While sitting at a café recently, I accidently overheard two Syrian girls talk about the war in their country. I can tell from their appearances that they were barely 13 years old when the crisis in Syria erupted. Their entire conversation was about the war and they discussed murderous identities and the sources of sectarian origins.
They described horrific scenes which have never been witnessed since the days of Adolf Hitler, Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin and Saddam Hussein. One of the girls narrated dreadful stories to the other as if all these scenes were engraved in her memory. This conversation represents the reality of an entire generation with its boys and girls who are growing up into adulthood through a path full of blood during the past five years.
Erasing these memories and its repercussions will not be easy as this war will at least affect the next three generations. This reminds us of the catastrophic bloody events which happened during major wars where murder, ethnic cleansing and rape produced generations of defeated people who may seek revenge or even think about it or may just settle down with pain and regret.
This slow process of cultural, religious and political setbacks is almost predestined for this generation.
The generations which witnessed the atrocities in Iraq, Libya and Syria will not be shielded from the war’s effectsFahad Suleiman Shoqiran
Europe’s civil wars
The disastrous civil wars in Europe provide a good example. For instance, these wars resulted in helping rulers form regimes that go beyond the “state of nature” as philosopher Thomas Hobbes put it in his book ‘Leviathan’.
Hobbes lived through the English civil war where everyone was at war with everyone else. This is how everyone ended up being coldly dragged into wars while being fully convinced of it. They adapted with this evil and they got accustomed to bloodshed as part of this social and political activity. Then they found wars acceptable and got addicted to them.
English, French and American civil wars produced other political phases related to governing systems that are based on the concept of the sovereign, which is the supreme ruler above all authorities and which must be obeyed, as Hobbes put it during the 17th century.
In the present time, political theory will take its own time to form a social contract while continuously amending and criticizing it – as the case has been since the days of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and up until John Rawls. Reality is like people, it changes with them. Therefore, people’s humanity increases as institutions get more mature.
In her book ‘The Origins of Totalitarianism’, German Philosopher Hannah Arendt analyzes the Nazi phase and her analysis can be used to understand the generations following these revolutions which were full of bloodshed.
Nazism’s repercussions resemble the repercussions of current wars. In the chapter ‘Classless Society’, she writes: “The attraction of evil and crime for the mob mentality is nothing new. It has always been true that the mob will greet deeds of violence with the admiring remark: ‘it may be mean but it is very clever.’
The disturbing factor in the success of totalitarianism is rather the true selflessness of its adherents. It may be understandable that a Nazi or Bolshevik will not be shaken in his conviction by crimes against people who do not belong to the movement or are even hostile to it.
But the amazing fact is that neither is he likely to waver when the monster begins to devour its own children and not even if he becomes a victim of persecution himself, if he is framed and condemned, if he is purged from the party and sent to a forced-labor or a concentration camp.”
Experience of horror
Arendt then details Hitler’s mobilization of the “front generations” and writes: “Very few of this generation were cured of their war enthusiasm by actual experience of its horrors. The survivors of the trenches did not become pacifists.
They cherished an experience which, they thought, might serve to separate them definitely from the hated surroundings of respectability. They clung to their memories of four years of life in the trenches as though they constituted an objective criterion for the establishment of a new elite.”
The generations which witnessed the atrocities in Iraq, Libya and Syria will not be shielded from the war’s effects. The wars in these countries are not organized and do not aim to serve a specific aim but are parts of uprisings in which religious, sectarian, ethnic and tribal factors have played a major role.
All affiliations and predispositions have been awakened and these are exactly what make it easier for people to take up arms, pull the trigger and kill others who are close to them. This young generation has been destroyed at an early stage. An entire generation has seen everything evil a man can do.
Everyone must prepare for the future in order to confront the threats which this afflicted generation of young people and fighters will pose to the world. Not only that but in the future, it will be difficult to integrate these generations into civil life.
While comparing the American and French revolutions in her book ‘On Revolution’, Arendt laments over humans which the revolutionary machines destroy, and writes: “The masses of the poor, this overwhelming majority of all men, whom the French Revolution called the miserable and whom it transformed into angry people, only to desert them and let them carry the necessity, to which they had been subject to as long as memory reaches, - carry it along with the violence that had always been used to overcome necessity. Both, necessity and violence, made them (the miserable ones) not resist the power of earth.”
History does not repeat itself. However, experiences - like human beings - may look alike.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat.
Fahad Shoqiran is a Saudi writer and researcher who also founded the Riyadh philosophers group. His writings have appeared in pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, Alarabiya.net, among others. He also blogs on philosophies, cultures and arts. He tweets @shoqiran.