Like many, I am aghast and struck by disbelief at the torturous and heinous destruction of Syria as the unconscionable slaughter and displacement of its people continues unabated. What was initially an internal revolutionary conflict against a despotic leader is now an insane slugging match between powerful nations and militia groups in their bitter struggle for dominance. It seems that “victory” will only be when all Syria’s citizens are dead, disappeared or rendered stateless; when its cities, homes, and infrastructure are completely flattened with nothing but dust remaining. That we, and the powerful global institutions meant to preserve civilization are paralyzed by this display of ceaseless barbarity is a terrible indictment of us as humans.
It’s not easy to know how to respond, particularly as an individual, but I appreciate that some on facebook still call us to bear witness. This deeply moving piece from the UK Sunday Times, published today (March 18th, 2018), appeared on my news feed. I wanted to share it on so we can get the measure of a country destroyed by greed, hatred, and ignorance as told by a regular young man who lived through its impact and is here to tell his story. We should take note that his story could be ours. That Syria could happen to any country at any time, especially in our era of extreme division, hate, and environmental destruction.
We increasingly stand only a hairs breadth away from political insanity, inhumane brutality, and wanton destruction. These days, despotic, unstable, psychopathic leaders could lead us into a nuclear holocaust, an interminable war, and for sure, can use their unfettered power to delay and reverse vital means to halt global warming which now threatens to collapse the very foundations of our human civilization. As we hurtle toward a profoundly uncertain future, we should take Syria as a warning.
The uprising on the streets of Damascus was initially exacerbated by an extreme drought due to the impact of our warming biosphere. By 2010, the drought had killed 80 percent of the country’s cattle due to 60 precent of its fertile land being lost. In Syria, we see how quickly societies can collapse when a population is undercut through dwindling resources, then is pushed up against each other by a dictatorial regime through the deliberate manipulation of false divisions for political ends. What is happening in Syria is a window into what can happen anywhere if the conditions are such that normal checks and balances and sane democratic governance is dismantled.
We may be able to donate towards those within Syria and we may be able to help refugees who are fleeing; we may choose to lobby politicians and humanitarian organizations, but we won’t be able to rescue Syria from the deadly grip of a war industry in collusion with autocrats who protect themselves at the expense of everyone else. However, what we can do is to deeply understand and enact our evolutionary task, which is succinctly summed up here by the Buddha, Hate is never overcome by hate, only through love is hate overcome. This is the eternal law.
Let us not harbour hatred. Instead, let us do what we can to challenge and overcome division, autocracy, brutish violence, and immoral acts, while engendering and building a relational field imbibed with intention, speech and action informed by authenticity, care for one another, kindness, generosity, and wise contemplation.
How the war in Syria destroyed my childhood idyll
in Eastern Ghouta
As the bombs rain down on the rebel-held area on the edge of Damascus, Steve Ali remembers the idyllic summers he and his friends spent there as children — and how their young lives were torn apart by Syria’s civil war.
In Syria, we don’t say, “Once upon a time …” We say, “There was and there wasn’t a long time ago …” So that is how I shall start my story here.
There was and there wasn’t a long time ago a boy called Mustafa who had a friend called Mahmoud. The most exciting challenge in Mustafa’s life was to climb the tallest oak tree in a field owned by Mahmoud’s family in Ein Tarma in Eastern Ghouta. The field was by the Barada river that ran all the way from Western Ghouta and across Damascus to Eastern Ghouta. From the top of this oak Mustafa felt like he could see the whole world. He loved to ride the bendy branches as the howling wind rocked them back and forth.
Mahmoud’s father would scold Mustafa. “Get down, you monkey! You’ll hurt yourself if you fall, son,” he’d shout, but Mustafa did not fall.
Mustafa and Mahmoud and their friends Samer, Ahmad, Amer, Rami and little Ziad were a tight summer crew. They played football in the long, wide field, through the emerald plants and the dark red soil. They chased each other through the trees. They planted vegetables, fed the farm animals, swam in the river and found adventures in the woods until the sun went down. Then they pulled aubergines and potatoes from the field and cooked them over an open fire under the moonlight. Then they rode back to the house on their bicycles.
Mahmoud’s older brother Karim was a teacher and sometimes he would manage to gather the scattered children into the house to teach them maths. He had kind, twinkly eyes and a warm heart and stealthy means to make the children laugh as they learnt that “numbers are important”. After lessons the whole family would sit in their large living room full of treasures, on a beautiful Persian rug that Mustafa thought looked like Aladdin’s flying carpet. They would share a picnic of traditional Syrian dishes made by Mahmoud’s adoring mother.
When the children were tired of running outside on the long summer days, they’d visit Samer, whose father was a master craftsman. Sometimes he would take the boys to his workshop in Hazeh where he taught them how to make wooden clocks. Each child had a role in the production line and at breaktime Samer’s mother would reward the little workers with sandwiches and a huge kettle of tea.
Ahmad wouldn’t come to the workshop. He was too shy. He preferred to work in his father’s florist’s, more excited by flowers than people. He would lecture Mustafa about orchids with a spark in his eye and a passion in his quiet little voice. Mustafa loved watching his friend leave his awkwardness to one side whenever he was able to be an authority on orchids.
Amer and Rami were brothers. The children were sometimes invited to their father’s factory in Hamoryah where he produced generators and electrical products. The boys fiddled with the machines and tools and broke them as often as they learnt how to get them going.
Little Ziad, the last of the gang, was from Douma. His dad had a convenience shop on the corner in the main square where he chatted and chain-smoked. Mustafa always warned him the smoking was very bad for his health and he always promised to quit but never did.
Many blissful summers in Eastern Ghouta and peaceful school years in Damascus passed. Mustafa and his friends laughed and argued, played and studied, and grew tall — even little Ziad. Eventually the crew split up to travel to different universities. The idyllic years of their childhood grew into their first days of adulthood. Then the war began. It was and it wasn’t a long time ago … the kind of slaughter that belonged in a savage ancient myth. Except this time it definitely was — and it was happening now. It was happening to me and everyone I’d ever loved.
None of us living in Damascus knew what was happening in the country at first. We lived under the relentless brainwashing machine of national television, where we were told that the rumours of torture and killing were lies to turn people against the government. We couldn’t imagine life being any other way than it had been when we were riding bicycles in the woods.