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Moral Responsibility: Syria and Sudan
According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “to be morally responsible for something… is to be worthy of a particular reaction…” Ethics aren’t always black and white, there’s a lot of gray area, but when it comes to an extreme, it should be clear what to do. There is evidence that people are being murdered in Sudan and there is proof that innocents are dying because of Syria’s civil war. These issues, however, are not being reported in the media. The media, instead, chooses to report on how Uber can now deliver you McDonalds.
So, moral responsibility means being “worthy” of a reaction, but what does that mean? Well, in short, moral responsibility refers to “the duty that individuals and groups have to act in accordance with the moral principles that are important to their social communities and to the humanity at large.” Moral responsibility is an issue of the conscience, what one believes is right. This then, arises the problem of what really is right? Since, something may be right to one, and completely wrong to another. But, how far does this go? Is killing a person, right? A murderer would say “yeah, it’s fine.” But, an average American, wouldn’t agree.
So, let’s continue defining our terms. Genocide. According to Merriam-Webster, it is “the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group.” The most well-known and well documented genocide in history was the Holocaust, but unbeknownst to most people, genocides aren’t a concept that died after the Holocaust.
There were many genocides before and after the Holocaust including: the genocide of the Armenians in Turkey (1915-1919), Stalin’s purges on the Communist party and the genocide of the Ukrainians in the USSR (1930s), and The Rape of Nanking in Japan (1937-1939).
This didn’t end after the Holocaust though, there have been many genocides after the Holocaust as well, including: the Great Leap Forward/Cultural Revolution in China under Mao Zedong (1958-1961/1966-1969), Operation Searchlight in Bangladesh (1971), Idi Amin’s political purges/Ethnic cleansing in Uganda (1971-1979), the Killing Fields in Cambodia (1975-1979), the genocide of the Kurds in Iraq (1987-1989), the killing of the Tutsis in Rwanda (1994), the killing of the Bosnian-Muslims in Yugoslavia (1990s), and the genocide of the Darfurians in Sudan, which is currently going on.
The worst part about all these genocides, is that after the Holocaust, there was an organization and a promise made by all the nations, titled “Never Again”. It promised that after the Holocaust, there would never be a genocide again, and yet, this promise, like a few others, has been broken and the world stands idly by, doing nothing.
There must be a reason for all this though. The short answer is: people and hatred. But, the reason for genocides is much more complicated than that. It’s a process with 8 stages. These stages can be seen in every genocide committed.
Stage 1 is classification: All cultures have categories to distinguish people into “us and them” by ethnicity, race, religion, or nationality. This is the very beginning of genocide, and isn’t usually caught because classification has become such a normal thing in countries.
Stage 2 is symbolization: Names or other symbols are given to the classifications. People are named (“Jews” or “Gypsies”) or distinguished by colors or dress and applied to members of groups. The first two stages don’t necessarily result in genocide unless they lead to the next stage.
Stage 3 is dehumanization: When combined with hatred, symbols may be forced upon unwilling members of pariah groups. One group denies the humanity of the other group and members of it are equated with animals, vermin, insects or diseases. Dehumanization overcomes the normal human revulsion against murder. At this stage, hate propaganda in print and on hate radios are used to vilify the victim group. In combating this dehumanization, incitement to genocide should not be confused with protected speech. Genocidal societies lack constitutional protection for countervailing speech, and should be treated differently than in democracies.
Stage 4 is organization: Genocide is always organized, usually by the state, but sometimes informally or by terrorist groups. Special army units or militias are often trained and armed. Plans for genocidal killings are made in this stage.
Stage 5 is polarization: Extremists divide the groups apart. Hate groups broadcast polarizing propaganda. Laws may forbid intermarriage or social interaction. The extremist terrorism targets moderates, intimidating and silencing the center.
Stage 6 is preparation: Victims are identified and separated out because of their ethnic or religious identity. Death lists are drawn up, members of victim groups are forced to wear identifying symbols. They are often segregated into ghettoes, forced into concentration camps, or confined to a famine-struck region and starved.
Stage 7 is extermination: Extermination begins and quickly becomes the mass killing legally called “genocide.” It’s “extermination” to the killers because they do not believe their victims are fully human. When it’s sponsored by the stage, the armed forces often work with militias to do the killing. Sometimes the genocide results in revenge killings by groups against each other, creating the downward whirlpool-like cycle of bilateral genocide.
