The Resurgence of Chemical Weapons in Syria

The civil unrest in Syria has been going on since 2011, when peaceful protestors were inspired by the Arab Spring. They rose up and stood up against their authoritarian government. The President, Bashar al-Assad fought back violently. Civilians brought in arms to defend themselves, and the military joined forces with Assad, creating a civil war.

Five major countries, including Saudi Arabia, United States, Russia, Turkey, and Iran have all joined this war for their different agendas. In addition, there are about four overlapping conflicts within Syria that the major countries side with: President Assad, the Kurds, ISIS, and the rebels. Some argue that this has become a full-blown proxy war.

With all the complicated ties and overlapping groups, many atrocities have been committed. President Assad specifically has committed the bulk of these because his government is so weak. Both Assad and his government were part of the minority group in Syria when they first went into power, thus he tries to regain control and suppress the majority through violent measures. One of the most deadly is the use of chemical weapons.

So what are chemical weapons? According to the Organization For the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, “A toxic chemical contained in a delivery system, such as a bomb or shell…applied to any toxic chemical or its precursor that can cause death, injury, temporary incapacitation or sensory irritation through its chemical action. Munitions or other delivery devices designed to deliver chemical weapons, whether filled or unfilled, are also considered weapons themselves.” Basically, any chemical that is contained and designed to cause any infliction of harm or death is a chemical weapons. Typically, they are categorized as four different agents: choking, blister, blood, or nerve agents. The choking agents include chlorine and phosgene, and this causes individuals to choke and stop breathing. Blister agents cause life-threatening skin burns/blisters and include mustard and lewisite. Blood agents includes hydrogen cyanide, which is absorbed into the blood and causes death. Nerve agents, which shut down nerves that connect messages to organs, contain sarin, soman, VX.

Clearly, chemical weapons are a dangerous and atrocious way to fight a war. The Chemical Weapons Convention, which was enforced in 1997, prohibits:

  • Developing, producing, acquiring, stockpiling, or retaining chemical weapons.
  • The direct or indirect transfer of chemical weapons.
  • Chemical weapons use or military preparation for use.
  • Assisting, encouraging, or inducing other states to engage in CWC-prohibited activity.
  • The use of riot control agents “as a method of warfare.”

About 192 countries have signed this treaty, including Syria. Once Syria signed it in 2013, after the must discussed destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons aided by the UN Security Council Resolution, they agreed to abide by these policies. By October 31st, 2013, The OPCW confirmed that Syria destroyed, or rendered inoperable, all of its declared facilities for mixing and producing chemical weapons. But actions speak louder than words.

In September 2014, Syria was back again using chemical weapons. This time, using chlorine gas, which apparently was never included on the list submitted to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapon. Chlorine has a list of commercial uses. By March 6th, 2015, chlorine was added to the list of prohibited chemical weapons.

Since then, Syria continues to use chemical weapons in it’s warfare. Many nations have called upon the United Nations to act and investigate, but nothing has worked. There have been several solutions and resolution plans that have been proposed, but countries like Russia have continued to veto them.

Currently, news has surfaced that North Korea, who has not had an involvement with Syria, has been supplying chemical weapons supplies to Syria. Some of these supplies include acid-resistant tiles, valves, and thermometers.

Action must be taken to prevent the use of chemical weapons in Syria’s warfare. We must punish those who supply Syria, find a resolution in the U.N. and protect the lives of innocent civilians who are stuck in Syria before it’s too late.

 

-Kristin Taylor

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Big or Small: it matters.

Sometimes, we live in a society where we think we can’t help someone if it doesn’t solve all of their problems.

We might see someone asking for money on the street and we’ll say “I only have 2 dollars, you can’t do anything with that.

We think that if it doesn’t solve your biggest problems, it won’t solve your smallest problems. That it’s no point and it won’t matter. We as a society, focus on the bigger picture instead of the smaller picture and the smaller impacts it might make.

We forget that the little things matter. The little things, like holding a door, picking up trash, giving someone a dollar all matter. These little things are what help build and get to the bigger things. They create the system to start making the change. 

Think about it, if we pick up one piece of trash every day, that’s one less piece of trash that will be there tomorrow.

We think because it’s only one piece of trash, out of one million pieces of trash, that it’s worthless and won’t help. But it actually helps long term to get to this bigger polluted free environment.

Two weeks ago, we read an article called “Small Acts of Kindness” and last week, our professor surprised us with a challenge that we couldn’t imagine. 

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We were given one hundred dollars and were told to go spend it on something, someone, or a place who needed it.

Like most individuals, we all had a collective dilemma. We all wanted the same outcome which was to make someone happy by giving back but we didn’t know how to achieve that. We had so many ideas and just didn’t know where to start.

We finally agreed on giving back to one agency with the purpose that anything helps. 

We decided to buy new supplies and things the agency needed and we also helped pay forward five students tuition for the week.

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At first, we felt like that wasn’t enough. We wanted more toys and another way to help students pay for their tuition but we finally realized: it is enough.

