No thanks to cable television and the internet, we get exposed almost everyday to the horrors of armed conflicts, depicting sufferings, cries of anguish, bloodshed, mutilation and deaths, around the world. The daily broadcasts and posts have somehow made us numb and immune to violence. We thought we had seen it all.
Until the August 21 news feed from Damascus shocked us with the unthinkable.
Arms outstretched, flailing, stiffening. Bodies uncontrollably shaking, convulsing. Innocent, beautiful faces of Syrian boys and girls, and babies – yes, babies in their diapers – looking confused as they lay almost naked on the cold ground, some with a piece of paper napkin by their heads to catch the froths spilling from their mouths. Adults, writhing in pain, also lay beside them, contorting, half-breathing, their big, blue, wet, pinpoint eyes turning glassy. After what seemed like forever, spasms ceased, all signs of life taken away in a merciless, torturous manner. Such are the indelible images of a chemical attack. Deliberate exposure to lethal nerve agents makes this man-made weapon of mass destruction a wholesale killing machine.
From the comforts of our homes, as we watched, we were assaulted. Our moral sensibilities were violated. Our guts churned out all our antipathy for endless, senseless power struggles. What has the world come to? Should we care?
The Philippine government abstained from voting in the 2012 United Nations Human Rights Council condemning the human rights abuses of the Syrian regime. We had to for the sake of our Filipino contract workers in Syria numbering from 3,000 to 17,000. Of this varying estimate, only around 800 are working there legally, records showed.
At stake is the plight of thousands of mostly undocumented Filipinos, whose origins are reportedly in Muslim Mindanao, many of them working as maids in Syrian households. Worse, many Syrian employers are not inclined to release them conveniently without having to pay the repatriation refund of $10,000 per worker, despite the Syrian government having waived some of the fees (perhaps in exchange of our mortifying neutrality in the human rights’ violations issue). This has slowed down even further the process of repatriating our compatriots, many of whom have yet to be located as the clock continues to tick by.
With or without any military intervention looming from the West, there is already so much chaos in that country that even the Syrian citizens themselves, by the hundreds of thousands, are on a continued flight out of the land of their birth. They would rather hole up in tent houses in the deserts beyond the border than be caught in the crossfires or the clouds of the deadly fumes of sarin.
Already, food prices have gone up in neighboring Arab countries. Syria is a big source of fresh farm products and an important trade route in the region.
In the Philippines, the price of liquefied petroleum gas has increased, too. Needless to say, the prices of major petroleum products will continue to rise in a world heavily dependent on Arab oil as the conflict escalates in the Middle East.
Then there is the cyber war scenario to contend with. Reports of massive hacking incidents have been rocking the Western coalition boat since September last year and probably even years back, which can also be an important factor in the turnabout move that the American president took, catching the world yet by another surprise, following Britain’s no-vote to military strike and holding in abeyance France’s assault-readiness. All sides seem to be buying time, a commodity getting rare by the day.
Syria boasts of an ‘electronic army,’ otherwise known as the Syrian Electronic Soldiers whose members are composed of young, patriotic computer hackers with servers allegedly based in Russia that can significantly cripple socio-economic and media websites, and other vital systems of their enemies, most likely not without the boosting support of their allied counterparts. Let us not forget that the American whistle-blower, now fugitive Edward Snowden, a computer expert who worked for the U.S. National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency, thereby leaking to the media security surveillance secrets of the U.S. and Britain, has found sanctuary in Russia, the lone state that gave him a refugee status.
Should I care?
I have a seafaring brother, now chief engineer of one of the newest vessels sailing in the world. He has been a seaman since third (or fourth) year in college back in his cadet days at the renowned Philippine Merchant Marine Academy in the old Fort Bonifacio grounds in Makati. Quick math tells me that he’s been a sailor for 30 years. As a Filipino seafarer who belongs to 25% of the world’s 1.5 million seamen, Alvin cannot readily count the number of times that he has sailed the Gulf of Aden and the pirate-infested seas, busy as he is in the engine deck, making sure that the ship’s machinery is always in tiptop shape. As such, he is an important player in the world’s merchant shipping industry, which is dominated one-to-five by Filipino seamen, the biggest bloc in maritime manning. At present, he is still on board plying the seas trade routes.
For his sake, I care about peace in Syria and the Middle East.
For my compatriot Filipinos cleaning the homes of their Syrian employers, I care about peace in that land. The entire homeland is in need of a major upkeep, to say the least. Besides, the Philippine government cannot possibly track all its unlisted nationals at this point in time. Likewise, Syria has more than its share of collateral damages in this two-year civil war.
For the beautiful people of Syria, I care about peace in their land, once seat of one of the world’s earliest civilizations, and home to a people who values their family in a passionate way by the depths of feeling they displayed in the aftermath of the carnage. Who wouldn’t?
For the Alawites and Sunnis of the Muslim faith, I care about Syria because this is both your land.
For all the peoples of the world, I care about peace – in Syria and elsewhere. Man is born free. To suppress that nature is to cause the power of the current that lurks underneath to swell to a crest and disturb the stillness of the water. Grabbing that innate power only leads to greater destruction – never a permanent option to calm down the raging torrents.
John 14:27 – Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.