Foreign Policy Blogs

Is the World Collectively Guilty for the Massacre in Syria?


Protesters against Assad in the suburbs of Damascus. Photo credit: Freedom House, Flickr.

By Majid Rafizadeh

The world may have been able to pretend that it was not aware of the genocides taking place in Germany or in Rwanda in the 1990s. However, considering all the communication technology that exists today–international news outlets, social media, YouTube, etc.–in the future we won’t be able to claim that we didn’t know about the massacre currently taking place in Syria. Will we continue to delude our collective human consciences into believing we didn’t know? Are we collectively responsible?

As usual, I called my mother and family living in Old Damascus, Syria to see how everyone was doing.  Sometimes I heard the same news that I was hearing in Western media outlets about the bombing and killing taking place. One such instance included an explosion in the public square not far from my family’s home. When I usually call my home, I am updated about the most recent deaths and injuries. The last time I called those figures included my brother’s wife and two children.

An explosion outside their building caused the windows in the kitchen to shatter and the roof to collapse as they were preparing dinner, resulting in injuries all over their faces and bodies. Government paramedics rushed them and the other injured people to the hospital, taking care of all the expenses. They blamed the bombing on terrorists groups that they claim have permeated Damascus. This was not the first incident that resulted in the deaths and injuries of children. We were relieved and grateful that my niece and nephew were still alive. As a nation, we will not forget 13-year-old Hamza Khatib, whose body was returned to his family after being burned and mutilated. As a nation, we never forget those children in Dar’a who sparked the revolution and were tortured for spraying anti-governmental graffiti throughout the city. As a nation, we will not forget the tragic massacre of more than 30 children in the city of Houla.

It is becoming clear that in Damascus people have stopped believing the regime’s propaganda. They whisper amongst one another about how the regime has deployed these tactics to inflict fear on the people.  My family is only one example of the thousands of peaceful Syrian protesters who have struggled for freedom, dignity, and respect–many paying with their lives. Unfortunately, people continue to go about their lives with the daily worry of when and where the next explosion will occur.

As I follow the developments in Syria, two facts are clear. First, the Syrian people will not be forced into submission through brute force. They will brave the bullets and guns and sacrifice their lives knowing that, until now, more than 10,000 of their countrymen have been killed. Second, Syria has formidable allies who support the Assad regime and consequently embolden and empower him, regardless of the level of violence that he is inflicting on the country.

Hence, what can be done to resolve the crisis? There have been several suggestions made by political analysts, heads of Persian Gulf nations, and Syrian opposition groups. Some include providing safe havens for victims of violence on the northern and southern borders of Syria, creating humanitarian corridors, assisting refugees and wounded people, and providing monetary support for refugees. More militaristic options include arming the Free Syrian Army and/or giving coordination assistance in their fight with the regime.  These are good suggestions, but all this analysis ignores one crucial fact: Without the leadership of the U.S., it is highly unlikely that any state or coalition of forces will succeed in stopping the bloodshed in Syria. This was true in the cases of Bosnia, Kosovo, and Rwanda as well. Substantial changes only took place after the U.S. decided to put boots on the ground. This notion might contradict the perceptions and predictions of pundits and scholars who have been forecasting the end of U.S. decline for years and asserting that the U.S. is an imperialist nation. If the U.S. does not take a leadership role, concrete action will not be taken.  Without the U.S. leading from behind, the removal of Qaddafi by rebel forces may not have been possible, at least not so quickly and easily. Without U.S. support, we may not have witnessed the fight between Qaddafi and opposition groups. Although the Clinton administration acknowledged that it acted late in cases of Bosnia and Rwanda, change did not take place on the ground until the U.S. decided to take lead and put boots on the ground. I am not suggesting that U.S. should initiate wars with random sovereign states; however, I am saying that until the international community agrees on and initiates a course of action nothing will change in Syria.

It is understandable that the U.S. is more than hesitant to get involved in a new confrontations taking into account the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Given that, is it possible that any other nations or coalition of states like Turkey or the GCC will go a step further than pure rhetoric and exhibit leadership in resolving the human crisis in Syria?

Majid Rafizadeh is an Iranian-Syrian scholar, policy analyst, and human rights activist.  He is ambassador to the National Iranian-American Council. Rafizadeh is contributing editor and writes columns for Harvard International Review. He completed his Fulbright Teaching scholarship in the United States, where he taught in the religious studies department at University of California, Santa Barbara. Rafizadeh has previously taught at several universities including Damascus University, University of California, Santa Barbara, and Islamic Azad University.