CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It started two years ago in Dara'a, Syria, when a handful of boys between the ages of 10 and 15 were arrested, detained and tortured by members of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
Their crime? Graffiti that mocked the Assad regime, and consequently ignited a conflict that has seen as many as 100,000 casualties and nearly 2 million refugees, and has sparked debate in the U.S. and around the world.
"I fear we have not fully understood the realities and the nuances that surround this conflict," said Haris Tarin, director of the Washington, D.C. office of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.
"This is not merely a sectarian or ethnic civil war. The revolution started with a mere act of art.
"This was a challenging piece of expression to a brutal rule of one of the most oppressive families in the world -- the Assad family," Tarin said. "The boys were arrested and subsequently tortured."
Tarin participated in a panel discussion Thursday evening hosted by the University of Charleston to address the issues facing the U.S. government in determining if it will allow U.S. military intervention in Syria. "Syria, a Human Tragedy: How Does the World Respond?" was moderated by UC President Ed Welch and organized after students came forward to request a more far-reaching discussion on what intervention in Syria by the U.S. could mean for both countries.
Jim Lewis, a retired Episcopal minister from Charleston and co-founder of West Virginia Patriots for Peace who has taken part in recent protests against U.S. intervention, said he believed "controlled strikes" by the U.S. in Syria would not serve to quell the uprising or stabilize the region -- just result in more civilian deaths.
"Sending Tomahawk missiles will not be at all, in my opinion, a sympathetic, empathetic thing to do. It will not be effective," Lewis said. "The way we learn in this country is with troops. When we sent them to Vietnam, we knew nothing. We learn the other side of war. We knew little of Afghanistan until we started getting ourselves enmeshed in Afghanistan. We know next to nothing about Syria in this country. The way we discover countries here, so often, is by sending troops into them."
Lewis was part of a peace delegation sent to Iraq four months prior to the Gulf War in 1990, and has also participated in other delegations sent to Libya, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Cuba and Central America. He has also been a part of several fundraisers in recent years for Syrian humanitarian efforts.
"In my lifetime, in 77 years, I haven't seen it work," he said. "I'm a pragmatist. Some may call me an idealist, but I'm a pragmatist. It has not worked."