A State of Fear In Syria

By Curtis Pederson

From the United States’ War on terrorism, to sectarian conflicts between Sunni and Shia Muslims, the expanding and destructive self-described Islamic State, and current fighting between the Syrian-backed forces and rebel groups, the Middle East has been and is experiencing grave instability. Since January of this year, more than 430,000 people have fled the war torn regions of the Middle East, according to Lisa De Bode for Al Jazeera. Richard Cohen for The New York Times says that the current conflict in Syria has already killed 200,000 people, while creating over 4 million refugees. The highly complex regional actions and conflicts have produced a very basic and devastating consequence—death, displacement and fear.

As the call and hope for peace fades to a dim reality for civilians in the battle zones, millions have been forced to seek refuge. The Union Nations estimates that everyday 3,000 migrants begin the long and treacherous journey towards Western Europe in seek of asylum, as reported by The New York Times. Thousands have died thus far in the attempt to seek refuge in Europe, and the entire dynamics of the European Union (EU) as a whole are being challenged.

According to James Kanter for The New York Times, On September 9, president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, called for a quota of 160,000 migrants to be distributed among member states based on factors such as wealth, current asylum applicants, population and unemployment rates. Yet, Eastern European states have been vocal in their opposition to such mandatory impositions. Hungary has been an outspoken critic of this call, blaming Germany for the vast numbers of migrants that pour through their borders and also citing their Christian identity as a reason not to allow predominantly Muslim migrants into their country. A visible symbol of this apparent lack of compassion can be seen with fences that Hungary has rapidly constructed in an attempt to stop the influx of refugees into and through their country.

Diplomatic means within the EU have been quite polarized and a unified response to this crisis is yet to be found. Border patrols and fences are shifting the nature of the once open-border policy in many European Union member states. While the European Union as a whole is in flux as a response is sought to this crisis, the root cause remains. The war in Syria rages with death and displacement as the conflict's constant companion.

Yusif Rayah, president of the Middle Eastern Student Association at North Park added a powerful insight as a Middle Eastern, whose perspective is noteworthy in trying to understand the dynamics of the region and the Syrian conflict. Rayah alludes to the peculiarity in the demographics of refugees making their way to Europe, pointing out that more so than just women and children are making the journey, but men of all ages are leaving as well. The significance of this is the implicit statement it makes––that the civilians who make up the fighting-age population are choosing to not side with any of the warring regimes and instead are leaving the country altogether.

To understand why the refugees are not supporting the Syrian-backed forces or the rebels in the current conflict, a more appropriate picture must be painted of the dynamics within the state of Syria. The Islamic State holds vast territory in western Iraq and eastern Syria; rebel groups, the Assad-backed Government, as well as Hezbollah vie for power throughout the western part of the country; Kurdish forces in the northeastern section of the country and Israeli-occupied Golan Heights in the southwestern tip offer a very basic picture of territorial power in the country. What isn’t fully known here is the impact that other countries have on the circumstances. With Russia, Iran, the U.S. and many other world powers offering aid through weapons and funds to different regional powers, the extreme complexity becomes clear, however unclear the intentions and true nature of the region and conflict are.

What can be done? To what ends should the threat of terrorism by actively pursued and combatted, when military intervention only seems to make the threat increase? To what ends should sectarian divides within a religion result in the death of innocent lives? Where do we fit into this devastating reality––as a country, as individuals and at North Park, as a Christian institution in at least addressing this problem? John Kerry recently asserted that the United States will take in 100,000 refugees per year starting in 2017, but is it enough? The Hungarian government claims their Christian identity supports the closing of their borders to refugees. Is this logic consistent with the Biblical calling "to welcome the stranger"?  These are questions that must be addressed as we seek to understand not only the reality of the situation, but also as we seek to identify what our role is as global citizens.