As a Muslim immigrant from Iran of almost 40 years living in this beautiful country, I believe when we face our maker in the next life, we will be asked:
What did you do for your brothers and sisters who were suffering in other parts of the world?
Were you complacent when the women and children were being raped in Myanmar, and when hundreds of thousands were killed or died of forced starvation in Aleppo?
God gave every individual conscience and free will. Each of us is accountable for the consequences of human genocide. Yet many people are able to overlook the horrors of genocide in Syria either through selective ignorance or by remaining in a trance. The facts concerning the worst refugee crisis of our era are staggering and not easy to ignore.
Of the 6.9 million refugees, more than 5 million are women and children. That is nearly 75 percent! The death count in Syria is 450,000 human beings. Among those dead, 50,000 are children. Of the $4.5 billion needed to provide adequate care, less than a tenth has been received from international communities – leaving a $4.2 billion gap. Nine million Syrians have fled their homes.
Today the suffering is worse than ever with millions of lives destroyed, loved ones murdered, homes obliterated and children traumatized. The data are solid as to the toll repeated exposure to trauma has on children. Syria and the surrounding regions are breeding grounds for very abnormal behavior in the years to come.
People aren’t born as terrorists, but when you kill their dogs, rape their younger sisters, repeatedly bomb their homes and kill their parents – all in front of them – you can’t expect them to welcome, understand or embrace humanitarian values. As the region becomes more volatile, young Syrians face a future of exploitation by the Islamic State, trafficking, debt and slavery.
Looking back, it’s easy to identify the point when individual Americans signed off.
During August 2013, the Assad regime used a sarin gas attack on a Damascus suburb, killing more than 1,400 civilians, including 400 children. A year earlier, President Barack Obama called the use of chemical weapons “a red line” that could prompt a U.S. military reaction.
When the military reaction did not occur, many Americans were satisfied to place the blame squarely on Obama and not give the situation in Syria another thought. Russia also saw the weakness in our resolve.
While many have criticized our current administration for not acting on Syria when the line was crossed and allowing Russia to dictate the fate of Syrians who wanted freedom from tyranny, we have to remember that we have free will, and that our consciences were not given to us by proxy.
More than three years later – and an alarming 139 additional chemical attacks since – there’s a lot of room for inquiry as to what should have been done in August 2013. Even worse than indifference is the unprecedented level of hatred toward refugees voiced by some Americans.
Dehumanization allows average people to form a monstrous collective. The collective commits atrocities that no single individual would carry out on his own. We find this dynamic with every genocide in history. If we don’t put a stop to it, we, individually and as a nation, contribute to the monstrous collective.
It’s ironic that the genocide in Syria is only 330 miles away from the birthplace of Jesus Christ. As Americans, we have been given an abundance of blessings, and we receive this wealth only because of our sheer luck to have been born in, or immigrated to, the United States.
Over time collective cruelty numbs the conscience. We allow ourselves to disengage so as not to feel responsible as individuals. It’s past time for Americans to restore our moral compass, based on the values our country was founded upon.
There’s no question as to the actions that can have impact.
▪ Educate yourself with diverse and accurate news sources.
▪ Stay up to date with current events around the world.
▪ Support causes that provide rescue, relief, medical care and physical safety to refugees in Syria, such as White Helmets, and send money.
▪ Use your voice and influence with political leaders, social media, letter-writing campaigns, talking to friends and family about the situation in Syria.
▪ Guide others to increase their awareness.
▪ Allow well-vetted refugees to enter the United States, just as we have taken refugees from Germany, Yugoslavia, Laos, and Vietnam over the last 100 years.
As citizens of a democracy, it is our obligation to educate ourselves and take action. We are the strongest nation on Earth. Our military, our economy, our energy resources and our rate of innovation are unmatched. The power of our economic sanctions alone can bring other nations to their knees, let alone the use of our military might. God has graced us with many blessings.
In the words of President John F. Kennedy: “We look for a future in which our country will match its wealth with our wisdom and its power with our purpose. We all breathe the same air; we all cherish our children’s futures and we are all mortal.”
We will have a new president on Jan. 20. Will he be passive to the plight of those seeking refuge from tyranny and occupation? Will he support causes of freedom both here and across the world? Will we as a nation sit on the sidelines? Or will we use our might, our voice and our blessings to change the playing field for the sources of peace and prosperity?
God is watching.
Darius Assemi of Fresno is a builder, farmer and philanthropist.