We’re not talking about Syria, and we should be

Opinion by Mina Shah
Feb. 15, 2016, 11:59 p.m.

During the International Syria Support Group’s (ISSG’s) meeting on Thursday, proxy parties, including the U.S. and Russia, decided to agree upon a ceasefire, or, as they termed it more specifically, a “cessation of hostilities.”

This ceasefire probably won’t be effective for several reasons. First, the agreement to have this ceasefire was made by the proxy countries, not any of the parties actually at war (the Syrian government and the rebels). Additionally, accusations have already been made that Russia continues to bomb civilians and is also responsible for the recent attacks on Aleppo.

Despite the low probability of success, though, it is important that we think and talk about the implications of what went on at the ISSG talks. Another important subject of reflection is what continues and will continue to happen in their aftermath. This is something that we haven’t been doing nearly enough.

It is unfair to think only of the war happening in Syria when we think about the necessity of planning to have more people leave their homes to seek refuge in places that might protect their lives. This is evidence that we care less about peace and the preservation of life than we do about some misconstrued ideas about keeping “our spaces” “pure” and stopping movement into our country. We seem to only care about the end of the war in Syria insofar as we can keep Syrians from emigrating to the U.S., which, beyond being scary from a humanist perspective, is short-sighted, since the Syrians’ migration and need for refugee status is directly linked to the status of the war. And the status of the war is directly impacted by policy decisions like this one.

Beyond the idea of fairness in our distribution of attention, though, we need to be thinking about these talks in order to be better informed about our nation’s stake in the happenings in Syria. Before having opinions on what our country should be doing in terms of putting troops on the ground versus accepting more refugees or not, we need to be able to understand the totality of what’s going on there policy-wise.

In addition, we should care about this ceasefire because it doesn’t actually mean anything in terms of ending armed conflict. The phrase “cessation of hostilities” sounds really promising. It sounds like all of the hostilities (which could mean both hostility in a physically aggressive sense as well as general threat and pent up anger) will end as soon as the agreement takes effect. What it really means (in classic political-jargon fashion) is that the proxy states are promising to stop bombing all geographic sites except terrorist cells.

This means that there will still be civilian casualties for two main reasons: first, because the warring factions were not part of the agreement and thus will not stop the modes of attack which they currently employ. The second reason is that the proxy parties will continue with the bombings. Sure, they will try to direct the bombings toward ISIS’s terrorist cells, but inevitably, some will go astray. Even in the unlikely event that all of the intelligence used to bomb is good enough such that every bombing goes perfectly, the warring factions will not change their ways, nor will the terrorists.

From a human perspective, this continuation of death and dying and destruction is disgusting. And perhaps what’s worse is the fact that we simply don’t seem to care because it’s not convenient to do so. If we actually considered the implications of this deal, we wouldn’t be so passive about accepting it as it has been presented to us through the media or letting it fly under our radars.

While I don’t have an answer for how to go about ending this war and the destruction it’s causing, I do think that it’s important for us to at least think about the issues that we have a stake in as they could relate to saving lives. We have a responsibility to pay attention to what’s going on and what our country and our representatives are doing in attempts to affect international policies, especially when so many lives have already been lost and so many more are at stake. We have to care about more than just our own little lives and care about others, so that eventually, by putting political pressure in the right places, maybe more atrocities like this war can be put to an end.



Contact Mina Shah at minashah ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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