As Syrian President Bashar Assad dropped barrel bombs on civilians, killed babies with sarin gas, and murdered doctors, nurses and destroyed ambulances rushing to their aid, the world has watched.
It has not been silent. There have been many words of condemnation, warnings, lines drawn in the bloody sand over the last seven years.
In response, with this assistance of the Russian air force, Assad targeted hospitals that were treating his victims in underground medical clinics.
Children have been starved to death in Damascus by a Syrian regime that has violated the Geneva Convention, killing hundreds of thousands while making millions homeless, creating a refugee crisis that has challenged democracies throughout the world.
Dr. Zaher Sahloul, an Oak Lawn pulmonologist who is a founder and past president of the Syrian-American Medical Society, has been treating the sick and wounded of that country for years while pleading for the international community to act.
“I looked back at a video of my first interview with CNN today,” Sahloul told me on Wednesday. “It was April 2013 and the Assad regime had just conducted its sixth chemical weapons attack on civilians in Syria. There were cries of outrage by world leaders just as there are today. People denounced Assad and said he had to go. And that was before the August 2013 sarin gas attack on Ghutta.”
That gas attack, confirmed by a United Nations investigation, killed an estimated 1,300 civilians.
“All of this could have been avoided if President Obama had intervened early on in the civil war,” Sahloul said.
“As a doctor, I look at it as a cancer. If you intervene early enough, cut out the malignancy, the damage can be mitigated. But if you wait too long, if you do nothing, the disease becomes deadly.”
Sahloul begged the Obama administration to intervene. He asked the United Nations to stop the carnage. He used social media to urge average people throughout the world to pressure their governments to act.
Why has the rest of the world looked on as these very public scenes of butchery have increased after vowing that it would never again sit back and watch such atrocities following the Holocaust?
“I don’t know,” Sahloul said. “I’ve asked myself that question many times. Maybe its because after 9-11 this country became desensitized to the idea of people dying in the Middle East. Maybe because after Afghanistan and Iraq the American people were tired of fighting wars there.
“I can’t help thinking that the fact that these are Muslims and Arabs has something to do with the failure of the world to act.
“Religious leaders in churches, synagogues, and mosques must lead the way and tell people to bring pressure on their government leaders everywhere in the world to bring an end to this,” Sahloul said. “Words are no longer enough. We have had too many words.
“Assad must be stopped. Now.”
President Trump, outraged by the site of beautiful babies dying in a horrible fashion, launched a rocket attack on Syria as a warning that the chemical attacks must end.
That was long overdue. But it should be remembered that candidate Trump had previously said the United States should close its doors in the face of women and children fleeing the horrors of Syria. Many Americans agreed with him, fearful of a terrorist attack.
That sort of cowardice is shameful and not worthy of our country. Other nations have taken in far more refugees than the United States.
Assad must be removed from office. The genocide must be stopped. And the free world, at long last, must show some moral courage.
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