

Martin was one of eight other speakers, coming from different backgrounds and ideologies, but all united under a common understanding: “War is definitely not the solution.”

The evening consisted of songs, prayers, and a candle lit procession around the 200 year old courthouse, as well as a series of community speakers. Amongst those who spoke that evening was EMU student and U.S. Army veteran Evan Knappenberger. Knappenberger was quick to point out to the assembly he himself was not a pacifist, but he believed outside military involvement was not justified and would cause further damage not only to Syria, but to the entire Middle Eastern region.

Knappenberger was the first speaker Monday night to use the phrase, “not the right tool,” a phrase that would go on to be referenced 13 more times that evening.

“Let’s be clear, there is no simple solution,” said EMU’s CJP Executive Director Daryl Byler. Byler spent six years serving as MCC’s regional director in the nation of Jordan. In an opinion column that he wrote for the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Sept. 5, Byler also called for alternative “tools” for peace-building, pointing out the potential in exploiting the shame culture of the region.

During the vigil, Byler stated he believed shaming the responsible parties through visual documentation of the attacks, as well as sharing the per- sonal stories of those directly affected by the attacks, would ultimately be a more effective solution in trying to resolve the conflict.

Later in the evening, EMU professor Kent Sensenig began sharing some of his thoughts on the proposed strike on Syria, reaffirming comments alluded to by Knappenberger earlier that evening, as well as warning against a “moral crusade.”

“Ten years ago, we tried to send the message, ‘don’t cross this line.’ It didn’t work in Iraq. Why would it now?”

-Michael Bodner, Co-News Editor; photo cred. Randi B. Hagi

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