The absence of democratic pluralism in most Arab societies came at a high price in 1967 as it does today.
June 5, 1967: this was the start of the Six-Day War between Israel and its erstwhile Arab enemies Egypt, Syria and Jordan. As a toddler, one of my vivid memories of this short war was the reverberating roar of the Jordanian sub-sonic Hawker Hunters (British-made) and the Israeli supersonic Mirage (French-made) fighters.
A couple of awful nights in the 1960s and many of us were traumatised by the sporadic fighting between Israel and the retreating Arab armies. How much more traumatic, violent and unforgiving is it when we watch – even virtually and for fleeting moments – the evil that is still being rained upon different parts of Syria today.
For more than five years, Syria has been pounded viciously by a regime that attempts to quell the aspirations for freedom, dignity and economic welfare of a large majority of its 22 million population.
For more than three years, it has also been caught between a rock and a hard place, where the nastiness of the regime and the pogroms of ISIL (also known as ISIS) or other terror organisations have been razing whole neighbourhoods to the ground.
And for the last year, this same country, which is one of the birthplaces of civilisation, is being buffeted by the dangerous temptations of a Russian powerhouse that wishes to recapture the glory of its USSR history as well as to have a footprint in this eroding region that prophets of old called holy and we now neatly label the MENA region.
I was cowering in my tiny bed just under five decades ago because of a few Hawker Hunter and Mirage fighters. How would a Syrian man, woman and child feel today as they struggle to survive in Aleppo, Daraya, Homs, Deir ez-Zor, the suburbs of Damascus or other parts of the country.
Do they even have a roof over their heads, let alone a bed in their homes to hide in while the machinery of war unleashes everything from white phosphorus or sulphur to chlorine gas, as well as barrel and cluster bombs? Or when innocent Syrians either disappear without trace or whose heads are chopped off by the deranged rants of a few thousand self-appointed über terrorists?
Today, well over 10 million Syrians are displaced in their own country and more than four million are refugees abroad – largely in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Germany.
This is half the population of the country, and the other half are divided between those fortunate enough to be far from the billowing smokes or those who are in the eye of the needle. What traumas will the children import with them, even if the war stops miraculously tomorrow and the nasty men and women responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity are muzzled somehow?
Whether we compare Aleppo to Guernica in 1937 as we evoke Picasso's painting, or we recall Coventry and Dresden, or we simply weep with shame, we have failed a whole people by allying ourselves with the purveyors of destruction and misery.
The US under President Barack Obama has endeavoured to shift its geostrategic interest in the world – including the MENA and, by osmosis, Syria – and has opened the way for other regional powers to enact their proxy wars. It has also seemingly kowtowed to Russian dictates.
Sun Tzu’s art of war
And the militias coming from all parts of the world – near and far – are also misapplying Sun Tzu’s art of war as they push in one direction or other. Much of the country today is a powder keg and yet we in Europe are helplessly flailing around with bold statements that our adversaries know we will not put to the test anyway or else with prayers and incantations that are barren, if not insincere.
Nobody today holds the moral high ground, and nobody can look in the mirror and pretend to be innocent of the crimes perpetrated – either wilfully or otherwise – against a people. Priests, imams, politicians and advocates of peace have aided and abetted the unfolding of this tragedy and scarred the soul of this proud Levantine country.
Imagine if I were an Alan Kurdi or an Omar Daqneesh in 1967, or one of the hundreds of thousands freed from the rubble and sawdust of Syria by the valour of the Syrian Civil Defence, known as the White Helmets. I would probably not be alive, or else too stunted emotionally, to write this piece.
So whether we compare Aleppo to Guernica in 1937 as we evoke Picasso’s painting, or we recall Coventry and Dresden, or we simply weep with shame, we have failed a whole people by allying ourselves with the purveyors of destruction and misery.
Over the past week, we have become transfixed by the offensive on Mosul. This is necessary and clearly well overdue, but whether we think of Iraq, Syria or elsewhere in the MENA region, we must surely realise by now that war alone will not resolve those conflicts.
We all lack a strategy that heals the faultlines in both countries – and the region – from the aggregate miseries of poverty and oppression. They sow the seeds of radicalism and terror.
Yet do we have the foresight and resources to muster a long-term plan, or will we only try to put out the bushfires today in the knowledge that they will rear their ugly heads again somehow or other tomorrow?
Harry Hagopian is a London-based international lawyer, political adviser and ecumenical consultant on the MENA region. He is also a second-track negotiator and works closely with European institutions.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.