The city of Aleppo has been ravaged.
Decimated, destroyed, dismantled – whatever.
Sometimes, true horror surpasses the power of articulation – especially, when it’s vocabulary thrown into the public sphere by someone such as myself. Someone sat, at their desk, in central London, well-fed, well-slept and safe. I can call it what I want, but it’ll be an ignorant exercise in reduction. To frame the story of Eastern Aleppo through one, single term would be to ignore a million other chapters. Sometimes, you have to let the city tell its own tale. Otherwise we’ll all fall woefully short.
But we who exist on the outside need our words, you see. We’re not there, so we rely on rhetoric to project our thoughts. Words are how we pick a side. Has Aleppo been taken? Or has it been liberated? Has it fallen, or are we about see it saved?
Political interests dictate that there must always be a side. We live in an age of dichotomies. You’re either for, or against; this, or that. Dark and intricate narratives are reduced to the blind banality of picking a team. If you’re outraged by the war crimes committed by the Syrian government, then you have to be in favour of the atrocities carried out in response by the rebels. If you’re anti-Assad, then must be pro-Western intervention. Over and over again, the complexities of fragile issues are completely missed in favour of cheerleading what is perceived as the wider cause. But with Aleppo, there is no cause wider. For many of us, this will be the most terrifyingly potent display of murder and annihilation in our lifetime. And that’s it.
The millions of civilians and aid-workers trapped within the city’s confines won’t be thinking about who is about to ‘win’. They won’t be thinking about which verb or adjective best describes their current situation, either. Probably – and this is me guessing – they’ll be thinking about whether they’re going to make it through the night. They’ll be thinking about who is coming for them. They’ll be thinking about whether death would be more welcome than capture.
To truly understand a situation, we on the outside have to remove ourselves completely from pre-existing rhetoric and ideas. The only cause that leaders and movements should be placing themselves with is the cause of the human-beings currently being slaughtered in their own homes. Aleppo’s story is one that the rest of the world helped to write. When the history books look back, there’ll be few seen to have done the right thing. The time to change that is now – but it might already be too late.
Words by Niall Flynn