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A massacre of genocidal proportions is currently happening in Syria. The number of people dying daily is equivalent to the average number of deaths due to the war in Afghanistan every month. In the last few weeks, the number of people killed has surpassed 200 every day. The death toll has spiked recently, but the number of Syrians who have died since last March (when uprisings began) is estimated at well over 7,000. To put this in perspective, fewer than 5,000 members of the U.S. military died in Iraq during a nearly nine year war. Tens of thousands of Syrian civilians have been imprisoned. Torture is commonplace and countless videos of children being mutilated and murdered in the streets have appeared. Those injured are avoiding hospitals for fear of being tortured or killed by the oppressive, bloodthirsty regime. Doctors have suffered similar fates merely for treated the wounded. Makeshift clinics have appeared where courageous Syrians just try to treat those who have been indiscriminately shot by merciless snipers or whose houses have been blown apart by mortar fire.
A little background first: Syrian citizens began protesting peacefully for greater democratic rights and freedoms in January 2011 at the same time that protestors took to Tahrir Square in Egypt. In fact, the first public protest was held on January 26, a day after the January 25th protest movement began in Egypt. The protests strengthened and became sustained in March 2011 after major protests occurred in the city of Daraa. The protests quickly spread throughout the country. As part of the Arab Spring, the large-scale regional protest movement occurring throughout the Middle East and North Africa, the Syrian movement grew. While dictator Bashar al Assad’s Ba’athist government offered minor concessions to the protestors (such as lifting emergency rule which had been in place for 48 years), no real reform was offered. (If the Ba’athist Party sounds familiar, it is because Saddam Hussein was a Ba’athist, albeit an Iraqi one.) Assad’s troops began killing protestors, blaming the protests on “armed gangs”, calling his fellow citizens thugs and terrorists. As the death toll mounted, international journalists were not allowed into Syria. Members of the Syrian military who refused to fire on protestors were executed. Still, some members defected, and the Free Syrian Army was formed to fight off the growing violence. Like the rebels in Libya, the Free Syrian Army has claimed that it has control over several cities and is aiming to overtake Damascus, the capital. As the country devolved into chaos, the military began to kill all manner of civilians, even those who weren’t even protesting.
News reports have claimed that the country is on the precipice of civil war. The city of Homs is a prime example of the sectarian violence that has erupted during this conflict. Assad and his inner circle (i.e., those that have the power in Syria) are part of a Muslim sect called the Alawites. The Alawites comprise a small minority (approximately 15%) of Syria’s entire population. The city of Homs, where much of the violence and murder has been concentrated, has large populations of Sunni Muslims who have historically been oppressed by the Alawites in Syria. The Sunni areas of the city have been decimated while other areas (predominantly Alawite Shiite populated areas) of the city have been left alone, presumably to curry favor with the non-Sunni population.
The previous paragraphs only begin to scratch the surface, and if you’re still with me, thank you. What I’d really like to address is the question of what the world is doing in response to what is happening in Syria. After the humanitarian intervention in Libya, and the West’s positive reaction to the Arab Spring, it is understandable that the people of Syria are hoping for help. The United States and other countries, along with entities such as the European Union, have leveled sanctions against the Syrian government and Syrian oil companies. The United States and several other countries have criticized the Syrian government’s response to the protests within its borders and President Obama eventually called for Bashar al Assad to step down as leader of Syria. None of these actions made much of a difference, and the next step was an “observation mission” by members of the Arab League inside of Syria. Despite overwhelming and incontrovertible evidence that civilians were, indeed, being killed, the Arab League mission has failed to say anything significant. (It is important to note that this mission was compromised from the outset, however, as it was headed by one of the key people in power in Sudan during the Darfur genocide, who has been accused of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court.) The most recent major step was a vote on a binding resolution—a watered down resolution, but a resolution, nonetheless—denouncing the violence in Syria and calling for an immediate ceasefire. With 15 states voting at the United Nations, China and Russia vetoed the resolution, to the horror and disappointment of desperate Syrians.
