pic:Freedom House/Creative Commons
By Subhash Kateel
You have to pardon me for being really tired of hearing
highbrow justifications for murder from people that should know better.  I have spent the summer watching the murders
of two Miami teens named Trayvon and Israel
be justified by a bunch of people that should know better who misinterpreted
and intentionally misrepresented
the law and basic norms we should hold sacred. 
I have spent the past decade as an ex- New Yorker hearing
other people who should know better (I stopped calling them experts) use bad
intelligence and worse intentions to justify a war in Iraq fought in our name that
killed thousands of civilians and US troops
I have also spent most of my living years watching an
earlier cohort of people who should’ve known better explain away the arming,
training and propping up of “freedom fighters
who killed Soviets in Afghanistan in the 70’s and 80’s before birthing a
movement that turned those tactics on the city I called home a decade ago.
I have spent this week feeling horrified by our nations
ability to commemorate Martin Luther King’s eloquent expressions of nonviolence
in the “I Have A Dream” speech while simultaneously creating
a consensus
to bomb Syria. I just can’t fight the feeling, as I said on
Facebook, that Martin Luther King is probably rolling in his grave and throwing
The fact that I respect some of the people pushing that
conversation, such as Van Jones, who
was on CNN Tuesday
making the case for “surgical strikes” against Syria, is
a particularly hard punch in the gut, even after Van took the time to engage me
personally and talk me through his reasons for supporting surgical strikes.  But this is not about Van per se, as much as
it is about all of us who should know better, especially those of us who just
a decade ago, fought hard against the lie that you can save people by bombing
Sadly, this is not about Syria either.  Because while the Syrian people definitely deserve
justice, democracy and the ability to not be killed by their leaders, I am
finding it hard to believe that any foreign
playing politics or proxy wars in their country really give a damn
about Syrian life. 
To believe that, I would have to believe that the Saudi
government, perhaps the most oppressive in the world, is arming
Syrian rebels
out of a sudden urge to end oppression even after helping
their Bahraini counterparts
rain down murderously on the Bahraini people’s own
Arab Spring.
I would have to believe that the same Israeli government
that is building illegal settlements on land they are perpetually promising to
swap for an elusive Palestinian state has an eye on Syria because they envision
it teeming with democracy. 
I would have to believe that the French government is supporting
air strikes because they seek to end senseless slaughter, ever after they shut
their eyes
and closed their mouths in 1994 as their Hutu allies in Rwanda massacred
with machetes (not chemical weapons) a half million Tutsis in one month.
Believing that is easier than believing that the Russian
leadership has set aside their internal gay
and crackdown on Chechnya
to stick up for Syria’s various minority groups, some
of whom
fear the fall of the Assad regime.
But I would also have to believe that our own government has
finally acknowledged the evils of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle
East despite helping
the formerly friendly Saddam Hussein gas scores of Iranians to death, sending
the Saudis
enough cluster bombs to turn Damascus into a parking lot, and
tolerating for decades Israel’s presumed
of a nuclear weapon.
But it is hard to believe any of those things, let alone
believe that the President or his supporters believes any of those things.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t believe Syrians are dying by
the thousands, that the Assad dictatorship bears the responsibility for a bulk
of the killing or that Syrians don’t have the right to defend themselves.  It doesn’t even mean that I don’t believe
that chemical weapons were used last week, even if I do believe that it
wouldn’t hurt to wait
a few days
for the UN to verify it. 
I just don’t believe that American leaders have shown American people
how bombing Syria will stop any of it.    
American leaders can’t even prove that the rebels they have covertly
for a couple years are any better than the Assad regime.  While plenty of members of the Free Syrian
Army and millions of Syrian civilians fight in earnest for a free Syria, some of
the strongest rebel factions are said
to be close
to Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda affiliates. There is at least some
evidence that the same Syrians that rose up peacefully against Assad have also stood
to those same Al Qaeda-esque elements in rebel controlled areas.  Precisely which faction of the loosely
coalesced Free Syrian Army and which segment of Syrian society will be helped
or hurt by surgical strikes is anyone’s guess.  

“Syria is for the free, not for Zawahiri and not for Bashar” pic: jadaliyya.com
But the people tasked with educated guesses can’t even really
tell us if the other
we have surgically striked, covertly supported the opposition in
or outright invaded such as Libya,
Iraq or Afghanistan
are any better or worse after our government’s stated attempts to change
regimes, eradicate weapons of mass destruction, kill terrorists and stop the
killing sprees of dictators.  We don’t
even know if Americans are better off after all of this. 
In that context, people should know better than to push Americans
that barely know anything about Syria into agreeing to bomb it to freedom with less
less public support
and less clarity of purpose than either of the Bushes
had when they went to war with Iraq or Carter/Reagan had when they supported the
covert action in Afghanistan that we are still paying for today.
But some of my friends that should know better have asked
people like me, who barely know enough, what our alternative is.  It is a partially fair/partially perverse
question to answer for those of us far from positions of power. 
The people with the least resources and the least monopoly
on violence are always asked and expected to be the first to seek alternatives
to violence. And throughout American history, those who are less resourced
generally comply.   That is why we
celebrate the words and actions of a Martin Luther King, who never picked up a
gun (despite at one time owning
) while pursuing a path of principled non-violent resistance to stop
people from being killed, kicked and kept at the bottom of America’s caste
The fact that the less resourced of us are always expected
to choose the path of peace while those in power with the most resources and
biggest monopoly on violence are never saddled with that expectation shouldn’t
sit well with any of us.  If there is a
redline, it should compel us to never again pretend that we are bombing,
shooting and killing in a country under the pretext of saving it. It should force
our leaders to spend the same energy and money they do on military hardware and advisers to build the infrastructure that can create an alternative to armed
conflict. It should force our diplomats to spend more energy ending conflicts and
less fighting to extradite “fugitives” like Edward Snowden.  It should push all of us to stop audaciously
hoping and start effectively seeking peaceful solutions to violent problems.  Doing any of this doesn’t require us to be pacifists,
isolationists or cut-and-runners.  It
just requires us to know better and act on what we know.