lewisLike it or not, cities under siege have always been a regular aspect of warfare, from Londonderry in the seventeenth century to Stalingrad and Sarajevo in the twentieth; there are countless other accidental fortresses that could be listed, but if we are to set our time machines for 2016, the city unfortunate enough to be subject to that unenviable status is Aleppo, historically Syria’s largest metropolis and one of the world’s oldest continually inhabited cities. Archaeological records show that it has been populated since at least the 3rd millennium BC, which makes it all the more sad that one of the goons so dim that he made the other contenders in the US Presidential primaries seem like leading intellectuals didn’t even know what Aleppo was.

The constantly shifting geographical changes in the region, such as the advent of the Suez Canal in the late nineteenth century and the encroachment of Turkey into Syria following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War, had somewhat isolated Aleppo whilst helping to preserve its numerous antiquities in the process. Being awarded the Islamic Capital of Culture award ten years ago underlined Aleppo’s pioneering place at the heart of ancient human civilisation, yet recent events in Syria have turned a jewel in Islam’s cultural crown into a charnel house of death and destruction that we probably won’t know the true horrific extent of until the shooting has stopped.

Different reports put the death toll of this week’s heaviest bombardment of Aleppo somewhere between 25 and 45, and that was on just the one day. Opposing sides in the conflict release contrasting figures in order to suit their own agenda, whereas even independent observers struggle to compile accurate statistics due to the chaos on the ground. Just a couple of months ago, viewers of ‘Newsnight’ were witness to a remarkable life-saving operation undertaken in an Aleppo hospital basement which was dictated via Skype by a surgeon in London, but even that level of inspired improvisation seems impossible now.

A UN envoy this week declared Aleppo risks becoming ‘one giant graveyard’ during an emergency meeting of the Security Council, yet the current carnage in Syria once again highlights the impotence and absolute inability of the UN to make any difference to the lives of those caught in the middle of a bloody conflict, just as it has failed to do throughout its seventy-year existence.

When the roll-call of casualties and fatalities in the Syrian Civil War and a comprehensive account of the bloodshed inflicted upon Aleppo are neatly compiled into a book a decade or so from now, the thousands of names lost as a consequence will melt into each other so that only the survivors will recognise them. Buried amongst the tragically anonymous will be the name of Anas al-Basha, whose death as the result of a Russian-sponsored Syrian Government airstrike on Aleppo was announced yesterday.

Anas al-Basha wasn’t one of those western gap-year gits who volunteer to work in some of the world’s trouble spots solely to add some gravitas to their CVs despite spending the majority of their time there getting pissed and generally doing bugger all to improve the situation. In contrast with some of the jokers dressing as clowns and causing a momentary moral panic both in the UK and US, al-Basha donned the same costume not to scare the shit out of strangers in some overgrown schoolboy prank, but to put a smile on the faces of the children subjected to the relentless pounding the city has received over the last few months – of which there are an estimated 100, 000.

One could be cynical and come to the conclusion that a city without any functioning hospitals and dwindling food supplies doesn’t necessarily need a home-grown volunteer clad in clown gear to inject some silliness into a nightmarish scenario; but the fact that al-Basha was prepared to stay put when 25,000 have fled, purely to bring a little cheer into lives without any at all, shows how the human instinct to laugh in the face of extreme adversity cannot even be extinguished by circumstances that would test the funny bone of the most committed comedian. What Anas al-Basha was doing was, to put it as simply as possible, something selfless and rather nice. It would have been easy (not to say understandable) had he joined the exodus from Aleppo when confronted by the kind of pounding few could tolerate on a daily basis, but he saw a way to temporarily alleviate unimaginable anguish and went for it. And now he’s dead.

