As it is eight years since people began protesting in Syria, kids getting locked up for graffiti, a revolution being born – I wanted to write something. Disclaimer for the disjointedness…
“We were alone, but we didn’t realise it yet.” Brothers of the Gun
Since I started to read The Morning They Came For Us I have understood the feeling inside myself more accurately. Something like an anger that is too much to live with. Di Giovanni, who also covered the war in Bosnia, wrote that “it was a terrible fever, recurring in your bloodstream forever once you got it.” How many times I could have the same conversation, real or imagined; explaining endlessly the same points and outlining the same position – Bosnia to Syria, the first on TV and now in our pockets. You can only read so much without itching.
Either you live with this kind of scratching or you suppress it, and some are more human than others in their response to reality. Against the confusion of the world they choose philosophical suicide, against ambiguity and chaos. Does it apply more-so to the worst possible parts of existence; genocide and mass extermination, that some people allow their humanity to die when they see that there is such evil? I think so. But that is not to excuse them, because they have made conscious choices to not see what is right in front of them. I hope that I can outline why I am against this reaction and also to say what it means to me, although I have no connection. It may seem that it’s not our problem but when it’s two clicks away it’s hard to ignore. Better than ignoring is just to say something and make a record of the world watching. There is a constant feed that we dive through because living online is obsessive. The interaction with the internet becomes part of an absurd reality, and going through it is an honest revolt, but things become stuck and you can’t remember if they are yours or not.
So do we understand? No. If not understanding then what? At least know it to be true, horribly true to the point where I can actually imagine it. Still though it won’t be enough, “you can walk away and go back to your home with electricity and sliced bread, and then you begin to feel ashamed to be human.” With each new place name I learn a new pain, each prison with its tiny rooms, hospitals that no longer exist, bakeries, cafés, schools and streets that have felt the relentlessness of the government’s bombing campaign. “The bombing of hospitals became routine, as well as so-called “double-tap” strikes…bomb a site and then do so again when paramedics arrived…laws of war…were nothing more than dust in the wind.” I have an image of a café along the Euphrates from Brothers of the Gun, women’s accounts from The Morning They Came For Us that I choked down, because when the brutality of the regime becomes clear it’s hard to bear.
Eight years of inaction, and we still won’t act, not from the start nor since the Red Line, set and then ignored when it was crossed, it now seems it has been crossed over 300 times. Well who were they for anyway? The failures have come from everywhere. Endless blocks at the UN, lack of will, lack of guts. Obama with his head in the bubble of policy abstractions, believing it somehow subversive to reverse one of few decisions he made because of its humanity. The world’s finest exporter of fascism in Russia would not view his involvement as a failure but for it to go so unchallenged is certainly a failure of ours. And the rest just keep watching, only ever involving themselves either to save face or score points.
In Deraa in the south, and eastern Ghouta near Damascus, the return of the regime has meant a return of ‘the Kingdom of Silence and Fear.’ People still have the hope to protest though, in Daraa against the arrogance of the regime as it looked to erect a statue of Hafez al-Assad. In Idlib too there are protests to mark the eight year anniversary since the beginning of the revolution. The fighting there is becoming heavy; if you look at the live map you can see there are artillery bombings, cluster munitions, mortar shelling, and weaponized drones returning. There was another double-tap too during a ceasefire, all part of the campaign to remove the will of the last stronghold. I don’t know if I would still have the strength to march.
I’m too depressed by the shrug at the country pummeled into fear – Russian airstrikes resumed over the weekend, with the blitzkrieg following weeks of regime shelling on towns and villages in the opposition province. The war is winding down? The force and the scale of killing only seem to get worse. And as many have noted there are still officials pushing for the return of refugees, trying to get themselves comfortable with the idea of the regime succeeding. Even the UN has sent delegates to be shown around, long after giving up on counting the dead they have given up on the living. But there is no return to normality without justice, and more urgently no guarantee of basic safety.
Because there is this kind of pain happening in so many places, and so little accountability on a global scale, it can be hard to have hope. But recently in Germany and France there have been arrests of Assad’s henchmen, responsible for systematic torture against those arbitrarily detained because of their politics. I am sure in our lifetime we will see some version of justice. For that to happen the self-interest of states will have to take a back seat, they will have to put human rights at the forefront of the discussion, because without justice there is no such thing as society. I am reminded of a quote about Argentines who tried to reckon with the post-dictatorship landscape after the junta relinquished power in the 80’s. They were “forced to live in passive accommodation, women ran into their torturers and rapists in supermarkets. Veteran officers hosted their old comrades for parrilladas at their country chalets, toasting one another as heroes who had saved the nation from Communism.” This is the result of a lack of direct action against the perpetrators, and without it there is no chance to be part of the nation for those who suffer. You cannot destroy a country and be allowed to rebuild it and once again settle into old ways. It could be a long way away, but people will not accept passive accommodation, and Syrians are not yet ready to forgive decades of oppression; they will want to shape a society where nobody is above the law.
Photos: Brothers of the Gun
Keep reading: How the Syrian Uprising began and why it matters – The Conversation
Abandoned by the world – The New Arab
Syrian Refugees and the ICC – The Intercept