We beat ourselves up and believed that if we didn’t fix or solve something then it’s not good enough.

But it is good enough. Anything big or small helps and if you keep helping in ways like volunteering and spreading the word, like being advocates for this agency, long-term it is enough.

We can’t always fix or solve everything but we can help even with the smallest acts of kindness.

No matter how big or small, it all matters.

-A.M.

Rebuilding Hope

Introspection of our own country and others’ is imperative. It takes constant critique and intentional activism to prevent the stripping of human dignity. Ben Voth addresses discursive complexity in his article, Argumentation and the International Problem of Genocide, noting the benefits it has for society. Discursive complexity represents a moral point of view that values critical thinking. By looking at situations from multiple perspectives, violence can be eliminated. After learning more about the war in Syria, I feel like the issue was blown up into something bigger than it initially was. Miscommunication and differing ulterior motives of countries involved are two major reasons for it getting out of hand.

How much longer will this go on? How many more lives will be lost? If we were to turn back history, is there anything we could have done better to end this sooner? How can we support those still in Syria and refugees who have fled? I am tired of politics getting in the way when there are lives on the line. I’ve realized that after researching more about the Syrian crisis, I am left with more questions now than I had coming in, which is super frustrating. However, I think that questioning the situation creates a space for critical thinking and reflection to enter.

I think that one of the only ways to combat this situation is to find hope, stay rooted in hope, and to bring hope to others. The song “Family X” by John Lucas speaks to this, revealing how we can hold on to true hope in these dark situations. We are called to be bearers of light in the darkest of places. By no means are we supposed to just enter in and force our ways upon people, but I think we have an opportunity to serve our neighbors, supporting them through listening and growing awareness. Loving our neighbors, whether they are near or far, takes effort and intentionality.

Link to the song Family X: https://open.spotify.com/embed/track/1Z2KBx0outvNSo9KQwabQ0

Syria

 

-Megan Essex

Where Do We Start?

Nowadays, it seems like the world is falling apart. Conflict here, conflict there, something bad is happening somewhere right now as I am typing this. There is a lot of negativity now, and the media sheds a light on most of it. This can be considered good or bad, depending on your views of the media. Even though, it seems like we are living in a bad time, coincidentally, this is the safest time for anybody to live in. Death rates have decreased, and life expectancy have increased. During the Civil War, World War I and II, millions of lives were taken away. But thanks to modern medicine, international organizations, and better sanitation and health care, people in the United States are living longer than their ancestors. We can’t be the person that invented modern medicine, or started international organizations or improved health and sanitation (maybe you can, who knows?), but that does not mean you cannot make a difference in the world.

 

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In a world of negativity, conflict and different views and perspectives, where do we start? Or where should we start? The answer is simple, start small. Be present and start with where you are now. If you cannot even help yourself or the people around you, it is very unlikely that you are going to help anyone else. First, write a letter of appreciation to someone, anyone, it can be your neighbor, your best friend or a stranger. It is the little things.

The other day our professor sent our class on a “mission”. We did not attend class that day, but rather we all met outside of class with an envelope that had instructions for our so called “mission”. Inside the envelope it read this:

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We were in absolute shock when we pulled out the instructions and $100! We called Second Home, a childcare center for low-income families, and we asked them what supplies they needed there and if we could pay for services for some of the kids there. The person on the phone said that the kids needed books, supplies and toys and that we were able to pay for services as well. After we heard the news, we decided to head to the store to get the supplies. It was a great feeling to shop for someone other than yourself. We picked out books left and right, and all of us were very excited. We arrived at Second Home, dropped off the items and gave them the rest of they money and we were well on our way.

All of us felt great, but I knew all of us were thinking, what do we do now? Well… we headed home and the rest was history. This experience will stick with me for a lifetime, thank you Aaron for providing this wonderful opportunity to make an impact on the community. Within that time span, we were present. And it was the little things.

 

— P.S.

Fierce Momentum

When I was little I REFUSED to take naps (hah how crazy was I). I wanted to be in on the fun and apart of whatever was happening. So my mom adopted a little trick on vacations to help with my stubborn attitude. When we were at the beach, I would always ask my mom what the airplanes that flew over the water said. She quickly convinced me that the sign behind the plane read “Megan it’s time to take your nap.” Of course I was naïve and believed that I was special enough to have an entire sign dedicated just to myself. My sheer acceptance of authority trumped all else. I didn’t have a doubt in my head that this may not be true and accepted it just because my mom told me so. While I have matured a little and realized my ignorance in this situation, I still find myself accepting different standards and rules just because someone with authority tells me to. No questions asked. No doubt about their intentions.

Our need to feel a sense of belonging often leads to an acceptance of authority. This acceptance provides those with authority even more power to accomplish their goal. Once they gain support by in group members, the speed of momentum builds and is hard to stop. People often join the momentum mindlessly because they want to be in the in group, once again reflecting our need to feel accepted and valued.

