One of my best and oldest friends was born in Syria. She doesn't really like to talk about what's happening in her homeland right now because, to her, it's more than an abstract political conflict or a metaphorical redline. It's her uncle waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of fighter planes flying overhead and not knowing if his house will be standing in the morning. It's the family friends who disappeared on the road to a hospital in a nearby city. It's the acquaintance who has to stand in line at a soup kitchen to feed her family because of the severe food shortages.
My friend supports a military intervention, not because of President Bashar al-Assad's use of chemical weapons or because she believes that the United States needs to maintain its credibility in the world. She supports intervention because 200,000 Syrians have been killed in the last two years and she is convinced that the only thing that will stop Assad is an attack.
I find it difficult to agree with her. As a pacifist and as a Christian, I have a hard time reconciling violence of any sort, even against our enemies. Still, I believe that the U.S. must do something. That it is our moral responsibility as the most powerful nation in the world to attempt to put a stop to these grave injustices.
Over the last several weeks, I have been deeply disappointed in the reactions I've encountered to the conflict in Syria from Americans. I don't believe that most of us oppose intervention in Syria because of a commitment to nonviolence; I think we oppose intervention because we don't think we have any business there.
Over and over, I hear ordinary Americans say that what's happening in Syria is not our problem, that we have other domestic issues we need to focus on, that we are not the world's police. There's even a meme going around Facebook of a picture of a dilapidated house that says, "Fix Syria? We can't even fix Detroit..."
You know, I wasn't the least bit surprised when Sarah Palin tweeted, "let Allah sort it out," regarding the Syrian conflict. But I am surprised that so many Americans, including many of my friends, essentially feel the same way she does. It's an attitude that dehumanizes the Syrian people.
Syrians are not some strange species of alien life with which we have nothing in common. They are humans. They get just as scared and die just as easily and have the same basic needs as you and me. And I find it heartbreaking that our outrage over President Obama's suggestion of military force has far exceeded our outrage over Assad's slaughtering of his own people.
So what's the answer? How do we do something about the atrocities happening in Syria without resorting to violence?
I have no idea, but I do believe it's possible.
Whenever I try to make sense of the situation in Syria, my mind keeps wandering to Antoinette Tuff, the Atlanta school clerk who deterred a gunman at her elementary school last month by talking to him, praying for him and telling him she loved him.
Now, I know it is naïve to think that we can stop Assad by knocking on the door of his bunker and giving him a big hug — but what if we loved the Syrian people as much as Tuff loved the children at that school? What if we saw Assad as a human being instead of a monster? What if we prayed for Syria on a regular basis? Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that," and Tuff's story is a real-life, tangible example of just that. Who says her simple act of courage-by-love can't also be prescribed to a world crisis?
"That could have been me," my friend tells me, her voice cracking a bit. "My parents could have chosen to stay in Syria, I could be living there right now, going through all of this." She's right. It's by luck or chance or the grace of God that she isn't in Syria right now. And the same applies to all of us. The fact that we live in America does not make us a more worthy class of humans; it just makes us lucky. It could be any of us in Syria right now.
So while my friend and I may not agree on the best way to intervene in her homeland, we both believe that what's happening in Syria is horrific. And that even though we are fortunate enough to live in a safe and peaceful part of America, the atrocities that happen to other human beings thousands of miles away matter. They matter a whole lot.