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Tensions Over Syria Run High In Two Chicago-Area Districts


Defending national security is one of the core arguments President Obama is using in his bid to strike Syria. Congress is expected to vote on military action next week. NPR's David Schaper takes us now to two Chicago area districts where passions on Syria are running high.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: The more than 200 folding chairs set up in the community center in suburban Willow Springs were not nearly enough to accommodate the overflowing crowd that turned out for Democratic Congressman Dan Lipinski's town hall meeting last night. Most in the standing room only crowd at first applauded the conservative-leaning Democrat's position against a lengthy involvement in Syria and the deployment of troops.

REPRESENTATIVE DAN LIPINSKI: And there has to be a short period of time where the president is given authority to act.

SCHAPER: With his constituents turning on him, Lipinski quickly clarified that he's officially undecided because he's not yet convinced that airstrikes will deter Assad from using chemical weapons in the future. The first constituent to speak up was Joe Pavlec from Chicago.

JOE PAVLEC: We do not want anything to do with Syria. I don't want to see one more young man or young woman come home without legs. I don't want to go to one more of my friends' son's funerals. And if you think that we can lob bombs in the Middle East and not have a consequence, you're fooling yourself.

CATHERINA WOJTOWICZ: My name is Catherina Wojtowicz, and I come from the Southwest Side. Congressman, we're Catholics. The Pope has spoke very loudly. We oppose war. No troops on the ground. We oppose war, period.

SCHAPER: There were far fewer at the town hall meeting who came out to support military action against Syria, but those who did appeal to the congressman's sense of moral justice.

NOURI AL-KHALED: At this moment of time, there are murders happening in the country called Syria.

SCHAPER: Nouri al-Khaled is one of many Syrian Americans living in Lipinski's district, which covers part of Chicago and its Southwest suburbs.

AL-KHALED: And there's a tyrant committing this murder by gassing their own people. Regardless what - who stands with this tyrant, we should stand for what this country is all good about. It's defending the humanity. I encourage you and support you, Mr. Congressman, to vote yes with Mr. Obama's strike.

SCHAPER: And an angry Talal Sunbulli, a doctor who just returned from a visit to the region, says the only way to stop Assad is for the U.S. to strike.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And the gentleman on the aisle here.

TALAL SUNBULLI: We're not asking for any boots on the ground. We're asking only for some missiles to attack them, to tell him that there's still people in the world that they care, and he cannot continue his atrocity forever.

SCHAPER: Most in the conservative-leaning crowd were not convinced. And on the opposite side of the city, 30 miles away, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky also faced a group of constituents angry about possible military strikes against Assad's regime.

BARBARA LYONS: He doesn't give a damn what we do one way or the other.

SCHAPER: Barbara Lyons lives in nearby Evanston, and she doubts any U.S. involvement would be limited in scope and duration.

LYONS: You can't be a little bit pregnant, and you can't do - just get in there a teeny tiny bit for a week and a half.

SCHAPER: And the fact that liberal Democrat Schakowsky, who opposed the war in Iraq, is now leaning towards supporting the president's call for airstrikes against Syria more than disappoints Lyons.

LYONS: I'm furious with her. And if she votes this way - I mean, I don't know what I'll do in the next election.

SCHAPER: Lyons and the other antiwar activists with her say they're even more disappointed in another Chicago politician who they thought would steer clear of military action, that being President Barack Obama. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.