From Fallen Towers to Chemical Weapons, or why non-intervention may be just as inhuman as intervening

I didn’t pay much attention to the fact that today was 9/11, to be honest. In the past, that’s been a big thing for me – something I blogged about fairy regularly. Having served as a Peace Corps volunteer in North Africa, acquainting myself somewhat with Arab culture, I gained a new perspective on the relationship between Islam and terrorism. Or rather the fact that the two should never be equated. 9/11 for me became a day to highlight our humanity and not solely who we are as Americans. But that didn’t mean that I wasn’t interested in remembrance. When I was younger, I even wrote poetry to commemorate 9/11. But today just sort of went by. I didn’t stop and think about the planes or the towers falling. Or about where I was when it happened. I didn’t really stop and think about terrorism or our response to it. I just went about my day.

I remember that’s what we were told to do on 9/12. If we didn’t go about life like it was “business as usual,” then “the terrorists were winning.” They wanted to disrupt our norm, so we shouldn’t let them. But then, ironically, we rushed off to war, and in a way, that began to feel like the terrorists were winning. Our norm was disrupted. We became reactive instead of proactive. Two wars, actually, dwindled on for a decade and a little more.

In the wake of those wars, we’ve become a country both weary and wary of fighting. Our unwillingness to intervene in Syria probably stems from our worries about the failures of Iraq and Libya. It’s perfectly understandable. What’s happening in Syria is awful, and yet, we now realize that our intervention there probably won’t make anything any better.

“I am not my brother’s keeper,” we seem to say. Some of us would go further: “That’s not even my brother.”

I have struggled with what I think about the crisis in Syria, though. Maybe it’s the little Arabic I can pick up and understand as I watch what’s happening. Maybe it’s how similar Syria looks in video to me from my little village in the Middle Atlas mountains. Maybe it’s because, in a way, I do see the Syrians as our “brothers,” even Assad, even the rebels, even the terrorists. If you’re part of a family where one brother goes astray or attacks other members of the family, disowning both members of the family just doesn’t make sense to me. So, as much as I lament the fact that these problems always seem to fall in the lap of the United States when it should be the responsibility of the whole world, I also find myself wondering and wanting to ask, “Are you your brother’s keeper? Are they your brothers?”

I’m not making an argument that we should go bomb Syria. Or put troops on the ground. I certainly think the Russian proposal kicked off by Secretary Kerry inadvertently was probably a stumble in the right direction. Regardless of what we do or don’t do, though, I think the way we approach the question of action may need rethinking. And I’m referring less to what the government does or doesn’t do and just as much to what the average Joe-Schmoe posts in a social media forum saying ill-informed things, like “America shouldn’t be fighting for Al Qaeda.” I think we need to try our best to humanize our “enemies” in every circumstance even if doing so might make us look “weak” to the rest of the world. When I hear that “we need to take care of our own,” I agree with that. America seems to be tumbling toward another financial decline – not that it has gotten better since 2007. And yet, I think “taking care of our own” misunderstands that, in the global marketplace, they are very much us. And from a loving, moral perspective that seeks to find compassion and empathy, their problems are very much ours.

So, I guess I worry about this attitude of non-intervention or how close it sits to good old isolationist ideals of the early 20th century. And lately, I’ve wondered whether history just repeats itself. Is a great war brewing? Is a financial collapse worse than the depression brewing? It all sounds so doom-and-gloom and fodder for conspiracy theorists to almost be laughable. And yet, should America ever begin to go the way of the dodo, I sure hope there’ll be someone out there who is willing to say about us, willing to fight for us – “I am my brother’s keeper, and we’ll figure this out together.”


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