So far, in the 18 months of raging violence in Syria, an estimated 20,000 Syrians have lost their lives. In this globalized and interconnected world, how have we let the situation continue for so long? And what are we doing as American citizens to show our support?
The United Nations General Assembly begins this week and there is no doubt that Syria’s revolution will dominate discussion. The organization’s attempt at brokering a ceasefire failed with the resignation of Kofi Annan as the UN and Arab League special envoy to Syria over the summer. And morale remains low even as new special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi vows to bring peace to Syria. August saw the highest casualty rate so far in the conflict (5,000) and with no international consensus on a swift solution, Syria continues to bleed.
These dismal circumstances tempt us to view peace as an elusive dream. For those of us beyond Syria’s borders the feeling of helplessness is overpowering. But there is a simple course of action: showing our support through public rallies and demonstrations. On Saturday, the Syrian American for Democracy sponsored a rally in Manhattan in support of the Syrian uprising. But on that Seventh Avenue city block between 39th Street and 40th Street in Manhattan, no more than 150 people gathered to call for democracy and freedom in Syria. Why is it that when the revolutions in Egypt and Libya were underway, thousands of Americans rallied before the UN and in Times Square to call for the end of those dictatorships? What is different about the Syrian uprising that has us so silent?
Dalia Fahmy is as assistant professor in the department of political science at Long Island University. She says there are clear reasons why Syria is different from Tunisia, Egypt or Libya. Syria’s security apparatus is unlike the others and the culture of fear within the country has a deep impact on the Syrian diaspora. Syrian Americans are still afraid that if they protest, harm will come to their families who are still within the country. In addition, the treatment of Syria by the international community is very different. Whereas in Egypt and Libya, the struggle was for freedom and democracy, the situation in Syria has been framed as a civil war from day one. She explains further that because of U.S. memories of Vietnam, people are wary to get involved in the sectarian violence.
“The diaspora feels like the Syrian revolution is a hopeless case. It’s a very complex situation and unlike any of the other revolutions in the Arab Spring. Plus the involvement of Iran, China, and Russia as powerful power players take us back to Cold War-era power games. So a conflict resolution comes at an even higher cost.”
Rayanah Khawam, a second year medical student at the Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine, was one of the few who showed up on Saturday. She told me that it’s a moral responsibility to show our support because silence is a betrayal to the Syrian cause. “Rallies are only one aspect of our dedication, but we all need to find our individual responsibilities and stick to them.” The organizers of the rally explained that attendance is cyclical and that promotion and follow-up is key.
Have we been taking our political rights for granted? If we really say we’re for freedom and self-determination for all, then we need to make that clear on the street. Syrians suffering in their homes need to be able to see that we stand with them in their struggle for justice. With international diplomacy at a standstill, the message of friendship and support is the least we can do. If we did it for Egypt and Libya, then any excuses now are bogus. This Syrian revolution has proved to be so impressive. If we are otherwise powerless, let’s bolster the foundation of democracy and freedom we hold so dearly. The streets of the Arab Spring are full and our promises remain empty.