Yesterday (Thursday) afternoon, a Syrian refugee camp near the Syrian town of Sarmada, just 11 miles from the Turkish border was bombed into oblivion. This was a refugee camp, not a military installation. There were makeshift tents and thousands of civilians who had already been the victims of the violence in nearby Aleppo that currently defines the nation of Syria. It is reported that more than 30 people lost their lives, and the rest lost what few belongings they had, as well as friends and family members. This is a tragedy beyond words, a tragedy for which there can be no justification, no defense.
It is unclear as yet whether the aircraft that dropped the bombs was Syrian or Russian, but in light of the brotherly relationship between al-Assad and Putin, perhaps it is one and the same. The bombing was almost certainly intentional and, as such, is being investigated by the United Nations. If found to be intentional it will be considered a war crime. Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the high commissioner for human rights, said it was “extremely unlikely that these murderous attacks were an accident” given the tents could be clearly viewed from the air. There was absolutely no military presence in the camp, only refugees fleeing for their lives.
This tragedy begs the question: what kind of a person could pull the lever or push the button to drop bombs on a place where there are only people already in distress, people barely surviving and fighting for their lives and the lives of their children every day? Certainly, I suppose, it is easy for al-Assad or Putin, sitting in their modern offices, smoking and drinking their tea, to give the order. They do not have to be the ones to look down, seeing the human misery, and destroy humanity within the blink of an eye. It is nothing more to them than giving an order to have the car lubed. But the person flying the plane, the person opening the doors and actually causing the bomb to release, looking down and seeing tents burning, knowing that human beings are within those tents, seeing, perhaps, people afire trying to outrun the savagery. How can anybody do that and still call themselves a human?
You can read the story in The Guardian. Meanwhile, Putin generously sent one of Russia’s finest symphony orchestras to the recently re-captured Palmyra to play Bach for those who weren’t too busy fleeing for their lives or just trying to survive another day. Isn’t that an interesting contrast? About 130 miles between the soothing music of J.S. Bach and the screams of dying refugees.
A wildfire raging out of control for over three days in Alberta, Canada has forced the evacuation of some 88,000 people from Fort McMurray and surrounding areas. The fire consumed thousands of homes and businesses. Damages will be impossible to estimate for some time yet, but the loss of tangible property is accompanied by losses that can have no price tag … family pictures, beloved pets, and most of all, peace of mind. Fortunately, there have been no casualties directly from the fire, although in the mass exodus there was one fatality from a car crash. The initial cause of the fire, which started last Sunday, is unknown, but the winds caused by El Niño and exceptionally dry, hot weather as a result of recent climate changes have worked to spread the fire.
Though most of the evacuees went south, some 25,000 were directed north into an area of oil sands, where supplies quickly began to run low. Today, they are being led by Royal Canadian Mounted Police cruisers and monitored overhead by helicopters through Ft. McMurray and to safety south of the burned area. To date, more than 1,100 firefighters, 145 helicopters, 138 pieces of heavy equipment and 22 air tankers have been fighting a total of 49 wildfires across the province, with seven considered to be raging out of control.
Among those who were evacuated and lost everything they had was a family of Syrian refugees who arrived in Alberta a mere two months ago. “My kids, mom say, ‘What [do] we have to do? You said to us we will live there, we will live happy. Why that happened to us?’” Labak told the Globe and Mail in halting English. “That’s very bad. I can’t answer to them anything.”
Two tragedies, very different in nature, one caused by the cruelty of man, the other by the forces of nature (with, perhaps, some help from man). Both heartbreaking stories. Yet the main story of interest to many in the U.S. today is what Donald Trump is doing, where he is, who is or is not supporting him. Make no mistake, I do my share of writing about Trump. But today, I am much more caught up in the human suffering in Syria and in Canada. These two stories break my heart for those affected, and they also make me look around at my own family, my friends, and realize that we have so much for which to be thankful.