Friday, August 30, 2013

On Syria

AP Photo/Hussein Malla

Although “What’s the Diehl?” is officially on hiatus, I‘m making an exception to write about something that’s bothering me:

I’m angry as I write this.

I was driving home from Anita’s office this morning when I heard an awful report on the radio about a bomb that was dropped on a school playground in northern Syria. According to the BBC, the attack incinerated more than 10 pupils and left many more severely injured. Scores of badly-burned kids and teenagers were overwhelming a local hospital; the radio report included jarring audio of people screaming, crying and begging for help amidst chaos.

The report identified the al-Assad regime as the perpetrator of this truly horrific attack.

I’ve written about al-Assad before. (See “Hello, My Name is Hamza al-Khateeb,” March 4, 2013, and “Israel Helps Syrian Rebels; We Do Nothing,” May 6, 2013.) My May 6 post – which included disturbing photos of dead kids, victims of al-Assad’s government forces – was erroneously interpreted by Facebook commenters as being pro-war even though I ended it with this paragraph:

The United Nations estimates that nearly 70,000 people have been killed in Syria since violence broke out two years ago. Maybe military intervention isn’t the answer. But we ought to do something besides imposing sanctions that hurt civilians more than politicians. While Israel is choosing the rebels over al-Assad, Americans are choosing Nicki Minaj over Mariah Carey on American Idol.

I still don’t know what we should do. Opposition to the U.S. doing anything seems to be growing as I write this which I don’t understand at all. United Nations inspectors are in Syria investigating last week’s chemical weapons attack near Damascus which killed hundreds of civilians; U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called the attacks a “moral obscenity." Some see the current saber-rattling as similar to that which culminated in the ill-advised, irresponsible 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The differences are huge, in my inexpert opinion. First of all, there were no weapons of mass destruction found or used in Iraq, right-wingers’ erroneous claims notwithstanding. Secondly, Barack Obama, for all his infuriating failings, is no Dubya; he’s not compelled to launch an unjustified military offensive on a sovereign country because its leader threatened his daddy. And lastly, the suffering of innocent human beings has gone on for years. Syrians have been crying out for help, for world intervention, as their children have been slaughtered and no one’s lifted a finger. (Israel, long a foe of Syria, did act a few months ago to support the rebels who are fighting al-Assad’s brutal regime.) Cue crickets.

I agree that the U.S. is not the world’s police, we have plenty of issues (fiscal and otherwise) to address here at home and it would be nice if another country took the lead once in a while. I also know that it’s disgustingly difficult for some to give a rodent’s derriere about anyone who speaks Arabic and worships Allah. But this isn’t about politics or religion to me, or skin color or our domestic agenda or the military-industrial complex. This is about children’s lives. It’s about what I heard on the radio this morning, the moaning and blood-curdling screaming and true despair of people who should matter to the rest of us.

A British medic at the hospital in Aleppo was quoted by the BBC as saying, "We feel like some sort of, not even a second class citizen, like we just don't matter. Like all of these children, and all of these people who are being killed and massacred, we don't matter. The whole world has failed our nation and it is innocent civilians who are paying the price."

The school’s headmaster said in the same report, "There were dead people, people burning and people running away, but where to? Where would they go? It is not safe anywhere. That is the fate of the Syrian people."

So I’m angry that people are justifying inaction and complacency by comparing this to an entirely different situation and playing the parochial card and acting as if this issue just arose last week. I’m angry that grieving mothers and fathers and siblings and aunts and uncles in a Western Asian country are losing loved ones to their own evil government and the rest of the human family would prefer to look the other way. I’m angry that people accuse me of ceding to emotion and beating a war drum if I advocate for intervention. (Laugh if you will but I think of myself as anti-war.) I’m just trying to make people look beyond their own fences and imagine what it would be like to feel unsafe no matter where you go or to learn that a fighter jet from your own country’s military purposely dropped a napalm bomb on your kid’s playground and no one cared.

I know that bombs don’t lead to peace any more than intercourse leads to virginity or watching Fox News leads to an informed viewership. I also know that burying our heads in the sand won’t lead to an end to the genocide.

Sources: BBC,


  1. Amen, Patrick! You came out of retirement like Jay-Z that one time. Keep it up!

  2. Absolutely, totally, completely agree. Seventy years ago, it was the Jews being systematically slaughtered while the world sat on its hands and demanded 'proof' of the atrocities.

  3. As Always, very well done. Yes, the dilemma is how to make a difference. But Americans do not just stand by even if no one else will help. The Bible has the parable of The Good Samaritan and that should guide the religious minded among us. Common decency otherwise says we must do something to intervene and to stop the Syrian government attacks on its people.

  4. I agree, Pat. This issue is very complicated and not the easy decision that most people seem to think it is.

  5. The issue is always complicated, and through the suffering and horror and innocent deaths, there are always agendas that are only perceived long after decisions to go to war and such like. When Britain was the world policeman it was only really a mantle taken on because we colonised and controlled and aggrandised ourselves at the expense of large chunks of the world. We were eventually sent packing. What's the answer? I wish I knew but I am glad I don't have to make the decision either way.