This lesson is a good supplement to the curriculum The Middle East in Transition: Questions for U.S. Policy.
Have students explore, debate, and evaluate multiple perspectives on U.S. policy towards Syria through a role-play activity in the lesson Debating the U.S. Response to Syria.
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Teaching with the News
The Conflict in Syria
- Work in groups to research the perspectives of a variety of domestic and international actors on the conflict in Syria.
- Understand the effects of the conflict and the possible risks of escalation.
- Consider the challenges facing the international community as it weighs its response to the conflict.
Note: The research portion of this lesson can be done either in class or as homework. Students are likely to find the material more engaging if they each have their own computers or can share with a partner. Teachers may want to review with students their guidelines for internet usage ahead of time.
Ask students what they know about the conflict in Syria. Write down student answers on the board. To give students a full picture of what is going on in Syria and why, show them the video on this AP news site. To access the video, use the menu button at the top of the page. The video is on the first page: "Understanding the complexities of Syria's civil war." (Alternatively, you may want to have students watch this video for homework before beginning the lesson.) When did this conflict start? Why did it start? What do opposition groups want? Why do students think the government has responded with force? What ethnic divisions exist in Syria? What has been the international response to the conflict? Add student answers to the notes on the board.
2. Understanding International Views
Divide the class into a multiple of four groups (i.e. 4, 8, 12, etc. depending on how large you want the groups to be). Assign each group one of the following research topics: domestic actors in Syria, Syria’s neighbors, and the international community (divided into groups A and B). Distribute the corresponding handouts from “Group Worksheets.” Tell students they should work with their group members to answer the questions on the handouts. Groups should be prepared to report back to the class. Students may find the following websites useful in their research:
Associated Press: Syrian Uprising–From Arab Spring to Civil War
This site provides a wide variety of background material including statistics, information about Syria’s ethnic groups, international positions on the conflict, and a timeline. To scroll through the site, use the arrow buttons at the top of the page.
Council on Foreign Relations: Syria’s Crisis and the Global Response
This Q&A article offers information on the Syrian opposition movement and the positions of the Arab League, UN, United States, China, and Russia.
The UN Refugee Agency: Syria Regional Refugee Response
This site provides graphs on the numbers of Syrian refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq.
Al Jazeera: The Syrian Squeeze
This site features a graphic on the economic sanctions on Syria and statements by permanent UN Security Council members.
Al Jazeera: Syrian Conflict Affects Traders in Jordan
This short video describes some economic effects of Syria’s crisis. Related sources are linked in the right-hand column.
PBS Frontline: Syria Undercover
This website for the November 2011 Frontline program Syria Undercover has the video of the program as well as links to numerous articles about the conflict. “Q&A: A Closer Look at Syria’s Fragmented Opposition” and “How the World Stacks Up on Syria” are particularly useful for this activity.
PBS: Violence in Syria Aggravates Sectarian Tensions in Lebanon
This short video highlights the spillover violence in Lebanon due to the conflict in Syria.
The New York Times: Syria
This site provides a detailed overview of the conflict, with links to New York Times articles, video, and other multimedia.
3. Weighing the Conflict and the Response of the International Community
When groups have completed their handouts, bring the class back together for discussion. Distribute “The Conflict in Syria: Graphic Organizer.” Students may find it helpful to take notes on this worksheet during the course of the discussion.
Ask groups to report on what they found. What is happening in Syria today? How has it affected Syria’s people? Syria’s neighbors? How might this conflict escalate within Syria? How might it escalate and involve Syria’s neighbors? What issues is the international community most concerned about?
What has the international community done to address this crisis? Have these efforts been successful? Why or why not? What are the challenges of international intervention? What countries or groups support intervention? What countries or groups oppose it? What countries or groups remain neutral? Why does this make it difficult for the international community to act?
Ask students to consider the different perspectives they have researched (groups in Syria, neighboring states, and the wider international community). In what ways are the views of groups or countries affected by geographic location? For example, why might an official in Lebanon view this conflict differently than an official in China or in the United States? Which views do students think are the most important to consider? Why?
Do students think the international community should take further action in Syria? Why or why not? If so, what action should they take? In what ways might new international policies affect Syria’s people or Syria’s neighbors? For example, what would be the effects of further economic sanctions? Military action? What might be the effect of a lack of international action? Do students think this conflict can be resolved? If so, how?