Donald Andrew Henson II

Posts Tagged ‘Syria’

Missiles Won’t Save Syrian Children

In Current events, The Trump Administration, Wars and Rumors of Wars on April 11, 2017 at 5:18 pm

Syrian children

I’ve been decrying the violence against children in Syria for five years now, since my heart was torn apart by a video of Rena, a four-year-old Syrian girl shot by a sniper back in 2012. I’ve posted other photos and videos of dead and dying Syrian children since then  – admittedly with few suggestions on how to make the violence against helpless children in Syria stop. I’m still struggling for answers.

By all estimates, there are certainly at least 500,000 casualties to date in the Syrian conflict, many of them children, as well as a great number of non-combatant women and men. We as Americans have their blood on our hands. The God, Guns and Glory GOP under George W Bush started a war in Iraq under dubious pretenses, and lacking any plan for the stabilization of the country afterwards, left behind the chaos that spread across the border to Syria – and gave rise to ISIS and other militant groups. These are facts – no amount of whitewashing by those who supported the war will undo their veracity. Donald Trump’s claims that Obama and Hillary created ISIS – and conservative media’s support of those statements – is frightening doublespeak revisionist history of Orwellian proportions.

And while I wouldn’t hold President Trump directly responsible for the murder of children in Syria (unlike anti-abortionist groups that called Obama a baby-killer), it is certainly possible his press secretary’s statement that toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was no longer a priority, that it was instead a “political reality that we have to accept in terms of where we are right now”  – just a few days before the chemical attack – may have been a signal to Assad that he could deal as ruthlessly as he wanted with pockets of remaining resistance without fear of retribution from the US. In other words, Sean Spicer’s dissembling may have emboldened Assad in this latest attack. (Warning, this video is graphic and disturbing.)

The US has been complicit in the killing children in the Middle East for a long time. We’ve supported a regime in Israel that has in the last decades killed hundreds of Palestinian children in the name of ‘security’. (Yes, Palestinians kill Israelis children too, albeit in far fewer numbers and without American support). We fed and fueled the feud between Iran and Iraq for eight long years, resulting in one million dead Iranians and half that number of Iraqis. Not content to simply stoke the fire, we embarked on two major excursions into Iraq, the last of which produced an estimated 100,000 further civilian casualties. President Obama laughed ISIS off as a ‘JV team’, and did too little too late as they grew to power, sacrificing thousands more lives in the region. We’ve failed to take any effective action in Syria, while many thousands of children have died.

I think a secularist worldview, trying to find rational solutions to the world’s problems, by nature creates strong pacifist tendencies. War is almost never the correct solution to the problem, be it political, religious, economic, or otherwise. War is never clean or neat or ‘surgical’ – these terms apply only to the side that has sufficient technology to inflict much greater harm than it suffers, countries like Israel and the US. There is always ‘collateral damage’, meaning the slaughter of innocents, which in my opinion is unacceptable. But if military action is ever a solution – and I do believe it sometimes is necessary (is that because of the American side to being americansecularist? I’m not sure), then certainly protecting the most vulnerable among us would be one of those times.

I’m going to cut Mr. Trump some slack on his missile-attack response to the latest Syrian atrocity. The cynic in me says that, much like then-President Clinton’s airstrike on a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant, (read Christopher Hitchen’s brilliant deconstruction of that action ), Trump needed to create a distraction from the Russia scandal – and gross incompetence – his administration has been mired in. Bonus points that he had to stop holding hands with Putin to give the order. Trump and the GOP have been wildly inconsistent on military action since George W left office – or perhaps wildly Machiavellian. Their position has basically been that if Obama took action, it was a mistake; if he didn’t, he was weak.

However, I’m going to assume that Donald Trump saw these videos and was moved by them – as anyone should be – and that led to an actual change of heart. I’m going to assume the 180-degree change of opinion on Syrian action was motivated by genuine human concern and outrage when, perhaps for the first time, he came face-to-face with the realities there.

But missiles do not policy make, and if we want to see an end to the indiscriminate killing of children in the Middle East – and elsewhere – it will require intelligent, effective policies that so far no administration has been able to come up with. Airstrikes are the equivalent of taking away your teenager’s allowance after he’s murdered the neighbors, a sort of ‘well I had to do something’ kind of response. In fact, the bombed runway is already in use, and I’m sure innocents in Syria continue to be slaughtered by their own government – maybe not with gas canisters this time, but murdered nonetheless.

I refuse to join the partisan fray, to criticize each and every decision the ‘other side’ makes, simply because it’s the other side. But I can’t really applaud the decision either, as I don’t really see what it accomplishes. I understand – after I see these videos, I want to throw missiles at someone – anyone responsible – as well. However, it does absolutely nothing to dissuade Assad and company from committing further atrocities.

Real remedy in Syria requires intelligence, competence, and the guts to make unpopular decisions. I am pessimistic that our current president is any more capable – indeed is in many ways less capable – of solving Syria than his predecessors.

The photo above comes from an excellent aljazeera.com post – a must-read if you’re not clear on the causes current Syrian conflict.

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Secularist Prayer

In American Society, Current events, Secular Humanism on November 21, 2015 at 6:39 pm

 

I’ve felt a heavy sadness this week that I fear is only bound to intensify in the coming weeks. Events in Paris in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks continue to dominate the news cycle. When there is a break in the coverage, it seems it’s only to introduce another tragedy unfolding elsewhere in the world. Syrian refugees are still  washing up to shore, both dead and alive. At least 27 are dead in the Mali massacre. Kidnappings continue in the Philippines. Palestinians and Israelis are still killing each other on a daily basis. 