Stage 8 is denial: Denial is the last stage and always follows a genocide. It’s among the surest indicators of further genocidal massacres. The perpetrators of genocide dig up the mass graves, burn the bodies, try to cover up the evidence and intimidate the witnesses. They deny that they committed any crimes and often blame what happened on the victims. They block investigations of the crimes, and continue to govern until driven from power by force, when they flee into exile. There, they may remain with impunity, unless they are captured and tried.
Sadly, with most of these genocides, the countries who could do something, didn’t. One of the major reasons that America even got involved in the Holocaust was because it would benefit the American economy. Before WWII, the world was in a Great Depression, ultimately, WWII helped to bring the American economy out of that. As history proves, countries only get involved in problems with other nations when it benefits them, even it’s morally wrong to sit back and do nothing.
Now that we have defined genocide and moral responsibility, let’s move onto our problems in question. First, let’s talk about the Syrian Civil War, which has quickly turned into what could be WWIII.
According the BBC, this civil war has 8 “chapters”. It all began in 2011, when uprisings turned violent. Pro-democracy protests started in March 2011 after the arrest and torture of teenagers who painted revolutionary slogans on a school wall. Although, long before this, Syrians were complaining about high unemployment, widespread corruption, and a lack of political freedom and state repression under President Bashar al-Assad. The uprisings in 2011 turned violent after the government used “deadly force” to crush the protest, which soon triggered a nationwide protest demanding that the President resigns.
Chapter 2: The violence escalated into a civil war. Rebel brigades formed to battle government forces for control of cities and towns. By June 2013, 90,000 people had been killed in the conflict and by August 2015, the death toll reached 250,000. And yet, there was no mention of this in the media. The world had turned a blind eye. At this point, the conflict was more than a battle between those for and against President Assad. The country was divided into sections. The majority of the country was against the president’s Shia Alwite sector, and this small conflict had drawn in regional and world powers. Then, this battle became multi-dimensional with the rise of the jihadist group Islamic State, who we fondly refer to as ISIS.
Chapter 3: There is evidence that all parties involved in this conflict have committed war crimes “including murder, torture, rape, and enforced disappearances. They have also been accused of using civilian suffering- such as blocking access to food, water and health services through sieges- as a method of war.” The UN Security Council has demanded that “all parties end the indiscriminate use of weapons in populated areas,” but no action has been taken to comply with that demand.
Innocent civilians continue to die by the thousands. Civilians are killed by attacks which the UN says may constitute as massacres, like barrel bombs dropped by government aircrafts on gatherings in rebel-held areas. As if the conflict wasn’t bad enough, ISIS has been accused by the UN of waging a campaign of terror. They have “inflicted severe punishments on those who transgress or refuse to accept [their] rules, including hundreds of public executions and amputations.” ISIS has carried out mass killings of their rivals and members of the security forces, religious minorities. They have beheaded hostages, including several Americans and other Westerners.
Chapter 4: The use of chemical weapons. After WWII, there was an agreement between nations that the use of chemical and nuclear weapons was prohibited. But, during the Cold War, Russia and America distributed chemical weapons to nations. America gave Iraq chemical weapons, which were used in a genocide and later taken away and destroyed by US troops, and Russia gave sarin gas to Syria, and didn’t take them back or destroy them, even after being warned by the US and other world powers. Because of Russia’s nerve agent, sarin, hundreds of people were killed in August 2013 in the suburbs of Damascus, breaking international accords.
Western powers said, “it could only have been carried out by Syria’s government, but the government blamed rebel forces.” This left the world wondering who was truly to be blamed. The US threatened military intervention, and President Assad “agreed to the complete removal and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal.”
The world thought this operation was completed in 2014, but the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) “has continued to document the use of toxic chemicals in the conflict” Investigation found that chlorine was used “’systematically and repeatedly’ in deadly attacks on rebel-held areas between April and July 2014.” ISIS has also been accused of “using homemade chemical weapons, including sulphur mustard.” According to the OPCW, the blister agent was used on Marea in August 2015, this attack killed an innocent baby.
Chapter 5: The rise of a humanitarian crisis. “More than 4.5 million people have fled Syria since the start of the conflict, most of them women and children.” Neighboring countries and Europe struggle to cope with all the refugees. “About 10% of Syrian refugees have sought safety in Europe.” Politically, this means countries argue about sharing the “burden” of all these refugees. Here’s some more statistics: 6.5 million people are “internally displaced” inside Syria, 1.2 million were “driven from their homes in 2015 alone.”
