Here’s one alternative to more violence. It may be too little. It may be too late, at least for Syria. Still, it’s a positive, non-violent proposal. I’m not seeing many of those outside Pope Francis’ call for a day of prayer and fasting. Thank God for Pope Francis and his willingness to be alone voice in a screaming world.
Dear Mr. President and Members of Congress:
As congress returns and a response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons is considered, I urge you and all who are involved in the process to think more broadly and more creatively. We can do better than limiting ourselves to only two options, demand/concession negotiation or war.
In 5000 years and more of human history, neither weapons of war or punitive measures have had any long-term positive effect on any conflict situation. Now is the time to exhibit a more truly American way of leadership, one that brings to bear our essential humanity, our intellectual prowess, our compassionate spirit, and our entrepreneurial strength. So, without further introduction, please allow me to propose the following:
Send 1000 not-for-profit volunteer arts teams into Syria for a period of not less than six months each to simply be themselves and do what they do under the difficult circumstances that are the current Syria. Musicians, artists, poets, and others would give regular performances in shelled out buildings, street corners, public buildings, hospitals, schools, displaced persons and refugee camps and other venues. Teams would offer classes, workshops, and other presentations in their fields to school children and adults alike.
Selection for these teams should be made by a committee of American leaders in the arts—orchestra and chorus leaders, writers, dancers and visual artists of proven reputation and some international experience. Teams should make application with a resume of success in their fields and a detailed proposal for a project, its content, its length and a budget. I believe and it has been my experience that there are numbers of gifted people in this country who would gladly sacrifice their time and willingly risk their lives to make a real and lasting peaceful impact on troubled Syria. There are, in fact, many such people and groups doing such work even now and raising the money to do that work besides. This gesture by the United States government would encourage and strengthen such organizations in their ongoing work. It would inspire others to expand their visions of themselves and the possibilities they each embody.
Funding should come from the United States government at a level of $1,000,000 per project for a total of one billion dollars. With the total spent in Iraq and Afghanistan rapidly approaching two trillion dollars, this fraction of that cost is absolutely reasonable and could easily have an infinitely greater per dollar impact both in the U.S. and Syria. This funding would cover transportation, food, housing, supplies, translators, drivers and other expenses, possibly to include a nominal per person allowance to help cover some expenses back home in each person’s absence. Clearly, the $1,000,000 per project would not cover all expenses and each participant and project manager would be responsible for raising private monies to make up any balance.
Further, I am confident that within a year, the American private sector would embrace the concept, help to perfect it and fund it into the future. Even if such were not the case, the project as proposed could emerge as a new paradigm in creating peaceful solutions to conflict around the world.
Obviously there are risks, most notably life and safety. Projects would operate in the safest possible circumstances, but fully aware of the risks. No military protection or security would be asked from our government. Courage, compassion, innovation, and a shared humanity with the Syrian people would be our only surety. The risk to American foreign reputation should also be considered, first and most certainly of incredulity both at home and abroad. If we fail, we risk a predictable scorn. If any success is achieved, we risk having to evolve entire policy systems, economies and cultures to new possibilities, assumptions and risks.
Now, as idealistic as I am, I understand that the impulse to discard this proposal as ludicrous may prevail. If that is to be the case, please let us ask ourselves, why is idealistic action unreasonable? Why can we not risk the untried, especially considering our national history of innovation and the last century of diplomatic and military failure to achieve real solutions? Why, in a universe of endless possibilities, must we limit ourselves to proven modes of disaster. (Einstein’s apocryphal definition of insanity comes to mind.) Why can we not extend the best in ourselves, our history, our culture in crisis? Why can the best minds and the most heroic ideals on the planet not be employed more completely in this crisis?
This proposal is in no way perfect or complete. I am certain, however, that within thirty days of discussion and development these ideas can be ready to implement. Within sixty days, I believe the first teams can be in Syria. I am admittedly and proudly only a church choral musician in Muscatine, Iowa. Even so, in the past ten years, I have been a part of employing ideas and projects similar to this, not only here in Muscatine but also in Kosovo and Haiti. If I can think these thoughts and express them to you, how much more can better minds and better connected representatives improve and ensure their success?
This proposal is a direct expression of my own Christianity, certainly. It is also an expression of the best and truest of Moses, Mohammed, Buddha, Krishna, Confusius, and the greatest hearts of every faith. This is a concept the world can agree on for its goodness. Surely we can bridge the short gap between concept and implementation. Or, if not this, let us pursue something better, rather than yet another waste of human life, human spirit, and national treasure.
I thank you for whatever consideration you are willing to give this proposal and for your diligence in approaching the difficult decisions ahead, whatever the outcome of those decisions. I place whatever small service I may offer at your disposal and I eagerly await the best decision you can make on how to respond to the crisis in Syria.
Richard A. Smith