Open Letters From Collaborators

Courtney Bowles and Mark Strandquist are dedicated social practice artists whose work is grounded in transforming narratives, particularly around re-entry. Working on the Friends, Peace, and Sanctuary project, they are engaged with members of the Syrian and Iraqi community who have resettled in Philadelphia using similar methods to provide a platform to tell their individual stories.

Mark and Courtney’s fourth workshop with the collaborators took place in the Main Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia during the weekend the US, France, and UK carried out strikes on Syria. In lieu of some of the previously planned activities, much of the time was dedicated to writing letters to a person, organization, government - real or imagined - about something participants wished that entity knew. Many tears were shed as people read their letters out loud in a circle to each other. They ranged from expressing outrage over blatant media lying and violence and destruction in the world to expressing love for new friends, open arms, and learning together. You can view some of the letters below.

A Letter from Abdul Karim Awad:




I Have A Dream

My dear home “the Arab world”

  • I have a dream that one day people will look at you with joy and pride, appreciating your ancient history and contributions to the world. (You who taught mankind the first alphabetical letter)

  • I have a dream that your people will return to their faith (religion) which brought them together after they were divided, and made them stronger. And I’m faithful in my identity as an Arab and my religion.

  • I have a dream that the Arab person would one day be proud again. Would be strong again to refuse the injustices of foreign lands. I have a dream of just rulers who fear God and have mercy on his followers. Those followers who have been humiliated and who felt foreign while in their countries first.

  • I have a dream that our children will have the honor of getting this freedom and restoring this dignity on this new land, with its people, and its beliefs and traditions.

  • I have a dream that our children won’t live as strangers in their own countries and that they would be respected in their new country that is a safe haven (sanctuary) for them and for their children after them.

And I still have a dream. A dream.

NOTE: in Arabic, when it is said that someone “fears God” it indicates that they have high morals, and are just and fair in how they treat others.

A Letter from Amaal:




The Lost Home

Despite my happiness here, I still miss my country.

I’m sad for the family members I left behind. (the literal translation is Despite my happiness, on the inside I’m sad over my country that I miss and over being separated from my family)

I’m sad over the thought that I don’t have a country anymore, just memories. Nothing is more painful than that.

It’s true that now I have a new country and a new family. It’s true that I’m happy and not in need of anything.

But my country will remain a pain in my heart. I wish for peace for my people and my home.

But at the end of the day, all we can do is thank God for what we have,

Thank God for everything.

A Letter from Ali Salman:




To the presidents of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council,

A call and an advice,

With appreciation and respect,

I call on you leaders, and on all the leaders of the world to understand several points (demands) regarding the lives of people in the modern world as follows:

1) Peace, peace, peace.

2) Ending all wars, and ending the pointless/useless shedding of blood.

3) Respecting all religions and doctrines and abolishing racism in all its forms by not discriminating against anyone based on their race, color, or religion.

4) The abolishing of the ‘creating hunger’ policy, and providing people with decent financial and economic statuses.

5) Applying international laws and respecting them. Rejecting double standards.

6) Caring about all levels of education in every place in the world. And activating the role of UNESCO by spreading knowledge and culture everywhere.

7) Holding the media accountable for the mess it creates in the world and making sure the present media organizations are honest and trustworthy.

8) Finally, clearly defining terrorism for what it is, and clarifying that to the world to break the linkage between Islam and terrorism.

A Letter from Osama Herkal:


رسالة إلى الرئيس ترامب

لماذا .. ؟ لماذا تحركت مشاعرك فجأة لصالح الشعب السوري الجريح؟

لماذا لم تتحرك مشاعرك خلال فترة سنة حكمك الاولى التي مات الالاف من الشعب السوري؟؟

لماذا لم تتحرك مشاعرك بصواريخ وقذائف النظام السوري وروسيا التي تدك كل ارجاء مدن سوريا؟؟

ايها الرئيس قتل ما يقارب 700 الف سوري وتم تشريد حوالي عشره مليون سوري اين كانت مشاعرك بكل هذا؟

لماذا يا فخامه الرئيس لم ترى اشلاء ما تبقي من اجساد اطفال سوريا في حلب و ادلب ودرعا وريف دمشق؟

لماذا لا ترى عيونك طائرات الروس والنظام وهي تسقط حمم ناريه وصواريخ فراغيه و براميل متفجرة فوق رؤوس ما تبقي من الشعب السوري ؟

هل تعلم أيها الرئيس أن النظام السوري استخدم السلاح الكيماوي في 51 موقع مختلف وقتل الالاف من الشعب السوري قبل اخر مجزره تحركه مشاعرك فيها؟؟

