Standing With Aleppo

 

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Photo credit: World Vision

 

What I’m about to share below is probably the result of months (and years) of frustration about being an on-looker to war in 2016 and feeling like you aren’t able to do anything about it.

But this isn’t entirely true – you can donate to humanitarian causes, join an organised protest or lobby the heck out of your government representative which is exactly what I started to do today. After all, their job is to listen to you. (Fellow Brits, you can find out who your local MP is here).

Given the current situation in Aleppo as of 15 December, below is what I said to my local MP. I hope it inspires you to do something, no matter how small, to help or persuade for the better.

Dear Mr Baron,

I am writing to do you today out of the frustration and heartache I have felt for too long now over what is happening to the Syrian people. My immediate request would be that you and your colleagues vote to send urgent aid to Syrians who are starving and freezing, as well as fearing capture, torture or death.

For far too long the British government has remained inactive and silent over the suffering of civilians. On reflection, for years now I have been a frustrated and ashamed individual that I belong to a nation who has remained this passive in addition to previously inflicting its own violence on the people of the Middle East. Sadly, this we cannot undo but that does not mean we cannot do much better now and in the future. In particular, the children of Syria deserve so much better, as did the children of Iraq when we had promised to deliver them salvation, freedom and safety.

To give you some context to my feelings, I wish to take you back 14 years.

When Iraq was illegally invaded in 2003, I was nine-years-old and I was terrified. At that age, I thankfully had little understanding of war but I had grown up hearing my grandparents’ stories of World War II. I was under the impression that since we had invaded Iraq, we too would be invaded. In my young mind, war was a fair ‘like-for-like’ tool. I asked my grandmother if ‘Adam’ Hussein was going to bomb my school and or take me away, like Hitler had bombed her home city.

For me, this was a terrifying misunderstanding. For Syrian children over the last 5 years, it has been an excruciating reality.

The Iraq War played out in the background as I grew from a child into a teenager and it sadly remained a frequent feature on the news; something which myself and many other people my age became desensitised to. After all, Tony Blair and George Bush had told us how unavoidable this war was and tarred the Iraqi nation as a breeding ground for terrorism. This justified the war, right? The lesser of two evils? We were not yet old enough to truly understand nor appreciate the suffering Iraqi civilians endured whilst power politics and ‘neo-imperialist’ actions illegally played out.

At the age of 16, I remember watching a BBC documentary on Syria, a country I admittedly knew little about, and the everyday life of school children there. I was surprised and enthralled to see a country in the Middle East existing in apparent harmony, where both girls and boys went to school in a country with a beautiful ancient history.

Six months later, the Arab Spring began. As a 17-year-old politics student, I was captivated by the passion and insistence of freedom from so many young people all across North Africa. I was unsure what would become of all this but was certain I was watching history being made.

When the Syrian civil war broke out soon after, I thought back to that documentary I had watched. I was heartbroken for the Syrian people but hoped the fighting would soon end, as it had after 22 days in Gaza over the winter of 2008-09.

I grew from a child to a teenager during the Iraq war and I have became an adult during the on-going Syrian war. From the age of nine, like children across the world, I do not remember a time when I was unaware of war playing out in the background of my life. The fact I was not born into one of these war-torn countries is sheer luck and ‘white privilege’. I am thankful everyday that I live in a safe country where I have food, family and a roof over my head. For millions of children in the world, like Syria, this is not a reality. Over a million Syrian children are now refugees and for them, war zones and refugee camps are all they have ever known.

I am now a 23-year-old woman and not a frightened 9-year-old. I am an adult who has a voice and a vote and the power to collectively make a change.

The Syrian War is not ‘our’ war, like Iraq was, but that does not mean we are any less responsible. We, the West, have failed the Syrian people and have stood by whilst they have been slaughtered. By doing nothing, we are complicit in the violence that has wrecked that country. We are indirectly responsible for the rise of ISIS and their threats to life in our Western countries.

I know I am not the politician here and I know there is no cookie-cutter solution for the tragedies for Syria, let alone the Middle East. But like many people my age, I absolutely cannot condone drone strikes. It is a cowardly method of warfare that will always murder a proportion of innocent civilians. I do not want to hear how the accuracy is improving or how drones save money. I think they are barbaric.

Instead, I am asking politicians and diplomats of the UK, the EU and the UN to lobby Russia and Iran to prevent further suffering. People are kidding themselves if they believe the Russians will not do exactly as the Syrian regime wishes. This will amount to government sponsored torture and oppression. This might see the end of open fighting but the terror and suffering of Syrians will go on behind closed doors. We cannot turn our back on Syria, particularly Aleppo.

Last week, as I’m sure you are aware, the UN gave a mandate for countries to drop aid to Syrians and we must make sure the UK is one of those. We cannot be bystanders and watch another Darfur, Bosnia or Rwanda happen. Politicians are good at talking but it’s now time to start ‘doing’. Voting to send aid to Syria is the humane thing to do and the first step of many.

Please, let us give the children of Syria a future. We cannot allow the survivors to grow up and listen to how we failed them and their country.

I hope you and your colleagues will do the right thing.

Yours sincerely,

Emma


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