Monday, February 27, 2012

Crowd-Sourcing Help for Syria

Here’s some good places to start:

“It may be good politics to want to go after the bad guy, but folks are acting as if the past decade never happened.”
- Chuck Colson, on calls for military intervention into Syria

My dad sent me the link to this article by Chuck Colson, one of the best prominent Christian public intellectuals in the States, after he and my Mom and I talked about the Syria problem on Skype yesterday.

Chuck’s piece is great. He says what I was trying to say in my last post my more clearly, namely:

“Civil war is the most likely result of Western intervention. Even if Assad could be persuaded to quit Syria, the rest of Syria’s 3.5 million Alawites have nowhere to go. They would be facing the prospect of reprisals. Since they control the Army and security apparatus, they would of course fight. Caught in the middle of all this destruction, loss, and instability would be Syria’s Christian minority, which constitutes about ten percent of the population.”

In Libya, the UN Security Council authorized member states to use military force to protect the civilian population. By the end of the war, NATO was bombing Qaddafi’s SUV as he fled for his life, “to reduce the threat toward the civilian population,” as one NATO official put it, while pro-Qaddafi civilians in Sirte were massacred by rebels and their bodies quietly hidden. Military force is far too blunt an instrument to protect only civilians and target only war criminals. After Milosevic was defeated in Kosovo, the one million Albanian refugees NATO went to war to save returned home, and forced over 100,000 Serbs out of their homes in a kind of reverse-ethnic cleansing. War by its very nature demands winners and losers. In Syria, the losers will be over one-fifth of the population.

Is it worth putting all their lives in danger to save the people of Homs? Who knows? Certainly not us. There is One who does know. Dare we assume his place?

In his e-mail, my dad writes, “But Syria still needs a third option… have you come up with anything yet?”

A Third Option. What an awesome choice of words!

Only once (unless I’m forgetting something) in the gospels do we see Jesus react to an imminent threat of violence against another person – the woman accused of adultery in John 8. There seem to be only two options: let her die, or defend her at the risk of (correctly) being accused of compromising the Law.

Both of those options suck. So Jesus does something totally different.

He starts writing in the sand with his finger.

After he writes for a while, the crowd gets fed up with the act, and demands that he render judgment on the woman. He stands up, says, “If any one of you is without sin, let him throw the first stone,” and then goes back to writing in the dirt.

What was he writing? The Bible doesn’t say. My college philosophy professor thinks he was just trying to buy time. Obviously, I don’t know, and John probably didn’t either. But I like the idea of rejecting the either/or situation of violence altogether, and introducing something totally unexpected into the situation.

So, Dad, and friends – here’s what I’ve come up with as a U.S. government strategy for dealing with Syria:

1. Apologize for the deaths from the U.S. military’s October 2008 assault on the Syrian town of Abu Kamel. Announce that a State Department team is on its way to Abu Kamel identify and compensate survivors.

2. Apologize for the U.S.’s role in the 2007 attack on Syria’s nuclear reactor in Deir ez-Zour. Affirm Syria’s right to nuclear energy, and announce that American construction teams are on their way to repair it.

3. Announce that, with the exception of the arms ban, all U.S. sanctions on Syria are being lifted immediately.

4. Forswear any military or covert intervention in Syrian political affairs. Retract President Obama’s call for Assad to step down. Announce that the Syrian people must decide their future, and that the U.S.’s only interest is in seeing an end to the violence.

5. Announce that all U.S. military aid to the Middle East region, including to Israel, is being suspended immediately.

6. Announce that the first Syrian government elected through transparent, internationally-monitored and approved elections, will receive development loans conditioned only on anti-corruption standards, and compensation for absorbing millions of Iraqi refugees displaced by the American attack on Iraq in 2003.

7. Fully condemn terrorist attacks from the Syrian opposition.

8. Airdrop thousands of Qur’ans into the area around Homs. (If you’re scratching your head at this, just think of how the typical Syrian soldier would react.)

9. Airdrop food and medical supplies into Homs and Deraa.

10. Jam all radio and television frequencies in combat zones; replace with broadcasts of biblical, Quranic and Arab nationalist injunctions against fratricide.

11. Dedicate one presidential press conference per day to telling the story of a victim of the regime’s crackdown. Obama should hold up a picture of the victim.

12. Stand back and see what happens.

What else should go on this list?  Add your suggestions to the comments section.

Caveats: Yes, this is mostly a mental exercise. Sometimes, the adulterous woman simply cannot be saved. Not in this temporal life, anyway. That’s all the more reason to call unto God for help in this situation, and not rely on our own strength.

"The Lord forbid that I should lift my hand against the Lord's anointed." - I Samuel 24:6


  1. Option 4 - Balkanized safe zones; make individual cities safe and independent, but don't overthrow the regime proper. Once the nationalist line has been crossed (and it has) balkanization is the only viable source. It would be nice to go back to a peaceful regime, but civil war can only be avoided once people feel safe again.

  2. Joel - I don't have anything to add to this but I just wanted to say that I loved it: thank you for dreaming it and putting into words. I've been talking a lot with people lately about the loss of the "Christian imagination" - the loss of the ability to think creatively and differently about situations like the one in Syria. Thanks for bringing a "third way" (which is also the name of a great magazine, by the way...) into the conversation!

  3. Dena - thanks! I appreciate it - that means a lot coming from you.

    Andrew - very likely a good option, especially since Syria is already halfway Balkanized. Especially in rural areas, you'll have the Christian town, and then the Muslim town 500 meters west. But how would that balkanization be enforced?