*This article was originally posted on Oregon Live.
Two years ago, I crouched in an operating room on the Syrian border watching a surgeon execute the delicate transfer of tendons from one area of a 5-year-old’s hand to another. The operation restored function to the boy’s arm after he was injured by a tank shell in northern Syria.
Within two days, the boy had disappeared back into Syria with his mother. While at the hospital, I interviewed scores of doctors about their work in Syria. Most shared stories of responding to barrel bomb attacks by Assad regime helicopters.
One surgeon told of running to the site of an attack and coming across a dismembered forearm — a woman’s watch still around the wrist — clasping the hand of her child, also dismembered. This was all that was left.
We showed many of these horrors in a film following the work of doctors in and around Syria, “50 Feet from Syria.” And yet, two years on, these horrors have only intensified under the renewed efforts of the Assad regime to obliterate any human being in Syria not living in government-held areas.
While politicians shirk the political complexity of intervention, children die. Families flee. Bunker-busting bombs vaporize surgeons as they bend over patients in operating rooms buried deep underground.
And yet, I must give credit where credit is due. After all, Assad is brilliant. He has successfully deflected the world’s focus from his murdering of Syrian people to the mantra of ISIS as the primary catalyst for suffering in the country. The unfortunate reality for the people of Syria is that Assad and, more recently, Putin is responsible for the bulk of civilian deaths in the fractured nation-state.
Where is our moral compass as a people when we allow this to happen in direct contravention to reams of human rights bylaws?
As an American, I would like to place Trump in an operating room on the Syrian border, force him to watch a five hour-long surgery on a child, and then ask him a question or two about the nature of empathy, no-fly zones in Syria and the importance of humanitarian corridors.
But the fact is, Trump won’t go to these places. Which is why it’s up to us — civil society — to bring the important issues of the day to bear on our elected leaders, whether we voted for them or not. And while many Americans reel in shock from our recent election results, I offer you Syria.
Hospitals and medical workers continue to be targeted by the Assad regime and Putin’s warplanes. Barrel bombs continue to be dropped indiscriminately on civilian neighborhoods. Even chemical attacks are waged on civilians and we do nothing. Unfortunately, with the surprise election of Trump, it is already clear that he is likely to align America’s stance on Syria with that of the murderous Putin and Assad – both who continue to perpetrate war crimes in the country on a regular basis.
History will show that the fog of war and intricacies of political diplomacy are not excuses for ignoring the fundamental need for a moral compass in global politics. I am ashamed and astounded by our lack of response as an international community.
History will show a lack of courage that will haunt us for generations. Just as those who failed to assist those caught in the throes of the holocaust where judged for inaction, so shall we.
Elie Wiesel once wrote: “the opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”
We can no longer offer indifference to the dying children of Syria. We are bound by our common humanity to act.