ايها الرئيس هل تعلم ان النظام. السوري لم يوفر طريقه موت واحده الا وجربها على الشعب السوري فحرق الكثير وهن على قيد الحياة وذبح الاطفال وخنق النساء ورمى بالمعتقلين السلمين من الطائرات وأغرق الشباب في البحر واعدام اعدامات ميدانيه عشرات الالوف اين كان مشاعرك من كل هذا؟؟

ايها الرئيس هل تعلم ان عناصر النظام السوري اغتصبوا الاف النساء في داخل السجون الأسدية وتم تعذيبهن بأبشع الصور؟؟

هل تعلم يا سياده الرئيس ان النظام السوري اقتحم قريه اسمها كرم الزيتون وذبح الاطفال فيها عام 2011 نعم ايها الرئيس ذبحهم بكل دم بارد؟؟؟

هل تعلم ايها الرئيس ان الشعب السوري بات مشرد بكل دول العالم؟؟

هل تعلم ايها الرئيس ان النظام السوري قصف قوافل المساعدات الإنسانية التابعة للأمم المتحدة في مواقع المعارضة السلمية السورية المحاصرة ..؟

هل تعلم حسب دراسة مجله لوس انجلس الأميركية ان حوالي 2 ميلون سوري فقد فرصته في الالتحاق بمدراس التعليم؟

هل تعلم ايها الرئيس ترامب ان 360 الف ارهابي من 93 جنسيه مختلفة يقاتلون في سوريا وجلهم استقطبهم النظام السوري وايران وروسيا وبدا النظام السوري في قتالهم. وذلك ليكون له حجه في مكافحه الارهاب وهو ابو الارهاب وأمه

هل تعلم ايها السيد الرئيس أن المأساة السورية على مدى 8 اعوام تعد الاكثر مأساوية في تاريخ البشرية القديم والحديث؟؟

هل تعلم ايها السيد الرئيس أن التاريخ لن ينسى تقاعسكم وصمتكم عن قتل الشعب السوري وسيذكر ذلك في مجلدات تحكي قصه شعب مات بالوان القتل والعذاب؟

ايها الرئيس قد عجزت انت والعالم كله عن ايقاف شخص واحد عن قتله شعب كامل

ومازال القتل مستمر والدم يسيل والاطفال تصرخ من الجوع والمعتقلون يأنون في السجون

مازال صوت الصواريخ هو الصوت الوحيد المسموع ومازال الموت هو سيد الموقف الوحيد.

ثورتنا ولدت من الالم وعاشت بالألم وسوف تنتصر بالألم

English: A Letter to President Trump

Why .. ?

Why did you suddenly feel for these injured Syrians?

Why weren’t you moved or affected during your first year in the office when thousands of Syrians have died?

Why didn’t the Russian and Syrian regime’s missiles and rockets move you when they destroyed every city in Syria?

Mr. President almost 700 thousand Syrian was killed, and 10 million were displaced, where were your feelings then?

Did you not see the remains of Syrian children in Aleppo, Idlib, Daraa, or Rif Dimashq?

Why can’t your eyes see the Russian and regime’s drones as they drop fire and explosives on the heads of the remaining Syrian people?

Did you know Mr. President that the Syrian regime have used chemical weapons in 51 different locations and have killed thousands of Syrians before that last chemical attack massacre which has moved you?

Mr. President, do you know the Syrian regime has tried all killing methods on its people? Burned those who are alive, slaughtered children, choked women, threw peaceful protestors from airplanes, drowned young people in the sea, and executed tens of thousands.

Where were your feelings then?

Mr. President do you know that members of the Syrian regime have raped thousands of women inside Assad’s prisons? That millions of women were tortured there?

Do you know, Mr. President, that the Syrian regime attacked a village called Karam Al Zaytoun in 2011 and slaughtered all its children? Yes, all of them.

Do you know that Syrians are now homeless in all countries?

Do you know that the Syrian regime bombed the humanitarian aid provided by the UN in the peaceful opposition locations which were besieged?

That according to a study by the American Los Angeles magazine (LAmag) around 2 million Syrians lost their opportunity to apply for school?

That 360 thousand terrorists from 93 different nationalities are fighting now in Syria, and all were brought in by the Syrian regime, Iran, and Russia? That the regime is now fighting them to claim that it’s fighting terrorists when the regime is the real terrorist?

Do you know Mr. President that the 8 year-long Syrian tragedy is considered to be the most tragic in modern and ancient human history?

Do you know Mr. President that history will not forget your failure in dealing with this, and your silence over the killing of the Syrian people? That this will be documented in books which tell the story of a people who died in the colors of murder and torture.

Mr. President, you and the entire world have failed to stop one person from killing an entire group of people.

Murder is still happening, blood is still running, children are still screaming of hunger and those arrested are crying of pain in prisons.

And yet rockets are the only thing you can hear

And death is the only thing you can see

Our revolution was born from pain, lived in pain, and will win (our victory will be) with pain.