The State of Syria

Often situations escalate so quickly that many of us are left wondering what exactly is going on.  Couple that with the tendency that the American media has to ignore world news for the sake of covering U.S.-related stories, and many are left in a state of ignorance.  This article serves to inform by answering questions concerning the crisis in Syria.

What is happening in Syria?

Syria is experiencing the end of a period of random terror and violence, and the beginning of a full-fledged civil war.  The rebels, still a divided group, are fighting the Assad regime, which has been in power in Syria since 1971 by way of the Ba’ath party, a party whose political views are shaped by nationalism, Islam, and socialism.  President Bashar al-Assad, who initially offered political reform, has fought the rebels bitterly, sending in troops and tanks in addition to torturing people who denied any connection to the Free Syria Army.  Two weeks ago, after evaluating the level and type of persistent violence in Syria, the International Red Cross declared the situation a civil war.

Why is this happening?

Last year anti-government protests in Tunisia sparked a surge of protests throughout the Arab world.  Syrian opposition, like that of so many other countries, did not pass up the opportunity to overthrow a government they view as harsh and unfair.  The government, unlike that of Egypt or Libya, has not given in, and continues to crack down on the rebels.  While some Syrians have fled their country because of the rampant violence, many remain either for fear or a lack of resources preventing them from fleeing, or because they are fully invested in this fight.  Embittered by the harsh crackdowns by the government, the rebels are now fighting for a full overthrow of the government in favor of a democratic one, and will not be content with the sort of reforms Assad initially proposed.

Source: The Economist, 2011

What, if anything, is being done to stop the fighting?

The UN has been arguing about resolutions for Syria since the conflict began and has imposed some minor sanctions on Syria.  The UN Security counsel recently proposed further sanctions on the country, but the measure was vetoed by China and Russia, a move the UK’s Foreign Secretary called “inexcusable and indefensible”.  Russian ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, said that he did not object to the sanctions themselves, but rather the part of the UN charter by which they would be allowable.  According to Churkin, use of Chapter 7 of the UN Charter could lead to “external military involvement in Syrian domestic affairs”; military involvement would certainly test Russia, who as of now is an ally of Syria’s.  As of now no military resolutions have been proposed besides 300 military observers who have just returned from the country.  Today, the UN chief, Ban Ki-moon, visited the site of the worst European massacre since World War II: Srebrenica, Bosnia-Herzegovinia.  Later he advised UN members to keep in mind the atrocities of the Bosnian War, lest they be repeated in Syria.  His message conveyed dedication to finding a meaningful resolution to stop the violence as soon as possible and reminded the world that superfluous debate and lack of quick action can be disastrous; 100,000 people were murdered before UN troops set foot in Bosnia.  The death tally for the Syrian uprising is now at 18,0001.

Ban Ki-Moon placing flowers at a Srebrenica gravesite. “Never Srebrenica.  Nowhere, to nobody.”  Photo Courtesy: ahram online

The state of Syria is horrifying, unsettling, and subject to much change in the coming weeks.  Stay informed.


UPDATE: 7/29, 5:43pm:

As of this morning, a major battle has broken out in Aleppo, Syria’s most populous city.   The government has launched a land and air attack on all of the city, parts of which are under rebel control.  Guardian News correspondent Luke Harding reported that “tens of thousands of civilians have fled”.  French President Francios Hollande has called on the UN to get involved in Syria “as quickly as possible”.  This weekend is expected to be especially tumultuous in Aleppo and other Syrian cities.





What’d I Miss?: World News Update 7/2-7/8

Here’s a quick round up of the world’s news for this past week…


– Romania’s left-leaning parliament has impeached authoritarian President Basescu, which means he is suspended from his job.  On July 29th, the Romanian people will decide in a referendum whether Basescu will permanently lose his position.  This is a major gain for Prime Minister Ponta, whose Social-Liberal Union has a majority in the parliament.

– In France, 40 graves of German WWI veterans were defiled on the 50th anniversary of peace between the two nations (not that the peace lasted for long…).

Smashed grave of a German WWI veteran.  Photo Courtesy: BBC


– A major Syrian general, Manaf Tlas, has defected to Paris, and in doing so, severely harmed the Syrian regime.

