The Syrian Morality Test

Published in the Huffington Post on Aug. 16, 2012.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which comprises 57 nations and represents Muslims worldwide, has agreed to suspend Syria’s membership for the extreme brutality of Bashar Assad’s regime. Iran, Syria’s sole Middle Eastern ally, rejects the decision.

This largely symbolic action comes after 17 months of Assad’s crackdown against the Syrian opposition which has created a humanitarian crisis of more than 17,000 deaths, nearly 130,000 refugees and 1 million internally displaced persons.

Although Syria was expelled from the 22 member Arab League in November 2011, like the OIC’s ruling, it is simply too little too late and lacks the capacity to effectively prevent further bloodshed. Assad’s regime will continue defying international opinion and atrocities and human rights abuses will continue.

The Syrian opposition has urged the Arab and Muslim world to intervene and provide humanitarian assistance, and some countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have acknowledged the catastrophe on a number of occasions, but refuse to act in an open and direct way.

Why, it must finally be asked publicly and adamantly, do Muslim countries refuse to institute their own no-fly zone over Syria? In a global ranking of military defense expenditures, Egypt and Saudi Arabia rank 16 and 26, respectively. In 2011, Egypt’s defense budget was $7 billion, and had more than 4,200 tanks and helicopters. Saudi Arabia’s defense budget was $39 billion, and had more than 9,700 land and air weapons. Other Muslim countries also spend billions on defense.

This is not necessarily an appeal for Arab troops to put their boots on the ground, but it is a reminder that Arabs and Muslims are perfectly capable of intervening. That is, if they wanted to do so. However, calls continually go out to the West to provide military assistance. Why must they wait for the West to act?

As Ramadan comes to an end this weekend and Muslims reflect and rejoice, one question should be asked: Why did we refuse to act?

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