There is an old Syrian proverb: “A little spark can kindle a great fire.”
On January 26, 2011, that is exactly what happened in Damascus when Hasan Ali Akleh set himself on fire in an act of self-immolation similar to what Mohamed Bouazizi did in Tunis on December 17, 2010. In both cases, the result was the same: revolution.
Kindled by the hopes and dreams of an entire region, a spark caught fire in Syria—and it spread like wildfire. It was fueled by the past transgressions of that country’s brutal leadership and now, despite more than a year of murder, Bashar al-Assad has yet to contain that flame. For he has failed to understand that every Syrian father, mother and child he kills is fuel for the revolution’s persistence. After nearly five decades of Ba’ath Party rule, the idea that the country is not his—that the government exists to serve the people, rather than the other way around—means nothing to him. And so the revolution rages on.
Yet even the most stubborn protestors must succumb to force eventually. Even the loudest rally is no match for bullets. As I watch the videos of peaceful crowds being mowed down by Syrian soldiers and government thugs, my heart sinks. Without help, these people will fail; the flawed doctrine of “might makes right” will prevail. And though much of the world claims to champion freedom, and therefore to empathize with these activists whose sole demand is democracy, the international community has so far met the protestors’ demands with little more than empty actions and silence.
It is a silence of hypocrites.
Because of this shameful dithering, Assad believes—rightly so—that he can commit atrocities without facing consequences. Lacking a moral compass, he has no reason to stay his hand. This is deeply disconcerting. For three decades, Lebanese civilians like my parents suffered torture, intimidation and terrorism from the Assad regime. Now Syrians are being murdered in their own homes by the same government. Enough is enough.
Take a moment to consider the situation’s gravity. People are dying for the simple reason that they yearn for democracy, yet the West—despite intervening in Libya on behalf of armed rebels at a time when fewer had died—has done little but watch as Assad murders unarmed protestors. How can we call ourselves champions of democracy if we do nothing?
The Syrian uprising is now a fire, a flame, but unless the protestors receive a boost from the world now it will inevitably dwindle to just a flicker. We need only remember the tragedy that occurred during the Hama protests in 1982, when Bashar’s father Hafez used tanks and aircraft to slaughter 20,000 of his own people. If the West remains silent, who knows how high the death toll—which surpassed 8,000 in February—could climb? If Assad believes he faces no consequences for his actions, nothing will stop him.
Yes, we have interests in Syria; yes, those interests could be helped or hurt by intervening. But simple humanity calls on us to do something. We don’t even need to send in missiles; no, sending words would do. But the words we send must be more potent than what has already been said; we—as humans—must demand rights for the Syrian people, must demand that Iran cease its intervention, and must demand that Assad step down. Only then can we bolster a people who have been treaded on for so long. Only then can we bring our actions in line with our rhetoric.
The Syrian protesters are a ragtag group of rebels demanding freedom from oppression. Their situation is not unlike that of the American rebels of the eighteenth century—poorly equipped citizens fighting for freedom from a vastly more powerful force that refuses to represent them. Yet even our ancestors had help in attaining liberty—and unlike the majority of Syrian civilians, they were armed. They could fight back.
All the protestors are asking of us now is to know we care—to know that the world cares. Even if democracy wins out in Syria, I fear that later our inaction will bear heavily on the minds of those who have shed blood to attain liberty. As Dr. King said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” True, not all Syrians consider us friends, but Assad has never been our friend. And now we have this one chance to show the people who could replace him that our defining ideology—freedom—is not only an ideal but a reality, too—and a reality that extends to all people, regardless of race or religion.
Eventually, Assad or his sons must renounce power—history teaches that no repressive regime lasts forever. But how long until this family falls? How long until “might makes right” is replaced by morality, until the pen and law and human decency really do triumph over the sword? How much longer can the world stand by and do nothing while young, decent people are tortured, their bodies mangled beyond recognition?
Silence is murder. As of today, the entire world is silent. By sheer complacency alone, the world has allied with a murderer. It is the Syrian rebels versus the world.
They don’t stand a chance.