On the 10th of February, Oliver McTernan was invited to speak at Human Care Syria’s 5th Anniversary Dinner. Human Care Syria was established in 2011 to respond to the humanitarian crisis in Syria. The charity has provided emergency humanitarian aid for thousands of Syrians in the form of shelter, food and even baby milk; medical aid in the form of medical kits and equipment for Syrian doctors; and infrastructure programmes, rebuilding Syria’s education and medical system, as well as providing platforms for Syrians to start their own businesses.
In his remarks, Oliver spoke of the need to break the cycle of moving from empathy to apathy – noting that although many were moved by the image of the lifeless body of the young Syrian boy, Alan Kurdi, that was washed up on the Turkish beach, this collective empathy soon reverted to apathy and many remained indifferent to the plight of the children abandoned at Calais. Oliver argued that this apathy stems from a sense of helplessness, fed in part by the mistaken argument that the current Middle East conflicts are rooted in ‘ancient hatreds’ and are therefore intractable – a recycling of the Bosnia argument that was used to justify inaction. He concluded that politicians must recognise that the Syrian conflict is essentially grievance and not creed driven, and the core of these conflicts are about basic justice, political and land rights, governance and not beliefs or cultural practices. Accordingly, it is resolvable provided there is the political will to do so.