Syria: Some Thoughts, And A Call To Action

We often hear the question posed: How could people around the world let the Holocaust happen? The answer given is usually that while people did know there was some sort of atrocity going on in Nazi-occupied Europe, they didn’t realize the extent or the details, both because of a lack of good journalism and front-page headlines on the topic, and because they were too busy with their daily lives to pursue further information, or take action. . Dr. Martin Luther King jr. said that this universe will have to answer not for the actions of evil people, but for the silence of good people.

Before I go any further, I would like to say that I am not comparing the Holocaust to the situation in Syria. The Holocaust was total genocide: The mobilization of an entire society and government for the sake of genocide, with technological research in killing being carried out in order to better carry out the cause. (It took a few tries until they got the gas chamber they wanted.) Genocide was not Hitler’s side-project: The destruction of the Jews, gypsies, Communists,  and homosexuals, as part of the process of creating more lebensraum (living room) for the Aryans, was the primary purpose of his government. Contrast this with Syria, where a president is going for mass-murder in order to maintain his claim on power. The problem is however, that a) our world should not tolerate a government whose power is based on murdering anyone who speaks up or engages in peaceful protest against it b) Assad is targeting civilians, not just protestors. He realizes you’re a lot less likely to oppose him if you think your family might get killed due to your actions. He is right, of course, yet it is to the credit of the Syrian people that they have not backed down.

The world, however, has. Israel is not committing these atrocities, so they are not sexy to criticize. Then, add the fact that the Arab world has oil, and that many are convinced that if you bring democracy to Arabs you’ll get a second Taliban voted into office. Of course, the Taliban weren’t Arab, but that’s another story.

Interestingly enough, it is the Arab world that has spoken out. It sent observers to Syria, but then pulled out, due to safety concerns as a result of the heightened violence – that is the irony of observer missions: They often pull out precisely when they are most needed. This is understandable of course, since they are not a military force, and do not want to get killed in the course of the violence. But it does severely limit their effectivity. Sanctions were debated, but Russia promised to veto any such measure.

As these events were going on, I found my curiosity slowly waning. Syria was not front-page news anymore: Romney was. In addition, knowing more would just increase my feeling of powerlessness: Knowing the details and scope of an atrocity you can do nothing about is extremely frustrating. Better not to know.

The UN, true to form, held deliberations, and deliberations, and more deliberations, but no action. Since Russia  and China have already vetoed US-backed resolutions, writing to my government to ask them to propose UN-resolutions on the issue seems silly. I have mixed feelings about sending in military support, so am not going to start advocating for that. Most aid agencies have left the region out of fear, so there goes the option of writing a check to assuage my conscience.

Still, watching a special about Syria last night on CNN, I could not help but wonder if my willful quasi-ignorance was repeating the same type of sin that innocent bystanders had committed during the Holocaust: A feeling of powerlessness, as well as pre-occupation with one’s quotidian affairs, lead to inaction born of willful ignorance. That’s when I realized: I am not powerless. I can raise my voice, both to remind friends and family of Syrians’ plight, and to remind my government that while I do not know what the exact solution is, this is an issue that matters to me as a voter.  You can contact the White House here:

When our voices have become tired, we can perform one of the supreme acts of human kindness: Listening. We can listen to the suffering of the Syrian people, and sympathize with their plight.  Sure, this might not have great ramifications in the macro world of international affairs, but in the world of human connections, it matters: The mass-murder is an essential violation of the Syrians’ humanity. Recognizing them in their humanity through the act of listening, might be one of the greatest acts of justice that lies in our hands – or in our ears, to be more precise.

Here is the letter I sent to President Obama, in case you are looking for letter-writing ideas:

Dear President Obama:

I am writing to remind you of the suffering of the Syrian people. As an American, I am concerned not just with the human rights violations of the Syrian government, but also with security ramifications of the current situation. As the leading democracy, the US has an obligation to help the Syrian people, who are dying in their quest for democracy. I strongly urge the US to work with other world leaders to find a way to bring peace to the Syrian people, without sacrificing their rights to a more democratic government. Thank you.


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