Letter to the Editor: Western world’s “appalling silence” will prove detrimental for Syria

As America and the global civil rights movements pay tribute this month to the great civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., I wonder, as a Syrian, who now stands for the mission that great leader died for? Who does not remember the great quote of Martin Luther King Jr: “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.” He would now add, “and for the hypocritical policy makers of the free world!” 

Even the United Nations chose to stop counting the number of the Syrian regime’s victims a few months ago at the number of 130,000 dead, three million refugees and seven million homeless — though the unofficial reports talk about 300,000 dead at least. Why did the world choose to abandon the people of Syria?

Well, frankly, my direct contact with many students on the ISU campus and even outside the campus during my first short visit to the USA after three decades since my graduation from Iowa State, forces me first to ask a broader but shocking question: what is going on in Syria in the first place? So many people seem to have little knowledge about what is going on in the Arab country. Syria has been under President Bashar al-Assad’s semi-monarchy totalitarian regime for over four decades, where a Syrian “won’t dare to open his mouth except at the dentist,” as one sarcastic writer wrote. Syria has been ruled by one of the worst dictator and tyrant regimes under the pretext of a false slogan of socialism and nationalism while the ruling family and its followers monopolize 80 percent of the country’s resources. Freedom of speech is forbidden, even in dreams.

Since the start of what they called the Arab spring — first in Tunisia in December 2010, and followed by Egypt, Libya and Yemen later — observers were wondering how and when it would reach Syria. On March 15, 2011 a small, peaceful demonstration took place in the center of the traditional market called Alhamidiya, in Damascus . The only slogan the demonstrators dared to say was: The Syrian people won’t be humiliated.

As peaceful demonstrations started to spread throughout the country, the brutal response of the regime against the civilians went beyond imagination. One famous Arab thinker at that time said, “when the people dared to shout for dignity, the regime’s violent response was to ensure they go back to its slavery by whatever means it has.” Inspired by revolutions which overthrew dictator regimes in Tunis, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, and by clear statements from world leaders in the West against the Syrian regime that it “must go” and that it had “lost its legitimacy,” the Syrian people became more determined to get back their freedom and dignity. As the revolution went on, the regime didn’t spare any weapons to suppress it, including chemical ones. Although that was what President Obama called crossing “the red line,” that did not “change his calculus, and his equation,” as he had warned in his one of his most famous statements in August 2012.

With the vicious deal between the West and the regime to “abandon its chemical arsenal,” the world abandoned the Syrian people, leaving the regime, with the support of Iran, Hezbollah and Russia, to continue its mass massacres of civilians and armed resistance, sending planes to throw bombs and explosive barrels on cities and villages — devastating the houses of the people and sending one of the world’s oldest civilizations into chaos.

Recent revelations of photographs document not only the violence against the Syrian people by the Assad regime, but also remind the world of the Holocaust, as state-sponsored persecution and murder worse than that done by the Nazi regime and its collaborators, should leave no doubt about its tyranny, even as “peace” talks begin in which some would want to leave the Assad regime in place. If these photos represent only one police detention center, how many more victims must there be at the 30 other detention centers (and surely additional secret ones)?

Victims tortured and burned alive will reach more than 200,000. One of the pretexts used by those who justify such abandon is that the struggle is sectarian between the majority radical Sunni Muslims against the ruling minority Alawii. This claim ignores the historical genesis of the conflict and its sequence — to say nothing of the dozens of people tortured to death in arbitrary detention, and hundreds of incidents proving the regime’s unwillingness to change its conduct.

Now, by refraining from helping the Syrian people defend themselves against the brutality of this regime and its allies, under whatever pretexts, the West will be turning this country into a hub of all radical Muslims and other fundamentalist groups, most members of which will be the next generation of orphaned children, victims of this tyrannical regime. This fact is the worst price the West will pay for its “appalling silence,” regarding the worst human crisis in recent history. An Arab proverb says, “you worry about the Superstitious Geni, then you will end meeting it.”