At a time when words such as ‘brave’ and ‘courageous’ are severely devalued by being bandied about carelessly to describe pawns in an exploitative game who shed tears on daytime TV when recalling alleged events that took place decades ago, it’s worth remembering that in the here and now there are people in the world who are making the ultimate sacrifice just for the sake of raising a smile. They don’t beg for sympathy with puppy-dog eyes and they don’t give half-a-dozen idle police forces the excuse to spurn current crimes in favour of fishing expeditions to the safe haven of the past; they do what they do because they have a heart and they place the happiness of others above their own selfish concerns. If only the serial protestors could switch their attention to the real issues instead of hysteria over trivia, perhaps Aleppo could figure higher on their radar than it currently does.

Come the Syrian Day of Judgement, one would like to think the guilty will answer for their crimes, even if the example of Nuremburg has been distilled by the slo-mo legalities of The Hague. Chances are the contributions of Anas al-Basha to the pitiful peace process probably won’t figure as an antidote to the list of atrocities on both sides, but sometimes it’s worth noting those who put their neck on the line because they came face-to-face with man’s inhumanity to man and did what they could to neutralise its appalling effect upon the next generation of extremists. We can but hope.

© The Editor


7 thoughts on “THE COMEDY OF TERRORS

  1. One could say the same of Glen Miller and other entertainers who became casualties providing comfort to various troops and populations in WWII – albeit that they were mostly paid professionals, rather than dedicated amateurs, but most didn’t need to go, they chose that risk to add their artistic contribution to the pot.

    The whole Syria/Middle East bloody sand-pit represents the most blatant failure of the United Nations to date. That so many millions can be uprooted, untold thousands of innocents killed, whole cities and histories devastated and yet the supreme international body can only sit on the sidelines and watch, issuing impotent calls and wringing its hands, should be a wake-up call to seek some other way to moderate and arbitrate in conflict zones.

    I don’t have solution to hand but the starting-point must surely be to prevent anyone adding yet more fuel to the unquenchable flames which seem destined to blaze forever in that miserable part of the world. Left alone, it would burn itself out quickly and then, whatever the outcome, it becomes a persuasion and diplomacy job to help create something better for the survivors in the long term. More bombs and bullets are not part of the solution, they are the problem.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well, we either have an interventionist policy, or we don’t, EU member or not. When you have two/three great powers on the Security Council of the UN who all use the middle East as a proxy war venue, the UN is rendered impotent. It’s not the fault of the UN itself, but of both its constitution and the nation state players themselves.

    Remember all those colour revolutions in the Arab Spring which we supported? Look how they all turned out. In Egypt we got a leader we didn’t like, so we quietly supported a military coup against him, in Libya we intervened to “save lives”… how many dead now? In Tunisia, we have decided to stay away in our thousands rather than support their economy through hard times (and no, I don’t blame anyone for putting the safety of their family before supporting an Arab state through transition).

    Our interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan – well, they are ongoing. After how many years? We would have made naff all difference in Syria. And let’s face it – in an extreme situation such as a inter-Bremain/Brexit civil strife, would we want a foreign power to intervene? Only on our chosen side. Which would be the “right” side? Which is the “right” side in Syria?

    Rant over.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re absolutely right, but all the while millions of ordinary, peaceful folk are having their whole lives compromised, or even lost, because other agencies choose to use their back-yards as proxy battlefields.

      In years gone by, civil wars were just that, internal conflicts constrained to the borders of that state or even just part of that state – now it seems that every bit of civil unrest presents an opportunity for external playground bullies to barge in with their own agendas, and ‘teacher’ is powerless to stop them.

      As for the ‘right’ side in Syria, I reckon the ‘right’ side is staying outside – ‘tough love’ perhaps, but better than adding yet more emotive and physical fuel to the flames.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. In the here and now the USA is still fighting its 100 years war with the planet. Very few appear to want to stop it – the UN has been embarrassed for what it is – a talking shop and convenience for international arms sales. The UK, France, Turkey and Israel all see the theatre of war as opportunities to remind us all of their mediocre power and imperialist legacies. Nobody has said ENOUGH!!! – Exemplified by the disgrace of the labour party in voting with the most right wing of tory party scum in supporting Tony Bliar over Iraq – when we all know so very different. Worrying times indeed but if nobody stands up nothing will happen, in fact it will deteriorate further …………


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