Syrian doctors from Aleppo recently called on US President Obama to stop Russian air strikes on the city. It was not so long ago that another American president sent troops into a neighbor of Syria to topple a dictator and was roundly excoriated for doing so. Yet here are these doctors from Aleppo who would probably like nothing less for their country. Should America respond to their request, it is more than likely that within six months the same voices that protested the war in Iraq would be clamoring for America to exit from Syria. But then, ingratitude fuels the welfare state at home; why should it not fuel the global one as well, even if the global one is more an emergent reality than a fact?
Understandably, the Aleppo doctors would not appeal to Russia, whose great power interests align it with Assad. Nor to the United Nations, where a Russian veto and Muslim country intrigue would quickly bog it down. So they turn to the United States, the one great power with clout and a sense of moral purpose that informs, to some extent, its understanding of national interest. That one distinction, the difference that makes a difference, is worthy of note. In the absence of a central address for the global welfare state, the fall back is Washington, D.C. The world’s policeman that President Obama does not want his nation to be is also the world’s address for redress by groups that feel themselves in need. Not Ottawa, Canada, nor Paris, France, though there you will find, as you will in the U.S.A., no shortage of pundits clamoring for American action to do something, anything, to stop the carnage. The media will show us pictures of a dust-covered boy with a bloodied face so they can cluck once again about the humanitarian disaster that is Syria, as it is conventionally and conveniently called. Before it was Sudan. Before that it was something else. It could have been Iraq, should have been Iran. Always it is Palestine, so-called Palestine.
So the Aleppo doctors know they are not only appealing to the American President, but also to western public opinion, whose moral arbiters are always ready to make us and them feel good by showing us pictures worth a thousand worthless words. Tomorrow these same moral arbiters will be questioning American intention, should America respond to this appeal, when the intervention goes south, as south it will. For the other side, or sides, in Aleppo are not exactly lily-white. Yes, they oppose the government, a nasty government by any standards, but in the majority they are doctrinaire Islamists who impose strict sharia law as readily as they use chemical weapons captured from Assad. Indeed, a few years ago one of the Syrian rebel groups took time out from their anti-Assad campaign to flog a man condemned for marrying off his divorced daughter. Sufficient time, the group’s leader said, had not elapsed, according to Islamic law, since her divorce. The flogging occurred in the public square of the liberated town. That story never made it to the news cycle.
Syria has imploded into the tribal areas that are its natural contours for now. Any western attempt to create a safe zone will quickly be undermined by Islamic opposition once a semblance of safety has been restored. In short, Iraq redux. It would be best to quarantine the country, which resembles most closely the plague ridden city of Camus’ novel, but for the fact this plague is man-made. Responsibility for its fate lies with the people who live there: the tyrant president, the rebels who took up arms against him, the people who tolerate the one and the other. They would be best to slug it out to the finish; or, as is likely, come to their senses in a stalemate. Appealing to America is simply downloading the consequences of their initial decisions onto others, that nebulous welfare state of world opinion, which is not a political state but a condition that may one day turn into one. Chances are that too will require a lot of bloodshed. For now, it is simply an embryonic state, brought into being by the communications that circulate in the global media, those operative in and protected by the democratic sphere. As such, it is not illogical for the Aleppo doctors to address their appeal to that state. Nor ought one to be surprised that their demand is not dissimilar to those that arise within politically functioning welfare states, at least to the extent they expect the latter to sort out the mess for which they are in large part responsible and feel entitled to keep biting the hand that feeds them. The misery of the human condition, after all, knows no limits.
The influx of Syrian migrants into Europe is one example of this. Let alone the fact that many of the migrants are not Syrian in origin, the tremendous number of refugees created by the Syrian tribal warfare look not to their home country or even to the Islamic nation their intellectuals have long vaunted for help. Instead they look to the democratic West, though once there they respond not with gratitude but with demands the West accommodate their customs and with outrage when it does not. The outrage even goes as far as murder, to which the sphere of western public opinion responds with sympathy and regret, as if plight in and of itself excuses all.
The Black Lives Matter movement in the United States operates in much the same way. The pockets of police racism that still linger in the United States are turned into a wholesale condemnation of the society. It is of little consequence that the race issue that threatened to tear America apart in the sixties has in large measure been overcome. One has but to watch television to see that. It is also of little consequence that much of the problematic relationship between the African-American community and the police has to do with the former’s incredibly high number of single female households. How much easier is it to freeload off the society by attributing to it the baseless charge of racism, to which are added a host of other sins: capitalism, imperialism, patriarchy (sic!), and of course support for the apartheid state of Israel that practises genocide on the Palestinian people (the words are those of Black Lives Matter). The charge is even more outrageous when one recalls how much Jews contributed to the Civil Rights movement, including the two Jewish boys, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, murdered in Mississippi working to register black voters. But then, most of the leadership of the African-American community displays an ingratitude to Jews commensurate with their amnesia. Alice Walker, lest we forget, banned the translation of her book, The Color Purple, into Hebrew out of solidarity with the Palestinians, a stance not unlike the blatant anti-Jewish racism exhibited by Black Lives Matter people on their recent visit to Israel.
Palestinians are world leaders in freeloading off the democratic world’s penchant for people with grievances. Doubtless this is what attracts Black Lives Matter to them: a shared readiness to blame others for their situation coupled with an inflated rhetoric that turns a situation of fact into an excuse for ideological bludgeoning. Such bludgeoning, it is worth observing, is only directed against democratic societies, because it is only democratic societies that respond to such protest, however ignorant or inflated it may be. The Black Lives Matter people would do better to focus on changing unacceptable police practices where they are operative and behavior in their own communities that bring their young into conflict with the law.
There are, of course, exceptions. Ernest Gaines in his A Lesson Before Dying. Bishop Lawrence Wooten of the St. Louis chapter of the Ecumenical Leadership Council of Missouri. But theirs is the language of real facts, not ideology and not the language of welfare state politics which drives reform well beyond the facts, right into crisis mode. At which point left and right can settle into the comfortable armchairs of their culture wars. For they too freeload off the global welfare state while society pays the price. Eventually it will even run out of sympathy.