CHRISTIAN KROKUS, PH.D.
While I am grateful to Dr. Parente for calling our campus’s attention to the complex and agonizing circumstances of the Syrian war and the “Arab Spring” more generally, I would like to respond to certain elements of his analysis. Dr. Parente argues that the “rebels in Syria are almost universally Sunni with Al Qaeda units that are especially active and have weapons supplied by Iran, Lebanese Hezbollah and Arab League members.” In fact, it is universally acknowledged that Iran and Hezbollah are supplying weapons, money, and military support to the Syrian government, and I am unaware of any evidence to suggest they are playing both sides. The main question I wish to raise, however, relates to the quotation from Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence with which Dr. Parente both opens and concludes his piece: “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes.” The question is whether those in the Arab world who sought to change their government did so for “light and transient causes” as Dr. Parente would suggest. In the case of Syria, what of the thousands of political dissidents imprisoned, tortured, and killed during the decades of Assad family rule? What of the lack of free press, free speech, freedom to organize? What of the trauma of growing up in a police state with its network of spies and thugs? It is easy to forget after two years of bloodshed that what became a civil war began with the peaceful demonstrations of Sunni, Shi’a, and Christians alike on behalf of democratic reforms and against an autocratic regime. One would do well to remember that the government responded to the early protests, not with dialogue and reform, but with bullets and scud missiles, with sieges of Deraa, Homs, and Hama, and with massacres of civilians at Houla, al-Koubeir, Treimsa and elsewhere. It would be prudent also to reflect on the character of a government willing to gas its own children (now confirmed by Human Rights Watch and the United Nations). Are these “light and transient causes” for seeking regime change? I understand there is an argument to be made, even on the grounds of Catholic just war theory, that one should not take up warfare without a reasonable chance at victory. In light of the fact that Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia have all intervened directly on behalf of the Syrian government, while the West (with the partial exception of the U.S. and France) has remained largely silent, perhaps the opposition should have better calculated the consequences of returning violence for violence. However, at a Catholic university, we may not indiscriminately favor stability over human dignity, even if the despots who administer such stability have “enlightened” views “vis-à-vis Israel and America and European tourism and investment” (as Dr. Parente notes of former President Ben Ali of Tunisia). Even if we must lament the spiral of violence into which Syria has descended, still we are required to hope for a peaceful, pluralistic, and free Syrian society for all. As Fr. Paolo Dall’Oglio, S.J., longtime activist on behalf of Muslim-Christian friendship in Syria, who visited the University of Scranton in 2011, who was kidnapped in Syria this summer, and whose fate remains unknown, concludes his most recent book: “In generations to come, the word ‘Syria’ will be synonymous with the word ‘resurrection.’” Light pierces the darkness. We must honor the sacrifice of the just and the innocent, and we must challenge the nihilistic logic of the oppressors (i.e., the government) and would-be oppressors (i.e., the al-Qaeda affiliated groups), not by belittling the reasons for rising up but by championing them.
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