On the day when East Aleppo falls into the hands of Bashar Al-Assad’s forces, are thousands dying while we eat our breakfasts, greet our families and workmates and go about our daily business? The question is irrelevant on one level, because the slaughter has been going on for months. Today is perhaps just the finale.
But I can’t let this day past without saying something. I can’t stop the fighting, save the children or help the White Helmets dig the bodies out of the rubble. Just as I couldn’t save the people of Hama, Grozny, Fallujah, Srebrenica and Rwanda. Nor could my parents save the people of Auschwitz, Belsen, Hiroshima and Dresden.
But what I can do is mark the moment. I can also encourage those who have not witnessed a similar catastrophe to be aware, remember and learn.
Being aware is not about reading the newspapers and scouring the web. It’s about taking a little time to imagine ourselves and our loved ones caught up in the inferno, reduced to the very basics of existence, watching others die and expecting death at any minute.
Remembering is not about coming up with grand theories about why the disaster happened. Only that it did happen, that we were alive at the time and that it happened to people just like us who do not deserve to be forgotten.
And learning – for those of us with the power to influence only those around us – is not about making sure that we know how to prevent something similar from happening again. Because it will happen again. The circumstances may not be identical, but it will happen maybe tomorrow, maybe next year, maybe in ten years’ time. All the wise people in the world will not be able to prevent it.
Learning is about reflecting on our own behaviour. Do we have it in us to stand by and let those close to us suffer their own catastrophes without stepping in to help? Would we come to the assistance of the woman in the hijab kicked down the subway stairs in Berlin? Or do we just watch as our neighbours spit abuse at other neighbours because of their lifestyles, beliefs or the way they dress?
As we watch acts of inhumanity beyond our personal experience carried out in faraway places, can we learn to become just a little bit more humane ourselves, to encourage humanity in those around us, and to do everything else in our power to ensure that our own societies do not descend into the degradation that is Aleppo?
Blaming is the easiest thing. Blame whoever you like – Bush, Blair, Assad, Putin, Iran, Saudi Arabia and every bomber pilot in the air and gunman on the ground. But pointing the finger will not bring back the people who die today. Nor will accusations of genocide and crimes against humanity, and the bringing to justice of a small number of perpetrators, cause all the instigators of future massacres from thinking twice. It will happen again.
We, sitting in our comfortable homes, looking out over unscarred, unbloodied streets, can send money to the stricken and send messages to our leaders. But first we should be aware, remember and learn. If we want to make the world a better place, we should think of Aleppo, and start with ourselves.
If these words come over as overly pious, I make no apology. Today feels like a day when a little piety could come in handy.