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Stop pretending we can ignore Syria’s crisis

| Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The world looks away as bombs and bullets destroy Syrian communities, especially in Ghouta, Idlib and Afrin. The world is in denial and is pretending that the massacres are not happening. This pretending has to stop.

In the past seven years, almost half a million Syrians have been killed, and 11 million have been displaced from their homes. The media falsely calls the conflict a “civil war,” as if the regime and opposition were equally at fault. Actually, the dictator Bashar al-Assad’s side is responsible for more than nine out of 10 civilian deaths. “Massacre” and “genocide” are more accurate terms to describe the bombings, shelling and sieges conducted by Assad and his Russian government backers against the Syrian population.

In Ghouta, 400,000 people have been trapped in an open-air concentration camp for six years, denied basic food, water and medicine and facing continuous airstrikes. Aid workers describe children reduced to “skin and bones.” An estimated 600–800 have died in Ghouta since mid-February. Thousands are hiding in underground shelters.

The Facebook page “Act for Ghouta” publishes on-the-ground updates. In a Feb. 24 post, Bayan Rehan described hiding in a basement with other women and children, to take shelter from airstrikes: “I suddenly found myself sound asleep (I haven’t had a chance to sleep for the past 72 hours except for a few sporadic hours). I was woken up by the sound of barrel bombs dropped somewhere near us.” As the air raids continued later in the day, Rehan wrote that “children have started screaming and their mothers are unable to control them.”

Airstrikes and fighting have turned Idlib into “Syria’s latest version of hell” according to CNN. The aid worker Hassan Boucenine described working with Idlib’s displaced residents: “There’s almost nowhere left for them to stay and it’s winter, so the rain never stops … the displaced are struggling to get basic necessities like fuel and blankets … for those in more remote areas of this rural province, a long way from health centers, it’s dire.”

To make matters in Syria even worse, Turkish forces began attacks this January in Afrin, displacing civilians and targeting democratic Kurdish forces who have been fighting IS. Human Rights Watch investigated three of Turkey’s attacks in late January against a home, a tent and a farm. The organization accused Turkey of “unlawful” strikes, pointing out that 26 civilians died, including 17 children.

The world is doing little of substance to stop the atrocities.

World leaders could kick Russian and Syrian embassies out of their countries, but instead there is a virtual silence. American planes could drop food to communities under siege, but this has not been happening. Since Turkey is an ally of the United States government, Washington could make a difference by forcefully demanding an end to the bombardment. Instead, the Trump administration passively stood “on the sideline,” according to the New York Times. With impunity, the governments of Russia, Syria and Turkey have repeatedly violated calls for cease-fire including one by the United Nations on Feb. 24.

The world is sending Syrians a chilling message of indifference to their displacement, starvation and massacre.

Many Syrians recently signed a statement, “Stop pretending you can’t act immediately to save Syrians. The signatories call on world leaders to stop the atrocities, to lift the sieges and to provide immediate protection and humanitarian aid. They lament how Syrians have been “abandoned to a fate unimaginable in an era of space explorations and artificial intelligence.” Hundreds of people signed.

It will take more than words, however, to break the silence and cut through the pretending. We could be boycotting Russian products and refusing to share articles from Russia Today. We could be planning marches and teach-ins at community centers and college campuses. We could be fundraising for aid workers and first responders. We could be occupying senators’ offices until more planes drop food (not bombs) to areas under siege. Our leaders, including President Trump, have failed Syria, but we ordinary Americans don’t have to go along with his pretending. While Trump and other politicians live in a make-believe land, we don’t have to do the same. We don’t have to keep pretending.

Daniel Fischer

graduate student

March 4

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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