Thursday, September 5, 2013

Considering Syria

Each weekday morning at Jonah House, the community gathers for morning prayer, reading from the lectionary and sharing reflections.  This morning we found ourselves in the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Colossians.  Paul, a spiritual leader of the budding church, is overwhelmed with love for them and offers this effusive prayer: “that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of God… bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God….” The prayer goes on, bursting with life and love; a full paragraph comprised of two heartfelt, spirit-filled sentences of encouragement and exhortation that can hardly be stopped by a period.  Paul indicates that fullness of life requires strength combined with patience; wisdom and understanding combined with action; and, in all things, the tempering, humbling persistence of thanksgiving.  It’s about mind, heart and walk – a fruit-filled life – a prayer that every loving parent offers for their children.

It’s a prayer that I, with foolish faith, pray for the world in which I share life, the country in which I share citizenship and the society in which I share presence.  Over the past couple of weeks, it is a prayer in which I have been disappointed to the point of daily distress.  Syria is on my mind all day, every day.  Syria, and the sickening persistence with which our politicians are pushing for US military intervention.  I confess, with full disclosure, that as a pacifist I find it hard to believe that a violent assault can ever be the source of lasting, peaceful resolution for any conflict.  It seems to me that violence begets violence.  However, that being said, even were there to be such a thing as a “just war” or efficacious military interventions, I am still waiting for evidence that an air strike in Syria could be such a thing.

While it does seem right to respond to devastating deaths that have for sometime been occurring in Syria, I cringe when I hear Kerry suggest that insistence upon an air strike is an act “grounded in facts, informed by conscience, and guided by common sense.”  I cringe now that Obama has substituted the phrase “to act” with what he actually means, “to attack,” as though to not violently assault another nation automatically indicates a resolution to passivity.

A representative of Oxfam America President RaymondOffenheiser was interviewed yesterday by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now.  As a representative of Oxfam, Offenheiser’s primary concern is with internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Syria and refugees seeking safety in neighboring countries, does not see a US military involvement as a source of reprieve to their suffering but rather an action that is likely to spread and intensify it. Oxfam, “recognizes a need for strong and immediate action,” but is “not sure military action is the answer.”  He goes on to say that if you strip away the rhetoric, at the end of the day all the parties agree that the only true solution is a political solution and a military strike will not only widen and prolong the conflict, putting more civilians in danger, but will undermine the trust that would be necessary for a real and lasting solution.

 And frankly, though images of those wounded and dead from the alleged use of chemical weapons was used as the catalyst to incite the US to this very particular action, the good of the Syrian people seems very far from the content of debates at present.  We hear more about “US interest” and Obama’s image than what might alleviate the suffering of Syrians and bring some political resolution to the ongoing civil war, not to mention the underlying regional war (please see the Amy Goodman's interview with Fawaz Gerges for a more comprehensive perspective on the complicated state of affairs in the Middle East).  Even those who oppose a strike are being dismissed as suffering from “war fatigue” allowing the administration to get away without answering questions about the gaping holes in the “evidence” being presented that the Assad regime is responsible, not to mention any indication of how this will in fact effectively help the situation rather than worsen it.

This morning Amy Goodman interviewed Alan Grayson, a Florida state Congressman.  Grayson caught me by surprise, articulately manifesting many of the pressing questions about evidence and efficacy and how, rather than promoting US interest, a strike would in fact do powerful damage.  Despite the encouragement of having these issues brought to light, it hurts to recognize what continues to be left unaddressed. I wish that we would hear more from those who are opposed to US military intervention about Syrian interest.  Though the arguments indicating that it is against US interest are compelling, it does little for those who genuinely desire to aid the Syrians who are suffering (Fawaz Gerges is a better source for this than Grayson). It is astounding to me that anyone would believe an air strike (and almost undoubtedly subsequent “boots on the ground”) would curb the carnage and not expand the loss of life, creating a ripple effect of violence that will not be contained in Syria.

What would happen if all involved, and those of us not explicitly involved, absorbed the reality that “to act” does not necessarily mean “to attack.”  Employing our own weapons, whatever we may call them, also means using “weapons of mass destruction.”  To not violently intervene does not mean to be passive.  I am wondering, what would happen if we acted on the tragedy by mourning the destruction and loss of life in Syria and creating a space to offer healing and to seek to understand and address the insanity rather than simply exacerbating it?

I find myself recalling one of the final scenes from the film Children of Men.  In this story the line between good guys and bad guys becomes realistically blurred.  The government that claims it is maintaining order is manipulating its citizens and abusing refugees.  Many of the rebels that once seemed for “the people” turn against individuals in favor of the movement’s agenda.  By the end, nearly everyone is shooting each other and no one knows why.  What stops the shooting is not the hero picking up a gun and picking off the worst of the worst (actually, the “hero” Clive Owen, never uses a gun).  What stops the shooting, just for a moment, is the crying of a newborn baby in the arms of its terrified mother.  What would happen if our response, if the world’s response, to the crying children of Syria was to pause and lay down arms rather than to pick them up and fire?

Please see below for more recommended reading/viewing:

"On United States Intervention in Syria: Remember a Few Things" by Joshua Brollier,

“What I, a Pacifist, Would Say to Obama About the Crisis in Syria” by Greg Boyd, 

“Tell Congress: Don’t Attack Syria,” Congressman Alan Grayson (a petition and video interview),

"Top Ten Unproven Claims for War Against Syria," Denis Kucinich

Acknowledgements:  Thanks to the Baltimore Sun, CBS nightly news, Democracy Now, and Ted for listening to my rants and laments and helping me clarify my thoughts.