By Emma Plumb, VI Form, Nathan Cunningham, VI Form, and Harrison Buttrick, VI Form
Get Educated on the Syrian Conflict: Three Perspectives
from Mr. Adam Jewell: As summer has given way to fall, the brave trio of students in my Modern Middle East course has tackled issues around the rise and role of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (or al-Sham, ISIS to most), or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), or to some Daesh within and outside the Middle East. As they looked at where ISIS/ISIL/Daesh ‘came’ from and what it ‘wants,’ they began to ask why it seemed that no one really cared. Below are their perspectives as to why you should care about the rise and actions of ISIS/ISIL/Daesh.
By Emma Plumb:
While you may not, there is a reason why you should care about the Syrian conflict and ISIL. Sure, it’s happening far away. It’s not something that affects your day-to-day life. If it wasn’t for bits of news here and there then it would be easy for many of us to forget the war is even going on, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care. The conflict concerns Americans economically, as hundreds of billions of tax dollars are allocated to the military budget. It matters environmentally, as the demand for oil is a key factor to America’s continued interest in protecting interests in the Middle East. It also matters for humanitarian issues, as groups and established governments alike perform public executions and use chemical weapons on their own citizens, and millions of refugees flee the country.
The U.S. is projected to have a military budget of $601 billion dollars, more than the next seven top countries combined. 54% of the American government’s discretionary spending goes toward the military. A massive portion of American’s money, in the form of taxes, are going to fight in a war most people on the street could tell you nothing about. Why shouldn’t you care where your tax dollars go? Why wouldn’t you need to understand why the U.S. is spending so much money and sacrificing American lives overseas (the first direct military casualty in this fight came just over two weeks ago in Iraq)? People need to be educated on issues of international policy in order to elect the leaders with policies they agree with.
Before we can the importance of Middle-East foreign policy, we must first understand terminology. The acronym ISIL stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, (the region including and around Syria, including areas of Israel Jordan and Palestine) and is referred to as such because the group is attempting to set up a caliphate in that region. Though the group mostly holds land and influence in Syria and Iraq, leading to the acronym ISIS, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the term ISIL better reflects the history and eventual goals of the organization.
Right now, the U.S. is teetering on more actively entering a conflict that has the potential to turn into a third world war. While most major world powers, including members of NATO, oppose ISIL, there have been different approaches to directly or indirectly fighting the group. The U.S., Turkey and Saudi Arabia are attempting to fund and fight for independent rebel groups in the region. Russia and Iran continue their efforts to support the current Syrian government and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Russian air strikes aim at the rebel groups supported by the U.S. and its allies instead of at ISIL suggesting Russia may be attempting to eliminate these groups until only ISIL and the Syrian government are left as major powers in the area, potentially forcing NATO to side with the brutal Syrian government to eliminate ISIL.
But should America care if the Syrian government remains in control? Should we continue supporting rebel groups, considering the conflict that will likely follow the overthrow of the Syrian government? What is the U.S.’s interest in the region? Is it humanitarian, driven by need for oil, or political? How serious of a threat is ISIL to national security? Would that threat worsen if the U.S. left the Middle East? Would putting “boots on the ground” in Syria help, or further worsen the conflict? All of these questions are vital to America’s future, but could only be answered by researching and caring about the current Syrian conflict. Even though the conflict is far away geographically, the impacts are very much local, potentially immediate and very worth caring about.
By Nathan Cunningham:
When my sister accepted her first job offer and decided to become a teacher in Jordan, the current status of the Middle East, and Syria in particular, became more personal. I hadn’t previously taken much interest in the Syrian Civil War or the impact of ISIL until it directly concerned and affected my sister and my family. Knowing that my sister is in one of the most stable nations in the Middle East is a source of comfort, but I am eager to learn more about why the surrounding areas in the region are plagued by chaos. I signed up for a new elective this year called History of the Modern Middle East in an effort to gain a better understanding of current events and life in the Middle East, and what I have learned so far is astounding. In class, we have begun to comprehend just how intricate and complicated the current conflicts are in this part of the world. I am fascinated by the number of various religious, cultural, social, and militaristic views that are observed within individual countries as well as the whole region, but most of all, I am shocked by how little I have heard or seen outside of class about the current state of affairs in the Middle East.
We all should be concerned about what happens in the Middle East because of the potential impact it can have on us. Although it may seem like nothing that happens on the other side of the world matters, we are all affected by the current situation in the Middle East. Syrian refugees – real people – are fleeing their homes because of the state of conflict in their country. People are dying each day from bombings, assassinations, and failed attempts to escape. These people are desperate for the help of all countries around the world, and as members of the global community, we are responsible for aiding those in need. The first step to helping the people affected by the Syrian Civil War and ISIL is awareness. By learning about the ongoing problems in this area of the world, we can then learn of ways to offer our help and service to those who need it. Awareness of the events in the Middle East is a glaring shortcoming of our current efforts at St. Mark’s to be “global citizens”, but it can be amended. Through announcements in school meeting and class discussions, we can all become more aware of the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, and we will surely be more adept at offering solutions.
By Harrison Buttrick:
For the past two months our class, History of the Modern Middle East, has been studying the history of particular countries and understanding how they got to the positions that they are in today. I did not care so much for the history part, but the more we have talked about the Middle East in the present day the more I do. It was not until we started learning about the Fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS/ISIL) that I cared. I have interest in this topic because it is relatable and pertains to every person in the United States. However, I was surprised that, amongst St. Mark’s students and faculty, the most common response on our survey to the questions “Do you know what ISIS stands for?” or “What do you know about ISIS?” was, “it doesn’t affect me in anyway so why should I care.” Although one might not care because it does not affect him or her, the truth is that it does. It may not be apparent, but every single decision the government mad will affect one as an individual and as a whole, one way or another.
Every day we go about our normal lives. However, on the other side of the world there is a massive conflict between ISIS, other assorted terrorists groups, Russia, the United States, and many more. Every decision that the military makes, such as bombing various ISIS territories, can have some sort of impact here in the United States. The impact of bombing ISIS could be economic: those bombs and other military equipment cost millions of dollars, and are being used every single day. Therefore the government may feel like it is appropriate to increase taxes in order to pay for more military funding. If taxes are not raised and the costs do not fit under the budget, then the debt of our nation will increase, effectively bank-rolling this conflict on our children and grandchildren’s credit cards.
A more extreme example of what might happen due to the daily bombings could be we lose the fight, and ISIS comes to the U.S. going on a terror rampage because they believe in bringing forth the apocalypse to non-Sunni’s (a story aptly explained by the Atlantic in their story “What ISIS Really Wants”, March 2015). But that is the issue with people today; they can’t see what is happening on the other side of the world and how it could possibly affect them. In addition, what the populous does see is only sound bites about what the U.S. is doing wrong. I’m aware that the U.S. has its own problems, and that may be of more concern to the majority of people, but one should start looking at what is going on past the black and white screen and try to understand how this could affect us in the long run. Does the current situation in Syria have a personal effect on my day to day life, no? But that doesn’t mean I am going to ignore what is going on, and that is the issue with too many people. So let’s care for once, understand what is going on beyond our own lives, and maybe once we have done that we can find a solution to not just the problems in the Middle East, but perhaps everywhere.
Emma Plumb is a VI Former from Sag Harbor New York; Nathan Cunningham is a VI Former from Bow, New Hampshire; Harrison Buttrick (not pictured) is a VI Former from Riverside, Connecticut.