As innocent civilians continue to be slaughtered within the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo, our greatest present-day humanitarian catastrophe can be largely attributed to the fact that the Muslim world has failed the people of Syria.
Even though many nations and organizations (especially the United States and the United Nations through inaction, and Russia through direct aggression) rightfully bear the majority of collective blame for their woeful treatment of Syria, it is important to acknowledge that 1.7 billion Muslims have also let the people of Syria down in several ways.
Independent war-crimes investigators working for the Commission for International Justice & Accountability once smuggled out of Syria “more than 600,000 official documents tracing the systematic torture and murder” of tens of thousands of suspected members of the opposition, as reported in the New Yorker. According to these groups, these official documents were direct orders “emanating from President Bashar al-Assad’s highest-level security committee and approved by President Assad himself.”
The Syrian government and their Russian benefactors have been violating international law for several months by dropping incendiary bombs on areas populated by civilians, according to an August 2016 report by Human Rights Watch. “The Syrian government and Russia should immediately stop attacking civilian areas with incendiary weapons,” Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch, said in the report. “These weapons inflict horrible injuries and excruciating pain, so all countries should condemn their use in civilian areas.”
And yet, despite the reckless destruction of so many Muslim lives, two supposedly Islamic countries — Iran and Saudi Arabia — are acting like petulant children, callously using Syria as the latest staging ground in their Sunni-Shiite proxy war for regional power. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia are funding their respective fighting forces, with the Syrian civilian population as the casualties of their endless crossfire. Of course, the Sunni-Shiite framing of the ongoing Saudi Arabia-Iran proxy war is something of a misnomer: The fight is about political power, not theology, and both of these apparently Muslim countries should be ashamed of themselves for using innocent Syrian women and children as expendable pawns in their dastardly geopolitical chess game.
Meanwhile, international Muslim organizations like the Arab League and Organization for Islamic Cooperation have also completely failed in mobilizing 57 Muslim-majority nations in adequately addressing the humanitarian crisis in Syria. Wealthy petro-monarch gulf Arab states have been cruelly remiss in accepting Syrian refugees, likely because it would trigger legal protections for the refugees under international law. According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, there are over 2.764 million Syrian refugees living in tent cities in the neighboring country of Turkey, making theirs the largest refugee population since Afghan citizens began fleeing their conflict-ridden nation in the 1970s.
“As a Muslim, I am shocked and appalled at the complete abandonment by the Muslim world of the plight of their brothers and sisters in Syria,” Mouaz Moustafa, executive director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, told me during a recent interview. “We always see massive protests [in the Muslim world] if an offensive cartoon is drawn against our prophet. … But we have seen silence as genocidal massacres take place against Muslim women and children in Syria.”
Moustafa added that not a single Muslim country has effectively intervened to help the Syrian people, outside of a failed effort at a cease-fire by the Turkish government.
Finally, our own American Muslim community of 7 million has also failed the Syrian people miserably by inadequately mobilizing to help them. We haven’t succeeded in lobbying the White House and Congress in any meaningful manner, nor have we managed to pressure our elected lawmakers to implement no-fly zones or create humanitarian corridors which would allow civilian populations to escape widespread destruction.
Even though our American Muslim community raised millions of dollars for Syria aid efforts during fancy suburban fundraising banquets, we have been utterly unable to leverage our political capital to demand that the White House and Congress take decisive action in ending the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.
One of the few glimmers of hope are groups such as the Syrian American Medical Society, which provided essential medical services to over 2.3 million people inside Syria and 320,000 Syrian refugees last year.
There is a very well known verse from the Holy Koran which states that “any person who saves the life of one person, it shall be as if they saved all humanity.” Even though our entire global community is collectively responsible for our tragically weak response to the continued carnage against the Syrian people, I must also own the fact that our global Muslim community bears much of the blame when it comes to the ongoing disaster in Syria. I pray that God forgives us for living our charmed lives while millions of other people are just trying to stay alive every day.