In reading about Rohingya genocide, I have come to realize this same acceptance of authority has provided the government with the power to initiate a mass extermination. Genocide often happens because no one challenges authority. If you challenge authority, you risk being thrown out of the in crowd, and may be subject to the same maltreatment.

In the article, There’s Only One Conclusion, the Buddhist monks claimed the Rohingya were reincarnated insects, justifying their extermination by calling it “pest control.” This was both shocking and disturbing. The article continued to shine light on the quick pace of their extermination. While genocide is planned and methodical, once momentum is gained the actual killing of the population can be rapid. Half of an entire population was wiped out in about eight weeks. This case with the Rohingya showed me power of fierce momentum.

Genocide occurs due to acceptance of authority, lack of critical thinking, and the inability to halt momentum. I think that we can help to stop the momentum of genocide by realizing our true value that we bring to the table and thinking for ourselves first. By valuing others needs before our own, there would more of a response of action to genocide because it would not matter if we were thrown into the outcast group. In order to stop the perpetual nature of genocides, we need to step out of the bystander role and into one of critical thinking and action based response, even if that means opposing authority.

-Megan Essex

Ignorance is Bliss

“Abdul was seven years old when he began to understand that the government wanted to exterminate him.”

I am coming to the embarrassing conclusion that I am oblivious of this world that I claim to be a citizen of. This week’s readings were about the Rohingya, a group who is often described as the “world’s most persecuted minority.” They are an ethnic group, majority of whom are Muslim, who have lived in majority Buddhist Myanmar for centuries. I am embarrassed to say that today was the first time I have ever heard of them or their stories. In November of 2016, the UN accused the government of carrying out an “ethnic cleansing” of the Rohingya, or in other words, claimed a genocide was taking place right under our noses and we are doing nothing about it. In fact, one scholarly estimate stated that between 1956 and 2016, 43 genocides have taken place, causing the deaths of approximately 50 million people; however, only three of these genocides have been prosecuted. Once again, I am embarrassed to admit that before this class, I could probably only name those three as well. “Those three,” referring to the mass killings in Rwanda, Serbia, and Cambodia.

This made me start to wonder why that is. Why are millions of innocent people being murdered each year and here we are, sitting in what feels like a world away, completely blind to it? Why is this not something that is built into our academic curriculum? Why are teachers nailing the fact that a mitochondrion is the powerhouse of the cell into our heads, but neglecting to teach us about the millions of lost lives we are oblivious to? Why did it take until I was 20 years old for me to hear that nearly 40 genocides have gone unnoticed and not prosecuted? Granted, I am responsible for myself and my actions and I have had every right and possibility to make this known to myself, but I did not. Which begs the question what else am I ignorant of? What other injustices am I completely oblivious to?

In one first assigned reading, the author stated that government sources from the US and Europe that he spoke to referred to genocide as the “G word,” unwilling to speak of it, even in an informal conversation. I physically felt my stomach churn after reading this seemingly tiny statement, because I came to the realization that if we aren’t talking about it, nobody is. If we aren’t telling these people’s stories and educating ourselves, nobody will. There are genocides taking place right now all over the world and our government’s response is to bury their heads in the sand while simultaneously throwing it into their people’s eyes; hoping to disorient their vision long enough to form a tweet to distract them from the truth.

You see, if we aren’t doing anything, nobody is. I can’t speak for the rest of you, but I can promise that I will no longer allow myself to be the ignorant bystander who lives comfortably in my own privilege. I cannot be that person anymore.

Our society tends to live by this statement of “ignorance is bliss.” Bullshit. Ignorance is ignorance. Ignorance is a lazy, unacceptable disease. But it is curable. Let’s do something about it.

 

-KM

Little Acts, Big Impacts

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” -Dalai Lama

 

When you hear stories in the news of all the tragedy, misconduct, and disruption, how do you react? Do you believe this world is falling apart and succumb the evil around you? Or do you try to go out there and make a difference? If you want to make a difference, I applaud you. That’s the first step. And it’s a lot easier than you think.

A small act of kindness…what is it? It’s an act of compassion; a selfless act. It’s putting someone before yourself. It’s going out of your way to help someone, to be there for someone, to cheer someone up.

Quite often it’s those who have nothing and have nobody that need these the most. Immigrants. Homeless. Refugees. They need someone to believe in them when the world refuses to.

It’s the small acts of kindness that led to brave individuals hiding Jews in their home while Nazi’s raided. It’s creating shelters for refugees escaping genocide in Myanmar. It’s doing the right thing because you want to help, give kindness, being brave, and sticking up for the oppressed. It’s these acts that change the world.

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I encourage you to do something truly kind for someone else. Pay for someone’s drink behind you at Starbucks, volunteer for a cause you feel passionate about, write a thank-you card, actually stop and talk to that stranger you sit next to on the bus.

You truly never know what someone has been though, is going through, nor where their life will go. If you can give your kindness to someone else for just a small second, it can change their day, their week, their year. If you practice one simple small act of kindness every day, you are not only making someone feel valued and loved, but also open up your eyes to the truly positive people, things, and experiences in this world.

-Kristin Taylor