In early September, main stream news sources and all of social media were alive with indignation when the Libertarian candidate for president – Gary Johnson – asked the question “What is Aleppo?”
Indeed – What is Aleppo?
Aleppo is History.
For hundreds of years Aleppo was the largest city in Syria and one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. Aleppo was called the “Jewel of Syria.” In a recent NPR interview, Charles Wilkins, professor of Middle Eastern History at Wake Forest University recalls entering Aleppo: “You would enter the ancient city through the walls, usually from the west. And as you enter it, you immediately smell spices. Walking further in, you encounter shops selling soap, olive oil. Aleppo is famed for its soap. And further on you might even find heavy wool cloaks to wear in the cold Aleppan winters.” Aleppo was in a geographically unique position acting as a “caravan city” or a hub connecting other cities to each other through people and through trade. Before the war, the city had a population of approximately 2 million.
Aleppo is Horror.
Short of the use of biological and nuclear weapons, Syria has seen the full spectrum of human destructiveness and Aleppo is currently in the centre of the storm.*
In the last five years, Aleppo has been on the front page of many newspapers world-wide more times than we can count. Since 2012, Aleppo has been in a battle between the Syrian government and the many forces that are fighting against that government. Before and after pictures of Aleppo show a beautiful building in a vibrant community side by side with concrete buildings that are bombed out ghost streets. There is no resemblance to what it once was.
Aleppo is a case study of a massive refugee problem; a problem that has humanitarian aid workers shaking their heads in disbelief and begging the world to act. But Aleppo is more than that – it is a symbol of what is wrong with our world. It is a symbol of disconnect between east and west, a symbol of what happens when a leader destroys its country, a symbol of war in all its horror.
“I heard a story recently that is emblematic of all of the suffering in Aleppo right now. A gravely wounded man arrived in a hospital, and there were no more spaces on the floor for new patients. The doctor told the nurse: “This man will only live for two more hours. Take him out of the hospital so that we can admit those who can possibly be saved.” The man was put in a body bag while he was still alive, and placed in the street to be buried. This is the horror that we face in Aleppo.” From NYTimes Opinion piece 10/21/2016
Aleppo is a Cry for Help.
Aleppo is complicated – it is much easier to ignore something when there are no easy answers, when it takes an effort to educate ourselves on what is going on. We watch buildings bombed out on television, we scroll through news that gives us more body counts and describes more destruction. We watch and we have to turn away because it is too much to bear. We also turn away because we wish we had answers, and we don’t. Aleppo calls out in her suffering, begging the world for answers that it cannot give.
Aleppo is bigger than a war, bigger than a historical place in Syria. Aleppo is symbolic of so many problems in our world today — problems that are too big and seemingly have no solutions. Aleppo is apathy and denial; turning our faces away from need and focusing on that which is easy. Aleppo is disparity between rich and poor, injustice, and enmity between people.
So the question “What is Aleppo?” is not just a political one – it’s a spiritual one.
As Christians in the United States, we watch suffering from far away, often from a comfortable couch with a favorite drink in our hands. The Aleppo problem is theoretical rather than personal. It is something that is happening “over there” and many feel the important piece is making sure that it doesn’t “come here.”
But as a Christian, the question “What is Aleppo?” encompasses all the other questions I have that have no answers. Why suffering? Why injustice? Why do the evil thrive?
The questions have been asked by millions through the ages and they will be asked again until the end of time.
So what is Aleppo? I find the answer in the verses of a Psalm written long ago.
1 Why, Lord, do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
2 In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak,
who are caught in the schemes he devises.
3 He boasts about the cravings of his heart;
he blesses the greedy and reviles the Lord.
4 In his pride the wicked man does not seek him;
in all his thoughts there is no room for God.
5 His ways are always prosperous;
your laws are rejected by[b] him;
he sneers at all his enemies.
6 He says to himself, “Nothing will ever shake me.”
He swears, “No one will ever do me harm.”
7 His mouth is full of lies and threats;
trouble and evil are under his tongue.
8 He lies in wait near the villages;
from ambush he murders the innocent.
His eyes watch in secret for his victims;
9 like a lion in cover he lies in wait.
He lies in wait to catch the helpless;
he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net.
10 His victims are crushed, they collapse;
they fall under his strength.
11 He says to himself, “God will never notice;
he covers his face and never sees.”
12 Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God.
Do not forget the helpless.
13 Why does the wicked man revile God?
Why does he say to himself,
“He won’t call me to account”?
14 But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted;
you consider their grief and take it in hand.
The victims commit themselves to you;
you are the helper of the fatherless.
15 Break the arm of the wicked man;
call the evildoer to account for his wickedness
that would not otherwise be found out.
* Mosul and Aleppo: A Tale of Two Cities
[Picture Source – Pixabay https://pixabay.com/en/city-view-quote-elle-aleppo-772778/%5D