An Expat’s Plea Against Intervention in Syria
I woke up on September 11th, 2001 unbeknownst to me that what was about to happen that day was going to affect the rest of my life, guide most waking decisions of my life and shape my political ideology. Most Americans born before 1997 remember 9/11, it is a tragedy that is embedded in the American consciousness. Everyone who has lived during that time has a story from that day, but I feel like acknowledging that we all remember this day is beating a dead horse. How could we forget it when the US government loves to exploit it? I strongly believe that if 9/11 didn’t happen, (or the events leading up to it) my life would be very different. 9/11 was a tragedy, yet it is an event that was drilled into our heads from news outlets and political pundits. The idea of avenging 9/11 was drilled into my cranium from the age of 6, further forcing American Exceptionalism on to me through my public school requiring teachers to teach us how to sing patriotic songs every morning, making students stand up for the pledge and attend patriotic assemblies reminiscent of Cold War era suburban elementary schools.
At first I was into it, not that I had any idea who committed the attacks against the Twin Towers or the Pentagon but I liked the feeling of unity-the feeling that I was doing something to remedy the attacks. But by the time I was 8 years old, the constant jingoism exhausted me and I was over it.
In 2003, when George W. Bush declared war on Iraq-my first grade teacher organized an emergency in-class meeting. I grew up near an airbase, and many of my friends lived in military housing. They had to move around a lot since their parents were in the army and many of them had not seen their parents in years. My teacher asked us if we were scared. A lot of us were-scared for our parents, scared for our future, scared for our country.
I was afraid because I did not understand the power of the United States. I would ask my mom “What is going to happen if we lose?” She would just say: “That’s not going to happen, don’t worry about it.”
While the United States did “lose”, the devastation as a result of the war in Iraq exceeds any devastation in the US-unless of course you count the millions of impoverished families and children who suffered as a result of underfunded public schools and lack of universal healthcare because the government was too busy spending its funds on acquiring land and resources overseas.
It only took maybe a year or two for me to go from asking “What is going to happen if we lose?” to “Why are we bombing innocent civilians?” Only to be met with “We are just trying to save them from the rich people who are hoarding all the oil from us.”
Growing up in a post-9/11 world meant knowing from a young age that my government was oppressive-not just at home but overseas. Growing up in a post-9/11 world meant having friends who had to reason with the idea of becoming orphans in the name of “democracy”. Growing up in a post-9/11 world meant that although I wanted to speak out against my government and the troops-I could not because I would be met with opposition. Growing up in a post-9/11 world meant being taught false information about the Arab World, The Middle East, Arab people, Muslims, Palestine, the actual reason the US wanted to overthrow Saddam Hussein and what America really stood for.
Flash forward over a decade later, I’m a leftist studying Journalism and Arab World Studies at American University in Washington D.C., and outspoken against American intervention in the Middle East. 9/11 is the very reason I’m a leftist, the very reason I’m studying Journalism and Arab World Studies and why I’m so outspoken. Because for the longest time I could not speak up without being shut down, but I had had enough.
On November 9, 2015, the Paris attacks committed by Daesh killed hundreds and sparked a controversial debate on whether or not Western countries should accept Syrian refugees, recently following the attacks in the Beirut and preceding the attacks in Germany close to the first anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo killings. I felt as if I were reliving 9/11 all over again. The pattern repeats-just like 9/11 and the Iraq War. A year and a half after the attacks, a right-wing president intervenes in a Middle Eastern country using terrorism and humanitarian crises as scapegoats.
On April 6th 2017, I was living and studying temporarily in Amman, Jordan-again a direct result of growing up in a post-9/11 world, driven by my desire to learn Arabic and learn the truth about the Middle East, not just what I’ve learned in school and have been learning at American University. Upon checking my phone after waking up I saw that my mother had messaged me: “Okay now I’m really worried.” “What’s wrong?” I asked her. My mother, remedied by the Obama administration (which I believe is pseudo-progressive) after 8 long years of Bush had had enough and started to become politically active after Donald Trump got elected. She attended the Women’s March, activist meetings and made Women’s March related art to sell on etsy to raise money for the ACLU. Just then, floods of notifications from the Washington Post appeared on my phone, informing me that Trump attacked an army-base in Syria. “The Trump attacks duh.” She said.
Although I knew that the United States has been attacking Syria since the onset of its civil war in 2011 under both Obama as the President and Hillary Clinton as the Secretary of State, I felt particularly hurt by this intervention. It hurt me in a certain way for a majority of reasons. To see Democrats and liberals who claimed to be against Trump’s policies all of the sudden support his intervention in Syria (which was not surprising) and to see Democrats and liberals who denounced Trump’s decision while I knew very well that they would’ve supported it if Hillary Clinton had done it was frustrating- but most of all seeing the parallels between the Syrian War and the Iraq War was daunting.
It goes like this:
Step One: An oil rich rentier state exists
Step Two: Terrorist attacks happen
Step Three: The United States attempts to stop terrorism by funding more terrorists and collaborating with authoritarian governments
Step Four: United States exploits human rights abuses and terrorism as an excuse to intervene and commit more human rights abuses than there were before
Step Five: United States claims to be liberating the country and “spreading democracy”
Step Six: Corporate and government owned media outlets report the war in ways that it wants to sway the public in the US’s favor
Step Seven: The United States gets rich off of colonizing the country and gaining control of the resources or alternative
Or Alternate Step Seven: The United States is unable to seize the resources but keeps trying until it does, repeating steps 1 through 6 over and over again
Meanwhile, the invaded country is left in shambles.
What bothered me the most was knowing that although Syria was my neighbor there was more I could do at home than abroad. I could protest every day, write letters to my representatives, organize other Americans and convince them to be against the war. Now all I really could do was sign petitions and share things on Facebook and Twitter. But at least hopefully, listen to the many voices of the Syrian refugees of the country I was living in.
When I read the news on my phone the morning of April 6th in the kitchen of my Jordanian apartment, I got flashbacks to when Bush announced war in Iraq and I was a scared 7-year-old sitting in my classroom wondering which of my classmates’ parents were going to live and which were going to die.
History repeats itself, but it has repeated itself many times between 2003-now, including consistent intervention in Palestine, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Somalia, Libya with US military aid to Egypt and Bahrain. The United States does not care about human right’s abuses-it never did and it never will under our current economic system but it will sure as Hell exploit human rights to get what it wants.
Even though I am unable to attend protests in the US I am not going to sit idly by. I’m not going to fall in the same trap that the US media and government wants me to be in. Supporting another bloody war in the name of pseudo-humanitarianism. We have to be very careful with the news that we share, the way that we process information and the ideologies we espouse because there are many instances in which we could be supporting exactly what the US wants.
And even though as a future journalist I have to remain objective, I’m sure everyone who has humanity in their hearts draws the line somewhere. It is possible to remain unbiased in your reporting but speak out against something that you believe is wrong. I will not be silenced by my peers who think war is justified and I will not be silenced by the looming idea that I could be unemployed because I do not think innocent civilians deserve to be murdered by our government.
The feeling of powerlessness while studying abroad I’m sure resonates within every activists’ core being. There is not a lot I can do here but I will continue to stand against my country’s government even if its resisting for now, through the power of pen.
When I get home there will be a lot of work to do.