There hasn’t been much debate about the Syrian situation. The world has largely turned a blind eye to Syria. Susan Rice, the current United States ambassador to the U.N. (and negotiator on Syria), is the same person who notoriously worried about the political impact of calling the Rwandan genocide a “genocide” back in 1994 when Bill Clinton was president. I don’t have particularly high hopes for American steadfastness on Syrian action with her at the helm. There is very little political will to even discuss military action or even humanitarian intervention of any kind in Syria during an election year in the United States. It is said that President Obama will play up his accomplishment of ending the official war in Iraq and of winding down the war in Afghanistan in hopes of being reelected in November. Many Democrats are opposed to war on moral grounds and many Republicans have either taken up the Tea Party “too much spending!” mantle or the Ron Paul isolationist model. Yet, the U.S. handling of humanitarian intervention in Libya is praised…
With no ground troops, an effective no fly zone put in place, a quick engagement aided by a multilateral force, and a positive result for about a billion dollars, which the United States expects to be paid back, most view the Libyan mission as a success. There are, of course, those who opposed the Libyan intervention like Rocky Anderson (a politician I really want to like, save for his ideas that saving Libyans was the wrong thing to do) and, again, Ron Paul. On a similar note, Fareed Zakaria (another person I like very much most of the time), lauded the credentials of the Arab League on its handling of Libya, yet said nothing about its failure and cowardice in its handling of the situation in Syria. If so many people believed that intervening in Libya was the right thing to do, why not do it again in Syria? I know. I’ve heard the arguments. Syria has a more powerful, more cohesive army. We shouldn’t spend the money. We’re not sure who to arm and how. There is no significant base for the rebels like there was in Libya with Benghazi. Yes, it is a different situation. But the basic facts remain the same. Civilians are being murdered in numbers that are too large to be ignored. We have no excuse. We can see and hear what’s going on. Even if the media would rather cover the Republican primaries and caucuses at the expense of showing much other real news, the Syrian situation still exists.
One of the only prominent politicians to speak out on Syria is presidential candidate Newt Gingrich—and he is not talking about helping Syrians for the right reasons. He has called for arming the civilians so that they will kill Assad, who is an ally of Iran, and of course, we (meaning the United States) aren’t very happy with Iran. So, basically, in his roundabout, manipulative, narcissistic way, Gingrich has turned what should be the moral thing into a self-serving, American interests first, pandering ploy. Nice one, Newt. He proceeded to explain how “weapons aren’t hard to get in that part of the world” which strikes me as a pretty nasty, condescending thing to say. Oh, Newt, ever the jingoist. Ever the opportunist. Still, he is one of the only ones to even suggest aid in any form to suffering Syrians.
I noticed something very interesting. Twitter is almost silent on the subject of Syria. There are no trending topics on Syria or the Syrian Revolution. No #syrianuprising or catchy nicknames like “Jasmine Revolution” (which was the name given to the revolution in Tunisia which started in December 2010). I first paid real attention to Twitter during the Green Revolution in Iran in the summer of 2009. Twitter was abuzz with tweets about the Iranian protestors. About a year and a half later, the Arab Spring erupted. Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya dominated Twitter, and prominent bloggers and tweeters from the ground in these Arab countries reached a level of fame they never would have had it not been for the uprisings in their respective countries. Even the protests in smaller countries such as Bahrain had their impact on the Twittersphere. This is in direct contrast to the fact that more people have joined Twitter in the last year. Why so little on Syria? I searched, and found some tweets written in Arabic, but even these were not occurring in a constant stream. I saw almost no trace of support from the outside world. Even on the few English tweets out of Syria, very little support was offered back to these people. I interacted with someone in Syria, in the midst of all of the destruction, someone who has had to bury a brother, an uncle, and a neighbor in the last few weeks, who is desperate just to be heard. I told him that there are Americans that do care. I asked what we, as Americans, or what I, as an individual, could do. He said that I can raise awareness. He asked me to contact my representatives in Congress and let them know what is happening. He doesn’t want the Syrians to go unnoticed, to be ignored by the world. They are screaming out, and everyone is covering their ears.
This is my attempt at raising awareness. I will not stop with this single blog post, but it’s a small thing I can do. Hopefully, the more people know, the more they will try to impact the Syrian situation and help the people there. They are human beings just like us and deserve basic human rights. Just as we do, they deserve safety and protection and a chance at the pursuit of happiness. If you read this, please tell everyone you can what is going on. Please say something. Please try to prevent more people from dying. Let us not let this continue as a genocide in which we look back and see how little the world really did while a corrupt government did all it could to hang onto power. Bashar al Assad’s father killed 20,000 people in the city of Hama 30 years ago in a matter of days. There is no reason this couldn’t happen again. Don’t let it.