The Syrian’s Voice
I’m standing outside my condo, enjoying the evening clouds… a gentle breeze is blowing in my face. I hear the sounds of vehicles, whizzing by, and of chirping birds, readying for slumber… I smell the summer pines, growing in our neighborhood… the smoke lingering on my hand where I was gripping a cigarette a few seconds ago… I’m home alone; my brother left to visit mom and dad in Sacramento. I’m reading a message from a girl I’m seeing whose auburn hair I cannot stop thinking about. She lives up north from here; on a street filled with old houses, and cats, she told me.
My thoughts, however, are not here. They’re somewhere far away across the oceans.
Maybe they’re in Aleppo… Or in Homs… Or even Damascus. Definitely in Syria.
I’m thinking of a Syrian man my age, standing outside of what remains of his home… Hearing the sounds of rockets and mortars falling in the distance… The rapid gunfire of machine-guns that won’t stop. The smell of gunpowder, lingering in the air; or burning wood from a neighbor’s house that was hit yesterday. I wonder how many of his relatives are now laying under tons of earth. Whether his sweetheart is in Syria or she’s fled like millions of others to Turkey or Jordan. If she was lucky, she’s been sold-off to a Libyan or Emirati as a third wife. If she’s not, she’s being raped at a detention center by government forces.
War… is on his mind. War is on my mind; worlds apart.
I’ve been thinking about him for over two years now even though I know we’ll never meet. I wonder if he’s heard about the possible United States intervention in his country. I’ve been grappling with that question, too. The lyrics of the Zehava Ben song I’m listening to is a glimpse into my emotions…
"Mah yihyeh? Mah yihyeh, Elohim hanora
Ko atzuvim chayenu, Ubochim mara…”
(What will be? What will be, O Dreadful God?
Life is so sad… Our cry is bitter)
I don’t know the future. I’m not a god.
My my experiences are what shape my decisions and how I sense the coming future. And I’ve seen war. I have seen it up close and personal. I have seen the dead rotting on fields; the faces covered in shrapnel; the bodies ripped apart by machine-guns; the wailing women and children in shock. I have seen it all and survived. That’s the trouble, though. I live to be reminded of all those things every day and every night.
To be reminded that I suffered it partly because of American intervention in my country - Afghanistan - in the 1980s.
And so have millions of other Afghans, whether they are Arab like me or Pashtun or Tajik or Hazara… Sunni, Shia or Hindu; because war spares no one. I was recently talking to a Lebanese girl about war who’d lived it and we both agreed on something with each other: “You can leave war, but it never leaves you.”
So when I hear anti-US intervention arguments, I’m naturally susceptible to agreeing - even before you remind me of countries you’ve only read about or seen on TV. I’m a living, breathing example of what happens when foreign interests converge upon a country and their disastrous results. I have paid for it with the lives of those I love… Memories jarred by images that would fill a grown man with horror… Nights filled with the faces of those I nearly died with who didn’t make it. Their blood may have been washed off my body, but it taints my dreams red every night.
However, as I light another cigarette, I’m not sure which side of the intervention argument I’m on. I struggle with myself. My fear of my own nightmares gives way to doubt. For no matter how intimately I might know war, intervention, geopolitics, history, geography, foreign policy blah blah blha, I don’t feel I know Syria right now like the Syrian standing outside his door. Nor do I have as much right to Syria’s future as he does.
I’m forced to ask myself: What is he thinking, while the gunshots echo in the background? What does he want, his heart filled with sorrow? Intervention? Non-intervention? Is he apathetic? Does he have any hope left? Where’s his say?
That’s what’s sorely missing from my thoughts and our conversations about Syria right now.
In our own spiritual struggle to be on the right side of history, we have become too focused on our own opinions about what should or shouldn’t happen; how we feel… and god damn it, how we know what the right thing to do here is. The cacophony of our outrage - justified or unjustified, borne of personal pain or second-hand knowledge - is drowning out the voice of the Syrian.
And as we entrench ourselves in our beliefs about what should happen to a country we will likely never visit and to the Syrian we may or may not think about past this war, he is oblivious to our existences. His suffering will continue until there’s nothing left to lose. He’ll go back to his house and wait for more rockets. She’ll keep scrounging out a living as a sex worker at a refugee camp in Jordan. Maybe she’s wailing over a freshly dug grave for a loved one. Maybe he’s in a pile of small bodies, covered in rough chunks of ice; waiting for a UN weapons inspector to make sure how his little body lost its life.
I wonder if he knows he’s lost his voice, too.