I’m standing outside my condo, enjoying the evening clouds… a gentle breeze is blowing in my face. I hear the sounds of vehicles, whizzing by, and of chirping birds, readying for slumber… I smell the summer pines, growing in our neighborhood… the smoke lingering on my hand where I was gripping a cigarette a few seconds ago… I’m home alone; my brother left to visit mom and dad in Sacramento. I’m reading a message from a girl I’m seeing whose auburn hair I cannot stop thinking about. She lives up north from here; on a street filled with old houses, and cats, she told me.
My thoughts, however, are not here. They’re somewhere far away across the oceans.
Maybe they’re in Aleppo… Or in Homs… Or even Damascus. Definitely in Syria.
I’m thinking of a Syrian man my age, standing outside of what remains of his home… Hearing the sounds of rockets and mortars falling in the distance… The rapid gunfire of machine-guns that won’t stop. The smell of gunpowder, lingering in the air; or burning wood from a neighbor’s house that was hit yesterday. I wonder how many of his relatives are now laying under tons of earth. Whether his sweetheart is in Syria or she’s fled like millions of others to Turkey or Jordan. If she was lucky, she’s been sold-off to a Libyan or Emirati as a third wife. If she’s not, she’s being raped at a detention center by government forces.
War… is on his mind. War is on my mind; worlds apart.
I’ve been thinking about him for over two years now even though I know we’ll never meet. I wonder if he’s heard about the possible United States intervention in his country. I’ve been grappling with that question, too. The lyrics of the Zehava Ben song I’m listening to is a glimpse into my emotions…
"Mah yihyeh? Mah yihyeh, Elohim hanora
Ko atzuvim chayenu, Ubochim mara…”
(What will be? What will be, O Dreadful God?
Life is so sad… Our cry is bitter)
I don’t know the future. I’m not a god.
My my experiences are what shape my decisions and how I sense the coming future. And I’ve seen war. I have seen it up close and personal. I have seen the dead rotting on fields; the faces covered in shrapnel; the bodies ripped apart by machine-guns; the wailing women and children in shock. I have seen it all and survived. That’s the trouble, though. I live to be reminded of all those things every day and every night.
To be reminded that I suffered it partly because of American intervention in my country - Afghanistan - in the 1980s.
And so have millions of other Afghans, whether they are Arab like me or Pashtun or Tajik or Hazara… Sunni, Shia or Hindu; because war spares no one. I was recently talking to a Lebanese girl about war who’d lived it and we both agreed on something with each other: “You can leave war, but it never leaves you.”
So when I hear anti-US intervention arguments, I’m naturally susceptible to agreeing - even before you remind me of countries you’ve only read about or seen on TV. I’m a living, breathing example of what happens when foreign interests converge upon a country and their disastrous results. I have paid for it with the lives of those I love… Memories jarred by images that would fill a grown man with horror… Nights filled with the faces of those I nearly died with who didn’t make it. Their blood may have been washed off my body, but it taints my dreams red every night.
However, as I light another cigarette, I’m not sure which side of the intervention argument I’m on. I struggle with myself. My fear of my own nightmares gives way to doubt. For no matter how intimately I might know war, intervention, geopolitics, history, geography, foreign policy blah blah blha, I don’t feel I know Syria right now like the Syrian standing outside his door. Nor do I have as much right to Syria’s future as he does.
I’m forced to ask myself: What is he thinking, while the gunshots echo in the background? What does he want, his heart filled with sorrow? Intervention? Non-intervention? Is he apathetic? Does he have any hope left? Where’s his say?
That’s what’s sorely missing from my thoughts and our conversations about Syria right now.
In our own spiritual struggle to be on the right side of history, we have become too focused on our own opinions about what should or shouldn’t happen; how we feel… and god damn it, how we know what the right thing to do here is. The cacophony of our outrage - justified or unjustified, borne of personal pain or second-hand knowledge - is drowning out the voice of the Syrian.
