On Mass Slaughter in Syria

Peace Activist Aziz Abu Sarah with a child at a Syrian refugee camp.

Peace Activist Aziz Abu Sarah with a child at a Syrian refugee camp.

I’m someone who considers himself both a consistent life, progressive Catholic, and a proponent of responsibility to protect during times of mass atrocities. I found my friend’s Robert Christian’s recent article  urging consistent life proponents to demand action, specifically force, in Syria missing the mark. I’ve made no secret about how much the crisis in Syria haunts me,  but as with most mass atrocities, the reality on the ground is a shade of gray.

The conflict in Syria is complicated and heartbreaking. The country started to fall apart in 2011, but the world failed to notice what was happening there until rebel groups began to fight back. Slowly, the West began to take notice, but did little. Since the start of the conflict, Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has committed crimes of humanity against his own people, killing 140,000 and displacing millions.

Robert’s argument boils down to this: because the consistent life ethic is typically pacifist, it’s rejection of force in an instance such as the conflict in Syria, makes the entire movement invalid. But calling for peace doesn’t mean that the peace movement is endorsing the death of civilians. In fact, it’s the opposite, as pacifists never would have wanted the war to start in the first place. But since the war is ongoing, what’s the answer for Syria?

If Robert was making the argument to use force in Syria in 2011, he would have a valid point, early on in the conflict, the use of a military or preferably a UN peacekeeping force (as the United States’ reputation on the world stage is questioned) would have been an option. But much like the international community’s response to this conflict, Robert’s article fails to realize that it is now too late for the use of force.

At this point, with all the different factions so entrenched, and the country in such ruin, the only way out is a diplomatic one. Only by sitting down at the negotiating table, can Syrians decide together who will lead their country. Otherwise, we might see a situation like the current one in Iraq, where different factions continue to fight each other for control of the country and civilians are still at risk. Without diplomacy and with Assad gone, the war could still continue with no resolution in sight. Diplomacy would ensure that what is happening in Iraq doesn’t happen in Syria. This means bringing all sides to the table–even Assad–if he’s willing.

In addition to diplomacy, support of refugees, both internal and external, are the ways to best ensure a peaceful end to a violent and senseless war. My friend Aziz Abu Sarah’s work in Syrian refugee camps would be a good place to start to look for hope.

The failure in Syria isn’t a failure of the pacifist community, or of those who consider themselves proponents of a consistent ethic of life—those voices are needed in a world full of violence. Rather, Syria is once again the failure of the international community, who continually exclaims “never again” while it continues to turn its head when mass conflict happens again and again and again.

Someone should get blamed for the tragic things that are happening to the Syrian people, but it needs to be placed on those responsible. It needs to be placed on Assad and more broadly the failures of the international community, not on those calling for peace.

Action needs to be taken, but more force in a country and region torn apart by war could lead to even more grave consequences in the future.

Jason Miller is FAN’s Director of Campaigns and Development. Follow him on twitter @419in703

Photo credit: Aziz Abu Sarah

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