On August 21, Bashar al-Assad poisoned residents of Ghouta, a suburb east of Damascus. The exact number of dead is still unknown two weeks later. The conversation about whether to retaliate has reached fever pitch, as we watch our President make the case to respond to Assad’s use of chemical weapons. Should we or should we not do something?
From my very small perch, in America, over 9,000 miles away from Damascus, I can’t possibly begin to understand the complexity of the mess that is Syria. I am not alone. It would take a great deal of education to understand how history, geography, religion, tribal affiliations, and ethnicity have contributed to create the Syria of today. It would take detached observation, research, conversation, even better, witnessing first-hand—talking to and living among Syrians—to understand today’s Syria. Most of us don’t do this, talk to Syrians, read annotated historical volumes, speak the language or practice Islam. In other words, when it comes to Syria, we don’t know half the story (and I am being way generous when I say half). We don’t know very much about Syria, but my goodness, do we have strong opinions. Truth is, we don’t know how to deal with this whole region of the world. And if the conversations I have been having of late resemble our national collective thought, we don’t want to.
I have spent the past week or so asking people (other Americans) this question: What should we do about Syria? Almost universally the answer that has come is this: NOTHING. I get it. Americans are wary. Too, we are weary. Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine and Iran are proof that we do not do well when it comes to intervening in Muslim countries. The rationale against action is delivered passionately—because when it comes to messing around in that part of the world, we get amped up. “Why help them? They hate us.” “Let them kill themselves.” “Why arm their rebels? They will just turn around and use our weapons on us.” These are not the isolated comments of a few, sadly.
Like I said, I get it. Look at what war in the Middle East has cost us. I understand (nearly) every argument against kicking the beehive. Why on earth would we want to start another shit-storm with “those” people? But, do we stand by and do nothing? Really? Do we give this dictator license to gas people at will?
Before you say “do nothing,” ask yourself a few questions:
I have never lived under the thumb of a dictator, have you? Have you ever been targeted by your government? Have you ever had your neighborhood relentlessly attacked by government forces? Had mortars and tank shells lobbed at you every few minutes—for days and days? Have you abandoned your home, with small children in tow, because of the violence at your doorstep? Just two days ago, the number of Syrian child refugees exceeded one million. According to Oxfam, over 6.8 million Syrians are in urgent need of assistance. If that doesn’t say humanitarian crisis, I don’t know what does.
I am scared as hell—and I am nowhere near the conflict. It is easy for me to say that condemning Assad’s behavior is not enough. Easy for me to assert that he is one big bad guy and he should go. Though, despite my bluster, I admit I have no idea what to do. None. How terrifying is the prospect of US retaliation and where it will take us. We are a nation too scared to act. Though act, we must.