Thousands of babies and children have lost their lives, and for what? Perhaps the free leaders of the world fear meddling with the governments that are providing material support to the Syrian regime. Or, perhaps, the fear relates to the infiltration of radical Islamists, attempting to fill a vacuum while also preying upon the traumatized Syrian children. The consequences of further avoiding the Syrian crisis are dire.
Syrian youths face repeated exposure to trauma, ongoing threats to their lives, and minimal access to food, water, and shelter. All of this has been combined with the shock of sudden displacement. Families flee to escape the violence which has included the targeting of babies, children, pregnant women, hospital patients, and the elderly. Syrian youths, if they have not been physically injured themselves, have often witnessed family members being killed by missiles, grenades, and machine guns. They escape with remaining family members, or run away as orphans, leaving behind their personal possessions. They navigate desperately through dangerous, war-torn areas, in the hopes of safely reaching refugee camps. The camps, with limited resources, are inhabited by thousands of other displaced families and orphans living in tents surrounded by barbed wire. All hopes and dreams for the future are placed on hold. Survival becomes the only mission.
When the Syrian conflict ends, what will become of the Syrian youths? Many will become refugees forced to start new lives, while carrying with them the emotional and physical scars of the past; their identities left behind, moving forward as a blank slate. After the United States suffers from a terrorist attack, feelings of shock and sadness typically ensue, followed by anger and an eagerness to identify and ensure the people responsible are held accountable. This is a natural mechanism for coping with trauma. It should come as no surprise, then, that many of the Syrian youths will likely identify with these feelings, rendering them more vulnerable to jihadists who are eager to recruit traumatized youths motivated to avenge the loss of their family members and destruction of their homeland.
Syrian youths who become radicalized may or may not maintain a grudge against the governments of Iran and Russia for their material support of the Syrian regime; regardless, once radicalized, their focus will be on infidels, placing the United States at risk.
There is a moral obligation to do whatever is necessary to save the children of Syria. It is also important to establish an emotional connection rooted in awareness that the United States supports their quest for freedom, and that we are an ally. Defending the lives of the innocent will also serve as one essential layer of protection from the influence of a harmful ideology that can lead to additional suffering in the lives of the traumatized youths, and to the lives of others. Just like my friends’ beautiful children, the children of Syria deserve to live in peace, something our country is premised on.
Behinfar is a clinical psychologist and human rights advocate.