Home > Columnists > Listen to your Syrian neighbors | David Good

Listen to your Syrian neighbors | David Good

About The Author

David W. Good is Minister Emeritus of The First Congregational Church of Old Lyme and President of the Tree of Life Educational Fund
In our recent travels to Israel, Palestine and then Bosnia, in Srebrenica, we remembered the genocide that took place 25 years ago in which over 10,000 Bosnian Muslims were slaughtered and dumped in mass graves, including a one-year-old child. As we offered prayers – Muslim, Jewish, and Christian – the thousands of white commemorative markers seemed like little white fingers pointing back at us, saying, “Where were you; why were you so silent?”

I fear the same question will haunt the human community 25 years from now as the world remembers the unfolding tragedy in Syria in which most recently nearly 100 died, many of them children, from the horrendous use of chemical weapons, probably sarin gas.

As we consider our response to this crime against humanity, we should start by listening to our Syrian neighbors here in Connecticut, and if we did we would learn that Bashar Al Assad is a cruel tyrant and dictator who long before this latest crisis perpetrated crimes against humanity against the people of his own country, including the previous use of chemical weapons.

As our country debates the recent air strike authorized by President Trump, whether we agree with that response or not, surely there is much that our faith communities and the wider peace community can do in response to the crisis in Syria.

25 years ago a cellist played his hauntingly beautiful music in the rubble of Sarajevo and so helped the world to see the tragedy of that war. Remembering the persuasion of that cellist, in the coming weeks and months, I call upon all our churches, mosques and synagogues and all other faith communities to have a musician, preferably a child – a cellist or a violinist – play an elegy for our prayer services in memory of the children being slaughtered in Syria. Yes, even and especially Easter Sunday, for how can there be a celebration of resurrection without an acknowledgment of current crucifixions? May these moments of elegy move us as a human community from andante to allegro in our response.

Surely, we can agree that what Syria needs is not more war but megatons of compassion, megatons of food, water, and medical supplies. May our elegies for children move us to support such great organizations as Doctors Without Borders.

But also, may our elegies for the children of Syria move us to reclaim our prophetic voice. May they move us to listen to our Syrian neighbors and so be inspired to speak out against all forms of militarism, nationalism, xenophobia and hate. With the advent of nuclear weapons and other forms of weaponry, Albert Einstein said, “Everything has changed except our way of thinking, and so we drift toward unparalleled disaster.” In the horrendous images of children dying on the streets of Syria, we have yet another tragic reminder of that wisdom. We have to be teachers of a different way of thinking. We need to rid the world of all forms of weapons of mass destruction, and collectively, we need to persuade our elected officials to move from strategies and economies of war to a diversified economy of peace.

For those in the Christian tradition, next Friday is Good Friday — a day in which the tragic crucifixion is remembered. I am of the persuasion that a crucifixion takes place wherever and whenever a child dies or suffers because of our insanity. Surely another crucifixion has taken place with the children of Syria. I hope and I pray that there will not be another crucifixion in our conspiracy of silence.



One comment

  1. Syria: Chemical Weapon Use, Destruction of Children, The Ethical Vacuum Syria: Chemical Weapon Use, Destruction of Children, The Ethical Vacuum
    by Rene Wadlow
    2017-04-12 10:50:27
    wc00The defense of those using their conscience to uphold humanitarian international law.

    The Association of World Citizens calls for the re-affirmation of humanitarian international law. It is a call to the soldiers and militia members in armed conflicts to refuse orders to violate humanitarian international law by refusing to use weapons outlawed by international treaties such as chemical weapons, land mines, cluster munitions or any weapon to attack civilians, especially children and women. We must defend all who use their individual conscience to refuse to follow orders to violate humanitarian international law.

