Running for president is no laughing matter, so when Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson asked an MSNBC reporter "What is Aleppo?" it set off a barrage of responses both ridiculing and disbelieving.
All jokes aside, it turns out that Johnson isn't the only one who had no clue what Aleppo is. In an op-ed in TIME, a group of doctors, nurses and teachers stationed in what was once Syria's most cosmopolitan city, and is now the center of its dire humanitarian crisis, responded to Johnson: "To us, Aleppo is everything."
Six doctors, two nurses and one teacher, all of whom are in Aleppo, wrote the essay as a striking condemnation of the international community's standstill on Syria.
"We... have lived through the last five years of hell in our beloved city," they wrote. "We have been under siege for more than two months — 300,000 of us including 85,000 children and 151,000 women. To us, Aleppo is everything. It is our city, our life and our destiny. Aleppo is our love."
The TIME op-ed specifically called out world leaders' inaction on Syria. "We have gotten used to the world watching us from a distance, looking at the videos and pictures of our injured children, peeking into our suffering—and then moving on," they wrote, imploring readers to remember Omran Daqneesh, the five-year-old who was rescued from the rubble of his home after an airstrike.
"We are not surprised by Johnson's ignorance of our city. Ignorance is a bliss, as they say. What is the benefit of knowing about Aleppo if you don't do much about it? We are more surprised by the apathy of those who knew about what was going [on] in Aleppo. President Obama and other world leaders knew about our suffering, but besides offering condemnations and pointing fingers, they have mostly stood idle while our children are bombed, starved and gassed. We've lost our faith in humanity."
The essay singled out America in particular, with all its talk of human rights and freedom and exceptionalism:
To us, the right question to ask is not "What is Aleppo"; it is "What is America?" Is it a shining city on the hill? The champion of human rights and democracy? The beacon of freedom? The nation that rushed to fight and challenge evil in the World War II and Bosnia? Or is it another country, run by mediocre politicians, so consumed by its internal affairs and election rhetoric that makes it so oblivious to what is going on in the rest of the world?
The frustration in the piece is painfully evident. There is currently a national ceasefire underway, negotiated by Russia and the U.S. to allow aid to reach much-needed places like Aleppo. But when that ends, there are no apparent long-term plans brokered by global leadership to end Syria's devastating war.
Save for periodic spells of outrage sparked by particularly horrific images from the violence, the world has largely turned a blind eye on the crises facing those who stay and those who leave. And these doctors, nurses, and teachers are contributing to the collective cry for help to world leaders to do better.
Because we can do better.
Cover image via kafeinkolik / Shutterstock.com