Why there is no moral reason for the US to attack Syria

Published: September 4, 2013

Demonstrators march in protest during a rally against a possible US-led attack on Syria in Lafayette Park in front of the White House. PHOTO: AFP

American inconsistency on the use of chemical weapons makes it difficult to convince a bunch of teenagers — much less the US Congress

Mr Obama, you and I having a similar challenge: selling a military strike against Syria as a “moral imperative.”

But we have different audiences. Your constituents come from all parts of the country; mine from different parts of the world. Yours are driven by myriad interests; mine are simply seeking justice. Yours are young and old; mine are mostly teenagers. You call yours, “the US Congress.” I call mine “the Younus family.”

Mr Obama, my nephews and nieces, who live in Pakistan, Canada and elsewhere, buy the fact that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should be ousted and held responsible for his reprehensible actions against his own people. But they are refusing to buy the moral argument for the United States to launch a military strike against Syria.

A bit of background: I have been the mouthpiece of American values to my family since I first heard the words, “with liberty and justice for all” at my children’s school, long before I became a US citizen. Hence, each time America bombed another Muslim country, I had to stand in for the whole nation, answering a barrage of questions from my teen-aged nephews and nieces via phone and Skype, questions which typically started with, “But how come you…”

I won some; I lost many.

The most recent question: “But how come you saw no moral obligation to intervene for two years while 100,000 Syrians were slaughtered, Chachoo (paternal uncle) ?”

“It’s different, baita (son)” I pushed back. “Assad crossed a clearly demarcated ‘red line.’ Chemical weapons are different. Just like a single plane crash is more horrific than a hundred car crashes.”

“OK, Chachoo. We buy that,” one of them interjected from the corner of the Skype screen. “But how come you didn’t punish — but helped — Saddam Hussein when he used chemical weapons against Iranians in the 1980s?” (During 1983-88, Iraq used over 100,000 chemical munitions against Iran and its own Kurdish population, killing nearly 25,000 people.)

“How come you bombed Iraqis with depleted uranium in 2004 and received no punishment?” (Iraqis noted a 38-fold increase in Leukemia between 2005-9 as compared to 17-fold increase among the survivors of Hiroshima. Some researchers assert that children born to male veterans of the Gulf War were twice as likely to have a birth defect as compared to non-deployed veterans.)

Notice how I am held responsible for something folks like you decide, Mr Obama?

I was embarrassed, hoping for my Skype connection to crash. It didn’t (and neither did the intellectual assault).

“How come you sprayed nearly 20 million gallons of Agent Orange as a part of chemical warfare over Vietnam from 1961-72?” (Three million Vietnamese are still suffering from the resulting cancers and birth defects.)

“And how come you used white phosphorous in Afghanistan as recently as 2009, Chachoo?” And what about Napalm … and Hiroshima … and …

Help me Mr Obama. I am losing a moral argument to a bunch of teenagers.

Perhaps you wonder where they’re getting all of this, Mr Obama. The answer lies in your 2011 address to the US State department. You said: “Satellite television and the Internet provide a window into the wider world — a world of astonishing progress in places like India and Indonesia and Brazil. Cell phones and social networks allow young people to connect and organize like never before. And so a new generation has emerged. And their voices tell us that change cannot be denied.”

Baita, we are not perfect.” I negotiate. “Come to the US and witness the degree of justice we enjoy. Despite being a Muslim and an immigrant, I get the exact same constitutional rights as any other American. I have more liberty and justice in America than many Muslims in their own countries.”

“That’s cool, Chachoo. But we thought you said America believed in ‘liberty and justice for all.’ Where is the justice for the millions of people who are at the receiving end of your selective wars?”

Bashar al-Assad committed a moral obscenity; no doubt about that. We should not do nothing; no doubt about that either. But the argument on moral grounds for bombing — and potentially worsening the lives of millions of innocent Syrians — is one I was unable to sell, even to a bunch of informed teenagers.

So what will that say about the US Congress if it buys the Syrian War resolution?

Faheem Younus

Faheem Younus

The writer is clinical associate professor at University of Maryland School of Medicine, USA. The author can be followed @Faheem twitter.com/#!/FaheemYounus

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • sh(india)

    I hope all muslims leave usa in protest against obama. That is the best thing to do peacefully.Recommend

  • Umm What?

