Two Women And The Impact Of War In The Middle East

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Phoenicia Lewis (left) and Wafaa Arbash are pictured in the studio. (Karyn Miller-Medzon/Here & Now)
Phoenicia Lewis (left) and Wafaa Arbash are pictured in the studio. (Karyn Miller-Medzon/Here & Now)

Phoenicia Lewis, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq, and Wafaa Arbash, a Syrian who spent months waking up to the sounds of bombs in her family's home before heading to the U.S. for a study abroad program, struck up a friendship when they met at Brandeis University.

They're both in the Master's program in conflict resolution and coexistence at the university's Heller School for Social Policy and Management, just outside Boston.

They decided to share some of their stories on their program's website, hoping to reach a wider audience than just their peers at school. Here & Now's Robin Young speaks with them.

Interview Highlights: Phoenicia Lewis and Wafaa Arbash

Wafaa Arbash on her Syrian origins

"My family is still there. Everybody I know is still there, so it's just so sad for me being far and see what's happening in my country and then see what the news are putting stories together and saying about the Syrian people, what's happening to them."

Phoenicia Lewis on her experience in Iraq

"I feel like I always knew that there would be people there but it didn't click, like, fully until I actually saw people there. And, so, this idea of 'enemy,' particularly because we were doing counterinsurgency, gets very unclear, whatever the enemy was supposed to be, like, you can't see them and they're not a conventional army. They're not wearing a uniform, and then there's people who live in what is considered our combat zone. There was a lot of fogginess that made it very difficult to understand."

Wafaa Arbash on war's effect on the enjoyment of fireworks

"I just cannot hear fireworks, even though I can see it in my eyes and I see people are enjoying this. This sound that people here in the U.S. are enjoying is the same sound in Syria where people are being killed."

Phoenicia Lewis on what they've connected on

"Just the way that politicians talk about war, airstrikes. I think a lot of times it's done for political reasons, but we're both very conscious that there's people's lives on the other end of that discourse. We have both seen it in our own lives and the lives of the people around us."

On some U.S. politicians suggesting to carpet bomb Syria

Wafaa Arbash: "When everybody says that, I just feel like, seriously, this is not a solution. Destroying other people's lives is going to make more violence. Their reaction would be more violent, more than today."

Phoenicia Lewis: "When politicians say things like that, they also don't recognize that they're usually asking service members to conduct those actions and they're going to live with that for the rest of their lives."

Wafaa Arbash: "I want to add one more thing about that. When any politician would say, 'Let's bomb Syria,' I know there are many people are following those people and believe in them, so that's changing all these people's attitude and those people are spreading their idea among their relatives, or friends or family or whatever. And all this bringing so negative impacts about the people from this country and so the stereotyping comes in and people getting very afraid and worried. 'Oh, you're from Syria, maybe you are a terrorist;' 'What's your link between ISIS?' We need to be more aware and conscious about what these politicians are talking about, who's following them and just think deeply about what they are saying."


  • Phoenicia Lewis, U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq.
  • Wafaa Arbash, graduate teaching assistant at Brandeis University. She tweets @wafaa_arbash.

This segment aired on April 12, 2016.


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