I first read Elie Wiesel’s book Night when I was in middle school and learned about the Holocaust. The way that he spoke about its horrors continues to teach generations about the evil of the Nazis and their genocide which killed six million Jews. As a Holocaust survivor, he saw the face of evil so up close and personal and dedicated his life to being a voice to the voiceless. He spoke out against mass atrocities and truly worked to make “never again” not just a slogan but a reality whether it was speaking out for the Jewish people, Bosnia, Darfur or against the Iranian regime.
As a Syrian I will never forget in my life when Elie Wiesel spoke in front of President Obama in April 2012 and shamed him for not acting in Syria.
“The greatest tragedy in history could have been prevented had the civilized world spoken up, taken measures in 1939, ‘40, ‘41, ‘42.” he said at the U.S. Holocaust Museum. “Have we learned anything from it? If so, how is it that Assad is still in power? How is it that the No. 1 Holocaust denier Ahmadinejad is still a president?” he added. “We must use those measures to prevent another catastrophe.”
The President that day delivered a speech reaffirming that the world too often failed to act to prevent mass atrocities but argued that while he was increasing pressure on Assad this did not mean that “we intervene militarily every time there is an injustice.” It was relatively early in the conflict, but the Assad regime was leveling the city of Homs and the death toll had already reached 9000 people.
How prescient Wiesel was in February 2012, when he warned that Assad was the world’s problem and that Syria “became a bloody center of history. When we think of what is wrong with the world, the first thing that comes to mind is Syria.”
Syria is the world’s problem, and in 2016 the conflict is infecting the entire globe. Over four years since Wiesel uttered those words the Assad regime has used barrel bombs, chemical weapons, starvation, rape, and torture to subjugate the Syrian people into submission. The statistics are staggering: almost half a million Syrians have been killed meaning that 11.5% of the population has been killed or injured. Syria is now the worst refugee crisis since World War II with almost 5 million refugees and 6.5 million internally displaced or over half the population which has created a migration crisis that is breaking apart the European Union. The conflict directly contributed to the rise of ISIS‘ Caliphate, an emirate declared by the Nusra Front “the largest al-Qaeda affiliated in history” (according to the Obama Administration’s Envoy in the anti-ISIS fight Brett McGurk in testimony last week), as well as an emboldened Hezbollah all of which have filled the void in Syria.
When Assad, emboldened by the world’s inaction, used sarin gas to kill 1400 people in the worst chemical weapons attacks since the Halabja massacre, Wiesel again lamented President Obama’s decision not to take military action against Assad.
It pains me that four years later, words Wiesel wrote in an op-ed Washington Post entitled “How to Stop the Syria Massacre” still ring true. “The so-called civilized world isn’t even trying to stop the massacre. Its leaders issue statements, but the bloodshed continues.”
Four years on and abandoned by the world, millions of Syrians are thinking the same. How many more Syrians have to be killed until the world takes action? President Obama should honor Wiesel’s legacy by acting in Syria to remove Assad and to end the bloodbath once and for all.