Posted by on February 10, 2012 in Blog

What Syrians are enduring today is nothing short of tragic and outrageous, with several thousand already killed amid intensifying violence. It is indeed true, with so many army defections and foreign weapons flowing into the country, that the opposition's struggle does entail an armed component. Nonetheless, something has to be insisted upon and made absolutely clear: primary responsibility for the situation lies with the Assad government, whose initial decision to use lethal violence to repress peaceful protesters is what led to this bloody and intractable mess. 

When Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling on Assad to step down, the United States condemned the vetoes as a “travesty” and said that those blocking the resolution will have any future blood spilled on their hands. Of course, the resolution’s ability to end the bloodshed in Syria is highly in doubt, but the sentiment of opposing the Assad regime’s violence is certainly the right one. Nonetheless, given the Unites States’ history with Security Council vetoes, it is hard to take its moral outrage at the Russian and Chinese vetoes seriously.

To be clear, the issue here isn’t the fact that the U.S. has cast a veto or two in the past that weren’t morally defensible. It’s the fact that the U.S. has used its veto to shield Israel from international criticism for its crimes against the Palestinian people more times than the combined total of all vetoes cast by all the other permanent members of the UN Security Council on all issues. Take a moment to reread that last sentence. When Israel was gunning down Palestinian demonstrators Assad-style at the beginning of the 2nd intifada, the US vetoed a resolution that sought to send observers to stop the killing of civilians. And we haven’t addressed the United States’ blocking of a ceasefire during Israel’s assault on Lebanon in 2006 following the border skirmish with Hezbollah, or the United States’ 2003 invasion of Iraq against UN objections. The problem is so extensive that no informed person can hear the U.S. lamenting another state for casting an indefensible veto without being immediately taken by the hypocrisy of it.

It was in this context that AAI posted this Facebook update: “US says: ‘shame on Russia and China,’ ‘Syrian blood on their hands’. Fair enough, but by the same logic, how much Palestinian, Lebanese, and Iraqi blood is on our hands?” The response was overwhelmingly positive, with several dozen “liking” the status almost instantly. However, some took issue with the status, perceiving it as supportive of the Russian and Chinese vetoes. Such a reading is totally absurd, as the status said “fair enough,” indicating that we merely wanted our government to operate by the same correct standard we expect others to abide by. In essence, it was a call for moral consistency, which should never be controversial.

One of those complaining about the status argued that it presented a false comparison because the tragedy of the Syrian people was worse than that of the Palestinian people. I cannot think of a more divisive attitude than to devolve into an argument over whose victimized people suffered more. One population is sustaining heavy bombardment that caused the death of thousands in less than a year, while the other has been living under illegal military occupation for decades, with all the oppression and humiliation that entails, and occasional shootings and bombings killing a few thousand every few years. Is there any serious moral agent who wants to get into the distasteful argument over who is in more need of protection than the other? Both are in need of protection, and those who support victimization of one are in no moral position to lecture those who support the victimization of the other.

The bottom line is simple; if we’re going to survive as a species and make this world worth being a part of, we have to get to the point where the outrages currently being experienced by the Syrian and Palestinian peoples (and many others like them) are not tolerated. In that spirit, we should call for moral consistency in dealing with severe violations of human rights (the first of which is the right to life), no matter who they are committed against. The golden rule lies at the core of all coherent moral codes, and it should never be needlessly distorted.

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