Last week, Omran Daqneesh, age 5, was pulled from the rubble of a destroyed building in Aleppo, Syria. A video of Omran, dazed, confused, covered in dust and blood, quickly went viral.
It’s a powerful image. Before we knew his name, he was “the boy in the ambulance.” Hearts broke for him all over the world. On social media, people wrote they were choking back tears. The word everyone seemed to be using was “haunting” — we were collectively haunted by the image of this boy and the trauma he has clearly endured.
Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote in these pages about another Syrian boy. Aylan Kurdi’s body washed up in Bodrum, Turkey, after his boat from Syria sank. Aylan was 3 and the picture of him lying face-down on the beach stunned the world.
I was stunned, too. I was on a beach vacation with my children, and my son is about Aylan’s age. Aylan’s image didn’t leave my mind. So many people seemed to be having the same reaction that I was: That couldve been my child.
I wrote: “ ‘This could happen to me’ is a powerful feeling when witnessing something particularly awful. ‘That couldn’t be me’ is exactly what leads us to inaction.”
In the year since Aylan’s death, it seems we’ve decided it couldn’t happen to us after all. We’re haunted, we’re stunned — but we’ll continue to sit on our hands.
Our debates about what to do about Syria focus exclusively on refugees. In February, NATO’s supreme allied commander in Europe, Philip Breedlove, said, “Russia and the Assad regime are deliberately weaponizing migration in an attempt to overwhelm European structures and break European resolve,” and that the refugee crisis serves to “distract Western powers from the root cause of the crisis.”
We’re sufficiently distracted.
After the Omran video, social media exploded with arguments that we need to take in more refugees. But that’s a feel-good, Band-Aid solution that entirely misses the point. We cannot take every person out of Syria as a method to stop the bloodshed.
The boy in the ambulance wasn’t on a rickety boat to Lesbos or being turned away by Donald Trump. He was in his hometown, doing what 5-year-old boys do. My boy plays superheroes, carries around trucks, jumps in every puddle. Omran was probably doing the same. Why should he have to leave his home because the world refuses to defend or protect him?
After the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, it’s understandable that people are skittish about getting involved militarily overseas again. But we’re already involved militarily in Syria. A month ago, an American strike allegedly killed dozens of civilians in the ISIS-held city of Manbij.
Even apart from possible accidents like this one, our involvement is the very worst kind. It’s haphazard with no strategy and no goal. We’re fighting ISIS, but it wasn’t ISIS who nearly killed Omran while destroying his home. Omran’s city of Aleppo is a stronghold of rebels who oppose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
There’s more than one bad guy in Syria. There are many — and we have failed to act for far too long. In 2011, President Obama said that Assad’s days are numbered. Syria is still waiting. And Obama seems to have given up on ousting Assad, while Russia, Iran and now China all help Assad solidify his hold on power.
It doesn’t have to be America alone. But when the United States retreats from its role as benevolent superpower, it leaves a vacuum.
President Obama has left such a vacuum, and what we’ve seen in Syria is that someone else will always step in to fill. In Syria’s case, Russia stepped in and is helping Assad viciously squash the rebellion against him. When we look at Omran, we’re looking at a victim of that — a victim of what happens when America abdicates its leadership role.
A year ago I wrote, “Four years and more than 200,000 dead,” about the situation in Syria. Now it’s five years, and the official count is upward of 470,000.
Doing nothing has long ago become doing something. How many more pictures of wounded or dead Syrian children do we need to see before we are compelled to act?
Posted by Women Against Shariah on Monday, August 22, 2016
Source: New York Post