As President Barack Obama prepared to address the nation on Tuesday evening to articulate a plan for intervention in Syria, NBC rushed to assure its viewers that the Ryan Seacrest-hosted game show, The Million Second Quiz, would not be interrupted. As detailed by the network, the president would speak for only 15 minutes, thus viewers could watch their televisions with full confidence that the entirety of the hyped-up program would be fully protected. While there was suspense as to whether NBC would follow through on its promise of an unbroken telecast, the presidential coverage stayed within the agreed upon time slot, viewers were able to watch their regularly scheduled program, and all was well in the world.
In the meantime, all is not well in the world.
If there is such a thing as hell on earth, one could find it within the borders of Syria, as each day seems to be worse than the one that came before it. The state of affairs under President Bashar al-Assad continues to decline, and the loss of human life is beyond staggering. Since its recent civil war began, Syria has become dramatically fragmented and its national identity has all but disappeared. As a result, it would seem that citizens either align with the government or with the resistance, the Alawites, the Sunnis, or the Shiites, Aleppo residents or Damascus dwellers. Through it all, according to the United Nations, more than 100,000 people have died. Due in part to the reluctance of foreign nations to fully respond, it remains likely that death tolls – especially among women and children – will continue to rise for the foreseeable future.
While some in the U.S. are passionately committed to making peace in Syria, far too many are neutral in the face of injustice by way of disinterest and distraction. We often choose private entertainment over public engagement. In what can be described as a heartbreaking state of affairs, instead of contributing to the international peace process on behalf of the most poor and vulnerable members of our global society, we seem to be overly intoxicated with distraction, diversion, and delusion. Rather than loving our neighbors as we wish to be loved ourselves, we make countless excuses not to care, and the result is an increased loss of life through dreadful acts of brutality.
If we are more interested in watching Ryan Seacrest give away dollars than listening to our president share his life-or-death plans for our global neighbors, then what is it that we truly stand for?
As President Obama continues to make the case for intervention in Syria, and as the death tolls in the region continue to rise, perhaps the most important battle to be won is the fight against our collective indifference. Regardless of whether one agrees with the president, as we consider how to engage, perhaps the most important point is to stay fully engaged. The stakes are far too high, the costs of mistakes are far too deep, and the value of human life is far too priceless. In the words of Elie Wiesel:
The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.
As citizens of a global superpower we have the unique opportunity to do what is required for peace in our world, and as members of a global human community we have the sacred responsibility to do so. And so, as we continue to consider a full range of options surrounding intervention, the time is upon us to resist the temptation of isolation, as there is no greater priority than the process of peacemaking, the situation in Syria is not hopeless, and we in the United States are by no means helpless. There are far too many Syrians trying to survive in an earthly hell, and in the face of such gross injustices, neutrally and inaction cannot be acceptable options. The time is upon us to seek solutions and spark action, and the first enemy to conquer is not standing on foreign soil, but rather, it is the collective indifference that sits in so many of our hearts.
And so, may we meet this moment for the sake of peace, not merely because we can, but because we should.
Brian E. Konkol is an ordained pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and serves as Chaplain of the College at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn.