A humanitarian aid shopping voucher is seen at a distribution center of the World Food Program (WFP) organization in Amman on April 11, 2013. The UN refugee agency and the WFP are distributing shopping vouchers to 170,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan every month. (Reuters/Muhammad Hamed)
Sometimes it takes a refugee who has lived through war to speak the truths that world leaders and government officials can’t, or won’t.
“The international community can’t help Syria,” says Abu ’Adhab al-Dara’awi* from the small fruit and vegetable shop in a village in northern Jordan where he works. “It’s impotent. Even for the Syrians outside the country, it can’t do enough.” Abu ’Adhab, 40, hails from Dara’a, a rural area in southern Syria where he used to work as a substitute teacher. He fled to Jordan a year ago and has settled in this quiet hillside village, which he did not want named, with his wife and six kids.
On August 21, a chemical weapons attack on the outskirts of Damascus killed more than 1,000 Syrians, according to US officials, leading the United States to announce it would strike Syrian government targets to punish President Bashar al-Assad and his regime for using chemical weapons. According to Secretary of State John Kerry, responding to the use of chemical weapons is critical for the sake of American credibility and interests. “Our concern with the cause of the defenseless people of Syria is about choices that will directly affect our role in the world and our interests in the world,” Kerry said on August 30.
The president backed down from imminent strikes amid crumbling congressional support and the emergence of a Russian proposal that would require the Assad regime to hand over its arsenal of chemical weapons, but strikes are not entirely off the table. “This would be a targeted strike to achieve a clear objective: deterring the use of chemical weapons, and degrading Assad’s capabilities,” Obama reiterated in an address on September 10, the day he endorsed Russia’s proposal.
Although stated reasons for American intervention—defending American credibility and making the example of Assad that chemical and other weapons of mass destruction may not be used with impunity—contrast sharply with the goal of many Syrian refugees in Jordan to return home, the possibility of intervention in Syria nevertheless sparks hope for some refugees interviewed. Others are set against the idea. I spoke with urban refugees living in Jordanian communities, such as the area around the capital, Amman, and the cities and villages north of it. Their views seem shaped more by individual experiences and beliefs than by where they are from or where they live now. Yet suffering drives the logic of both groups. Those favoring strikes hope they will reduce suffering and those against believe they will do just the opposite.
Abu ’Adhab embraces both perspectives. He is a well-informed and conflicted blend of hope and pragmatism, with the reality of war tempering his dream of going home. With the timing, location and scope of potential strikes by the United States unknown, he isn’t quite sure about the utility of such strikes, and so his support is conditional. “I am 40 percent for strikes, 60 percent against,” he declares. “Limited, light strikes will not help. They’ll make Bashar [al-Assad] stronger than before, and instead of firing one or two rockets per day, his reaction will be to fire ten per day in retaliation.”