A pen dipped in tears

April 11, 2018

A blood curdling photograph on the front page of a major Dutch newspaper. An aid worker wearing a gas mask carries a poisoned child. The image could be from an apocalyptic landscape by Dutch painter Jeroen Bosch. You can’t look at it. But there are others. Young children choking in silence. Desperate doctors trying to wipe the poison off children’s mouths. Mothers looking on helplessly.

In what should we dip our pen? In the cynical vinegar with which politicians hypocritically condemned this chemical weapons attack? In the gall with which we must expose the immense failure of the international community? Or in the bitter tears of mothers who lost their children to chlorine gas which, heavier than air, sinks inevitably into the basement where they sought shelter?

It is cynical that the international coalition, with the United States in the lead, saw a bigger threat in ISIS than in President Bashar al-Assad. The coalition didn’t seem bothered that this played right into the hands of ‘that animal’ (as Trump once referred to Assad). But in so doing, the international community has been guilty of gross negligence.

It is cynical that exactly one year ago, in reaction to a chemical weapons attack, the United States fired 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian airforce base. The attack had no authority under international law and had no practical effect. At this stage, more violence just leads to more violence.

It is cynical that President Donald Trump warned then President Barack Obama against taking military action against Assad when he had passed the red line of using chemical weapons. “If Obama attacks and kills or injures innocent civilians he and America will look bad.”

But what really makes the gall rise in one’s throat? The UN budget for housing refugees in the region only got half of the funds it needed in 2017. For 2018, that same budget has only received 8 percent of its necessary funds.

But cynicism and gall fall short. What remains are the tears. We need some time to absorb some of the thoughts being reported in the media, time to let them sink in. So we never forget the human suffering.

These are the voices of people like you and me. After seven years of siege, starvation and bombing, they have to leave their city of Douma. Immediately after the most recent chemical attack, the buses stood ready.

“We don’t keep track of what day it is anymore because it doesn’t matter. Every day tastes the same, the taste of death and destruction.”

“I’ll bring the memories of my bombed-out house with me. The only possessions I can take are two suitcases. But my thoughts, my memories are full of what we’ve been through.”

“I’m living through the last moments of farewell in Douma, my city. I’m leaving with the hope that someday I’ll come back.”

“I don’t have any choice, and my heart is heavy with sadness now that I’m leaving my city, my little house, my street and its wonderful people.”

“The bombing and destruction which we lived through for seven years are over. All the masks have been taken off.”

What else is there to say?



This blog was originally published in Dutch on jangruiters.wordpress.com.

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