At the start of the “Arab Spring,” I was so optimistic about the prospect of democracy in the Middle East and heartened by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. On my mind was the oppression of millions of Syrians by the brutal Bashar al-Assad regime. Also on my mind was my experience during Lebanon’s civil war and the enormous damage the Syrian regime did there.
For 10 years of Lebanon’s 15-year civil war, my siblings and I outran bombs to reach home from school, took tests while watching sniper bullets bounce off of the building next door, heard and felt that terrifyingly loud sound of exploding bombs, spent long days and nights in rat-infested shelters and, of course, dealt with the poverty and degradation of being refugees – not to mention the repeated damage to our family’s home and grocery store, navigating off-limits streets and intersections targeted by snipers and so much more. These horrors probably make anyone who’s had a normal childhood cringe.
But here’s the bad news: What the Assad regime has done to its own people since March 2011 is far more brutal, destructive and degrading than the enormous damage it did in Lebanon. I never imagined this was possible, but it turns out there’s no limit to the regime’s inhumanity.
Syria’s numbers today are astounding: 130,000 dead (including thousands of children), more than 575,000 injured, nearly three million refugees outside Syria, nearly five million refugees displaced inside Syria; 43,000 Syrians detained and thousands suffering from starvation and lack of shelter. Then there are the latest revelations of Holocaust-like torture of thousands.
I suspect these numbers are conservative and don’t account for the destruction of entire villages and cities, and the fear, pain and hopelessness millions of Syrians are enduring every day.
“Where is our outrage? Where is our humanity? Where is the world’s conscience?” – Laura Boustani
When the uprising began, I naively thought that once the world community sees the real Assad regime, something would happen to remove it from power and Syrians would finally have a dignified life. I thought what kept Western countries from looking into the atrocities committed by the regime for the past four decades was the nearly perfected, sophisticated, lying facade of the Assad family and their apologists. Once the truth was revealed, I was sure things would change.
Fast-forward to January 2014. Thanks to traditional and social media, the world is aware of the massacres and we continue to see horrifying images of mutilated bodies, rows of dead children and so much more. My hat is off to saintly aid workers and journalists, but the rest of us do nothing to stop the madness. Where is our outrage? Where is our humanity? Where is the world’s conscience? Have we become numb to the images of the suffering, torture and mutilation?
Forget the fiasco about red lines and chemical weapons. And, forget the peace talks in Geneva, which are unlikely to be productive as long as Assad is in power. The fact of the matter now is clear as day: The world knows Assad’s brutality well and does not care.
I don’t claim to have the answers to the difficult and complicated geopolitical considerations, but I know two things must happen: The bloodshed must be stopped and the criminal regime must be removed and punished.
I understand the plight of the Christian minority inside Syria. And, yes, Iran, Russia, Israel and the American public make military action difficult. But when does it all stop? Teams of experts reviewing the recently released torture archives have made a direct comparison to the Holocaust. Are we waiting until the number of dead Syrians reaches six million? Has the world learned nothing from the Holocaust? Shame on every world leader and on every one of us for not doing more, for not caring more, and for not demanding the end to this holocaust.
In the words of the late journalist and author Christopher Hitchens (who was writing in 2010 about Henry Kissinger’s reference to gas chambers on the Nixon tapes), “There has to be a moral limit, and either this has to be it or we must cease pretending to ourselves that we observe one.”
So, does my beloved country have a moral limit when it comes to Syria? Does the world?
This post was originally published on Cleveland.com. It is reprinted with permission.
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Laura Boustani is a Lebanese-American who immigrated to the United States from Lebanon in the 1980s.