The atrocities unfolding in Aleppo over the past few weeks have resulted in a reinvigorated outpouring of global grief. Images of bloodied and lifeless bodies flood our socials, while the hashtags #prayforaleppo, #saveallepo, and #savesyria coalesce into a collective narrative of horror, compassion and despair. We have taken to the streets to protest for change; donations to aid organisation have increased; the lights of the Eiffel tower turned off in a display of solidarity.
People around the world are angry, and rightly so. We blame the US government for being too weak, Russia and Iran for being too militant and self-serving, and the UN for being impotent and ineffective. We ask ourselves how could this have happened? and why can't we make it stop? We feel disgust at the human condition; that one human, dressed up as a solider, rebel or terrorist, could torture and kill innocent woman and children in the most heinous and unthinkable ways. Our anger is fervent, genuine and justified. And singular in its goal. We must make the atrocities stop. Yet is our anger limited in its capacity to provide genuine assistance to the Syrian people who have lost everything to war?
At present, our collective moral imperative seems fixated on stopping the bloodshed in Aleppo, evacuating woman and children to safe places, and providing aid packages to meet the immediate needs of Syrian people. These demands are unquestionably necessary and speak to the moral framework of modern society. Yet they are focussed on providing short-term solutions to the atrocities of modern warfare, while avoiding broader (and perhaps more uncomfortable) questions around the future of the Syrian people.
Even if the international community were to somehow miraculously stop the bloodshed in Syria, the outlook forSyrians in their homeland is bleak. Five years of war has left a once diverse and culturally rich country in ruins. Over 6 million Syrians are internally displaced and 4.8 million are refugees outside Syria. Homes, hospitals and schools have been destroyed. The literacy rate - previously the highest in the Middle East - has plummeted, and the economy has been "obliterated" according to a recent report by the Syrian Centre for Policy Research (SCPR). Enrolment in primary school has dropped from 95% to 50%, and in areas of extreme conflict, such as Aleppo, is almost non-existent. The children of Syria simply can't wait two, five, ten years to receive an education. Nor can their parents wait for the resurrection of an entire nations institutions, infrastructure and economy before resuming a life that is more than just surviving in refugee camps.
The harsh reality is that millions of Syrians simply won't be able to live in Syria in the foreseeable future. Which means they will have to live elsewhere. In other countries. In our countries. Despite this fact,our collective narrative hasn't yet extended to the Syrian crisis beyond Syria. We haven't taken to the streets protesting for larger intakes of refugees or better integration and resettlement programs. And somewhat ironically, those countries protesting the loudest over the past weeks - the United States, Germany, France - are doing the exact opposite and calling for tougher immigration laws. Which is indicative of the trend sweeping Europe, and the world, towards the appointment of conservative right-wing governments in response to concerns around immigration and the economy.
It would seem our compassion for the Syrian people is limited to their basic human rights. We care because they are living beings that don't deserve to be shot, tortured and traumatised. But do we care enough to offer them a chance at resettlement in nations - our nations - that aren't afflicted by genocide, war and terror? Are we willing to make the 'Syrian problem'our own versus an abstract human rights violation over in the Middle East? To do so would require a shift in perception from Syrians as victims of war, to Syrians as global Muslim citizens. It would require us to transcend categories of "them" and "us". To honestly appraise our role in the war through our governments' foreign policies and financing of arms. And to acknowledge the role of climate change (a global phenomena disproportionally driven by rich western nations), in helping trigger the war in the first place.
If we really want to #savesyrians, we need to move beyond hashtags and hyperbole and reflect internally on how far does our compassion really go?
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