Doctors Without Borders announced on Saturday that its affiliated hospitals in the Damascus area had seen thousands of patients suffering from a chemical weapons attack with several hundred deaths.
The group reported that the hospitals had “received approximately 3,600 patients displaying neurotoxic symptoms in less than three hours on the morning of Wednesday, August 21, 2013. Of those patients, 355 reportedly died.”
Doctors Without Borders is better known by its French name – Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
The humanitarian medical group’s Syrian spokesperson said that “MSF can neither scientifically confirm the cause of these symptoms nor establish who is responsible for the attack.”
Bart Janssens, a physician, added, “However, the reported symptoms of the patients, in addition to the epidemiological pattern of the events – characterized by the massive influx of patients in a short period of time, the origin of the patients, and the contamination of medical and first aid workers – strongly indicate mass exposure to a neurotoxic agent. This would constitute a violation of international humanitarian law, which absolutely prohibits the use of chemical and biological weapons.”
That report intensified the questioning of President Obama’s credibility.
Almost a year earlier to the date of this alleged chemical attack, Obama had said, “We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.”
Obama said that the use of chemical weapons “would change my calculus … would change my equation” about U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war that has now taken more than 100,000 lives and made more than one million children refugees.
One wonders if Obama’s “red line” is a “white lie” in the White House. That’s a half-truth, an empty threat.
One also wonders if Obama has any real options. And if he doesn’t, why did he establish such a rhetoric line? Why do other members of his administration continue to snort threats?
As the international community ponders what to do or whether to do anything, the global Christian community has been mostly struck silent.
Is there a moral “red line” for Christian leaders related to human butchery that justifies their speaking up for the use of state-sponsored force?
If so, who wants to argue for the use of force in such a gnarled conflict where military action might worsen the situation and inaction might give the warring Syrian parties the green light for more atrocities?
Church leaders have seemingly only three options: pray for peace; issue moral appeals; and wonder aloud how much worse the situation will get.
Citing the horrific images, Pope Francis spoke on Sunday to the crisis in Syria, saying he raised his voice that “the clatter of arms may cease.”
“From the bottom of my heart, I would like to express my closeness in prayer and solidarity with all the victims of this conflict, with all those who suffer, especially children, and I invite you to keep alive the hope of peace,” he said. “I appeal to the international community to be more sensitive to this tragic situation and make every effort to help the beloved Syrian nation find a solution to a war that sows destruction and death.”
Archbishop Mario Zenari, apostolic nuncio in Syria, later expressed the hope that the international community would “be endowed with wisdom and prudence.”
He recalled that a year ago he “had the impression that Syria was starting its descent into hell.”
But now after the recent disclosures about the use of chemical weapons, he said, “we are wondering whether we have reached the bottom of this abyss.”
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.
Robert M. Parham (1953 – 2017) was the founder and executive director of Baptist Center for Ethics from 1991 to 2017. He served as executive editor of EthicsDaily.com, BCE’s website, from its launch in 2002 until 2017.