Where do I begin to even share my thoughts on Syria. The slaughter of Syria. The human moral stain that is Syria. The collective human failure that is Syria. The suffering that is Syria.
When I first wrote something public about Syria, it was a diatribe (it was) on how Friday sermons unnecessarily brought up, associated, and even couched support for Syria’s struggle in the struggles of other peoples who for the most part were given passing reference prior to the struggle, or weren’t mentioned at all in past sermons. My point was, it was not necessary to associate and bring up these pains to justify support for Syria’s people. The tactic reeked of convenience in this context, and diminished the real prolonged struggle of people in places like Indian occupied Kashmir… Yet, the madness continued unabated, and here we are with Aleppo and me with phantom memories, whispered, echoing from my past, associating with the present.
What was I thinking when the current flare of atrocities from Aleppo sprung into the world’s conscience? I couldn’t help but share privately on Facebook how I grew up with the lesson of “never again”
What I find striking is that just in my childhood that “never again” has happened three times- Bosnia, Rwanda, and later on in Darfur. The current brings the number to five, Syria and the Rohyinga forever interwined as the twin genocides of the new century, a declaration of the failure of international institutions and proof to humanities collective willful blindness.
I ended the post with how CNN will present a retrospective special on this in the future with a moral judgement and message with images of three Syrias- past which includes the shattering, the present, and a future. The solemn CNN presenter will look at the audience, stare intently through the camera to tell us “Never again should such horrors repeat in our civilized world.”
Sad, that words, pictures, videos, narratives and stories, facts and institutions are but flimsy props. Unable to move our collective human conscience. I fear for the future because with the proliferation of technology and information we become increasingly desensitized to those words, pictures, videos, narratives and stories, facts and institutions that present to us the reality of places like Syria in conflict. Instant. Gone. Done, forward. What is the “never again” supposed to mean?
That I never felt the need to visit Syria, also makes me sad. It did not have the attraction that is Lebanon or Turkey. It was not the siren that was Um-ud-Dunya, Egypt. It was not the place of pilgrimage that is Saudi Arabia. It was not the proximity to my family and familiarity to Western comfort that is the United Arab Emirates. Nor was it the call of a rich, recognizable, and ever so imitated arts, architecture, and culture that flowed east into Mughal India that was Iran. Syria was none of these for me, yet it has in many ways, become part of something intimate to my story- migration, refugees, and globalization.
Do figures matter to you even? How about this: Syria prior to the Assad regimes brutality had 18 million citizens. According to the UN 13 million citizens in Syria are in dire need of food, medical, humanitarian assistance and, or, are internally displaced. Another 4 million Syrian citizens have fled their homes in Syria and are now refugees largely spread across 5 countries- Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey, and Egypt. Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq already contain refugees from other conflicts; in Jordan, Syrian refugees make up 10% of that countries population now. Of the 4 million Syrian refugees, 2. 5 million are under the age of 18. Since the regime began its slaughter, the death toll stands at approximately 470,000 Syrians. There are approximately 65,000 Syrians who have been “detained and, or, disappeared” by the regime since the brutal crackdown on peaceful demonstrations began. This includes a large number of children under the age of 18.
Figures: Amnesty Feb. 2016, NY Times, Feb. 2016; [MUST READ] MercyCorps on Syria Refugee Facts; PBS on campaign of disappearance by Assad.
Now Syria is that childhood phantom. It is the whispered stories of places that no longer resemble the past because they have been wiped. It is the nostalgic stories filled with pain and suffering, as much as happiness, where momentous events took place alongside the deaths of family and loved ones to the genocide. Of forgotten graves of loved ones. It is the stories of history that are now superimposed by the horrors of genocide. It is the stories that are forgotten as echoes of a past because the present is unbearable and burdened by stories far to great to leave room for the past. Syria is the story of a past and future ripped apart by the present, leaving only shreds of both for those that remain.
Syria is pre-partition India. Syria is the roads, railroads, and shipping lines leading out of British India. Syria is my grandparents story. Syria is my parents migration and even mine from the home that was but a transition.
How do they remember whats been lost from pre-genocide Syria?
Who remembers Syria before this?
Syria is the story on the migrant trail north into the frontera. Syria is the international NGO’s, governmental agencies, human rights laws, non-profit churches and ministries that did not exist in 1947 South Asia. Syria was a constant presence as I spoke to Guatemalans, Hondurans, El Salvadorans, and Mexicans during my Root Causes Pilgrimage. Who remembers the migrant if not those that live with the consequences of migration and violence?
When I was packing my bags for Central America, I realized how little I knew of the people and the history of the peoples there. I knew banana republics, Chiquita banana, jungles, volcano’s and coastlines; the Maya, indigenous peoples who did not speak Spanish, dictatorships, Iran-Contra and American big-stick foreign policy. I made it a point to read, to find out folks from Central America to have conversations with.
As I write this post, I admit I know little about Syria even though many of my friends family’s are from Syria. Had I just stopped and asked once, “friend tell me about Syria, your Syria.” But I never thought about going to Syria; fly over country you know. But now we have arrived at Aleppo.
As my fellow traveler-writer-artist-friend April Banks posted about Syria, I repeat to myself each time I see a new article- “Syria. More than war.” Because it is more than war. And now is the time to remember that or else what will there be left to remember to guide us in the future. Pain. Suffering. Violence. Death. Abandonment.
So I turn to books. I turn to the Syrian voice. I turn to read, because reading is the art of preserving. It seems to me that morals, principles- “Never Again”- is not something that can simply be taught, it is a part of wisdom. “Wisdom is the soul” as Walt Whitman stated, and can only be sought after “in the float of the sight of things that provokes it out of the soul.” There is now clearer path to the soul then to read the words that pour out of the soul.
Here are a list of books suggested by April and do check out her page for TeaAfar/Syria/Via/Los Angeles event that chronicled travel stories made with teas, and in particular the travel stories of a Syria before the Assad regimes brutality. Many perspectives. Fiction, essay and journalism-More than war.
Breaking Knees by Zakaria Tamer
Damascus Nights by Rafik Schami
Sun on a Cloudy Day by Hanna Minna
In Praise of Hatred by Khaled Khalifa
The Crossing: My Journey to the Shattered Heart of Syria by Samar Yazbek
Syrians have a special place in American history. The Arab poet, Khalil Gibran, Omar Offendum shared with a small group at an intimate event, whose name was giving to my nephew, Jibran, wrote about Syrians migrating to [North] America at the turn of the 18th century a beautiful poem offering advice to these new [North] Americans.
“I believe that you have inherited from your forefathers an ancient dream, a song, a prophecy,” Gibran wrote, “which you can proudly lay as a gift of gratitude upon the lap of America.”
Yet, [North] America rejects these new refugees. Rejects to offer sanctuary. Why? Because we don’t know them. Like we did not know the Jews that fled the pogroms of Europe or during World War II while the Holocaust played its bloody brutality out. “Never Again” we teach children in elementary schools. World War II. Genocide. Never Again. Bosnia. War. Rwanda. Genocide. Never Again. Syria. Never. Again. We tell ourselves. Rohingya. Foolish rhetoric. Remember. More than war.