Preposterous parallels

Yesterday’s column “The Syria Disconnect” by Isaac Amend penned a striking comparison between the actions of Bashar al Assad during the Syrian Civil War and those of North Carolina legislators and Yale administrators. The piece purports to show that the indifference with which Assad regards the Syrian opposition is the same indifference that underlies the North Carolina legislature’s promulgation of bathroom laws and the University administration’s approach to the sexual assault epidemic.

The actions of Syria’s dictator are beyond comparison to any civil legislation in magnitude, content and method. The Syrian civil war — which has claimed close to 400,000 lives — is an international tragedy of unparalleled scope. Regardless of one’s thoughts on the North Carolina bathroom laws, the legislators have not directly killed civilians or employed chemical weapons. It is argued that these laws have led indirectly to the suicides of transgender individuals. But passing harmful legislation is a qualitatively different from authorizing bombings and deploying warheads with nerve agents.

The actions of Yale administrators similarly resist such a parallel. Unlike the case of North Carolina — where there is at least recognized disagreement on the issue — it would not be fair or correct to say that a single administrator supports the continuation of the sexual assault epidemic. Assad’s intentions are murderous and his actions extralegal. The actions (or lack thereof) of administrators are not intended to cause harm and occur within an accepted policy framework.

The source of the Syrian civil war is not a mere “disconnect” between the rulers and the ruled. That characterization would more accurately describe recent anti-establishment sentiment in the Western world. The turmoil in Syria represents a far more complex interaction of factors, including a ruthless dictator, a history of violent repression and the democratic sentiment of Syria’s citizens.

Making such grossly exaggerated comparisons does not bring a sense of urgency to the issues. Rather, it belittles the actions of all involved. It is unfair to well-intentioned Yale administrators, who seek remedies to a host of problems on campus. It is unfair to indifferent Yale administrators, who, while doing little to improve student life, do not deserve to be called “offshoots” of a sadistic mass-murderer. It is unfair to the Syrian people, whose leader certainly does not deserve to have his actions universalized and humanized. And finally, it is unfair to Amend’s readers, who are and ought to be able to distinguish between various acts of injustice, and can critique them in their own right.

The author does well to note that “at first brush it might seem preposterous and disrespectful to apply [the Assad] designation to other fields of action — fields that don’t involve mass murder and terrorism.” Yes, such a comparison is indeed preposterous.

Ben Marrow is a senior in Berkeley College. Contact him at benjamin.marrow@yale.edu .