Longtime Concord resident, engineer and entrepreneur Sam Salloum will present a free informational forum “Iraq, Syria, ISIL and Croissant” at 7 p.m. Oct. 28 at Concord’s Piedmont Renaissance Center. Michael Eury will be master of ceremonies.
Salloum decided to give the talk as, above all else, a humanitarian effort.
Salloum said he hopes the knowledge he shares will inspire people “to care about fellow human beings outside this country who are victims.… Be responsible, global citizens, think of humanity as one, instead of ‘us and them,’ regardless of who ‘us’ is and who ‘them’ are. Everything is so polarizing these days, intolerant.”
His background qualifies Salloum, 58, to speak about the crisis in the Middle East.
He was born to a Christian family in Syria, where only 10 percent of the population is Christian ( https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/sy.html). One of his parents was from the town of Hama, known for the Hama Massacre in 1982. The conflicts, in which thousands of civilians were killed, involved the radical Muslim Brotherhood and the Syrian government.
Salloum immigrated to Lebanon as a child, with his parents and a sibling, after Syria changed from a capitalistic to a socialistic system.
When civil war erupted in Lebanon in 1975, Salloum’s family sent him to the United States on his own to prepare a place for them to flee. The airport in Lebanon was being shelled as his flight left.
He arrived in the U.S. at age 19, with little money and nothing but the clothes on his back. His luggage was lost on the flight and was never delivered to him.
“I remember being on the tarmac and seeing my luggage there, but the plane had to be diverted. … The flight was delayed 12 hours because the Saudi king’s flight was about to land.”
He never returned to Lebanon.
Salloum is a civil engineer who has worked in the Middle East as a civilian contractor for the U.S. Department of Defense. He does not have access to classified information, so that will not be part of his talk.
Instead, he said, he plans to “connect the dots” on current events for people who aren’t equipped with the knowledge of the Middle East.
Many pieces of information can be connected to form different pictures, he said, depending on who is interpreting the information. The way the picture is presented to the public, therefore, is not always necessarily the picture the dots truly form.
For example, Salloum said, he believes the regimes seeking to overthrow the Syrian government are presented as a class of educated people.
“Those of us that lived there, that suffered there, know that’s not the case,” he said.
He believes the group consists more of fanatics, radicals and the intolerant.
“After we immigrated to Lebanon, mom would go back (to Syria) and visit her family in the bastion of the Muslim Brotherhood. … You have no choice but to drive through neighborhoods where children and teenagers would throw rocks at our car because she was an unveiled woman,” he said. “That’s who wants to overthrow the government.”
Another example: “There seems to be a focus and brighter lights put on those that (the U.S. doesn’t) like in the Middle East, while ignoring the atrocities committed by our allies in coalition,” he said.
Salloum said he has considered speaking for a long time. He finally decided he did not want to see the crisis go on without saying anything.
“At some point, we have to start thinking about humanity as one unit instead of foes and enemies and strategies, and how (we) can take advantage of each other,” said Salloum.
“… We have a tendency to only count people who die … but we lose track of the people still living whose lives have been destroyed. It’s sad. Somebody has to speak up, somebody who knows what’s happening.”
Many Middle Eastern immigrants, Salloum said, are happy to be able to come to the U.S. and be accepted, and they do not want to speak up or complain about anything.
“But at some point people have to talk about the injustices that were done to them,” he said.
“Caught up in policy, strategy, they are uprooted, they are scattered all over the world. … They are not the type to pick up arms and form militias, so they just pick up and leave. … And why? A lot of it is for no reason. I can’t see why we have to appease certain governments of the Middle East just to get oil, for example.”
Salloum said he hopes people who attend his presentation will ask questions after his speech.