We like to pride ourselves at Yale for being well-informed, sophisticated and scholarly. If Yalies don’t know about something, the rest of America probably doesn’t know either. Well, here’s a statistic many of us are not aware of: The Syrian government has murdered 7,000 Syrian men, women and children since the unrest began there last March.
Consider that for a moment. That’s a rate of about 20 people murdered a day for almost a full year. Can you imagine if President Obama ordered the National Guard to shell “armed gangs and terrorists” (the Syrian government’s words) in San Francisco, a city about the same size as Homs, Syria? We would be discussing nothing else. The world would know. Yet here on campus, the Syrian crisis barely registers as a discussion point, let alone an outrage.
The Syrian military killed 217 people in Homs last Friday — chillingly, the 30-year anniversary of the Hama Massacre perpetrated by President Bashar al-Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad. But our daily life hasn’t changed. I’d love to say I’m consumed by this issue, but if my weekend festivities are any indication, I couldn’t care less. On Friday I went to a Sig Ep mixer. And on Saturday I slept in, did some work and went to the Freshman Screw.
What does it say about our campus that an ongoing massacre has earned so little attention? We all have papers, problem sets and extracurriculars, but we’re in the midst of a modern version of 1848 — a year that changed the world as general and global unrest led to dozens of uprisings and revolution movements.
We have a choice: in our cloistered world at Yale we can watch from afar, discuss events in a purely academic way and ponder the consequences as we stroke an imaginary and statesmanlike beard. Or we can do something to help the Syrian people, who aren’t demanding special rights — they’re demanding basic human rights.
I’m not suggesting that we all drop what we are doing and stop going out at night and somehow that will change the world, but surely we need to do something.
At the United Nations just a few days ago, Russia and China vetoed a U.N. Security Council Resolution that would have voiced support for the rights of the Syrian people and opposition to the Syrian government’s heinous actions. It was the epitome of a toothless resolution: it “commends” the truly unprecedented and important efforts of the Arab League, it “expresses grave concern,” it “demands” action and it “notes that nothing in this resolution authorizes” the use of force to end the conflict. So what exactly was so offensive to Russia and China?
Well, for starters, Syria is a major buyer of Russian arms, and Russia’s last client in the Middle East. So Russia, one of the five veto-empowered nations on the UNSC, is making money off this violence, selling weapons to a murderous regime while claiming that the resolution it vetoed was “biased” and “called for regime change.”
Commentators have noted Russia’s worry that if it condones the Syrian protests, it will fuel its own internal protests. Vlad Putin, I know you’re scared. But giving your opposition, a movement growing stronger each day, another example of your support for repressive, murderous regimes (other than your own, of course), isn’t the best move.
China’s veto is similarly motivated. If it gives credence to the Syrian rebels, its citizens will wonder why it doesn’t allow its own dissidents an outlet. So China’s rationale was to stop all popular expression of grievances. Hey Hu! Hu do you think you are?
We are witnessing the world sitting on its hands — hostage to the authoritarian regimes in Russia and China — while innocent men, women and children are murdered. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was right to call this a travesty. Yale is all of two hours away from New York City, me of the United Nations and the United Nations consulates. So let’s go there. Let’s use the clout of our beloved school to make a statement. Let’s go protest China and Russia, and let’s protest Syria — which, by the way, said that reports about the Homs shelling were false because it would be crazy to shell your people the day before a UNSC vote. Not because it’s wrong to do so, but because tactically, that’s foolish. Seems to me Syria is acting a fool.
We have tremendous responsibility as Yale students. We are going to go on to be leaders in sciences, politics arts, academia and the like. Where is the outrage on campus? College students should be leading protests against atrocities — especially when they can be prevented. The world has said “Never again” too many times. Yalies, let’s get our act together.
Sam Cohen is a freshman in Calhoun College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.