But at first they found it difficult to get people to attend the events, much less commit time and money to the cause. It seemed like there was just too much turmoil these days, too many wars and corporate misdeeds and mass shootings and natural disasters, for people to devote much outrage to what was happening in Syria. "It's so hard," says Amal. "I've become a cynic since I became an activist. I've lost friends."

Since the chemical attacks, though, suddenly everyone is paying attention to what's happening in Syria. Media outlets are calling Amal, asking about her poems and what the United States should do.

That's why Amal is at this peace protest: to speak up for the Syrian people.

Amal Kassir at a candelight vigil at the State Capitol.
Anthony Camera
Amal Kassir at a candelight vigil at the State Capitol.
Ken Arkind, Amil Kassir’s mentor at Minor Disturbance.
Anthony Camera
Ken Arkind, Amil Kassir’s mentor at Minor Disturbance.

Facing the peace protesters, she holds up a sign: "If you cared about peace, why did you let 120,000 people die?"

"We are not here opposing you," she yells into her megaphone. "We are here to tell you there is another side to the story." She wants to explain why she supports U.S. involvement in Syria, whether through economic sanctions, a trade embargo, a no-fly zone or, yes, even controversial military strikes. She doesn't see the civil war in Syria as just one more Middle Eastern quagmire; she sees it as a crisis akin to those in Rwanda and Bosnia and Herzegovina. "Syria isn't Afghanistan; Syria isn't Iraq," she'd said earlier. "People are trying to neglect the humanitarian obligation we have."

And she wants to tell them about her family, and the place she spent half her childhood. She wants to tell them about everything she's lost.

But here at the protest, it's hard for her to tell them any of this. "A U.S. strike will kill thousands more!" counters a peace protester, pointing at her sign. "Go to Saudi Arabia, where you belong," hollers another.

"We are not extremists!" shouts Amal. "Your slogans are getting old!" But her megaphone's batteries are dying, and her words are lost in the rush-hour traffic. Screaming in the rain, Amal is consumed by the same passion that turned her into a star, but there's none of the focus, none of the elegance she has when performing on a stage. Instead, as the soggy, cold afternoon drags on, from both sides there's just a lot of noise.

Melissa worries about her daughter, about her willingness to speak out about Syria, no matter the circumstances, no matter the consequences. "She knows she is going to be met with backlash," Melissa says. "She has this quality about her that says, 'I really don't care.' To some degree, it's perfect. But there comes a time when that can hurt you. If you are going to say something, you'd better be prepared to answer for it. Be accountable for your words and use them wisely. Don't get caught up in anger and emotions.

"She is more out there than she's ever been," Amal's mother adds. "It scares me."


Several days after facing off against the peace demonstrators, Amal returns to the steps of the Capitol for another event she's planned with Kyle. But this isn't a protest or a counterprotest. It's a candlelight vigil for those killed in Syria and in other wars and atrocities. And, Amal says, there's one rule: "No politics."

Politically, it's been a dispiriting week. After facing opposition from both Congress and the public over its plan to intervene in Syria, the Obama administration switched course, agreeing to a proposal to have the Syrian government relinquish all of its chemical weapons. While Amal wouldn't have welcomed the Syrian bloodshed that could have resulted from a military strike, she understood what this policy change really meant: If not even evidence of chemical warfare could spur the international community to take action over Syria, what would? "I have learned the most painful truth through this political dispute that has taken place over the last fifteen days on whether or not the U.S. should intervene," she wrote in an article about the situation for Umma Speak, a Muslim website. "People do not care about the well-being of the Syrian people, or any foreign group for that matter."

Tonight's vigil isn't about political disputes, though. It's about remembrance. Maybe that's why it draws a larger crowd than most of Amal's other events: thirty to forty people, some from the Muslim community, some from the slam-poetry scene. It's as though both halves of Amal's world are coming together.

The turnout seems to buoy the young poet. As people gather around, each holding a lit candle, she addresses the crowd. "We are standing in the United States of America," she begins. "Let's honor the people in this country who died on September 11."

She raises her own candle. "This is for my grandfather, and all the others who have not had their gravesites recognized," she says. "This is for the people who pick up bodies in the street and get shot for doing so. This is for the war deaths, no matter where they are, no matter what their faith. To kill one man is to kill all of mankind. To save one man is to save all of mankind. Our attempts are fragile, but our symbols mean something."

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patricia.calhoun moderator editortopcommenter

I'd like to publish these comments in our print edition, ideally with the author's real name/town. If that's okay, e-mail me at patricia.calhoun@westword.com


Amal Kassir is an incredible young woman. It is not easy going up against ignorance. Keep slamming young lady!