He wrote it in a message. I imagined him staring at the message screen, his hand clenched around his forehead, waiting on the other side. I replied. Of course I would share his message. My pen had been collecting dust. My weapon had not been out sparring in months. Pathetic. But, none of that mattered because he asked me to do this. And because he was from Syria.
He was a student in my English language class. He wasn’t the first Syrian I’d had in class. I had had one prior who had a target on his back. If a classmate held up a phone to take a class photo, he’d dodge out of the frame. If he were identified on Facebook and his location traceable, it might have compromised his life. On his first day in class, he showed me pictures of a man in a hospital bed with gauze wrapped around his head and covering one eye. His hands were bandaged. “This is my friend,” he said, pointing at the picture. “He was an artist who drew political cartoons that critiqued Bashar al-Assad. They came and smashed his hands up so that he’d never draw again. But even so, he can still draw.”
Another Syrian student of mine had studied urban design and historic preservation. She had worked to preserve ancient sites in Aleppo, one of the oldest cities in the world. Each gentle flick of her brush to unearth an artifact was a prayer. Each excavation was in honor of human life and history. She sat at the back of my class participating in our insipid conversations about English grammar while in her homeland chunks of ancient remnants exploded along side arms and legs and hearts.
“Tell us. Please. From your perspective, what’s this war about?” I asked her.
“Oil,” she said.
Russia wants oil. So does the West.
It’s not about getting rid of terrorism. It’s not about removing brutal dictators. It’s about creating more instability. For oil?
Surely a U.S. soldier would know. I happened to have a seat right next to one on a plane. A high-ranking soldier at that! He’d studied war. He’d been in it. After we discussed the evil of ISIS, I asked, “What are these wars really about? Oil?” One corner of his mouth lifted upwards but he did not respond. Instead, his charm, acting as a swivel gun, turned the conversation to yoga and human consciousness. How did he know I could spend hours immersed in human consciousness conversation? The stealth swivel is the most effective weapon in his arsenal.
I’m not knocking the swivel, nor the military. I have family members who have served, friends too, and one soldier with whom I fell in love. Women and men in uniform have sacrificed; they have bled and died. The ghosts of war visit some of them daily to reopen unseen wounds. These soldiers do undertake heroic missions with true and noble purposes. And yet, there is another force at play in our world. It is addicted to black gold. It is never satiated. Ever. The addicts don the most sophisticated clothes, smile behind cocktail glasses and play the most powerful game of chess. Illusionists make it appear as if the pawns move themselves.
My Syrian student who wanted me to share his message now lives and works in the United States. He updates me on his life. He shares his successes and how his heart breaks for the world. I’d rather type his words exactly as he typed them to me because his sword, just like yours, is powerful.
“The West does not want to change the dictators in the Middle East. Instead they are supporting them, finding lies and using terrorist attacks as excuses to control the area and bring the dictators back again. Today everything is clear. The lies are out. People worldwide are tired of the corruption that is controlling them. I have nothing bad in my heart, but put yourself in my shoes. How would you feel if you were seeing your identity and your existence destroyed by chaos?”
Many have died in the chaos. Many have witnessed it. Different stories, yes. But the systematic destruction that masquerades as chaos is the same. We have been beaten, bombed, hung, silenced, shot, raped, tortured, set afire, drowned, stoned, jailed, squeezed, diseased, starved and enslaved. Again. And again. Now, the time has come for us to stand. Again. And again. But, not separately, no. We stand together. From the destruction, we rise with our weapons:
our pen the sword that cuts through lies in order to build the foundation of truth,
our open ears receiving the stories of our brothers and sisters our fuel,
and our broken hearts the very place where we become whole again.