For over two millennia, the city of Homs, Syria has been an important agricultural, industrial, and trade center, with evidence suggesting habitation for another two millennia before that. Five years ago, it was a city of over 800,000 people, the third largest in Syria after Aleppo and Damascus. The population included several religious minorities, and the city contained a number of historic churches and mosques.
Then the Arab Spring happened. Nationwide protests began against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule in the spring of 2011, and his forces responded by violently cracking down on demonstrations. In response, the conflict gradually evolved from protests to an armed rebellion. Homs became a stronghold for the Syrian opposition movement, and Assad’s forces began attacking the city in May 2011. This resulted in thousands of deaths, tens of thousands of refugees, and the destruction of much of the city. Assad’s forces reconquered the city in May 2014, but the damage remains.
This is relatively easy to write about for someone who lives on the other side of the world and is almost completely removed from the atrocities taking place, but it is another thing entirely to see it. Thanks to a Russian film crew that flew a drone over the city and recorded the aftermath, all the world can see what was done to the city of Homs. Block after block of the city lies in ruins. Artillery holes in buildings reveal what were once private apartments. Rubble is strewn across the tops of structures half-standing. Half-cleared roads wind through what used to be thriving neighborhoods. Once-congested avenues now carry barely any vehicles. The scene is reminiscent of Dresden after World War II, but that was done by foreign militaries, not by German forces against their own people. Now imagine the people who used to live and work in every one of the hundreds of destroyed buildings who are now either dead or displaced, their livelihoods lost and their dreams crushed.
This is the nature of government. Governments do not maintain rule by divine right or popular consent; they do it by murdering anyone who dares to challenge their power, and even some who do not. Governments murdered 262 million of their own citizens in the 20th century, and if Homs is anything to go by, the 21st century is not off to a good start. One may object that not all governments have done such things to their own people in time memorial, or even ever, but that is not the point. The point is that all of them would if faced with a sufficiently powerful popular insurgency. The effect of power upon a ruler is intoxicating and addicting, much like substance abuse. Those who enjoy the power, wealth, and fame of being part of the ruling class will react with the utmost hostility toward any threat to their means of rule. The fear of reprisals by the people against the rulers should the regime fall coupled with the potential of having to produce rather than plunder for a living provides them all the motivation they need to violently crush rebellions.
The tragedy of Homs is just the latest in a long line of murderous rampages by the ruling classes. After seeing it with one’s own eyes, a rational person can only come to one resolution: this must stop. The institutions which make possible such atrocities must be brought low before the people presiding over them decide to bring us low. The rulers and their statist systems must be removed from power by any means necessary. There are some who would not risk open war, but the lesson of Homs is that open war is upon us, whether we would risk it or not.