Never be silent

Today’s report on a horrifying chemical attack in Northern Syria, lauded as “the deadliest chemical weapons attack in years” in that war-ravaged nation, killing at least a hundred people, including children, and sickening many more, was delivered by a government airstrike under President Bassar al-Assad’s command. And according to witnesses, just a few hours after the brutal attack, another airstrike hit one of the clinics treating the poisoned victims, after the area’s largest hospital had been crippled by an airstrike two days earlier.

It is one of the worst atrocities among many attributed to the Syrian government since President Trump took office. Yet on Friday, our administration officials emphasized that removing Assad was not a priority, and our main goal was to fight the Islamic State. Because fighting the Islamic State has become a catch-all phrase that conveniently ignores the undeniable fact that Assad is as horrifying as they are. It also points to our new president’s isolationist tendencies. No longer are we, the United States of America, to lead the charge for freedom in the world. Why should we? It costs too much. It’s too difficult. Better to batten down our hatches, deny visas, and strip our educational and social systems to the bone. We can perish, intellectually and otherwise, just as well at home as we can abroad.

Just a day before the chemical attack in Syria, a nail-bomb blast attributed to a possible Islamic State suicide bomber ripped apart a metro train in the Russian city of St Petersburg, killing nine and injuring dozens more. And it wasn’t long ago that London suffered a lone wolf attack spurred by an Islamic State sympathizer. And who can forget the carnage in Paris and Brussels? Or, indeed, 9/11? Again, the bogey man is terrorism. And it’s a gruesome bogey man, indeed. But there are others, unfortunately. We seem to be in no short supply of bogey men these days.

The world has indeed gone mad. While North Korea rattles its nukes, increasing tensions in the region as we prepare for a possible showdown with bogey man Kim Jong-un, he of the panda-bear facade and maniacal ambitions, here in the United States, we have a bogey man president who takes to twitter with his own maniacal obsessions and blames his predecessor for everything gone wrong on the planet. Even as he tries to dismantle environmental protections, gear us up for warfare, runs off to play golf every weekend at his villa, and installs his children and in-laws in his administration like a sheikh with his ruling dynasty, though none of his appointees present either the credentials or experience to handle the astonishing portfolio of duties flung at them by an indifferent Trump.

It’s no wonder that lately, my author friends tell me they’re too depressed to function. They refuse to watch the news anymore. They drink or eat too much. They’ve lost enthusiasm for writing and other things they used to love. Others have turned in the opposite direction: obsessing compulsively over everything, from their book sales to their appearance to their pets’ health and a myriad eruption of sudden ailments. It’s as if there are only two options left: refuse to engage and retreat into a hole, or seize control over whatever you can and pray for dawn.

But, as Elie Wiesel once said, “Never be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides.” And if ever there was a time to not be silent, it is now. Syria is a 21st century genocide, make no mistake. Abetted by Russian support, Assad is a 21st century bogey man supported by an equally terrifying ally in Russia’s bogey man, Vladimir Putin, whose covert war on our U.S. election and on his people’s rights, as evidenced by Chechnya’s recent rounding up and murder of gay men, are ill omens of things to come.

The Chechen Republic is a federal subject of Russia, located in the North Caucasus, and was once the scene of a savage conflict that echoes the one now taking place in Syria. Since 2007, Chechnya has been overseen by its own bogey man, Ramzan Kadyrov, whose dominion is characterized by extreme corruption, an appalling record of human rights, and the ubiquitous demagoguery. That he’s also seen Chechnya rebuilt is countered by his emirate’s full adoption of the tenets of a Salafist-takfiri jihadist group, through strict adherence to a literal interpretation of the Quran and the Sunnah. Kadyrov’s spokesman has said, “You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic. If such people [LGBQT] existed in Chechnya, law enforcement would not have to worry about them, as their own relatives would have sent them to where they could never return.”

Sound familiar? If not, it should. These very tactics and rhetoric are how 20th century fascist bogey men seized hold over much of Europe, with Jews being the main targets, along with gay people, people with handicaps, and the Roma, among other “undesirables.” In Syria, Assad is exterminating his own people to secure his power. In Chechnya, Kadyrov is doing the same. And Putin supports both. And Trump supports Putin. Not a pretty picture. We are surrounded by monsters.

Thus, it’s almost impossible to feel as though we have a future anymore. The planet is in the throes of calamity: climate change is Nature’s bogey man, encroaching with increasing ferocity, as species worldwide suffer and go extinct. Famine, the bogey man of Africa, decimates the Sudan. War and dissension, twin bogey men, incinerate the Middle East. Europe is buckling under its bogey man of economic woes, with the United Kingdom set to depart for an uncertain new chapter. What are we, the people without power or political position, to do? We have to live. Feed ourselves. Go to work. Care for our pets and our children, for our careers, our significant others, our aging parents. Every day is a struggle to keep our heads above the water lapping at our doorsteps. WHAT are we supposed to do about all the rest of it, this mess we had no part in and have no means to resolve?

Well, we can speak out. Use our voice. It’s very simple. Hold those in power accountable by shouting out our opposition. It might be a shit storm where we’re howling into the deafening wind, but if we don’t shout, who will?

Remember, if we stay silent, they win. Silence is what the bogey men want. And then, we really will have no future. Because they’ll be lurking right under our beds.

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