5 Dinner Party Rules For Discussing the Syria Crisis


Over the last two weeks, Syria has become a hot topic of conversation as a possible U.S. military intervention looms. Here are some tips to manage some of the more challenging social scenarios you may find yourself in.

1. Keep a map handy.

After over eight years of war in Iraq and heavy media coverage of the uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa, some people still don’t know where things are. Following the Boston Marathon Bombing, the Czech Republic’s ambassador to the U.S. was forced to explain that his country was a different entity from Chechnya. Someone recently asked me regarding Syria, “Aren’t they Caucasian and over near Russia?”

Geography is hard. Just ask the graphics people over at Fox News.


2. Brace yourself for conflated use of the terms Islam, Islamic, Muslim, Arab, terrorist, and others.

You’re going to hear these terms misused often. For some, concern over accuracy and nuance in language is just a silly waste of time. In a recent op-ed for PolicyMic, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) used the term “Islamic rebels” when referring to those fighting against Assad’s government. Islamic refers to things that are related to Islam, such as Islamic architecture or philosophy.

So, is Rand trying to say the rebels are Muslim? This shouldn’t be surprising considering Syria is a Muslim-majority country. Instead, Paul is inflecting Islam with a negative connotation and trying to broad-brush the diverse and fractured rebel groups as religiously motivated extremists and terrorists.

Attempt to explain these differences and nuances to your conversation partner.

3. Prepare to show that Syrians are not a one-dimensional people driven solely by religion.

Daniel Horowitz, in an article titled “Letting Allah Sort Out Islamic Civil War in Syria,” purposefully misrepresents the war in Syria as an Islamic civil war with Al-Qaeda pitted against Assad's government and Hezbollah, a not uncommon point of view. Despite Syria’s political, religious, and ethnic diversity, Syrians couldn’t possibly be fighting over political power or social and economic inequalities, according to Horowitz.

The Syrian civil war is a complex conflict. The uprising began as a revolution against a dictatorial regime, and many are still fighting and working for this purpose. However, numerous groups are now fighting for their own various interests. There are sectarian elements to this conflict, but they are only one part of the bigger picture.

When faced with this argument, simply remind the person of the American Christian Civil War of 1861 to 1865, when the Southern Christians fought against the Northern Christians.

4. Fight nonsense with nonsense.

Some people say truly insensitive things about Syria. In a public speech this summer, Sarah Palin made statements regarding Syria, and she said, “These Islamic radical countries aren’t even respecting basic human rights with both sides are slaughtering each other as they scream over an arbitrary red-line Allahu akbar. I say until we have someone who knows what they’re doing, I say, let Allah sort it out,” to audience laughter.

The only way to deal with such nonsense is further nonsense. Try something like “Did you know that there’s an island in Japan dominated by cats?” Don’t be afraid to be creative.

5. Have an exit strategy.

Some are interpreting the events in Syria as a sign of the impending Armageddon. Though rare, you may encounter such a person. How do you eject yourself from the situation? Simply take a look at the time and excuse yourself by explaining that you must run home to replace the expired canned goods in your underground bunker. Then, back away.

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Elizabeth Rghebi

I recently received my M.A. from Columbia University in Middle Eastern studies. My research interests focus on Arab politics, especially in the Levant and North Africa.

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