And as we entrench ourselves in our beliefs about what should happen to a country we will likely never visit and to the Syrian we may or may not think about past this war, he is oblivious to our existences. His suffering will continue until there’s nothing left to lose. He’ll go back to his house and wait for more rockets. She’ll keep scrounging out a living as a sex worker at a refugee camp in Jordan. Maybe she’s wailing over a freshly dug grave for a loved one. Maybe he’s in a pile of small bodies, covered in rough chunks of ice; waiting for a UN weapons inspector to make sure how his little body lost its life.
With a United States decision looming on whether there will be military intervention by the West in Syria or not, both pro and anti-intervention camps in America are busy churning out op/eds, blog posts and taking social media by storm with their “concrete” opinions. I’m in neither camp for now.
However, I’m seriously starting to doubt the intellectual honesty of some these pundits. Let me explain why.
1. We have no idea what any intervention is going to look like.
Really. We don’t know if it’s going to be Cruise missiles from the Mediterranean or Marines from helicopters. We don’t know what its scope will be, what the goals are and how long the timeframe will end up being. In the absence of this information, I’m not sure how people can make any judgment about intervention.
Can’t we all just wait a few more days to find out what the plan is before we support or oppose it? Let me remind you, you’re not in Damascus or in Aleppo right now. You’re likely sitting at home in Washington, D.C. or New York. You’re safe. You don’t have to worry about the bombs or the gas. So don’t panic. Wait before you start reaching conclusions.
2. If you’re going to use Afghanistan and Iraq as examples of intervention, don’t forget to mention Bosnia, Kosovo and Libya…
It’s easy, isn’t it? “ZOMG! Iraq and Afghanistan failed, so intervention is a failed enterprise!”
The closest counterpart in terms of the situation on the ground is a mix of Libya, Kosovo and Bosnia. In terms of a mad dictator in the middle of an armed uprising, in terms of the human suffering and in terms of factionalism.
Syria is currently controlled by several different groups with a central government that is increasingly desperate in gaining control of the whole country from all of them with fighting going on daily with dozens of casualties - and at times hundreds. Remember the interventions in Kosovo, Bosnia and Libya weren’t as horrible, right?
Iraq was in total peace when INVASION (not intervention) happened and 90% of Afghanistan’s territory was controlled by the Taliban at the time of the invasion. Syria is NOT Afghanistan and it’s definitely not Iraq. In terms of the ethnic and religious mix-up, sure. In terms of reality on the ground, no. And the reality on the ground is what’s necessitating an intervention here.
3. If you’re going to forget about Iran, Russia and Saudi Arabia, then you have learned nothing from Iraq and Afghanistan or from Syria itself.
Iraq failed because the neighbors decided they could do whatever they wished once the central government was down. Afghanistan failed because Pakistan was already pretty much in control of it thanks to its support for the Taliban. That support continues to this day and won’t cease until the US leaves the country.
Syria is the mess that it is thanks to intervention and arming of factions on all sides by its neighbors. There is nothing to say that any intervention by the US and its allies would stop the ongoing intervention in Syria by Saudi Arabia, Iran and Russia.
The last might back-off once there’s no one to pay it hard currency for weapons, but Saudi Arabia and Iran will not. And their proximity to the country will ensure that they’ll be able to continue it at will. Even if Assad is removed, if the West’s plan does not include ways to stop meddling by neighbors, Syria will continue to bleed.
If the intervention plan does not include ways and means to effectively end intervention by Syria’s neighbors or regional actors, the catastrophe will only intensify. It’s as simple as that and probably the main reason why watching the bodies of dead Syrian children aren’t putting all the sane people behind intervention.
These are only the most pressing issues here. There are various other factors that need to be taken into account. Remember, whether you occupy a moral high ground or not does not effect how many Syrians will make it alive out of the hell their country has become by year’s end.