    Funny how this morality only applies to US and not Iran Hezbollah and Russia, who have sent in fighters and planeloads of weapongs to prop up the regime.Even more funny this morality doesnt apply to Bashar Al Assad who has slaughtered 100,000 civillians and displaced more than 8 million people all so that he and his family remained entrenched in power?
    Please tell me what your ‘moral’ solution to crisis is? By your logic international community getting involved in Kosovo and Bosnia to stop the genocide was the most immoral thing to do.Recommend

  • Common Sense

    I dont get what your article is tryign to say. You accept that Assad has commited unspeakable atrocities but say things will worsen once US starts bombing there? How? They are already being bombed by Assads forces. To an average Syrian it makes no difference whether he and his family is slaughtered by the Army, bombed by Syrian Air Force jets or gassed to death. There is no moral solution. There is no good solution either. There is only the lesser of the evils option which is an international intervention.
    Please also check this link to get a better perspective on just how desperate the situation in Syria is: http://racanarchy.com/2013/05/15/10-things-worse-than-eating-a-dead-mans-heart/Recommend

  • Anon

    You have changed tactics in your article writing.I remember your white house menu-drone strike stew etc-making fun of Obama;now you pose like you’re defending him before your extended family.Recommend

  • Sane

    A drunk wild bull is at loose. This bull shall hit everything which with his blind eyes see as ‘Hurdle’.Recommend

  • Ahmed

    They won’t do that @sh(india): Recommend

  • Parvez

    You did an excellent job of constructing and presenting your argument.
    It was the basis of your defence that was wrong. You should have said ‘……… in the real world and also in America, morals do not matter as far as war is concerned. Wars are mostly about economic’s, politics, global hegemony, blah, blah………..that would have been harder to debunk. But then you are a good man and you have a conscience.
    On the question of America being a great country for Americans ……you’re on solid ground.Recommend

  • http://think-islam.blogspot.com PostMan

    @sh(india): ‘I hope all muslims leave usa in protest against obama.’
    Alongside other US citizens who are non-muslims and are against an attack on Syria? Or this just applies to muslims in US?Recommend

  • SJo

    This article is about hypocracy in american foreign policy and american heavy handedness in general, and there is nothing wrong in highlighting that. Infact as a citizen/resident of american you ought to be doing it with fervor.

    But can a Muslim author for once write about the hypocarcy in Muslim states and mindset.

    1) You want to follow your customs in the west like wear hijab, but can a non muslim wear whatever she wants in Saudi?

    2) You want to be able to fast in other countries, but is a non muslim allowed to eat openely in Muslim countries during Ramadaan.

    3) You want to build a mosque in Rome/Kashi, but can there be a temple/Church in Mecca?

    4) You want everyone to respect your sentiments otherwise you’ll go on rampage, but you continue to teach trash in your textbooks about how hindus are all evil.

    5) You want american aid without question, but America cannot protect its interests!

    6) Its ok if you slaughter muslims in your own country, but if muslims are touched in a non muslim country you will make a hue and cry about it.

    7) You will treat minorities with disdain with laws related to blasphemy but talk about 11 year old riots when it comes to other countries.Recommend

  • Ilyad

    Dr. Sahib there is a difference, yes that slogan of liberty and justice for all is true but only within USA. Americans use the term ‘aliens’ for all foreigners, hence in their definition USA is the their universe and everything outside is alien to them. So these rules for ‘all’ apply only to their world.Recommend

  • AnisAqeel

    No doubt it’s a dirty job but somebody has to do it. This Syrian dictator loves to keep himself in power no matter what, even at the cost of a couple of hundred thousand innocent citizens won’t effect him. Recommend

  • http://www.Muslimerican.com Faheem Younus

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments. While I may not be able to engage in a back and forth, here are some quick responses to the questions raised:

    @Sh(india) – Disagreed. Dissent – according to Jefferson – is the highest form of patriotism. Despite certain unjust foreign policies, I am a proud American. And despite the horrendous persecution that my Ahmadi sect faces at the hands of some (uneducated) Muslims, I am a proud Muslim.

    @Umm What – I agree with you. Morality should not be applied selectively. I have extensively written bout the double standards of Muslims. You will have to go through the “Op-Eds” tab on my site – Muslimerican.com. Kosovo/Bosnia did not involve chemical weapons. So not a fair comparison.

    @Common sense – I interviewed many Syrians before writing this piece. Trust me, they don’t want to be bombed from both sides.

    @Anon – not sure which articles you are referring to. I have written quite a few pieces supporting Obama where I believed he was right. Check out this example: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/guest-voices/post/five-reasons-to-stop-questioning-the-presidents-faith/2012/03/18/gIQABeHeLS_blog.html

    @Pervez – I agree, and have said that in other pieces. I did not want to include too many ideas in one piece.

    @SJo – I agree with most of your comments. Once again, you will have to go through the Op-Ed archives on Muslimerican.com to see my position on those issues. You don’t have to convince an Ahmadi M_ _ _ _ _ about the human rights atrocities committed by Muslims.

    Alright folks, time to go back, see some patients, and save some more lives.

