I love America. I believe in America. Since registering with the Selective Service on my 18th birthday, there have been multiple times on which I have made myself available to serve my country. I have done this because while there are numerous things in America with which I do not agree entirely, I ultimately believe that America and Americans are good. I believe that as a nation, we are a beautifully diverse community of people who do not ask and seek what others can do for us but ask and seek what we can do for others. As a nation, we sacrifice our time, our talent, our money, and even the very lives of some of our most honorable, selfless citizens to see the world become a better, more just, fair, safe and peaceful place for all.
It was those altruistic values of sacrifice and service, instilled in me at a young age by wonderful parents, which produced the motives that empowered me to serve as a humanitarian for nearly fifteen years in refugee camps and war-afflicted areas across the Middle East and North Africa, from Mauritania to Yemen, into Egypt and Sudan, Jordan and Palestine, and finally into Syria. And then it was a desire to raise our daughter among people who embodied those same values that led my wife and I to return to America in 2014 with our three-year-old little girl.
We chose to return to America to raise her because of our belief that, overall, America is a country with a conscience and a soul, guided by a moral compass. In other words, the kind of place in which any parent would be privileged to raise their kid!
But now I am troubled. I am concerned that America is no longer that country. I am disquieted that we are coming dangerously close to losing our moral compass, specifically with regards to Syria.
As one who in the not-so-distant past lived in Syria, each new report of chemical attacks, bombings, and people who have “disappeared” leaves me wondering about the fate of the neighbors and colleagues with whom I ate, laughed, and prayed.
I find myself wondering about the fate of the young married couple and their first small child who lived in the same building my family and I lived in during our stay in Syria. Do they continue to live in the same building? Have they fled the country? Are they even still alive?
I find myself wondering about the fate of the young Kurdish men who ran a juice and sandwich shop I frequented just outside the Old City in Damascus. Is their shop still in business? Do they continue to live in Damascus? Have they taken a more active, armed role in the conflict? Are they even still alive?
And I find myself thinking about one of the world’s most beloved and renowned Islamic scholars under whom I studied al-Qur’an multiple times each week while living in Syria; yet about his fate I am not left to wonder. He was assassinated by the Syrian regime while giving a lesson to students in the same Damascene mosque where I studied under him.
But beyond my very real and personal connections to the Syrian conflict, the bigger picture is this: to date, more than 400,000 Syrians have been killed since the start of the conflict on 18 March 2011. This includes more than 200,000 civilian deaths, many of them women and children, and another 13,000 dead souls who were systematically murdered by the Bashar al-Assad regime and Iranian militias in Syria. Many of these politically-motivated deaths were photographed and documented in great detail. The victims were almost entirely young Syrian men ranging in age from their early 20’s to their early 40’s. Experts say the photographs reveal they were tortured to death by means of being slowly starved, which is the first time since World War Two – when Adolf Hitler systematically killed millions of Jews by means of slowly starving them to death – that the world has seen such an atrocity as this.
In addition to the enormous loss of innocent lives, more than 5.5 million Syrians have fled the country and another 6.2 million Syrians are internally displaced, making this the largest refugee and humanitarian crisis in the history of the world.
And so, while Syrian warplanes continue to carry out chemical weapons attacks against civilians, Russian warplanes continue to bomb schools and hospitals, and Iranian militias continue wide-scale systematic torture and siege of civilian areas, we do very little of consequence. And this is inexcusable.
It is entirely unforgivable for us to sit by and allow Bashar al-Assad, with the explicit support and help of Russia and Iran, to continue the ongoing, brutal slaughter of innocent Syrians. It is wholly indefensible for us to continue to sit by and allow Bashar al-Assad to remain in power. Syria and her people will never realize peace – or even so much as begin to rebuild – until Bashar al-Assad is gone.
Please, sir, enough is enough. We must act. We must bring this ongoing slaughter to an end. We must do so now.
With a heavy and sincere heart,