Closer to my current home in China, Uighyr separatists, unable to procure guns, rampage through train stations, slashing passengers with long knives. Chinese authorities are accused of retaliating indiscriminately, shooting dead anyone even remotely associated with the attacks.

More violence promised by all parties. 

Even if terrorism didn’t exist, we would still have a 24/7 news stream of police violence, child abductions, grisly murders, school shootings, and other mass killings to look forward to. No need to wait for the evening news or even look for a television – headlines are pushed to our phones round the clock. Videos so gruesomely violent they’d make Dante puke appear in our Facebook newsfeed. Anyone trying to change their profile photo to show solidarity with victims of extremism would need to log on hourly. 

It is clear that secularism – a worldview that espouses the furtherance of human welfare through rational solutions – is, if not altogether dead, certainly mortally wounded. Every time a terrorist or religious zealot takes a life, he emboldens others to join the madness, and elicits vows of revenge from those who worship a slightly different god. Even those who might in other times consider themselves moderates are found shouting threats at city hall or proposing internment camps. 

It’s enough to make a secular humanist cry. I’m sitting at an airport in Beijing, waiting to board a plane home for the holidays, yet my heart is heavy. With all the terrible things happening in the world, even the Pope is having a hard time enjoying the season. How can we sing ‘Peace on Earth’ when it seems the world is on fire? What can we do in this time of troubles?

We can pray.

I’ve heard it said that an agnostic is someone who has a nostalgia for God, and I know I am guilty of this sentiment. I’ve explored the topic before, and I’ve decided that it is difficult to escape the old ways of thinking. I’ve been criticized for posting #prayforparis and #prayforsyria on my blog and other sites. So be it. 

However, perhaps I do need to clarify what kind of prayer I’m talking about. It is not the prayer of the zealot – the one who shouts ‘God is Great’ as he guns down the innocent. I do not propose a fatalist’s prayer, the sort of ‘God’s will be done’ sentiment so prevalent in our major religions. I am certainly not in favor of the Samsonite prayer – let me kill all my enemies even if it’s the last thing I do. And I long ago abandoned the wishful prayer, the one that expects a magic man in the sky – so oblivious to our sufferings thus far – to suddenly make everything ok. 

Instead, what I suggest is to keep these events close to our hearts and uppermost in our thoughts. When I say ‘prayers’ for someone,  it means my heart goes out for them, that I want things to work out for them. I can’t look at someone with stage IV cancer who’s asked me to pray for them and say, “I don’t believe in prayer,” even if I don’t in the conventional sense of the word. 

There is enough heartlessness in the world. I know there is no God – because even a fallible human such as I would stop these heinous events if I could – how could a perfect being do otherwise?

Obviously we must do more than pray – we have to punish those who’ve broken the law, root out those who fan the flames of hatred, and – if we can – eliminate the causes of such mindless violence. But while we’re stunned, hurting, at a loss for words let alone solutions – could it hurt to pray?

Please Don’t Forget Rena

In Current events, Wars and Rumors of Wars on February 8, 2014 at 11:15 pm

Bodies-of-children-wrapped-in-shrouds

I wrote months ago about how the tragedy in Syria is wreaking havoc on that nation’s children, and I fear not much has changed since then. At that time, there was a news story about a 4-year-old girl named Rena had been shot by a sniper while playing near the window in her family’s apartment. She died a few hours later, gurgling blood as she called our her for her mother. Now there are thousands more like her being starved out in besieged cities. Parents brave snipers’ bullets as they search the ruined streets and alleys for something – anything – that might feed their children. But it is estimated that perhaps half of the 100,000 dead in the conflict are children. At first I posted the CNN video into the body of this post, but I decided it may just be too hard for some to watch. Yes, even harder than the photo I decided to post above. So I’ll link to it instead – you can read the news story without seeing the video if you think it might be too upsetting.

Anyone who knows me would tell you that I’m not a bleeding heart. I am ashamed to say that I, like most everyone else, am pretty quick to change the channel when those Feed the Children commercials start appearing late at night. I wish I could say I didn’t. It’s so easy to get caught up in one’s own problems – even if they are infinitesimally smaller than those so many in the world face. But I don’t know how anyone can read of children being shot in the face or intentionally starved, and think that war in the Middle East – or anywhere – would somehow do some good. I was in Israel during the intifada in the 90s, and my heart grew sick at the site of crying mothers and fathers clutching their dead children – newsreels not seen in America. Twenty years later, it is obvious that wanton killing has not led to a solution. Nor has it in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Egypt, or a host of other countries around the world.

It seems we should have done something in Syria. The cynic in me says we didn’t because there’s no oil there. The realist knows that the American public is weary of war-mongering in the Middle East – for now at least – and the support for another mission there did not exist. I am against the use of drones – at least the way we’re using them right now, as the President’s personal play things – but if we’re going to use them to ‘take out bad guys’ it seems preventing people from starving young children would rank high on that list. I don’t know – I don’t have the answers.

The parties involved in the conflict are supposed to be meeting with each other in Geneva as I write this. I hope that first on the agenda would be a ceasefire and end to the sieges that are causing such misery. I am not an expert on the political situation there, and as always, it seems that what seems like a good solution at the time in that region often comes around to haunt us. But I hope that the kids there will be given food and warm clothing before more of them die.

The videos are hard to watch – you might just want to ignore them. But do me a favor, please. Before you jump on the next war bandwagon that rolls around in the US, come back and watch them. Look right into war’s grim face before you join in a glib chorus of ‘Bomb Bomb Iran‘.

And if you believe in prayer, please pray for these children.

Editor’s note:  reading this 3 years later, right after President Trump’s missile attack on an airfield there. So little has changed.