Like many of you, I have seen the reports emerging from Aleppo, Syria (east and west) in the last day, and I have been attempting to sort through the deluge of info. The images and videos are heartbreaking, confusing and conflicting. And my Facebook newsfeed has shown me a great split of reactions. Undoubtedly this is a complex situation with many historic, social, ethnic and political nuances and intricacies. I have studied the Middle-East much of my life, worked with refugees from the region, and have several Syrian friends (on both sides) and others who worked with Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) in the war torn areas including Aleppo. Even still, I find it difficult to parse out the full truth in this age of utter absurdity, half truths, falsified or shoddy journalism and outright surreal propaganda. This is how I am making sense of the senseless so far.
Syria cannot simply be viewed in a vacuum. In the global picture it is a proxy war between the US, Nato and Russia. And it is not a fantasy that foreign mercenaries and militants did unfortunately infiltrate the popular uprising against Assad. This is not surprising since the entire region was radically destabilized over the course of decades from US/Nato meddling, wars and CIA operations to subvert democracy. Where Syria sits on the map leaves it open for opportunists radicalized by the exploits of imperialist wars. Samantha Power’s (US Ambassador to the UN) nauseating hypocrisy yesterday notwithstanding, the US has already been at war against Syria, dropping over 20,000 bombs in the last year alone. And Power conveniently absolves her and her betters of the shame of decimating Iraq and Libya, and aiding Israel and the Saudis in their murderous massacres of civilians in Gaza and Yemen respectively.
Russia has had a bloody hand in this imperialistic game of chess from the start too. It sees the crumbling edifice of the American Empire. It knows that it is an arrogant beast drunk on its own hubris, yet despite its alarming madness it is armed to the teeth with nukes and has circled its borders and China with dozens of military bases. As any empire, even an ancient and faded one, Russia is asserting itself on the world stage and reinserting its influence on its own long held client states in the region. For the American Empire it is Israel and, to a lesser extent, Saudi Arabia. For Russia it is Syria and, to a much lesser extent, Iran. To be sure, both Empires could not care one bit about the people in their client states. This is a chess game of psychopaths, authoritarians and tyrants, and they are in it to win even if everyone loses in the end. In essence, it is the powerful, big players and small, who have been responsible for the misery and carnage and I shall give not one of them a pass. It is the people I care about, not any one of their leaders.
My heart breaks when I read the reports and see the innocent victims in Aleppo. No, they are NOT all “head chopping” terrorists. In fact by many reliable estimates violent radicals make up only a small percentage of the total sum as many of them fled the city months ago. The vast majority are simply trying to survive and have been caught in the middle, just as civilians in Yemen and Gaza. Regardless of their politics, the people in East Aleppo are flesh and blood human beings with hopes, joys, fears and dreams, deserving of dignity, compassion and safe passage. Only the most hardened of cynics could see the mountains of ghoulish evidence and turn a smug shoulder of indifference to it or ignore the monstrous crimes of Assad.
It may seem ironic to some, but I have understanding for those Syrians who may be celebrating in West Aleppo and Damascus too. Their nation has been under siege and their entire way of life has been either shattered or threatened for at least 6 years. Can anyone of us blame these people for celebrating what might signal, accurate or not, an end to this horrific war? Would any of us be any different were it us in their shoes? I cannot celebrate with them because I cannot celebrate heaven while there are still those suffering in hell. But their hopes and fears should not be dismissed either. Most Syrians love their ancient nation, the cradle of civilization. But violent extremism is not an inflated fear. It is as real to them as the brutality of tyrannical dictatorship.
How can we, as non-Syrians, make sense of all of this? I cannot speak for anyone but myself. And my principles remain unchanged. My solidarity is not with the powerful. It will never be. It will always be with those who suffer, the vulnerable, the oppressed, the persecuted. It is antiwar, ALL war. It is anti-imperialism, ALL imperialism. These are the principles I will continue to champion regardless of how murky things may become in the dire days ahead.
But I will confess that, personally, I am tired of the grandstanding, ad hominem slurs, demonizing, straw man fallacies, bullying and petty fight picking I see going between activists on all political fronts. When it comes to this issue I am choosing to listen only to ordinary Syrians on which ever side they may fall. Their voices, while they matter the most, have been the most muted in all of this and I cannot help to think that this is by design.