While Aleppo bleeds…

You would think that the Information Age (spurred by the internet) has made us more aware and well informed about the challenges facing our world. This does not seem to be true for Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson. Some readers may ask "Who?" -- and I can't blame them. Why tax your grey cells about a US presidential hopeful whose current rating stands at less than 10 percent? I would have overlooked him too, had it not been for the ignorance and insensitivity that he displayed in an NBC interview. Asked what he would do about Aleppo if elected president, Johnson appeared stupefied and blurted out: "What is Aleppo?" "You're kidding me," responded journalist Mike Barnicle, who asked the question. When Johnson answered "No," Barnicle went on to explain "what" Aleppo is. "OK, got it, got it," said Johnson and continued to deliver his rehearsed campaign response on Syria: "With regard to Syria I do think it's a mess…"

The gaffe went viral for a few hours, but petered out, the media moving on to the next sensational topic. The callousness that Johnson demonstrated, shocking as it may be to some of us, is not a unique phenomenon. It is what we observe in the political elite the world over. They seem to be particularly immune to the hardship and suffering faced by the disadvantaged and marginalised. But why blame leaders and politicians? Even the more privileged segments of society view these voiceless people as mere statistics and not as individuals with feelings and aspirations…

One could excuse Johnson's ignorance given that most Americans seem not to be interested in the rest of the world! But Aleppo is not just another Syrian 'city'. Since 2012, it has been a hotbed of conflict between the ISIS, the government forces and other factions fighting the civil war in Syria. It is at the crux of the refugee problem that the world is struggling to deal with. The intense aerial bombings by the current regime (aided by Russia) and the atrocities committed by the occupying ISIS forces have caused thousands to flee. Johnson's ignorance becomes further inexcusable in the face of the US-Russia peace deal negotiated earlier this month for the 'cessation of hostilities' in Syria,'especially in Aleppo'. How can we expect any reasonable solution to the problem when a candidate running for the US presidency is unaware of the existence of the city that is at the epicentre of the crisis? After all, this is a person who is seeking an office that can make crucial decisions regarding the Syrian stand off!

But we should not be surprised that a US politician is oblivious of the existence of a fractured city in the Middle East, where thousands are suffering due to the ravages of terror, direct combat and bomb attacks. Johnson may have made a public gaffe, but perhaps his reaction was honest, while others are more politically astute. And some are even callously insensitive - recently a tweet from Donald Trump Jr. compared Syrian refugees to "poisoned" skittle candies, making a case that Americans should not be eating from the "poisoned" bowl!

I wonder how many of us remember the bloody image of the five-year-old boy which flashed on our TV screens last month. That was Omran Daqneesh in Aleppo who sat alone in an ambulance, coated with dust and encrusted in blood. His expression was of shock and bewilderment, reflecting the mood of his fellow citizens. Omran was pulled out of the rubbles of a damaged building after a Syrian government/Russian airstrike. According to reports, he is one of the many children who are treated every day at hospitals in the city's rebel-held section. Omran touched the world's conscience, but the tears of empathy soon evaporated. For most people in the United States, his memory has been drowned in the well-crafted campaign promises about making the world a safer place and enhancingthe security of American citizens! Debates on whether or not to build a wall between Mexico and the United States or stop Muslim immigrants and refugees from entering the country are an integral part of the current election campaign. As the political leaders squabble over these issues and throw barbs at each other, thousands are trapped in a city called "Aleppo" because of a war triggered by the flawed policies of the powerful nations. For these unfortunate people, the future is bleak or there is no future – it makes no difference whether Gary Johnson does not know where Aleppo is and Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton know where it is. Or even who gets elected president.

We may build walls and introduce new laws to protect the United Sates from unwanted external forces, but the fact remains that we live in a global village where all of us are interconnected and each one of us is a part of the big story of humanity. Hence, if Aleppo doesn't matter,how can the rest of us matter?


The writer is a renowned Rabindra Sangeet exponent and a former employee of the World Bank.


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