My partner Suhee Kang, spent much time traveling alone around Syria, getting to know people and families, and photographing them and their lives. Today, she can’t return to most of the families she once frequented. Their neighborhoods are either bombed into dust, or at the center of armed conflict.
In the wake of what has happened in Paris recently, I can’t help but think of the pictures Suhee has shown me over the years, and the stories she has shared with me about these beautiful and simple living people in Syria, and about how, in every city and town she visited she was welcomed with a warmth and kindness she had never before experienced in her travels.
Sometimes we forget that we are all human beings, we forget that we all just want to be happy.
We forget also, that there are beautiful, kind, compassionate people in Syria who wish no harm on anyone; people who were living in their towns and neighborhoods, going about their lives as craftspeople, farmers, students, and who have since been forcefully separated from these lives.
The scale of disturbance in Syria right now is immense. Entire towns and neighborhoods have been completely destroyed — many by the air strikes of foreign countries, my own country being a major offender — and hundreds of thousands have been killed.
Many of those who survive the air strikes, bombings, and ground sieges have been forced into one armed group or another, and are now being killed in a war they had no intention to fight.
Now let’s flip this situation.
Imagine, standing outside a bar in Paris and being faced with a similar situation. Your neighborhood has just been annihilated by a foreign air strike — let’s say for the sake of this story that it’s an air strike targeted at CEASR (Capitalist European and American State Regime) — and suddenly you, an upstanding Parisian minding your own business and having a beer after toiling behind a desk all day at XYZ Global Industries, have a group of people with guns to your head telling you to join them or they put a bullet in you.
Imagine this is a daily occurrence all across France, with hundreds of thousands of people having their lives ended abruptly over the course of a few years. This situation is daily life in Syria right now.
Hundreds of human beings are killed in cities and towns every single day and tragically, much of it has to do with the intentions of foreign countries and not so much of the Syrians themselves.
The children Suhee shared time with in Syria don’t want war, the bread bakers don’t want war, the craftspeople don’t want war; they want to live their lives, they want to laugh, they want to love, they want to make a cup of coffee for a stranger and share stories about their grandchildren, they want to make and share good things with the people around them.
There is no excuse for the abominable and inhumane acts which took place in Paris, and my compassion and prayer is with the victims and their loved ones, and everyone who had their lives viciously turned upside down.
This isn’t a call to take away from the healing and love that those in Paris need. It is a call to remember that so many other human beings who you might not directly identify with are also in need of healing and love; humans who are certainly doing no more evil — and perhaps a great deal less — than their capitalist counterparts working in Europe and the Americas.
This is a call to look deeper into ‘terrorist’ attacks than the repeating news reels and headlines. It is a call to look at this word “terrorism” and to really, deeply question who are the terrorists. The American intellectual Noam Chomsky has some views on this topic, but I would also encourage you to dig deep and formulate your own.
Is it possible for each one of us to accept that the acts we carry out in our daily lives — from the petroleum we consume to our jobs at large global corporations — might be indirectly leading to terrorism? Does this make us terrorists? Accomplices? Innocent bystanders?
When we read a news headline, or hear the words from a talking head repeated over and over, and rally around this blindly, clicking like buttons and changing our profile pictures, does it make us patriotic? Kindhearted? Fools in solidarity? Are these all synonymous?
Is the mic on?
Slow down with this life. Get to know about the things you like and the movements you follow. The world needs more compassionate actions, but this compassion should start with ourselves and those around us first and foremost. A deep and true compassion that isn’t so easily swayed by adverts, pundits, and partisan one-liners.
If we can’t do this, how on earth can we claim compassion for those in Paris… let alone Syria, or Iraq, or anywhere else in this world.