By Eli Reshef, M.D. Published: February 6, 2016 in the Oklahoman
How ironic is it that some of today’s worst atrocities are masterminded by a physician? Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president and an English-trained ophthalmologist, has led a vicious campaign against his own people that resulted in the death of more than 200,000. This doctor is responsible for an immense humanitarian catastrophe, displacing millions in a magnitude eclipsed only by World War II.
Imagine a physician, who recited the Hippocratic oath of “First Do No Harm,” leaving a massive trail of unspeakable atrocities in his own country. Unfortunately, history is rife with examples of physician-led carnages, from the Nazi and Japanese death camps to Argentinian torture to Bosnia, and now Syria.
The physical remoteness of the Syrian crisis, our desensitized perception of war crimes due to constant sensory flood of tragedies, and our fear of terrorism on the heels of 9/11 have left us numb to heartbreaks such as Syria’s. It has also opened the door for xenophobic drivel by some politicians that led some of us to see Syrian refugees as potential terrorists and abandon the American tradition of welcoming the “… tired, … poor, … huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”
To me as a physician, this ultimate betrayal of the mission of medicine by Assad and the deafening silence of the medical profession and our own administration to this calamity is incomprehensible. To me, a son of Holocaust survivors whose grandparents, uncles, aunts and many cousins were murdered by the Nazis, this modern Syrian tragedy, led by a physician, is a stark reminder of the ugliness of the human spirit.
In 1973, as a soldier in the Israeli army, I fought Syrians led by Assad’s father in the Golan Heights. Growing up, Syria was one of our perennial enemies. I cannot help, though, feel empathy with the Syrian people who are enduring appalling ordeals not unlike those that my own family experienced in World War II. Perhaps the scale is different, but the cruelty and the concomitant silence by people and countries that can make a positive difference are just as flagrant.
While our own administration has miserably failed to weigh in on the Syrian crisis, as it failed in World War II to heed cries from Poland’s death camps, we can make a difference. Rather than accepting anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rhetoric, we need to acquaint ourselves with the tragedy. A simple perusal of daily headlines or a Google search may inform us of the magnitude of this modern disaster.
Here in Oklahoma City, there is a small but vibrant Syrian medical community. Some of its members are directly involved in relief efforts for Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan and Europe. Pediatricians, oncologists, surgeons, internists — these physicians who care for you need your moral and financial support to help their suffering brethren. Through them, good medicine may prevail over evil.
Reshef practices medicine in Oklahoma City.