Desperately yearning for the carnage of the Lebanese civil war to end, my mother once told a neighbor, "I don't know whether to prepare dinner for my children or myself for a funeral."
It was 1975, I was 10 years old, and my neighborhood in Beirut had disintegrated into a combat zone. I took shelter between the stairways and garages to avoid sniper fire, rocket shrapnel and tank artillery. Of course, had chemical weapons been fired, I would have perished no matter where I hid.
But I survived and managed to immigrate to the United States in 1989.
In May 2012, I traveled from Charlotte, N.C., to Damascus, Syria, to get one last look at the city that was a favorite family escape during the Lebanese civil war. I arrived four hours after an explosion — one of many to ravage the civil-war-torn nation. I observed terrified parents listening to the radio coverage of foreign diplomats deciding their fate.
I recalled how my own mother, who still lives in Lebanon, had turned into a fatalist. At one point during Lebanon's war, she prayed for God to cast a shield on a warlord turned presidential nominee. I was outraged. She said, "Someone has to end it, even if it's Satan."
Satan is exactly how most Arabs view the U.S., due to a history of ill-conceived interventions. However, when President Barack Obama balled his fists to slug Syrian President Bashar Assad for allegedly waging chemical attacks on anti-government rebels in August, Syrians found him to be their only advocate.
But to intervene, the president faced anomalous opposition at home. Most politicians saw neither a threat to U.S. interests nor any kind of redeeming payback. And the American public — jaundiced by the devastating outcomes of dubiously waged wars and an incomplete, media-censored picture of the human rights violations being perpetrated in the region — championed peace while helpless Syrians were sacrificed on the altar of political posturing.
But Americans and human rights activists should take pride in this intervention.
The use of chemical weapons stopped. The number of victims dropped from an average of 4,000 to 3,000 a month, meaning fewer children would grow up orphans with the potential to be drawn into the role of a suicide bomber. The United States demonstrated our conscientious world citizenship above our interests and exemplified America's spirit of upholding human life in spite of the fighters' differences, particularly their ethnic and religious affiliations associated with the civil war.
If we are serious about ending the violence, we must determine how to reconcile Mr. Assad's public declarations of cooperation given the local atrocities he is said to have perpetrated.
Here are several considerations to close the gap:
• We must stay rigorous in managing the number of casualties. Mr. Assad has a higher threshold for pain than the punishments administered by the civilized world. Predictably so, he converted the chemical weapons cease-fire agreement into a carte blanche to unleash more conventional weapons
Deploy no ground forces. During wartime Lebanon, clerics sermonized, "Be merciless with the heretics and merciful among each other" (Al Fath-The Liberation 48:29). Cousins will unite against a stranger like brothers will against a cousin. Radical Muslims will re-appropriate foreign forces into bounties. Western experts label the warriors insurgents.
Refrain from arming or supporting the warring factions. In their quest for freedom, they have been bedeviled by senseless acts of revenge and retribution. In Damascus, a rebel told me, "I want to shred Assad. ... I want to slice his skin right here." He slid his thumb over the wrist from side to side. "...and peel it." Throw no rope to those who are skilled in making only a noose. This time, when they raise their eyes to Washington for help, decline selling our weapons. Train them to solve their problems, humanely.
I experienced a debilitating emotional dullness for misunderstanding my mother's words three decades earlier. But today, in America, I feel a renewed patriotic pride about our life-saving efforts in Syria.
Sam Wazan is the author of "The Last Moderate Muslim." His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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