By Wim Laven // Posted with permission from PeaceVoice
A friend of mine thoughtfully used Facebook to ask, “Honest question: what concrete actions can we take to help the people of Aleppo?” and I paused. I’m tired of answering “it depends” all of the time. I teach conflict resolution, and one of the fundamental truths of conflict is that there are no guarantees, no one-size-fits-all approaches, and no universal answers. It depends is where the thinking and examination starts, but I should be able to offer some concrete answers since there are concrete things people can do. But let me be honest, this is not a feel good piece.
Understanding what is happening in Aleppo requires understanding the history of Syria, how the Middle East was designed and destabilized, and the mandates and failures of the International System and United Nations. The responsibility for Aleppo should be accompanied with the guilt of having promised “never again” but having remained functionally apathetic when 5,000 deaths a month were not enough to warrant an intervention or a responsibility to protect. But that was four years ago.
The anemic response to the conditions in Syria had very predictable outcomes. One central to this discussion, and which (thankfully) we can all do something about, is addressing the crisis of refugees and displaced persons. The people of Aleppo who survive will do so in a world increasingly closed off from them. The harsh reality is that many people will die for lack of a safe haven. One of the greatest contributions a person can currently make is to support the global refugee relief effort. Open doors and borders are in short supply, but in high demand; make no doubt about it there will be no Aleppo for people to return to.
Support for refugees can come in the way of direct action or through aid and donations to those who can help. If one in every 5,000 families in the U.S. sponsored a Syrian family, the cumulative impact would be huge. You can join in on protests and demonstrations to influence the leadership and policies that are failing the people of Aleppo. You can categorically challenge the racism and xenophobia of those who say we have to much to risk or be fearful of. The problem of ‘fake news’ is real and it really hurts refugee populations. According to Jana Mason, a senior adviser to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, “Of all the categories of persons entering the U.S., these refugees are the single most heavily screened and vetted.”
Education and awareness are concrete things that can help. The ‘Post-Truth’ reality creates serious challenges with all current problems. The temptation to “unfollow” or “unfriend” those spreading misinformation is real, but silence and avoidance do not help to address the problem. Each of us can work to better understand what is going on in the world by reading past headlines in reputable sources. We need to follow that up with increasing the awareness of people around us and with a call to action. Like the one I do above calling for the support of refugees. Education and awareness are good—changing hearts and minds—but the action is where the magic happens.
Lastly, and most grimly, we can all bare witness to what is called a “slow descent into hell.” This is really the only way for the impacts of violence to be clear. It is what allows the Russian backed strikes to persist; we must see the very human—inhuman—consequences in order to increase our consciousness. To say it is not easy is an understatement because it is overwhelming, but, in some ways, it is the only way to persevere. I’ve been studying peace and conflict for a couple of decades, and I was recently in Sierra Leone for an international peace conference. I saw many of my heroes give powerful presentations, but in the end it was the words of a tour guide that will always stick with me. He told us about how his father was killed on his 7th birthday and then when he was nine of watching his mother shot to death right in front of him.
The seven year olds, their older and younger siblings, their parents, teachers, doctors, neighbors, etc. need help—so much help—but you can make a difference, if you try. You make a difference when you give, your donations to good causes and organizations can change lives. You make a difference when you read, your knowledge multiplies when you share it. You make a difference when you vote, global leadership is responsible for this complex humanitarian disaster, and they only get away with it when we let them.
Wim Laven, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a doctoral candidate in International Conflict Management at Kennesaw State University, he teaches courses in conflict resolution, and is on the Governing Council of the International Peace Research Association.