We Love You Trump: Syrian Users on the American Attack

Adam Hoffman takes a look at how some Syrian social media users viewed the American missile strike in Syria.

On April 7, US destroyers fired 59 cruise missiles at the Syrian army’s al-Shaerat base, responding to the chemical attack against Khan Sheikhun three days earlier‎, which Syrian rebels and most of the world attributed to the Assad regime. The American attack evoked strong reactions from Syrian activists and refugees on social networking sites (SNS). They expressed anger and fury at the regime, along with euphoria and optimism in response to the American intervention. Surrealistically, US President Donald Trump, known for his controversial statements about Islam and his attempts to impose an executive order to prevent Muslim immigrants from entering the United States, became the darling of many Syrians. These surprising expressions of support for Trump are contextualized by many Syrians' perception of the Obama administration and the international community as apathetic to Syria's civil war.

The chemical attack in Khan Sheikhun on April 4[1] killed at least 86 people, most of them women and children, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [2]  Laboratory tests conducted by British and Turkish scientists found that the chemical substance used in the attack was Sarin gas. [3] Unsurprisingly, Syrian President Bashar Assad denied the Syrian regime’s responsibility for the attack and claimed that “the chemical attack was completely fabricated.” [4]

The chemical attack was strongly condemned throughout the world, and also provoked angry responses from Syrian activists on SNS. These responses were shared as part of a virtual campaign launched on Twitter under the hashtag “Chemical Assad” in Arabic and English.[5] The tweets included pictures showing the bodies of children killed in the attack and expressions of outrage against Assad. According to one Syrian user, “The world will not forget Assad’s crime in Syria and the killing of the children by [Assad] the chemist.”[6] An account associated with the Syrian revolution published a call to online activists to use this hashtag for two purposes; to decry the massacre in Khan Sheikhun, and to remember “al-Ghutta al-Sharqiya in 2013,” a deadly chemical attack in August 2013 also attributed to the Syrian regime, which caused the deaths of hundreds of people.[7] Another tweet showed Assad’s photograph, with the bodies of child victims of the chemical attack in Khan Sheikhun in the background, and the caption “Chemical Assad Selfie” (see photo). [8]

The chemical attack against the Syrian town not only led to international condemnation, but also to an unusual American military response against the Syrian regime. Trump stated that the attack “changed his mind” about Assad and “crossed a lot of lines."[9] This statement was a reminder of former US President Barack Obama’s famous August 2012 statement that drew a “red line,” warning the Assad regime not to use chemical weapons. However, that warning was not enforced when the 2013 use of chemical weapons was attributed to the Syrian regime. In response to the attack in Khan Sheikhun, Trump declared that military action was in the interests of “the supreme national security of the United States to prevent and deter the proliferation and use of lethal chemical weapons.” [10]

The American attack was the first military action by the international community against the Syrian regime since the outbreak of the civil war in March 2011. This marked the new, aggressive line taken by the Trump administration towards the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons. As a result, it elicited enthusiastic reactions from many Syrians. Bana al-’Abed, a seven-year-old girl who became famous for her tweets from besieged Aleppo,[11] tweeted, “I am a Syrian girl who suffered under Bashar Assad and Putin. I welcome Donald Trump’s action against the murderers of my people."[12] A Syrian user living in Sweden wrote, “As a Syrian refugee, I never imagined I would say this: Thank you Donald Trump for bombing the regime that uprooted me, please do more.” [13] Qassem Eid, a former Syrian rebel who fled to the United States, wrote, “As a Syrian and survivor of Assad’s chemical massacre [in 2013], I want to thank the President of the United States for attacking the dictator, you gave me hope [...] may God bless you, sir.”[14] In an interview on CNN, Eid continued, “For more than six years, we asked [the world] for protection, and today for the first time it happened. Today, unlike in the past, Assad is being held responsible for his crimes against humanity.” Beyond this attack, he urged Trump to work to create no-fly zones in Syria and eliminate the planes remaining in Assad’s air force, preventing the regime from continuing to bombard Syrian citizens. To date, this interview has been viewed more than 3.6 million times on YouTube. [15]

In another expression of Syrian users’ support for the American attack, many users changed their profile pictures to a picture of Trump accompanied by the Arabic inscription, “We love you” (menakhabak), which quickly became a meme circulating among Syrian Twitter users. [16] Changing profile pictures expressed not only appreciation for Trump, but also defiance of Assad, whose image accompanied by “We Love You” is displayed on billboards throughout Damascus. This image and inscription are also common among supporters of the Syrian regime on SNS. [17]

The chemical attack on Khan Sheikhun was the most recent episode in the Syrian civil war's long list of atrocities. Although the world has been consistently aware of this series, only the most recent episode led to an exceptional American attack on the Syrian regime. It is highly doubtful that this attack will change the face of the battle in Syria, or save the lives of Syrian civilians subjected to daily attacks by the Assad regime. However, lacking any practical pathways for the civilian population to oppose the regime and impact the dynamics of the ongoing conflict, SNS provide civilians with the space to express protest, anger, and frustration at the regime’s actions, as well as satire and triumph in response to American actions. The enthusiastic discourse on SNS illustrates many Syrians' desire for significant international intervention in Syria, ending the country's civil war and its accompanying humanitarian disaster.

[1] Anne Barnard and Michael R. Gordon, “Worst Chemical Attack in Years in Syria; U.S. Blames Assad.” The New York Times, April 4, 2017. 

[2] “The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights continue documenting the casualties of the black Tuesday’s massacre in Khan Shaykhun, death toll rises to 86 about two-thirds of them are children and women,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, April 5, 2017. 

[3] Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Sir Geoffrey Adams, “54th Special Session of the Executive Council”, Gov.UK, 13 April 2017.; “Turkish health minister says tests confirm sarin use in Idlib attack”, Reuters, April 11, 2017.

[4] “Syria’s Assad says Idlib chemical attack ‘fabrication’: AFP interview”, Reuters, April 13, 2017.  

[5] #بشار_الكيماوي; #Chemical_Bashar

[6] @wa991522, Twitter, 11 April 2017.  Last accessed 16 July 2018.  

[7] @2011Hsr, Twitter, 11 April 2017.  Last accessed 16 July 2018. 

[8] @RevolutionSyria, Twitter, 12 April 2017.  Last accessed 16 July 2018. 

[9] “Trump says chemical attack in Syria crossed many lines”, Reuters, April 6, 2017. 

[10] Barbara Starr and Jeremy Diamond, “Trump launches military strike against Syria”, CNN, April 7, 2017. 

[11] “Childhood under fire in Aleppo: 7-year-old documents her life in the besieged city,” Walla! News, October 3, 2016 (in Hebrew).

[12] @AlabedBana, Twitter.

[13] @miladkawas, Twitter, 7 April 2017.  Last accessed 16 July 2018.  

[14] @QZakarya, Twitter, 7 April 2017.  Last accessed 16 July 2018.  

[15] CNN, "Syrian survivor to Trump:  Thank you,"  7 April 2017.  Youtube.com.  Last accessed 16 July 2018.  

[16] @AbuSulaymanMM3, Twitter, 7 April 2017.  Last accessed 16 July 2018; @QatarPI, Twitter; @omarghabra, Twitter, 7 April 2017.  Last accessed 16 July 2018.

[17] @bayloun_hussein, Twitter, 14 April 2017.  Last accessed 16 July 2018; @mayushka313, Twitter, 12 April 2017.  Last accessed 16 July 2018; @Sohayb_Masri1, Twitter, 12 April 2017.  Last accessed 16 July 2018; @syrianresist, Twitter, 13 April 2017.  Last accessed 16 July 2018.