I am a Syrian American, and I have an urgent message. You do not have the full story on Syria. The truth will shake you to the bone.
The president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, is committing genocide.
Assad has deliberately erased at least 200,000 Syrian civilians from existence. Most of them died for the “crime” of sharing the same ethnicity, religion and neighborhood as pro-democracy protesters. It is true that the overwhelming majority of these victims come from a single ethno-religious group (Sunni Arabs), but this is not about religion. This is about a dictator who is willing to gas children to stay in power. They are disposable to Assad because, to him, they are subhuman.
Assad’s troops are closing in on Idlib, and another massacre is in the offing. Idlib is the final city left for Assad to recapture since the Syrian revolution began in 2011. Another 3 million people, half of whom are internally displaced refugees, might be forced to leave for Turkey and Europe. Turkey brokered many cease-fires in Idlib, aiming to stop the overwhelming flow of refugees into its country. Assad violated them all and is likely to breach the newest one. He even bombed 33 Turkish soldiers last month. Turkey responded with force, but its options for further action are limited. A global problem demands a global solution.
Make no mistake: What’s happening in Syria is a modern-day Holocaust. There is no worse scenario. There is no greater nightmare than the one that is happening right now. Assad has shown that he will do anything to stay in power. More than half a million Syrians have died in the conflict, and 13 million have been displaced. Will Assad continue his genocide and push the death toll to 1 million? No one has imposed any serious costs on his regime for what it has done so far.
An international NATO air force must designate part of Syria as a no-fly zone. A no-fly zone, which would not allow Assad’s air force to fly within its boundaries, would protect Syrians from further slaughter. Genocide deniers strongly oppose such a zone. Assad’s defenders falsely claim that any intervention equates to “Western imperialism.” What they won’t tell you is that Russian imperialism is keeping Assad in power. Syrian civilians, and the opposition forces fighting on their behalf, are utterly helpless against the combined airpower of Assad and Russia.
I have a few questions that I want readers to ponder: Do you acknowledge that the Syrian genocide is happening? Are you committed to upholding the post-Holocaust principle of “never again” by using humanitarian intervention to end genocide? Are you okay with a world where people are treated like subhumans?
Be deeply honest with yourself and ask: If more than 200,000 British or Spanish civilians were slaughtered like this, would you feel the same way? Confronting these questions is necessary for change to occur. Never forget that a significant majority of Americans were against humanitarian intervention to save the Jews during World War II. “It’s complicated” is not a valid excuse.
The chilling truth is that you are a bystander to the Syrian genocide. Assad is bombing entire civilian neighborhoods. He has repeatedly gassed men, women and children even after chemical weapons were supposedly removed. He allowed the Islamic State into Syria, intending to confuse the world and divert attention from his massacres of civilians. Assad’s troops tossed victims into mass unmarked graves while the Islamic State dominated the headlines. Conveniently for Assad, foreign Islamic State terrorists killed freedom-loving Syrians, too.
Thousands of Syrians are awaiting arbitrary execution in Assad’s torture chambers. They are praying so that someone, anyone, may help them. The prayers of thousands of torture victims before them went unanswered. Their mutilated bodies were cataloged and branded like cattle so that the Syrian government can keep track of whom it executed. A photographer fled and provided those photos to Congress. Congress then took five years just to sanction Syrian regime officials, including Assad. Aside from that, it did nothing to end the slaughter.
Children’s lives are at stake. Our entire moral and ethical framework is at stake. The world is being destabilized by agents of chaos, and Syria is ground zero. Will you help stop the Syrian genocide, or will you be a bystander?
I’ll leave you with a quote from Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor: “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. … Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion or political views, that place must — at that moment — become the center of the universe.”
The consequences of ignoring such a genocide are so large, so severe, that we cannot allow it to persist any longer. Syria must at this moment become the center of the universe.
Keenan Kassar is an MBA student at the University of Chicago and a member of the Syrian American Council.