Never Again: Syrians are crying for help. Who is listening?

What do the words “Never Again” mean to you?

Last night I attended a screening of “Cries from Syria” at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. The event was hosted by Helen Mirren, and afterwards there was a conversation with the Director, Evgeny Afineevsky.

This powerful documentary traces the disintegration of the country that has been spoken of as the “cradle of civilization.” Hundreds of thousands are now dead; millions are displaced; and every major city appears to have been pummeled into rubble. How did this all happen? The short answer is that the people of Syria rose up to demand basic human rights from a regime that has oppressed them for nearly 50 years.

The spark was the unspeakable torture and death inflicted on a few young boys because they spray-painted the words, “You’re next doctor” on the walls of their school.* Torture and death of eleven- and twelve-year-old boys. That’s a pretty gruesome penalty for graffiti.

Welcome to Syria.

“Cries from Syria” is not easy or pleasant to watch. Yet once you have seen it, you will be glad. You will be glad because you will understand a little better the agony of the Syrian people. You will know why so many have risked their lives and the lives of their children to flee (and continue to do so). You will probably think more deeply about what can and should be done for and about refugees from Syria. You might wonder, as I have, how much responsibility we as Americans bear: for initiating war in the Middle East that led to the Arab Spring… for doing nothing or next to nothing when Basher el Assad began dropping poison gas and barrel bombs on his own people, and when Russia decided to “help” him subdue them.

The people. The heartbroken women. The courageous young men. The grieving fathers and grandfathers. And the children—bright-eyed and somehow still hopeful, even after all they have witnessed. You will meet them in this film. And you will never forget them.

Instead, you will be asking what Afineevsky says everyone asks him after seeing “Cries from Syria”: What can I do?

What can I do? What can you do? It may not sound like a lot: donate to Doctors Without Borders. Or Save the Children. Or UNICEF. Call or write the White House, your Senator, your representative in Congress.**

In her comments introducing the film, Helen Mirren spoke of the vast sums of profits generated by the sale of arms to combatants in Syria and elsewhere. She noted that the arms deal President Trump has just negotiated with Saudi Arabia is for weaponry that will likely inflict death and destruction in Yemen comparable to what has been inflicted on people of Syria. Follow the money. That’s one route to action—and a road that will no doubt be frustrating.

Afineevsky said he was inspired to undertake this project because of the widespread hostility to Syrian refugees he had seen in both Europe and the United States. Slamming the door in the face of these people will not make us safer from terrorism, he explains. On the contrary, it will drive young boys into the arms of ISIS, which is only too eager to kidnap them and coerce loyalty by threatening their families. Once they have you, one boy said, the only escape is through death.

Never Again. So many of us invoke that pledge any time we are reminded of the hideous suffering and systematic death of millions of people under the Nazis. And yet Again is happening. Now. In Syria. And what is the world doing to stop it?



*a taunt at Basher el Assad, an ophthamologist, a physician, who was educated in England

**There are links that make it easy to Take Action on the Cries from Syria web site: