Syria: Do People Still Care?
The Syrian civil war has had the effect of a brawl between two brothers in a public place. To lightly paraphrase Shakespeare, I will ask you to imagine all the world as a mall. On arrival we see that one sibling is more powerful than the other. The more powerful brother at the outset of our metaphorical mall brawl was Bashar Al-Assad’s government - we’ll call him Al. The virtues he practices on a day to day basis are wisdom, fortitude, temperance, and justice. He often leads with a sure head and is the known decision-maker. Of course, these are all characteristic of government, or at least these are the ones we hope it to have.
Unfortunately, another characteristic of a powerful brother is the ability to abuse. In fear of seeming weak, he might be belligerent in his decision-making by staying deaf to the suggestions and blind to the hesitance of the one following him. In fact, given enough resistance he might even exert a show of force, just to redraw the line.
The weaker of the brothers is the embodiment of the people - we’ll call him Peep. He’s been on his feet all day, following his brother around and doing things that don’t necessarily benefit him one way or another. This is ironic because Peep’s happiness and contentment is the original purpose to their outing. Over the course of the day, Peep has protested more than a few times. Believing his frustration as something of petty nonsense, Al yanks Peep around against his will. In looking for a way to gain back some control over the happenings of his life, he initiates larger shows of protest. Al retaliates by pushing him down in the ground. “A boot in the face of man” as George Orwell so vividly put it. This might achieve its purpose one or two times, but after the little brother loses his voice - and all the power it affords him - he becomes irate. Here we have escalation and that’s the point we by-standers witness their feud.
For us Westerners, we are engorged on story-telling. We love the story of an underdog. The idea of a weak character conquering a powerful world around him strikes in us emotions and passions of hope and inspiration. The idea that perhaps one day we might conquer the difficulties we face and shed our figurative skin to realise our potential is one that impassions most. Australia is just one bystander in a square full of many. We’ve arrived late, and are gathering the information as we see it and are told it. But we only experience a personal interpretation of what we see and that interpretation is specific to us. A large amount of what we see is transmitted to us through several filters: consumable media. The media therefore have a duty of care (Read Alain De Botton’s The Media).
Propaganda, in my own experience of viewing it, is often laced with visible and verbal diarrheic rhetoric. Our standards of advertising have become more subtle so it’s a little more difficult to see it, but make no mistake that it’s there. Heart-wrenching images of entire cities, cultures, and populations displaced by the effects of war could very possibly be ours if we don’t intervene and stop it from happening elsewhere. Girls and boys, searching through rubble for their dead parents are more likely to sway an opinion than hard facts. We respond with the histrionics of a spectator desperately trying - and failing - to empathise by shrieking in horror at what we see because failing to do so would mean not caring about any of those things we see. And, by that standard unit of measurement, the person perched on the fence is popularly perceived as insensitive rather than well-centred and balanced.
To save face is to ironically reveal it as cowardly. The media’s bombardment only succeeds in spinning us around in circles before setting us straight and telling us to walk. Then the general public distractedly bicker and blame ourselves when we can’t walk straight. These emotions are irrelevant to any solution or reasonable act of assistance we could offer because both sides to the Syrian civil war have relatively little care for our opinion. In fact, they are so consumed and intent on figuring their differences out that to intervene would only raise the hair on each of their necks and have them turn on whoever this unlucky interceptor might be.
We care and we feel there’s a responsibility to stop and there’s no doubt about it, believing that to know all the things that happened means that we can all understand and move on. We want to discuss the issue and ask one another why one did something to another and whether the reaction was justified. But the question I think we’re stepping over, and the one I want to ask as we stand there with our hands clasping our cheeks, mouth agape with hot noise pouring out, is “Why do you care?” This question is not asked to ridicule or rebuke as you might first think. This is not to be associated with the apathetic walking-by and over-looking of some litter on the ground. It’s asked to initiate a deep investigation into how Australia chooses to act from here on out.
Ideally, our involvement with foreign countries who’ve vast cultural and social differences should have been little to none from the very beginning. Our time in the middle-east would be best spent over the course of two weeks, humbly passing through, gazing upon the intricate craftsmanship of Mosques, a deft respect and observation of their traditions, a smoke of a sheesha pipe and a very jolly, pleasant plane ride home. From there we can tell our friends and family how beautiful the country was, how nice the locals were, and how we’d love to go back.
Unfortunately, with our wondrous technology and its affordable ability to connect, travel, and experience, the sporting American can pop over to Africa for a bit of Lion shooting. The beautiful people from the North Shore can get a train through India and return with a new spiritual fad. This, optimists would like to parade, is all going to make us more accepting, more forgiving, and we’ll be able to achieve world peace. But what really happens once we return to that exotic destination? The novelty wears off, we start to realise that there are greater divides in tradition and culture than the shapes of our houses. Whatever we knew of the Middle-east’s culture is that theirs is archaic and barbaric, even inferior. Acts we’ve witness are coined as unforgivable. Most of their practises are utterly asinine to us otherwise enlightened folk who idolise the Kardashians. Of course they must be given the gift of Democracy, and if they don’t want it, then they should of course be made to accept it.
Not all of it is bad though. Those technologies that afford us proximity also afford us the chance and choice to be active depending on our world view and how we process a reasonable course of action. Some will give to charities, others will donate time and energy to lobbying or democratic representation to increase refugee intake, military deescalation, and yes, escalation too.
Western countries, over-eager to implement a democratic system for other countries are like Mormon’s in Tanzania, knocking on every hut we hear a disturbance from, wondering if they’ve heard the great news of “democracy”. Where there is war there is a profit to be made. With any fight, the power might shift. Agendas of power are sought, and if there are friends of one participant or the other, solutions can be offered by those opportunists lurking in the woodwork. Competing personal interests motivate onlookers into action.
When you have a vested interest in the outcome, as America does in maintaining a security architecture for their status as an unchallenged superpower, they will undoubtedly jump in. Now, our original two people brawl has become a threesome. For the sake of competing interests, another onlooker has jumped in - Russia. From there another, and another, and another, who all want to show their allegiances until the situation has escalated to the point that the only person still watching is good old neutral Switzerland.
To deepen ones involvement would surely complicate the entanglement, right? When coming close to a mess of swinging arms and legs you are inevitably dealt some heavy blows. But these are rare outliers in an otherwise contained nucleus that you knew would be experienced had you got close. This knowledge doesn’t make them any less painful, or any less damaging. They actually tend to rile the one on the receiving end, renewing their interest in the affair with a more emotional mind. But mostly they’re over-exposed anomalies from minorities, which are achieving precisely the political objective of terrorism through exposure: terror (Insert no-brainer here). In turn, governments use the public outcry to take a more active stance when it comes to involvement. How wonderfully well this all works for the superpowers who depend on the outcome. In a practical sense we would care better by remaining unemotional and objective. By waiting on the sideline with a first aid kit, and then coming in afterward to stitch the cuts and ice the bruises.