– Brand-new Egyptian President Mursi reversed the dissolution of parliament by the military by ordering that it reconvene.  Jon Leyne (BBC) said that “Mr Mursi’s decision may put him on a collision course with military leaders.”


– Rebel forces have taken the town of Rutshuru in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.


– Japan has promised $16 billion in aid to Afghanistan in the next four years.  The money should help ease the transition of NATO troops leaving the country.


– Enrique Pena Nieto, of Mexico’s PRI party, has won the presidency in that country.  However, protests have erupted in Mexico over the legality of the election; many are accusing Pena Nieto and the PRI of buying votes.

President Enrique Pena Nieto (PRI)


– The Canadian unemployment rate has dropped from 7.3% to 7.2% in the month of June, with the public sector rising by 45,800 in May and June.

– The long-standing U.S. blood ban on gay and bisexual  men (MSMs–men who have sex with men) donating blood, is being reevaluated by the American Red Cross because of recent drops in donations.  The ban was instituted in the 1980s towards the beginning of the AIDS crisis.  A similar ban was also put on Haitians, but was repealed in the early ’90s due to available and reliable testing for HIV/AIDS.

Happy Sunday!

Eradicating Political Apathy

64% of Americans voted in the last presidential election1. 41.8% voted in the 2010 congressional election2.  In the most recent French presidential election, there was more than 80% voter turnout3.

These numbers convey what is arguably the largest problem plaguing American politics today: apathy.  A large portion of the American public is entirely indifferent to political affairs. This puts our country in a dangerous situation in which a maximum of 2/3 of the country is making decisions for the entire population.

The American public can be divided into three groups: those who already care about the issue at hand, those who are inherently uninterested, and those who are not inherently interested, but can be swayed into caring.  The latter, often the largest group, is the target.  How does one get this group to pay enough attention to politics that it votes?  There are two solutions.

The less immediate of the two is to target the youth population, particularly at the high school level.  Research has shown that the earlier citizens are introduced to politics and the democratic voting system, the more likely they are to participate consistently in elections throughout their lives.  The process of registering to vote appears mystifying and complicated to many who aren’t registered.  Having a registration booth at high school job fairs or club fairs makes the process easier and therefore gets citizens involved in politics earlier.  Incorporating the democratic process into everyday school life is beneficial too.  School elections are an obvious way to incorporate this.  In 2011, Rock the Vote developed “Democracy Day” in which teachers across the country committed to devoting one class period to a Democracy Class, a “program that uses video, a classroom discussion and a mock election to teach young people the skills to navigate the election process and engage as active citizens4.”

The class encourages students to name local and national issues that affect them, teaches the history of voting rights in this country, and ends with a mock election in which each student creates a platform of issues he or she supports and “runs for office”.  All of this garners interest and enthusiasm for the democratic process in high school students.  Creating an environment where the rights and duties of a citizen are discussed early on increases the likelihood that students will be politically involved throughout their lives.

Political apathy can also be eliminated through simple alterations in our political language and discussions.  Policies should be discussed in terms of how they affect citizens’ lives.  By personalizing each issue, people will be more inclined to be informed and vote for candidates who support their opinions.  The initial, and enduring, low approval rating of Obama’s Affordable Healthcare Act can be partly attributed to the fact that it was never fully explained in terms of effect on daily life of Americans; a Reuters/Ipsos poll found the following:


Once broken down into its provisions, the Affordable Healthcare Act, excluding the individual mandate, was appealing to most people.  However, the overall support for the act was low, lower, in fact, than the support for the least well-liked piece of the act–the individual mandate.  A more recent poll, by the Pew Research Center, serves as a testament to how politically unaware our citizens are, even on major issues.  30% of those interviewed did not know the outcome of the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Affordable Healthcare Act.  15% thought that the act was struck down6.  Most bills in Congress affect most citizens, either directly or through a family member or friend who is directly affected.  Through a shift in our political language, people will come to realize this, and will consequently pay more attention to politics and create more informed opinions.

Apathy does not have to be a permanent part of American politics.  Through targeting the youth in our country and further explaining each policy and bill we can begin to garner a genuine interest in political affairs.  Sustained awareness about and participation in politics will lead us to a country in which government acts in a way more representative of the people’s needs and desires.