According to the UN, $3.2 billion will be needed to help the 13.5 million people including 6 million children who need some form of assistance inside Syria as of 2016. About 70% of Syria’s population doesn’t have access to enough drinking water, 1/3 of people don’t have food, more than 2 million children are out of school, and 4/5 of Syrian people live in poverty. These problems become even harder to solve as the warring parties refuse to let humanitarian agencies access civilians and help. 4.5 million people in Syria live in inaccessible areas, and 400,000 people live in 15 different areas and don’t have access to life-saving aid.
Chapter 6: ISIS and the rebels. The Syrian civil war has turned into a “war within a war”. Foreign fighters are now battling rebels and rival jihadists from al-Qaeda and ISIS, as well as government forces. In September 2014, the US launched air strikes in an effort to “’degrade and ultimately destroy’” ISIS. A year later, Russia began an air campaign to target terrorists in Syria, but their strikes have mostly killed Western-backed rebels and civilians.
Chapter 7: The peace efforts. Neither side is able to defeat the other, and the international community decided that only a political solution could end this war. The UN Security Council wanted to implement the 2012 Geneva Communique, which “envisages a transitional governing body with full executive powers ‘formed on the basis of mutual consent’”. None of the other peace talks worked, but in December 2015, a three-year siege of the Homs suburb of al-Wair was ended. In January 2016, the US and Russia made efforts to discuss a Security Council-endorsed road map for peace, which included a ceasefire and a transitional period ending with elections. This would give the original rebels what they wanted.
Chapter 8: Proxy War. President Assad is backed by Iran and Russia, Tehran is spending billions of dollars a year and providing military advisers and subsidized weapons as well as lines of credit and oil transfers. Russia has launched an air campaign against the President’s opponents. The Syrian government has also enjoyed the support of Lebanon’s Shia Islamist Hezbollah movement, whose fighters have been fighting for the Syrian government since 2013. The only countries against Assad are Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan, the US, UK, and France.
Now, let’s talk about our other international conflict. The genocide in Sudan. This genocide, is once again breeching international accords and it isn’t right. These are innocents who are dying. Not guilty people. Some of these people are kids, infants, who haven’t done anything. These kids have barely had time to know the world. All they’ve known is war.
In February 2003, two rebel groups- the Justice and Equality Movement and the Sudan Liberation Army- rebelled against the Khartoum government for “years of inequitable treatment and economic marginalization, among other grievances.” In return, the government targeted and attacked non-Arab tribes in the region, both rebel forces, and civilians. These forces would kill and severely injure the people, burn homes, steal or burn food and livestock, and poison water wells. The government would also ruin villages with aerial bombs.
In September 2004 President George Bush and US Secretary of State Colin Powell declared the actions of the Khartoum government to be genocide. In March 2009 and July 2010, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant for President Omar al-Bashir’s arrest. His crimes were: genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. In 2014, Chief Prosecutor Bensouda issued a statement that she wouldn’t pursue the prosecution of Bashine until the UN supported the ICC. The ICC doesn’t have a police force and relies on individual states to arrest individuals indicted by the ICC, so Bashir remains at large and continues to murder people.
A very valid question to ask now, is: what would getting involved in these issues mean for the US? Well, getting involved in the Syrian civil war would mean that the US would be at war with Russia, Syria, and ISIS and Al-Qaeda. It would mean that we would have to spend money and give military support. While this is the downside, the other option is letting innocent civilians be killed and caught in the crossfire.
Getting involved in the Sudan genocide would mean going into Sudan and finding and persecuting/assassinating Bashine. This would cost about as much as the search and persecution of Osama bin Laden.
So, should we get involved? Is it our moral responsibility? Let’s look at some statistics first. The current death toll in Syria is 470,000, 55,000 of which are children. Nearly 400,000 people have been killed in the Sudan genocide.
The US is a first world country with enough money and resources to help. Yet, we sit on our privileged butts and do nothing. We say “Oh, that’s terrible,” “Oh, those poor people,” yet, we do nothing. As a country with enough resources to do something about these devastating international conflicts, it is our moral responsibility to do something. We owe it to the helpless, to the people who are suffering, to the people who are going through unimaginable pain. We have the ability to lend a hand, and we should.