    Be well,


  • http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/author/1243/jamaluddin/ Jamaluddin


    Hi Anon, I believe I wrote that blog on the White Memo and the drone strikes not Faheem Younus. That’s why you thought that his article writing tactics have changed. Well done, your suspicion was well founded.



  • bangash

    US should ignore Pakistanis and Muslims of this world who are only good for commentary and attack the savage regime of Bashar al-Assad.Recommend

  • Ch. Allah Daad

    USA did not intervene for two years and let the 1,00,000 die is also its fault.
    People who are not asked about dinner menu want USA to get their permission.Recommend

  • Insaan

    The most recent question: “But how come you saw no moral obligation to intervene for two years while 100,000 Syrians were slaughtered, Chachoo (paternal uncle) ?”

    What did Muslim Ummah do to resolve this problem? If US or UK or Europe had intervened all Muslims including you would have cried US is killing Muslims.

    Have you ever written about slaughter of East Pakistanis by Paki army or destruction of Afghanistan by Pakistan that considers Afghanistan its own backyard? Recommend

  • Insaan

    Why Iran and Iraq fought a war for 10 years? What role Muslim Ummah play to stop the war? Did any Muslim country try to stop the war?Recommend

  • Insaan

    In a daring raid, Saudi Special Forces arrested Abu Jarara Al-Yemeni, a wanted terrorist from a hotel in Murree…..The news spread like wildfire and people were seen cursing the Pakistani government for allowing the Americans to undermine Pakistan’s sovereignty, again…..When it became clear that the raid was not conducted by the Americans but by the Saudis, the frowns turned into smiles and many were heard saying, ‘Jazzakallah!’

    Story appeared in Dawn.Recommend

  • Concerned Citizen

    I’m against foreign military intervention in Syria, but let’s be honest on a few, uncontroversial, facts: Bashar al-Assad is a dictator, he was not democratically elected, his government has killed thousands of civilians during the course of this conflict, and the Syrian army HAS used chemical weapons (which is in direct violation of international law). It is also universally accepted that the extremist religious forces within the opposition are only a small (if vocal) minority within the movement; most of the rebels are still largely secular in ideology and are fighting for some of the most basic political and social rights. In light of these very easily verifiable facts, the most sensible thing for the world to do would be to arm the inclusive, democratic forces who form the majority of the Syrian rebels. Those are the guys who have a chance for transforming Syria into a viable and pluralistic democracy, and they should be supported by the international community no matter what.Recommend

  • just curious

    “Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should be ousted and held responsible for his reprehensible actions against his own people”. But where’s the evidence that it was Assad’s regime that gassed the people? Where’s the evidence?Recommend

  • just curious

    By the way,the 100,000 figure refers to all those killed in the conflict by all sides, not just the ones killed by Assad.Recommend

  • http://think-islam.blogspot.com PostMan

    Dear SJo. Unfortunately, the points 1-7 you mentioned have got nothing to do with the article. Strawman perhaps. Even considering your points – you start off mentioning a muslim but then write all the stuff about Pakistan. Perhaps you wanted to write ‘Pakistani Muslim’? If it relates to a Pakistani Muslim, then the author resides in USA so again this does not apply to him. To answer to your question – Yes muslims do write injustices and irrational acts even done by muslims themselves. Thanks for generalizing.Recommend

  • Anon

    @ Jamaluddin

    You’re wrong.You will find the menu I’m refering to,on Dr.Faheem Younus’ article,published on July 27,2013.
    Foot in mouth,much ?
    Best regards.Recommend

  • Milind

    @Author – “And despite the horrendous persecution that my Ahmadi sect faces at the hands of some (uneducated) Muslims, I am a proud Muslim.”

    That’s the problem… Being proud of something, results in exclusivity, wherein you restrict your pride from including the ‘others’ or ‘non-Muslims’.
    This pride is at the root of the downfall of the Muslim World (Read ‘Proudly Beghairat’ by Pervez Hoodboy on this same newspaper).
    Why not be inclusive and be proud to be a human or a living being?Recommend

  • Ganesh

    I wonder what right muslims have to talk about secularism,equality,justice..etc when they give none of t in their own countries…hahahahah!!I am not even talking about Pakistan …..hahahahaha!!!To talk about anything also,first look at yourself…!!Just because US propagates equality,justice and secularism does it give right to complain when you dont even treat non muslims equally..!!Recommend

  • SJo

    Agree that my comments may be tangential to the article, but Faheem’s articles all talk about injustices against Muslims (those on ET at least) making it a partisan affair.

    I felt it was necessary to ask him to check with his neese and nephew what they thought about these points since they seemes to people of upright character.

    Also, the part about me refering to pakistani muslims, that doesnt seem to be the case.
    Points 2 & 3 are not about Pakistan now are they?