    At the heart of this growing phenomenon of mass violence and social disintegration is a crisis of values. Perhaps the most fundamental loss a society can suffer is the collapse of its own value system. Many societies exposed to protracted conflicts have seen their community values radically undermined if not shattered altogether. This has given rise to an ethical vacuum, a setting in which international standards are ignored with impunity and where local value systems have lost their sway. Olara Otunnu, then Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Report to U.N. General Assembly, 1998

    The attack on Khan Sheikhoon in Idib Province of Syria on 4 April 2017 raises at least two essential issues concerning humanitarian international law and the protection of children in times of armed conflict.

    syria01_400_01A major issue is the use of chemical weapons, probably sarin or a sarin-like substance in violation of the 1925 Geneva Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare of which Syria was a party, among the 135 governments which have signed. The attack was also a violation of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction which came into force in 1997. The Convention created The Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Syria signed the Convention in 2013 as part of a compromise decision to have its chemical-weapon stock destroyed.

    The use of poison gas strikes deep, partly subconscious, reactions not provoked in the same way as seeing someone shot by a machine gun. The classic Greeks and Romans had a prohibition against the use of poison in war, especially poisoning water well because everyone needs to drink. Likewise poison gas is abhorred because everyone needs to breath to live.

    There is a real danger that the Geneva Protocol of 1925, one of the oldest norms of humanitarian international law will be undermined and the use of chemical weapons “normalized”. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is already investigating the use of chemical weapons in seven other locations in Syria.

    Chemical weapons have been used in armed conflicts in the Middle East before. Although Egypt had signed the 1925 Geneva Protocol, Egyptian forces used chemical weapons widely in their support of the republican forces in the Yemen Civil War (1962-1967) with very few international outcries. As a result of the lack of any sanctions against Egypt, Syria requested Egyptian technical assistance in developing its own chemical weapons capabilities shortly after 1967 – well before the al-Assad dynasty came to power.

    Humanitarian international law is largely based on self-imposed restraints. Although the International Criminal Court has a mandate to try crimes of war and crimes against humanity, its impact on the way armed conflicts are currently carried out is small. Thus, restraints need to rest on the refusal of soldiers and militia members to carry out actions that they know to be against both humanitarian international law and the local value system. This is especially true of the non-harming of children in times of armed conflict.

    Humanitarian international law creates an obligation to maintain the protection of all non-combatants caught in the midst of violent conflicts as set out in the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977. Moreover, there is an urgent need to focus special attention on the plight of children. They are the least responsible for the conflict and yet are most vulnerable. They need special protection. The norms to protect children in armed conflicts are set out clearly in the Additional Protocols which has 25 articles specifically pertaining to children. The norms are also clearly stated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most universally ratified international treaty. The Convention calls for the protection of the child’s right to life, education, health and other fundamental needs. These provisions apply equally in times of armed conflict and in times of peace.

    As with the use of weapons prohibited by international treaty: chemical weapons, land mines, cluster munitions, the protection of children must be embodied in local values and practice. The classic Chinese philosopher Mencius, in maintaining that human were basically good, used the example of a child about to fall into a well who would be saved by anyone regardless of status or education.

    The Association of World Citizens has called for a United Nations-led conference on the re-affirmation of humanitarian, international law. There needs to be a world-wide effort on the part of governments and non-governmental organizations to re-affirm humanitarian values and the international treaties which make them governmental obligations. Such a conference would bring together into a coherent synthesis the four avenues of humanitarian international law:

    1) The Geneva Conventions – Red Cross-mandated treaties;

    2) The Hague Convention tradition dealing with prohibited weapons, highlighting recent treaties such as those on land mines and cluster munitions;

    3) Human rights conventions and standards, valid at all times but especially violated in times of armed conflicts;

    4) The protection of sites and monuments which have been designated by UNESCO as part of the cultural heritage of humanity, highlighting the August 2016 decision of the International Criminal Court on the destruction of Sufi shrines in northern Mali.

    There is also a need to use whatever avenues of communication we have to stress to those living in Syria-Iraq-ISIS-Kurd-majority areas-and Turkey that they have a moral duty to disobey orders that violate humanitarian international law. We on the outside must do all we can to protect those who so act humanly in accord with their conscience.


    Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


What is 2 + 16 ?
Please leave these two fields as-is:
IMPORTANT! To be able to proceed, you need to solve the following simple math (so we know that you are a human) :-)
I footnotes