LONDON — As a college student, I don’t really know what to do about Syria besides reading and writing about it. The most I could do is fly down to Syria, arm myself and take on the Syrian government. But that would only increase the already enormous death toll.
NYU frequently tosses around key phrases, such as the international community and global citizen, to little effect. This vague concept of a global citizen combined with the sometimes overwhelming patriotism of the average American has narrowed the world perspective of young people in this country. We read the word globalization in textbooks or hear it in college deans’ speeches. It has lost its meaning because of its overuse.
Enter Syria. Syria is being neglected because of this American patriotism. No one can be blamed for putting their home country’s interests first. And, especially after the viral Kony 2012 movement, no one wants to simply pretend to care or be activists because it’s trendy. But Syria isn’t a trend, and it shouldn’t be. Any country enduring a civil war and horrific human rights violations shouldn’t simply become a trend.
When I say horrific human rights violations, I guarantee most of the readers of this column associate that phrase with charity or activist organizations. They probably remember volunteering for one of these charities or donating money without thinking about what it was funding. But I have read about Syria, and I use the word horrific seriously and have chosen it carefully. There is really no other word that has the same meaning to describe the Syrian conflict.
As college students, we have an intellectual and moral obligation to invest ourselves in the Syrian crisis. It could be an academic or activist endeavor, but I don’t mean it in those ways. It used to be easier to learn about Syria since it was on the front pages of newspapers. It isn’t anymore. We have an imminent election, a diminishing economy and a topless British duchess that we are much more interested in. It’s not because the American psyche is strange and broken. On the contrary, it is functioning normally. We like having relatively painless first-world problems, as opposed to political instability and civil war.
Even if everyone knew and cared about Syria, there is not really anything we could do to impact the outcome. We all wish we could save lives and end catastrophes like this but we cannot.
So what do we do? Learn.
As college students, we are not expected to change the world but to learn how to do so. Many of us will not take on roles that will influence foreign policy, but some of us will, and it only takes a few. We must analyze the interests of our home nation and determine whether or not they conflict with global interests. We must equate the value of Syrian lives with those of the citizens of our nation. That is both an intellectual and moral obligation to ourselves and to nations like Syria; intellectual because this will undoubtedly change and broaden our perspectives about the world, and moral because it could prevent the torture and massacre of the 20,000 lives — and counting — of innocent people.
We must carefully follow and discuss the current situation in Syria. It’s the least we can do.
A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday Sept. 26 print edition. Henry Hsiao is a foreign correspondent. Email him at email@example.com.
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