OpEd: There is no Christmas in Aleppo

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“Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”

- John Donne

I get it.

Essentially, we are a local gay newspaper. 

We can cover the Pet Project’s benefit for abused animals at Hunter’s nightclub, or promote the Pride Center’s annual charity toy drive. We may illuminate a prominent LGBT leader who has achieved national success, or expose a scandalous crook trying to run a stock fraud scheme in a local condo.

Occasionally, though, we must do more. We recognize who stands out for us nationally, and we have done that each December with our person of the year, whether it was Peter Thiel in 2016, or Hillary Clinton in 2011.

When a national or international issue presents itself, whether it was the Charlie Hebdo attacks on journalists in Paris, or the Pulse Nightclub massacre in Orlando, we try to rise to the occasion. We push to give notice to the outrage that is universal.

Today, as the Publisher of a newspaper which has become, page-wise at least, the largest gay American paper printed weekly in our country, I feel obligated to steer us to the genocide in Syria, to the destruction of an ancient Syrian city which once housed 2 million people, as recently as a decade ago.

I don’t understand the war. I can’t understand the slaughter. There is nothing rational about Vladimir Putin and Russia partnering with Iran and Syria’s leader, Screw-him Assad, to mindlessly murder thousands of citizens, reigning terror on its people, destroying hospitals and humanity so senselessly. They are not taking out ‘rebels.’ They are committing war crimes no less vile than the Germans in Eastern Europe during WWII.

So here I am, sitting at a small desk in a little office in Wilton Manors, Florida, cluttered with posters of Woodstock, John Lennon, Harvey Milk, and sports stars I admire, from Sandy Koufax to Muhammad Ali. I am reminded of my alma mater’s newspaper, the Hofstra Chronicle, and its Biblical slogan, that it’s duty is “to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.” 

Therefore, today, to the citizens of Aleppo, to the hundreds of thousands of decent human beings who flee their homes on a run to nowhere, I am here to say, “I am sorry.”

I am sorry that I could do nothing for you but recognize the tragedy and loss you have faced and are facing. I am sorry that I have lived in a world that has tolerated these atrocities so often and in so many places, from Idi Amin’s Uganda to Hitler’s Germany — and long before that.

In its 7,000 years of existence, the people of Aleppo have been fought over by Babylonians, Greeks and Romans, all kingdoms and empires of a past gone by. All I know is the present I see on the news, and it is frightening, horrible, and so painful to watch, from the mothers holding their slaughtered sons, to the refugees carrying their very lives on a backpack through a desert.

As Reuters wrote this week, only one thing appears certain, that “a city which started the century as a relatively cosmopolitan metropolis and destination for Western tourists has been reduced to rubble.”

It appears the final stages are now upon us. The bombs have reigned death and destruction, and have left nothing for the Syrian regime to seize, except shattered dreams and devastated buildings. What have they won? It’s not like there are people who can rush back and return to their homes, jobs, schools, or community; not like there will be electricity, commerce, and industry. 

I wish this were all not so. I wish the west or America could have done more than given a halfhearted response to this crisis. But Western civilization has its own limitations. We simply cannot be the police of the world. Americans have learned this, all too personally and painfully, from Southeast Asia to the Middle East. We did not rescue Iraq, save Afghanistan or bring peace to Libya. Hey, we are lucky to bring it to the south side of Chicago. We can try our best to be a beacon for what others should aspire to become, but America cannot establish a military beachhead on every foreign shore.

So, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and a joyful Kwanzaa, everyone. My staff and I here at SFGN wish you and your friends and families the best this holiday season. 

Join with me in saying as a community to the migrants in Europe and the misery in Aleppo that you too are sorry we must see this inhumanity and suffering unfold every evening on our newscasts.

Join with me in praying that one day a future generation will one day bring peace to the Earth and provide good will to all mankind. Join with me in hoping that one day the world of Aleppo’s will not be part of our world anymore.

Yes, we are just one small newspaper in one small city in one region of the southeast U.S. But as the John Donne quote at the top of this story notes, we are all brothers and sisters on this globe together, subject to Fate, and the fortune of elements often beyond our control. 

However, as we celebrate these holidays, even in this small hamlet, let the future record we did not ignore the horror story that is Aleppo. Let posterity know we saw wrong and tried to right it; terror and tried to tame it; evil and spoke out against it.


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