Witness against an Immovable World

The US embassy  in London. (Lefteris Pitarakis/AP)

The US embassy in London. (Lefteris Pitarakis/AP)

Somewhere between 200 and 1,300 are said to have died in an alleged chemical attack on a suburb of Damascus on Wednesday. While the world tries to figure out what to do—or, at least, what to say—the Syrian diaspora in the UK did what they could: they used their democratic right to protest.

Showing up at 10 Downing Street and the US embassy was an act of desperation. Ordinary Syrians with extraordinary stories marched to 10 Downing Street and, by 6 p.m. local time, they had trickled in to Grosvenor Square to demonstrate in front of the silent golden eagle and star-spangled banner that crown the US embassy. In so doing, they interrupted another demonstration, which condemned the US for imprisoning the whistle-blower Bradley Manning.

They waited patiently, holding placards that read, “Obama, the red line is becoming the green line,” as well as pictures of dead children. Some were puzzled by a lone man who carried the Syrian flag used by the Assad regime joining the Bradley Manning protests. Some were British Syrians, while others were exiles as a result of the 1982 Hama massacre. Some have been involved in the recent crisis—like Abu Muaz, between jobs, who ran dangerous medical convoys deep into the heart of Syria.

Finally, when a group of Syrians with the green and black flag marched in, the small crowd began to organize. They started chanting and waving their placards and pictures. Some chants were on point; others were curious. “Obama, Obama, red, red line! Obama, Obama, shut, shut up!” went one.

At times, the demonstration began to verge on the bizarre; the Free Bradley Manning demonstrators—perhaps outgunned and no longer possessing the full attention of the silent Eagle—joined in with their loudspeakers.

In the end, this exercise in futility in front of a cold embassy became the place where men and women scratched their heads in bewilderment. Why was no one listening? Do they not see the dead children in the pictures they carried on their shoulders?

The sheer impotence of these people is reflected in a letter written by a Syrian doctor working in rebel-held Douma, in Eastern Ghouta, a small town known for its religious conservatism and scholars. The doctor’s letter spelled out in no uncertain terms this puzzlement at a world that seemingly does nothing to help Syria. Describing his fight to save dying children in a heartfelt, metaphorical letter that also shows his feelings towards his country’s crisis, he wrote: “I am crying while searching desperately for the vein to administer the dose of medicine, but it is futile. I try to administer oxygen, but it is futile. There are only a few minutes before they begin their journey to their Lord. I swear by God, I believe there are scores of our children leaving this world.”

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