Sentiment of Indifference Toward Syria Must Be Addressed

I decided to visit my father in Akron during the first weekend of February to catch up with him. I hadn’t seen him since December, and I was looking forward to recounting my stories of Egypt, a part of the Middle East and North African region, which I had visited since our last meeting. As a Palestinian, he had his own tales to tell about the region.

Our conversation shifted to Palestine specifically, as it often does, and we recounted the hardships of the Palestinian people through the past eight decades. We discussed the tragedies and the difficulties, then the conversation shifted slightly. “But Syria,” he said. “What’s happened there is unspeakable.” 

We shared a silent moment in recognition, and continued. The next day, I woke to news of an earthquake in southeastern Türkiye that had reached parts of Syria.

At the time, the earthquake had a death toll in the hundreds across the region. A day later, thousands. By Feb. 14, over 41,000 had perished, including nearly 6,000 in Syria. The 7.8-magnitude earthquake has devastated communities and families, turning buildings to rubble and leaving millions of people without homes.

Let me make it clear: By focusing on Syria in this article, I am in no way downplaying the severity of the recent earthquake among Turkish people. I write here on Syria specifically, and I was inspired to do so because of the recent disaster, but I am not writing per se about the disaster.

Syria’s numerous weaknesses make it a nation unprepared for a disaster like the Kahramanmaraş earthquake. This is not the first crisis the country has faced, and it is unlikely to be the last. According to the Fragile States Index, Syria is the third-least stable country on Earth, the result of a variety of factors including a fractured government and a feeble economy.

It’s easy to sympathize with the Syrian people. Their participation in the Arab Spring uprisings was characterized by a hope, especially among youth, that the Arab World would finally see an end to tyrannical, autocratic regimes and see a new dawn of peace. A democratic society was taking shape. Yet what came of it was a civil war that, after nearly 12 years, has shown no signs of stopping. According to the United Nations Human Rights Office, 306,000 civilians were killed in the first 10 years of fighting. It is easy to sympathize, but few take action.

Modern Western powers, broadly speaking, are not interested in the well-being of Middle Eastern countries and their people. They participate in sending relief packages, but if they truly cared, the United States would not have invaded Iraq on false claims of weapons of mass destruction, nor would it impose sanctions that make delivering aid to Syria unnecessarily difficult, nor send military aid to Israel that is used, among other things, for aerial attacks on Syrian soil. Frankly, what has happened in Syria is a gross injustice. The people who call the country home do not deserve to live in constant fear of death or displacement as unwilling expatriates or as refugees huddled into precariously assembled camps. They, as much as the people of Ukraine, the United States, or any other nation on Earth, deserve peace, stability, and fair treatment. Because they lack such fair treatment, though they have been left naked in the wake of a tragedy that has devastated their home.

Though the Syrian government is untrustworthy when it comes to distributing relief funds, there are non-governmental organizations — such as the White Helmets in Syria and the International Rescue Committee more broadly — that can make a difference. I encourage people to donate to organizations like these, but I don’t think that a donation is enough. Syria is constantly the center of global attention as a “failed state.” Because of this, there seems to be a common sentiment that its salvation is a lost cause and that its people are destined to suffer for the rest of time. To sit idly by and grow complacent to the suffering of others begets yet more suffering and injustice. This sentiment of indifference must be addressed if the world is to become a more habitable place.

Humanitarian activist organizations are important factors in achieving this goal, but development really happens on the ground. Tides need to change, paradigms need to shift, and individuals must take accountability as advocates for change. Do not forget that we at Oberlin live in the most powerful country on Earth, a country that, despite all its flaws, allows for free expression and democratic elections. Use your power and your platform to make a difference. Remember Syria like you remember Ukraine. Remember its people, whose tears and blood are shed side by side. Remember the hundreds of thousands of innocent people who have died in a war they had no part in. Remember the children who have no place to go when their homes collapse in on themselves. Remember — speak up, assist, and advocate.