The image of a wounded baby is the uprising in Syria. Videos and photos from the massacre in Houla last Friday flood the media. Families executed in their homes. Women and children shot at close range. On CNN's 360, Anderson Cooper pleaded with viewers not to change the channel from yet another report on Syria. The only thing worse than people slaughtering their own, he said, is the rest of the world turning away from it.
As an American, your heart breaks. How can we stop this violence? We did it before in Kosovo; we can do it again.
Yet as an Arab, I have to wonder if stopping the violence is even possible. Because the Middle East is nothing like Kosovo.
It's the Middle East.
To sum up the complexities of a region with a deep-seeded sectarian divide is close to impossible; no one will ever really understand it any more than an outsider will ever truly understand the U.S. But unfortunately, the U.S. has put itself in the position to try.
While it pulled out of Iraq quietly and right on schedule, it lives with the consequences. The expectation of action. The U.S. cut some sort of thread in the fabric of the Middle East with its invasion and occupation of Iraq. Now, while countries fall apart at the seams, the public naturally turns to the U.S., and the United Nations, to put everything back together. But no one knows what to do... and the slaughter continues.
A friend of mine asked me, because I'm Arab and American therefore probably more knowledgeable and culturally sound than most: "What are we doing in the Middle East anyway?"
I replied, "You know what? I have no idea." Because I am not shocked by the violence in Syria. Saddened, yes. Shocked, no. And I'm not really sure there is anything anyone can do.
None of this is new -- Arabs killing Arabs based on sect or politics or both, as is currently the case post-Arab Spring. Recently in Iraq, 18 Shiites were killed by a series of bomb blasts near Baghdad allegedly carried out by Sunni insurgents. Iraqis continue to live the consequences of a war that was brought upon them -- the sectarian violence. My grandmother lives in Baghdad; she is Sunni, and offers tea and cake to any visitor -- announced or unannounced. I have an uncle who carries several different ID cards and a Kalashnikov, just to avoid problems. My own parents -- my father is Shiite and my mother is Sunni -- and while they frequently blame each other for the catastrophes in Iraq, they are a product of a time when sectarian differences were not differences. A time before the U.S. lamely inserted itself in the Middle East, before whole regimes toppled, before people resorted to what they decided they were -- their religion, their sect, their blood.
And at least through Syria, the world can see what we hear from our families living in the region. The violence, the fear of violence that comes with each passing day -- a violence that we as Americans have the luxury of not experiencing. My parents often tell me how lucky we are to be here and not there.
But for myself, and many other Arabs in this country, it is that luxury that makes the uprising in Syria even more painful to watch. Not because of the Syrian government. Or because of the terrorist groups that have found their way into the country. Or even because of the horrific photos and videos.
But because there is nothing we can do. And this kind of violence is a cancer that will spread throughout the entire region.
We will never really know the truth of what is happening. We won't. And that is a reality politicians -- the only people who can solve this humanitarian crisis -- are not prepared to accept. And so they continue to talk. To assign blame. And people continue to die.
Yet the Houla massacre did prompt a world response. The United Nations quickly condemned the attacks and questioned their action -- or their inaction. All the major superpowers want the violence to end and regard military intervention as a non-option. And I am sure they probably see the futility in unarmed military observers. In fact, such a job must be torture. To only observe these atrocities and not protect people from them.
Politics complicates sound and just decision-making -- but politics is not to blame. The United Nations, while its goal is to preserve international peace, is not made up of saints and is made up of men -- men whose purposes are to protect the interests of their countries.
So what are we supposed to do?
When I was a child growing up in America, I learned that my country saves countries that can't save themselves. Naïve, sure. More complicated than that, yes. But nevertheless an idea that is the center of a certain, indescribable American pride. It inspires us to feel responsible. But the America we knew, or at least I thought I knew, is recovering from a tarnished image set by years of poor decisions. And maybe if we weren't in all the places we shouldn't have been in the Middle East over the last decade, we'd have "the appetite" for another war. And maybe if it wasn't an election year...
No, the stage is not set properly for the U.S. to intervene in Syria. Even though it probably should.
And so Americans and Arabs and the rest of the world alike will continue to wait and see what happens in Syria. And hope that at some point, someone, somewhere else, will be able to do something.