The other day, Dan McCarthy recommended this short piece in The Guardian by a journalist still in Syria. It’s sobering. Excerpt:
Locals here don’t refer any more to “liberated areas”, but to east and west Aleppo – they don’t show you pictures of their children, or of siblings killed by the regime, but simply the pictures of beautiful Aleppo before the war. Because nobody is fighting the regime any more; rebels now fight against each other. And for many of them, the priority is not ousting Bashar al-Assad’s regime, but enforcing sharia law.
Aleppo is nothing but hunger and Islam. Dozens of threadbare children, disfigured by leishmaniasis, walk barefoot in the steps of mothers, covered in black from head to toe – all bowl in hand, seeking a mosque for bread, their skin yellowed by typhus. In the narrowest alleys, to dodge mortar fire, boys are on the right with their toy Kalashnikovs, while the left is for girls, already veiled. Jihadi fathers push with their beards, djellabas and suicide belts. In July, Mohammad Kattaa was executed for misusing the name of the prophet. He was 15.
The Divine Comedy is deeply concerned with politics, in large part because Dante had lived through civil wars that had devastated his beloved Florence, and resulted in his exile. He places close to the core of Hell two Florentine brothers whose blood feud destroyed their family; they are locked for eternity in a frozen lake, facing each other, butting heads forever. For Dante, treachery against blood relations was one of the worst sins; he has named this circle of Hell “Caina,” after the brother who slew Abel. And Dante, who bitterly resented the papacy’s intervention in the affairs of state (he held some popes responsible for the civil wars), meditates in the Comedy on justice and statecraft. He concludes that an empire with strict separation of Church and State is the best form of government, both because it protects the Church from the corruptions of temporal power, and because it has the best chance of managing all the competing factions in the polity without civil war breaking out.
We don’t have to agree with Dante’s politics to understand why he wanted strong government as the antidote to seemingly endless war. Yesterday, driving to New Orleans, I saw a pick-up truck drive by with this bumper sticker: “Government, stay out of my life”. We have the luxury here in America to entertain the idea that we are oppressed by the government, because we have never had to live in anarchy. I wonder how the ordinary people of Aleppo feel about the importance of strong government today.