Some of my readers are old enough to recall that 5 June 1967 was the start of the Six-Day War between Israel and its erstwhile Arab enemies. As a toddler living in Jordan, one of my vivid memories of this short war was the reverberating roar of the Jordanian sub-sonic Hawker Hunters (British-made) and the Israeli super-sonic Mirage (French-made) fighters hovering over our neighbourhood. A couple of awful nights in the 1960's and many of us experienced an indelible trauma. How much more traumatic is it when we watch - even virtually and for fleeting moments - the evil that is being rained upon different parts of Syria today?
For well over 5 years, Syria is being pounded viciously by a regime that attempts to quell the inchoate aspirations for freedom, dignity and economic welfare of a large majority of its 22 million population. For over 3 years too, it has also been caught between a rock and a hard place, where the brutality of the regime and the pogroms of Daesh / ISIL or other terror organisations have been razing whole neighbourhoods to the ground. And for the last year now, this same country that is one of the birthplaces of civilisation, is being buffeted by the covetous temptations of a Russian powerhouse that wishes to recapture the glory of its USSR history as well as to have a footprint in this eroding region that prophets of old called holy and we now neatly label the MENA region.
I remember cowering in my tiny bed five decades ago because of a few Hawker Hunter and Mirage fighters. How would a Syrian man, woman and child feel today as they struggle to survive in Aleppo, Daraya, Homs, Der Ezzor, the suburbs of Damascus or other parts of the country? Do they have a roof over their heads let alone a bed in their homes to hide in whilst the machinery of war unleashes everything from white phosphorus or sulphur to chlorine gas as well as barrel and cluster bombs? Or when innocent Syrians either disappear without trace or whose heads are chopped off by the unhinged rants of a few thousand self-appointed über terrorists?
Today, well over 10 million Syrians are displaced in their own country and over 4 million are refugees abroad - largely in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Germany. This is half the population of the country and the other half are divided between those fortunate enough to be far from the billowing smokes and those who are in the eye of the needle. What toxic traumas will scar those children even if the war stops miraculously tomorrow and the nasty men and women responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity are muzzled somehow?
President Obama has endeavoured to shift US geostrategic interests in the world - including the MENA and by osmosis Syria - and has opened the way for other regional powers to enact their proxy wars. The USA has also seemingly kowtowed to Russian dictates in Syria. And the militias coming from all parts of the world - near and far - are also misapplying Sun Tzu's art of war as they push in one direction or other. Much of the country today is a powder keg and yet we in Europe too are helplessly uttering bold statements that our adversaries know we will not put to the test anyway or else coming up with prayers and incantations that are barren if not insincere. Nobody today holds the moral high ground, and nobody can look in the mirror and pretend to be innocent of the crimes perpetrated - either wilfully or otherwise - against a people. Priests, imams, politicians and advocates of peace have aided and abetted the unfolding of this tragedy and bruised the soul of this proud Levantine country.
Imagine if I were an Alan Kurdi or an Omar Daqneesh in 1967, or one of the hundreds of thousands freed from the rubble and sawdust of Syria by the valour of the White Helmets. I would probably not be alive, or else be too stunted emotionally, to write this piece. So whether we compare Aleppo to Guernica in 1937 as we evoke Picasso's painting, or we recall Coventry and Dresden, or we simply weep with shame, we have failed a whole people by devolving ourselves from the purveyors of destruction and misery.
We have lately become transfixed by the offensive on Mosul let alone by the presidential elections in Lebanon. Both are necessary and well overdue, but whether we think of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, or elsewhere in the MENA region, we surely realise that war alone will not resolve those conflicts. We need to find the elusive strategy that heals the fault-lines in the whole region from the aggregate miseries of endemic poverty and heavy-handed oppression. The solution is political, not military. Poverty and oppression sow the seeds of radicalism and terror. So do we have the foresight, resources or energy to muster a long-term plan, or will we only try to put out the bushfires today in the haunting knowledge that they might rear their ugly heads and harm us all again soon?