‘Mum, where does Santa live?’ we all have asked at least once in our life. ‘He lives in the North Pole, in a far away land from us,’ our parents answered. Because it is no wonder that not even Santa would want to live amid a people who is calling upon their own destruction. It is no surprise that we feel so ashamed of the world we live in that we would not Santa to see what is happening around us. We have been raised to be kind, but where has that kindness gone? And most importantly, what should we tell those children who will hear the sound of bombs instead of jingling bells? Where is Santa’s sleigh? Where has Santa gone?
It has been four years since the Syrian genocide burst out. Lucy Aarish called it a holocaust, but what is unfolding in Aleppo is not an extensive sacrifice. It is a massive slaughter consumed by fire, barrel bombs and incendiary munitions. Aleppo is a city without tears, a place in which the number of victims is unknown, and where the survivors have stopped to cry. Ayah is one of them. She has just been evacuated from the war-torn Syrian hub in the footage aired by Channel 4 news which has quickly gone viral. She is not older than four years old, but she is already beyond tears. She is assisted by her mother, Um Fatima, who grieves the loss of her other children. But Ayah and Um Fatima are not alone. Mahmoud holds tight to his one-month-old brother, Ishmael Mohammed. Ishmael seems to be asleep, but truth is that he has been suffocated in the ruins, and his brother is too devastated to let go of him. A brother and a sister wander in search of their mother, after leaving their dead father in the rubble.
Once upon a time there was a city named Aleppo, in a land not so far away from us, just beyond the Mediterranean Sea. Known as a glorious city of the Hellenistic period, Aleppo soon became one of the capitals of the Hamdanid dynasty, not before witnessing the birth of outstanding works of art such as its Great Mosque. Made a capital of the Ottoman Empire, it developed into a trading point between the East and the West of the world in the sixteenth century. Today, Aleppo is a city split in half, the battleground in a war between President al-Assad and rebels who want to overthrow his government. Aleppo is a city that used to be a city, with its Great Mosque’s minaret reduced to ashes in 2013. Aleppo is a place where you see aerial attacks rather than shooting stars, because its sky has been polluted by too many toxins. A place where thousands of civilians die on a daily basis, and life has become ‘unbearable’, as Amnesty warned in May 2015. But most of all, Aleppo is a symbol, and the point of convergence of a much bigger problem underlying the modern era; a lack of sympathy, of pietas, as the Romans would say.
It is only last week that a ceasefire deal stopped the warring sides’ offensives. The Red Cross says that 25,000 people have been evacuated since, with the Syrian army calling on the remaining rebels to leave eastern Aleppo. The Syrian government has hailed the “liberation of Aleppo”, but is it really the end?
Einstein once said that ‘The world won’t be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.’ We turn the news on and off, but those civilians do not share our same privilege. Those victims go to sleep hoping that their house will endure the strength of the mines. Who will give Ayah back her tears, or Um Fatima back her dead children? Who will provide for Mahmoud and the other thousands of Syrian orphans? Once upon a time there was a majestic sea called the Mediterranean, a nexus of trade between all the countries looking out onto it. Today, the Mediterranean is the last resource of all those who want to escape the war in Syria, Libya and Sierra Leone. ‘They sent us away because they do not know us, because they do not understand our stories’, Belinda, Joy and Faith, three young women seeking asylum in northern Italy, said when they found out that the people of Gorino had built barricades and refused them shelter. Joy was twenty years old and eight-months-pregnant when she came to Italy in search of a better future for herself and her own child. ‘I’d like him to be a boy, and I’d like to call him Michael.’ I do not know if you are believers or not, but I know that Christmas is around the corner, and every year we gather to celebrate the birth of a child born in Palestine, therefore a Palestinian. Michael was born in Italy, but he is not Italian. On the contrary, the Italian people were afraid of him. The Italian people were afraid of a child. Belinda was a nurse. She escaped Sierra Leone because her husband was a victim of politic persecution. Faith shares a similar story. She left Nigeria following an incursion by Boko Haram. ‘I’d like to study’ she says, echoing the words of Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate.
War may seem far away from us, but, actually, it is not. War is in the eyes of all those that we see on the TV when we switch it off, and in the eyes of those that pay hundreds of dollars to cross the sea while we refuse them help. We made the mistake to ignore history in the past, but it is about time that we put to good use the privileges which we have been granted.
When we grow up, we are told that Santa does not exist. Suddenly, the Christmas elves become a memory too. And we start losing faith. But we do not need to teach our children that Santa is not real, let us not teach them that he lives far away. We need to start believing that there is a Santa Claus, that he is good and that he lives among us. We need to go back to believing that doing good is possible, and that this Christmas may be our first step to do so. We need to roll our sleeves up and not scroll down whenever we see a video about the Syrian war, but sit down and become aware of what needs to be stopped instead. We need to incite our government and our president to help those who need to be helped, without delegating others to take care of it. We need to put down the barricades, rather than building them. We need to spread the word that Belinda, Joy and Faith are not different only because of their skin colour. We need to believe that their names have not been made known to us by chance. Because, now more than ever, we need Faith. We need Joy.