Innocents in America and Syria: an angry, abandoned generation cries out
As our distracted attention spans are bombarded with images of horror from Syria and America, one wonders - how did it come to this? A massacre at a school in Parkland, named “Florida’s safest city” last year, and “hell on earth” in Eastern Ghouta in the seventh year of Syria’s civil war turned proxy nightmare.
While the concurrent tragedies are not comparable by scale, and it’s unlikely the Empire State Building will ever go dark for dead Arab children, they bear a strange kinship: a whole new generation of angry, traumatized children are rising up in protest against their adult oppressors, and those who sanction their murder – whether in the name of “freedom” or political agendas.
As terrifying images posted on social media by teens in Eastern Ghouta of their neighbourhood being destroyed compete with slasher flick like horror from Southern Florida- along with the usual cat videos and celebrity news – there is an air of un-reality about it all.
In spite of overwhelming evidence cited by the UN of aerial bombardment, barrel bombs, attacks on hospitals and schools etc. Syrian and Russian officials still speak of “fake news” and “mass media psychosis” (somewhat facilitated by the fact that it’s too dangerous for international media to cover) – just as right wing American, pro NRA conspiracists suggest that the Florida massacre survivor/activists are “actors.”
Although these suggestions are abhorrent, there is an odd emotional truth to them. The horror is so real –and so unavoidably unfolding in real time - that it’s almost surreal. Fictionalizing it is not only a political ploy, but also a kind of psychological defense mechanism. After all if the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results, then perhaps denial is a consequence of the madness.
Watching the youth of Southern Florida and Eastern Ghouta pleading for their lives is both moving and disturbing. And yet both have a sense of doomed inevitability, in spite of moral outrage on social media and elsewhere, thanks to an entrenched American gun lobby and an entrenched global indifference to Syria’s suffering.
Sadly Trump’s “concealed carry” “solution” won’t work for Syrian children in Eastern Ghouta, offspring of those abandoned by former Gulf patrons who, tired of their failed Arab spring experiment, no longer underwritten by Trump or propped up by US run military rooms in Jordan, left them to their fate along with an apparently indifferent world. We’ve seen this movie before in Aleppo and Dara. It won’t be long before the ground troops arrive and the surviving Facebook kids of Ghouta get dumped at yet another ghetto for the displaced.
Now social media is their only defense - and a meager one at that – as they compete for prime time attention with much more telegenic, better-dressed American kids, pleading for their lives in a different way, after dozens of other massacres of the innocent have failed to move their respective political leaderships.
The voices of young Americans describing the ordeal of texting their parents goodbye while huddled in closets during a murderous rampage now co-mingle in the relentless media whirl with the voices of Syrian children talking about hiding in basements with their families as barrel bombs fell all around them.
The deafening silence of Republican senators in the pay of the NRA offers a suitable echo chamber for the ongoing denial of Syrian and Russian officials, and the cynical real politicking of American and Turkish backers of former “freedom fighters” turned jihadists- disposable and even interchangeable pawns in a dangerous game.
The mind boggles at their ability to tolerate enormous amounts of human suffering and do nothing because of political expediency of one sort or another.
But maybe, just maybe (ok, call me a dreamer but – who would have foreseen Sarah Silverman defending the likes of Ahed Tamimi?) the growing national movement to ban assault weapons in America that some are comparing to the Vietnam protest movement – complete with protest placards accusing American leaders of having “blood on their hands” - might actually make Americans empathize with Syrians – and other victims of imperial proxy wars.
As I watch young Americans talk about banning readily available assault rifles as “weapons of war” in the world’s biggest arms exporting nation, I wonder how long it will take to connect the dots?
Is it merely coincidental that America is saturated by guns, one of its biggest exports, or that international disarmament efforts are routinely curbed by American interests – by the same NRA backed groups that hold the right to bear arms as a sacred one?
And so as what is a given in war zones has become a norm in peacetime America, how long will it take for the youthful protestors to start chanting “end the military-industrial complex?”
If this new movement really is akin to Vietnam era protests, it might well be time to ponder what happened in the post give peace a chance era of Pax Americana. Disastrous invasions opened the way for violent anarchy and open gun markets in Iraq and Afghanistan, while covert arming of Syrian “rebels” fuelled the fires of war. There is no real moral higher ground to be had of course, and everyone from the jihadists to the Syrians, Americans, Russians, Turks, Qataris and Saudis have blood on their hands.
But out there somewhere, in that field where parallel universes meet social media, the voices of innocent children are pleading for their lives, appealing to the very generations that have betrayed them. I wonder if they can hear each other’s cries?
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.
Hadani Ditmars is the author of Dancing in the No Fly Zone: a Woman's Journey Through Iraq. A former editor at New Internationalist, she has been reporting from the Middle East for two decades. Her next book, Ancient Heart, is a political travelogue of Iraqi heritage sites.
Follow her on Twitter: @HadaniDitmars