I have tremendous respect for Stephen Zunes. His writings on the Middle East are always insightful and are consistently informed by a strong ethical orientation with respect to the political challenges facing the region.
This is why Danny Postel and I included an important essay by Zunes in a book we recently co-edited, The Syria Dilemma. Moreover, when Zunes spoke at the University of Denver last spring, our Center for Middle East Studies, which I direct, agreed to co-sponsor his talk. We part ways, however – drastically and substantively – on how best to respond to the ongoing carnage in Syria.
For more than two years, the Bashar al-Assad regime has presided over the single largest bloodletting of the 21st century (after Darfur). State-sanctioned war crimes and crimes against humanity on a colossal scale have been inflicted on civilians, not by accident but as a deliberate strategy for regime survival. Today this conflict, which has been compared by the UN to the Rwandan Genocide and whose death toll surpasses the killings fields of Bosnia, is at the top of the global agenda. The images and news reports emanating from Syria tug at our collective conscience and demand an effective response. What should the international community do in response to this dire state of affairs? “The short answer,” according to Zunes “is not much.”
He wrote those words in May of this year. Reading his riposte to my essay, I see that he sticks to his strict non-interventionist posture and yet again advances no ideas on how to stop the bloodshed in Syria. But there is one critical difference: between his essay in May and his recent one in September, over 40,000 more people have been killed in Syria.
Zunes’ prescription for Syria is morally unacceptable to me. He is telling the Syrian people, in effect, that they are to blame for resorting to armed struggle; no one is coming to your rescue; you are alone in your fight against Assad’s killing machine and the only option available for you today is to lay down your arms, genuflect in front of the House of Assad and re-enter that collective prison known as the Syrian Arab Republic.
I support military intervention in Syria precisely because this is what most Syrians want from the international community. I notice that Zunes does not engage with this aspect of my argument. The voices and opinions of the people of Syria have been largely ignored in the global debate on Syria. We are morally obligated to listen to them and place them at the center of our debate and analysis.
In the end it doesn’t really matter what Stephen Zunes or Nader Hashemi has to say. It is about the Syrian people, not us.