Syria and freedom from death

By Boštjan Videmšek/Delo

Where once Syrians struggled for the ideals of , equality and dignity, the liberty that most counts in today is the freedom from the fear of death.

A Syrian refugee performs 'Ode to Joy' Photo: © Jure Eržen
A performs ‘Ode to Joy' Photo: © Jure Eržen

Friday 16 September 2016

Make peace, not love,” the great Jewish writer and humanist wrote a few years back, in the context of the . Addressing both sides of the in the , his aim was to smash all the nationalistic, ideological, religious and historical myths that had been driving the existing political structures and their voters into a state of perpetual of them against us.

I believe what Oz was trying to stress was that at the critical moments in history – during the shifting of the geostrategic fault-lines, when thousands of human lives get sucked into the breach – we need to do our utmost to help hit the brakes and prevent the escalation of tragedy.

We would do well to apply Oz's sentiment, which mostly fell on deaf ears at the time, to Syria. Tuesday, 13 September 2016 marked the first day in the past five years when this broken and ravaged land saw no direct casualties of war. After a small eternity, it was the first time Death ran out of breath in this part of the world – albeit probably only temporarily. It was the day that proved that peace, the mother of all compromises, is still possible, even in Syria.

Have the masters of war grown tired? Has the international community got fed up with its impotent calls for accountability and, after five years of war and at least 300,000 fallen, decided to intervene? Does the strange deal struck by the Russians and the Americans conceal some as yet unguessed snag, which could smother the last embers of the Syrian rebellion? Will sanity prevail, or has the harsh Syrian soil already grown too blood-soaked for it to be washed off the rearview mirror, where things may notoriously seem closer than they actually are?

Is ideology finally to be replaced by realpolitik?

It is, of course, hard not to have one's doubts about the deal that led first to a 48-hour and then, hopefully, to the first short and laborious steps towards a semblance of a . But in this eyeblink of a moment, when at least a glimmer of hope is still possible, we need to work hard to suspend these doubts for at least as long as the weapons on the Syrian battlegrounds remain silent.

“Let this war be over,” rings the appeal of a Syrian activist from Douma, the Damascene quarter that has seen 3.5 years of constant siege. He had spent the first year of war protesting in the streets. Then, hoping to survive the tenth circle of Hell, he withdrew behind his fragile four walls and continued his war against war from there. The man's succinct message is a reflection of how his struggle for idealism has turned into a pure fight for survival.

The message, calling to mind the macabre images from Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon, is free of both ideology and what one may call the vanity of dignity – a rather deluded and very self-destructive state of mind, usually propelled more by ego than by any reasonable ethics. The only real freedom in these parts has long become the freedom from the fear of death.

Let this war be over!


  • Boštjan Videmšek

    Boštjan Videmšek is an award-winning freelance crisis reporter for leading Slovenian daily DELO and several European and US magazines. He has covered all the major international crises and wars since 1998. Videmsek is the author of eight books: 21st Century Conflicts. These include THE Last Two: The Battle to Save the Northern White Rhinos, Plan B: How Not to Lose Hope in the Times of Climate Crisis, Remnants of Wars, Revolt: Arab Spring and European Fall, and Ultrablues.

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