Posted by on March 15, 2012 in Blog

One year ago today, Syrians took to the streets amid an atmosphere of self-assurance and optimism as ossified regimes collapsed all around them. One year later, that initial optimism has vanished as the uprising has struggled to maintain momentum against brutal repression and international paralysis. So, what comes next?

It’s hard for anyone to say. Clearly, the status quo can’t remain in place forever; the regime has shed too much blood and lost too much control to ever successfully retake Syria. On the other hand, the opposition has been marred by disorganization, mutual suspicions, and fragmentation. As for the international community, those that ostensibly support the Syrian uprising have been able to do little (and the little they have done may well do more harm than good), and cannot agree on a path forward.

Arab Americans have watched with increasing frustration and powerlessness as the situation grew steadily worse, unable to agree on a way forward and blocked from any meaningful decision-making in Washington. It’s been hard to feel optimistic. The quagmire we’re in, however, has taught us all some valuable lessons, I think.

We learned that in these times it’s near-impossible for the U.S. to continue to juggle its foreign policy contradictions while maintaining any semblance of legitimacy in the international arena. Our indignation over the Russia’s veto at the U.N. rang hollow after countless U.S. vetoes on Palestinian resolutions. Vocal support for Syrian opposition parties has been tainted by a parallel silence on the continuing repression in Bahrain, and condemnations of the violence carry little weight while Washington continues to arm Egypt’s military government with crowd-control weaponry.

On the other hand, we’ve also learned that the Arab world’s demand for democracy, fairness, and respect can no longer be ignored, and that history is indisputably on our side. When this conflict ends – which it will – and the days of Middle East dictatorships come to an end across the region, perhaps we will be able to use these lessons to build a new relationship between the U.S. and the Arab world, where America’s principles and its policies no longer stand in such sharp contrast.

That transformation must start today, in the upcoming election, in the fight against rising Islamophobia and racial-profiling, in the one-sided posturing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and in our own communities, our local campaigns, and our daily lives. It may be hard to feel optimistic in the midst of such tragedy, but when I think about tomorrow, somehow, I do.

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