    Whether to generlize/treat as special would always depend on personal experiences and perceptions created by society at large.

    So tell me, why do so many people around the world share my perception, are we all wrong (could be, probability cannot be ruled out) or is there definitely some fire from where the smoke emanates?Recommend

  • http://think-islam.blogspot.com PostMan

    @SJo: I have already replied to your main assertion that muslims do talk about the injustices when they are committed against non-muslims. You can gauge this from Express Tribune website as well… issues about blasphemy, minority persecution to child marriages are discussed and talked about. ‘Muslims’ write about it and ‘muslims’ discuss about it. Yes, there are issues which need serious behavioral evaluation on part of muslims and some serious structural issues which muslims need to confront. No denying that. There are various reasons why people think the same about muslims – which you inquire. Foremost, is 9/11. A direct assault on muslim’s identity as to who am I and what my beliefs hold for me. Secondly, majority of the muslim ruled countries were occupied by colonial powers. They got independence last century. Mostly were rule by dictators… their effect is recently fading. Illiteracy and pverty are rampant – ad to it the salafist factor which radicalizes people.
    Today’s muslim society is compared with a society that has evolved and flourished for 200-300 years. So comparative results would always be skewed. Trouble is, a muslim soceity is supposed to boostrap itself quickly to the norms of contemporary world – low education and poverty are hindering this.
    Hoping for the best. Regards.Recommend

  • Indi

    @ SJo

    Good to read both your opinions.Recommend

  • sh(india)

    question: What is the punishment for protest against kings in gulf countries?
    ans: death.

    May be u should immigrate to gulf and talk about democracy once.Recommend

  • Gap from Dubai

    Almost every Pakistani i have met do not want to work or live in Saudi Arabia.Recommend

  • Parvez

    @Insaan: That was satire by the incomparable NFP……….the picture of Abu Jarrar was of Bud Spencer of TV -Trinity fame…..and the camel with Arab head gear and shades…….hilarious.
    If not for NFP the DAWN site would be limping badly if not dead.Recommend

  • http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/author/1243/jamaluddin/ Jamaluddin


    The article in question was about the white house iftar dinner NOT the white memo …I believe it should be easy to differentiate between a iftar dinner and a MEMO about drone strikes.

    I dont blame you. Mistakes happen.

    have a chill pill ;)Recommend

  • Indian

    @ Parvez

    I’ve never heard of anyone refer to Bud Spencer/Trinity…In the late ’80s,I used to watch Terrence Hill and Bud Spencer films with my late mother,as a little girl.You’re the first…your remark,brought back memories.Recommend

  • gujranwala789

    There is only one solution left to solve syrian crisis and that is US led international intervention to remove the alawite dictator bashar alasad from the power.Recommend

  • Amna

    @Umm What?:
    Yea, well the only problem with your reasoning is that Hezbollah and Russia are not being hypocritical. If they do not want peace or want to do justice….that is exactly what they support and do. The US policies are clearly hypocritical with regard to this message of ‘freedom’ and ‘peace’ that we are throwing around.Recommend

  • Insaan

    @Gap from Dubai: “Almost every Pakistani i have met do not want to work or live in Saudi Arabia”.

    I don’t know if any Pakistani wants to work or live in Saudi Arabia, but they sure would love to DIE there in Mecca.Recommend

  • moz

    Where is the evidence that United States used chemical weapons in all the countries u mentioned??Recommend

  • Anon

    @ Jamaluddin

    My comments clearly mention a MENU,not a MEMO.
    Wrong on both counts.
    Both feet in mouth,today..
    Get well soon.Recommend

  • Anam Shabbir

    U.S.A is acting like a Backstabber and ready to destroy PEACE one more time! I don’t know why U.S.A loves to calim itself a Peacemaker (JOKE) because in reality thier policies for muslim nations only express hatred and a truculent attitude like the way they attacked on Iraq and afghanistan and Now ready to target on Syria is totally inferiorism.Recommend

  • Muhammad A Chaudhry

    Anybody who can make me wise on where the chemical weapons being used were manufactured and who sold it to the Syrian regime in the first place.Recommend

  • http://tribune.com p r sharma

    @gujranwala789: – you want ( your wish) to see the Alawaite dictator Assad removed from power by international community. Is it because he is a dictator or because hes is Alwaite? .The moment the word Alawaite is added to a dictator the reason is deducible..Recommend

  • Parvez

    @Indian: Thank you………that was a comment worth receiving.

  • Dante

    The liberty and justice is only for Americans. It does not exist for non-Americans.

    ….Says the Chachoo

    Well even the American government (NSA) isn’t sparing its own citizens these days.Recommend

  • Proud Patriot

    @ Author