What's happening in Syria is an abomination
The Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that the universe had
existed for ever. The reason humanity was not more developed, he
believed, was that floods or other natural disasters repeatedly set
civilisation back to the beginning.
Today, humans are developing ever faster. Our knowledge is growing
exponentially and, with it, our technology. But humans still have
the instincts, and in particular the aggressive impulses, that we
had in caveman days. Aggression has had definite advantages for
survival, but when modern technology meets ancient aggression the
entire human race and much of the rest of life on Earth is at risk.
Today in Syria we see modern technology in the form of bombs,
chemicals and other weapons being used to further so-called
intelligent political ends. But it does not feel intelligent to
watch as more than 100,000 people are killed or while children are
targeted. It feels downright stupid, and worse, to prevent
humanitarian supplies from reaching clinics where, as Save the
Children will document in a forthcoming report, children are having
limbs amputated for lack of basic facilities, and newborn babies are
dying in incubators for lack of power.
What's happening in Syria is an abomination, one that the world is
watching coldly from a distance. Where is our emotional
intelligence, our sense of collective justice?
When I discuss intelligent life in the universe, I take this to
include the human race, even though much of its behaviour throughout
history appears not to have been calculated to aid the survival of
the species. And while it is not clear that, unlike aggression,
intelligence has any long-term survival value, our very human brand
of intelligence denotes an ability to reason and plan for not only
our own but also our collective futures.
We must work together to end this war and to protect the children of
Syria. The international community has watched from the sidelines
for three years as this conflict rages, engulfing all hope. As a
father and grandfather I watch the suffering of Syria's children and
must now say: no more.
I often wonder what we must look like to other beings watching from
deep space. As we look out at the universe, we are looking back in
time, because light leaving distant objects reaches us much, much
later. What does the light emitting from Earth today show? When
people see our past, will we be proud of what they are shown – how
we, as brothers, treat each other? How we allow our brothers to
treat our children?
We now know that Aristotle was wrong: the universe has not existed
for ever. It began about 14bn years ago. But he was right that great
disasters represent major steps backward for civilisation. The war
in Syria may not represent the end of humanity, but every injustice
committed is a chip in the facade of what holds us together. The
universal principle of justice may not be rooted in physics but it
is no less fundamental to our existence. For without it, before
long, human beings will surely cease to exist.
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