Shortly after starting this blog, the violence of the ongoing Syrian Civil War became something I paid attention to from time to time. Given my time constraints, writing about it at length has not been feasible, because it is nothing if not a complicated issue . To simplify it somewhat, there are at least four different coalitions of groups fighting over control of parts of the country, with the government on one side supported by a few nations like Iran and Russia, with a “mainstream” group of Sunni rebels supported by the United States and many other countries (including Turkey), the Islamic State with all of its horrors, and a group of Kurds who wish for control over their own lands. Some nations, like Israel, have more or less tacitly supported the government forces as the least of the evils, which seems a canny if striking thing to do.
Part of the reason why the Syria is such a mess is that it has had a civil war going on for seven years. And part of the reason why this has happened is because Syria, like many countries, is particularly complicated. How complicated? Well, suffice it to say that there are more groups at hand than there are different factions. The majority of the country is Sunni Arab, but the dominant party in the Syrian government has been the minority Alawites that make up about ten percent of the population from which the Assad family comes from. Many of the minorities have supported the government, even despite its many transgressions, because the thought of being governed by the Sunni Arab majority is even less appealing. At least a minority government must make some sort of compromises with other populations like the Kurds or Druze, in order to rule, but a Sunni majority ruling without minority rights seems intolerable for many. On top of that, a Syria that breaks apart into different states and that spins off its Kurdish areas in the northern part of the country is unacceptable to Turkey in light of pressures for greater autonomy among Turkey’s sizable Kurdish population.
Not being a specialist in Syria, and being the sort of person who would rather not have to pay attention to that kind of problem, I do not wish to post in greater detail, as that would only expose my comparative ignorance of the country and its massive and potentially humanly insoluble problems. Yet the country and its issues have intruded themselves on my attention, if only because of the horrifying video footage of oppressed civilians that has come out of the country’s brutal civil war. For many who live in the West, it is almost unimaginable how people can be so cruel, and yet I know speaking personally that if our country was in a brutal civil war, I could certainly imagine atrocities against enemy civilian populations engaged in a fight for control over my country. I would not relish such atrocities, but I could imagine them as feasible. Perhaps my staring into the abyss of my own background has made it more possible for me to think of such horrors being at least possible. I do not want to see them, and I certainly do not want to be guilty of such atrocities, but at least I can imagine a possible world I inhabit in which that sort of behavior takes place .
Does that make me a bad person? Does the fact that I can imagine and conceive of a world in which my neighbors and fellow citizens suffer starvation, the destruction of their homes and cities, and death and dishonor to their persons from warfare and violence make me an evil person? To be sure, my moral imagination is far darker than most. I have been taken and driven from home as a result of quarrels and politics. I have survived rape and violence. This sort of thing is a part of my moral imagination because it is a part of my life experience. Because it has happened to me, I can clearly imagine it happening to someone else. That does not mean I like imagining it, or want it to happen, or consider it a good thing, much less that I want to do such things to anyone, but I can certainly see it as possible that such things may happen to people I know in places I am familiar with. Whether or not the fact that my moral imagination is a terribly dark one makes me a terrible person or merely someone who has seen far more evil than many of my fellow American citizens is not a question I feel equipped to answer. No one can justly judge their own cause, after all.
And yet those who have found such images the most jarring wonder if it is superficial to post adorable pictures of their children when the children of others are suffering the horrors of Syria’s civil war or violence in other parts of the world. I wish to offer at least some of my own personal perspective. To the extent that we view our children and the children of others as beings worth protecting, regardless of our own personal feelings as to their families or to their political parties or to their ethnic or religious identities, we are less inclined to behave barbarously towards them. In the case of Syria, years of brutal warfare have conditioned people to think of even women and children not as beings worthy of respect and concern and protection and care, but as enemies who need to be crushed. Our kindness is not superficial, but rather counteracts the latent brutality that could be found in any of us under the same conditions. Our ability to be kind, even to those we do not feel fondly about and who do not act kindly towards us, is often the only thing that keeps us from behaving monstrously. Let us give every encouragement possible to the better angels of our nature, and let us never forget that monsters lie in the abyss all of us face, whether we stare into it or hide away from it. Nor is even the most cultured among us immune to the terrors that result from the evils this world inflicts on its most vulnerable.
 See, for example:
 See, for example: