The Block Island Times

#TwentySomething: Thoughts on Syria

By Stephanie Turaj | Sep 14, 2013

As posts on my Facebook over the past few weeks were mostly centered around Miley Cyrus’s scandalous “twerking” performance at the MTV Video Music Awards, something else was going on: a civil war in Syria, and President Barack Obama was calling for the U.S. to take military action.

Around this same time last week, I attended a small dinner party with a group of adults, older than I am, and the conversation at one point was centered around Syria. I remained silent during this friendly debate — listening and learning, but not participating — and I realized how very little I really know about this topic.

Yet I know all about Miley’s performance. It’s sad, really, because I’m not alone. According to New Yorker Magazine, Americans clicked on Miley Cyrus articles 12 times more than they did on Syria-related stories. Why is this so?

Maybe it’s because really understanding what’s going on in Syria is just so... complicated.

Am I supposed to understand? Do I have to feel bad for forcing myself to watch Obama’s speech on Syria, or for Googling the basics about the civil war’s background?

If I admit how honestly dumb I have been about the subject, and how lazy I am to research it, how many other people would agree with me?

When I did Google Syria, though, I was surprised to see bits and pieces of my political science courses from college coming back to me. The current President of Syria is Bashar al-Assad — I learned about his father Hafez al-Assad in school, and how Hafez put a violent end to a Muslim Brotherhood uprising in 1982, which according to a Washington Post article I’m reading, Bashar tried to emulate with his violent response to the Syrian protests starting in 2011. Apparently, I know more about this than I thought.

But as I dig deeper into research, it becomes muddled again. The reasons behind the civil war, and the reasons why it escalated so quickly — this becomes muddled in political theories about the Assad regime and about various sects in the Middle East.

And then there’s the arguably most pressing question right now: why does the U.S. have to get involved? In his speech, Obama begins by giving moral reasons of why we should retaliate against Syria for its use chemical weapons. But why should the U.S. continue to be the world’s policeman? I’m personally not convinced that we should take action.

Obama argued that “it’s in our national security interest,” to stand against chemical weapons. He called for a “targeted military strike” on Syria, but how do we know what this really means? Obama claims he will not put American boots on Syrian soil, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that won’t happen.

On Facebook, I asked my peers (other “Twenty-Somethings”) what they thought. Overwhelmingly, the serious responses I received back told me that my friends aren’t convinced that we should be involved in Syria, either. That we should focus on domestic issues. That the United Nations wants to stay out of it, so we should, too. That we’ve been through enough with the Iraq War. That enough lives have been lost. That it’s a lose-lose situation no matter what we chose to do. Only one person responded that unfortunately, the U.S. might have to get involved to warn Syria, North Korea and Iraq that we’re serious about our position on chemical weapons.

I was surprised by the seemingly passionate responses, most of which seemed fairly well-informed (full disclosure: many of my friends majored in politics in college). Maybe, while it looks like we care more about Miley Cyrus, that’s not really true — perhaps, like me, others are intimidated by the complexity of Syria, not to mention that it’s a depressing topic (at least you can laugh at Miley).

By the time I finished writing this column, Obama had asked Congress to delay its decision on whether or not to carry out a military strike on Syria, giving time for the possibility of diplomatic action, which would remove Syria’s weapons without the use of force. Let’s see what comes of this. Now that I’ve done some research, I know I’m going to follow this closer than I have been. I hope others do, too. While it’s a complicated issue, it’s an important one.

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