Monday, September 2, 2013
The Difficulty of a Christian Response to Syria
The "red line" has been crossed. Probably more than once. Innocent children are dying.
What should we do about Syria? The country is imploding. Assad's venom is spilling helter-skelter into the streets. How should we respond?
We have the power to stop the killing - for now. We - as in the USA, my home country - could bomb Syria's government out of power, probably. We could send in an army to displace him and to set up a new leadership. Or, we could "punish" the use of chemical weapons through "targeted" airstrikes.
The problem - as if there is only one problem - is that none of this may work. We could intervene militaristically and hit all our "targets" and yet leave Syria in a worse place. Even unseating Assad offers no hope of a better Syria. The opposition is fractured and often aligned with militant Islam. As we've seen in Iraq, removing a dictator often leads to chaos.
The other problem is that the global community is not unified in how to respond. The rules of the United Nations require a resolution from the UN Security Council before one nation can "legally" take military action within the borders of another nation. Russia and China are likely to block any resolutions to this effect for Syria because they could very well be in the same boat as Syria in a decade or two. Therefore, any military action would be strictly speaking "illegal" and against international norms, not to mention without the support or approval of most of the world. Hence, America would look like the cowboy aggressor once again asserting their (im)moral dominance in the world.
The other, other problem. Violence begets violence. Bombing Syria at this point would provide infinite fodder for the recruitment of future terrorists. These terrorists would flourish in the Middle East, but they would naturally spread to other corners of the globe. As Israel has proven relentlessly (and Boston more recently), no amount of military might can protect a people from a man with a backpack full of explosives.
Thus we get to the other, other, other problem. Doing nothing is equally distasteful. Do we just sit idly by while children are gassed? How many dead children does it take to merit crushing the murderer? Is it morally wrong to stand on the sidelines of genocide wagging our fingers in moral outrage? Is it enough to offer aid to the victims while doing nothing material to stop the atrocities? This is the old question that Dietrich Bonhoeffer faced in Nazi Germany. When a madman is driving a car down a pedestrian filled street mowing down innocent people, at what point is the wise and godly choice simply to shoot the driver?
King and Gandhi (and perhaps Jesus) would tell us that we should flood Syria with innocent protestors, that we should simply line up before Assad's tanks and cannons until Assad and his army became so disgusted with killing us that they laid down their arms and sought a solution for peace and justice. Perhaps this really is the call of Jesus to lay down our lives for others. However, it is so dramatic and so radical that I don't hear anyone advocating this - not even my most pacifistic preacher friends. Moral finger wagging is worse than pointless. Assisting the victims is admirable, but at what point do we stop the ones committing the atrocities?
Personally, I am not a militarist hawk. We have caused great harm in the world by over-using our military strength. But I'm also not a passive pacifist. Moral outrage without weighty action is a farce. But let's not be simplistic. The only option for a true pacifist here is martyrdom. However, I do not feel called to walk into Syria to be a martyr nor to ask others to do this. Perhaps I have a lack of faith. Perhaps I do not want to understand Jesus' calling on this issue. I honestly don't know.
So what do we do about Syria? The problem is that there are so many problems. Every option is bad.