One month ago, I returned from the most uplifting two-week journey into humanity, chaperoning 16 Ottawa high school students on the March of the Living program.
The March, 25 years strong in existence, is an international educational experience that brings together young and old from all over the world, to Poland and then Israel.
Seven hundred Canadians and more than 10,000 people participated in the 2012 March, a two-week journey that pays tribute to Holocaust survivors and victims and to those brave individuals who fought for freedom and what was right, despite the risks in doing so. But in its purest form, the March is simply about embracing humanity, even during the darkest of times, when humanity seems all but lost.
After all the horror and suffering we witnessed during the Holocaust, and then afterwards in Cambodia, Croatia, Darfur, Sudan and now Syria, it is shameful that we still have not learned from our mistakes, and that we continue to allow global politics and diplomacy to trump humanity.
The world has become aware of the recent massacre in Houla, Syria, of more than 100 people, including nearly three dozen children under the age of 10. As a result, Canada and other nations have taken action to expel Syrian diplomats. Unfortunately this sort of diplomatic and political gesturing will do very little to stop Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his reign of terror.
I am not naïve. I understand the bigger picture in Syria and within the Middle East region. Indeed it is complicated. It always has been. But there is simply no excuse for the innocent slaughter of children – not in politics. Not anywhere. And I recognize that what comes after the fall of tyranny is not always rosy – it has its own uncertainties, consequences and problems. But the unknown is not an excuse to continue to allow such unthinkable and meaningless atrocities. We must take sides.
The world simply has a moral obligation to do something. The road may be long and hard and more lives will be lost but we can no longer sit in our ivory towers, thousands of miles away and watch as innocent bystanders, while one man’s need for power destroys other innocent bystanders.
It is shameful. If Syria was rich in oil and gas resources, perhaps the world would care more. What an appalling statement and way to live. Sometimes things are worth fighting for. Not just oil or land or food. When we fail to understand that humanity is worth fighting for, then we have simply failed. We have failed our children and we have failed to teach them what is and can be good about this world we live in.
When we don’t engage for the sake of something as simple as protecting humanity, then we have shown two things: we have lost our way as human beings, and we confirm that we have learned nothing from the past.
It is time for politics and diplomacy to take a back seat and let the chips fall where they may. I know that courageous soldiers from Canada, United States, England and elsewhere will die. But they will not die in vain. I don’t say this easily. I am not a soldier, nor are my children. It is hard to put myself in the shoes of those I ask to risk their lives for freedom and humanity. But we must take sides.
The time has come to forget about the pending reelections of our world leaders. The time has come to cast aside uncertainties of Middle East and geopolitical instability. Instability is already present.
It is time to stop thinking about what engagement in Syria might do and start thinking about what our lack of engagement is already doing. And we must stop thinking about why others should engage in a problem that is so far away from our everyday life. We must start realizing that the embracing of humanity is indeed our responsibility and that it impacts the way we live. We must take sides.
World renowned author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, best captured the stark reality of what is happening today in Syria and in other unfortunate places around the world. Sitting on the proverbial sidelines is no longer acceptable, Wiesel said.
“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the centre of the universe.”
Simply put, we must take sides.
Evan Zelikovitz is a Public Affairs and Crisis Communications consultant