“What we have right now is a totally chaotic situation,” Professor Wendy Pearlman told a group of around 30 students in Kresge Centennial Hall on Wednesday evening.

This is the heart of Pearlman’s outlook on the current situation in Syria. Students gathered for the event, co-sponsored by the Northwestern College Democrats and Political Union, to listen to and speak with Pearlman about Syria’s history, it’s current climate and where the state of the country may be headed. Pearlman has done extensive research on the subject and is currently working on a new book that will contain interviews she conducted with displaced Syrians.

The purpose of the event was “to help people become more aware of what’s happening in Syria and elsewhere in the world as a result of the Trump administration,” said Cameron Peters, public relations director for the College Democrats. “We hope to channel that into activism through voting, volunteering, all of that.”

Photo courtesy of Gabrielle Nadler / North by Northwestern

Pearlman began the talk by offering a brief explanation of Syria’s history, from the beginning of Hafez al-Assad’s rule in 1970 until Bashar al-Assad’s current reign. She then opened up the floor to student questions, which included inquiries into the U.S., Russia, Turkey and the U.N.’s current involvement in Syria.  

For McCormick second-year Ayesha Prashanth, the director of communications for the College Democrats, hosting speakers like Pearlman is important because “having an open space to ask the stupid questions is really nice, without the judgement.”

In the wake of many recent actions taken by the U.S., some students feel that having an understanding of Syria is especially crucial. College Democrats President Romie Drori remarked that “Trump just made a radical shift in the area that, like professor Pearlman said, it’s kaleidoscopic and is going to change everything else.”

“I personally see U.S policy in Syria as being a disaster,” Pearlman said during the discussion. “I think we allowed a quagmire to boil on its own. So it didn’t become our problem, but 22 million Syrians have sure paid the price.”

Looking forward, she believes the U.S. can change the nature of its involvement and re-establish itself as a dominant force in helping the Syrian people. “The capacity is there, but I don’t know if the will is,” said Pearlman.

Although the intricacies of this issue may make solving the problem feel impossible, Pearlman is not entirely pessimistic. She believes that Syria still has potential for change. However, she also warned that the rise of “anti-authoritarian movements might take generations.” Still, Pearlman ultimately concluded that not all hope is lost in Syria.

“There’s still some silver lining,” Pearlman said.