Cormac MacConnell: Modern Herods drive flight from Aleppo

A searing TV image stopped me in my tracks, a few nights ago. It was the sight of a terrified young mother, with her newborn infant in her arms, fleeing her home in the blasted hideousness that is Aleppo.

Her face was hooded, so you could only see her huge frightened liquid eyes.

The infant in her arms was tiny, wrapped in what used be called swaddling clothes.

She was very young, this mother, probably only a teenager.

Scores had already died during the bombing, a few hours earlier, of the street that had been home.

She was alone with her child. There was no guardian male in sight near her.

The camera panned upwards to show there were still bombers and choppers in the reeking skies above her headlong flight.

The clip was especially shocking on the brink of our own season of peace and harmony and goodwill and family celebrations.

I hope that young mother and child are still alive today.

There is a shockingly high chance that she is not.

Snipers are firing every day at the fleeing civilians and killing many.

The sad and frightening truth.

Sitting in a peaceful room in Co Clare with the first fairy lights of our family season of peace and goodwill already winking and blinking in the streets outside the window, a thought struck me.

It was that many centuries have passed over us and allegedly civilised us since King Herod was the cruel boss of an occupied territory.

And we imagine that man’s inhumanity to man has been diluted, since the time when Herod’s actions caused a certain other family to flee to Egypt in fear. But that is not true at all, is it?

The byre in the fabled village of Bethlehem was rough and ready certainly, for the expectant mother within that night. But it was not being bombed and mortared and attacked by lethal gas, when the baby came into the world.

We are told that the only bombing the new family were subjected to that night was the sound of a choir of angels above the roof.

And there were no snipers in action on the rooftops around either.

The early callers were farmers and shepherds who would, at the minimum, have offered mute support, on a hard night when there had been no free bed in the nearby boarding house.

That is almost certainly the pure truth.

There is much more, when you think along those lines.

The Three Wise Men, for example, were already making their way freely across the desert sands towards Bethlehem. With them were the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, which would certainly have been welcome to the tradesman father of the new family, in dire straits in the byre. Compare that reality with the situation of that young Aleppo mother and her tiny babe.

She has been bombed out of her home, like her neighbours, the people are starving, their hospitals have been bombed out of business.

The modern equivalent of the Three Wise Men, those waiting UN convoys of the humanitarian aid of food and water and medicines, are not permitted by the successors of Herod to safely drive the last few miles to relieve the civilian hardships.

When they attempted to do so, a month ago, they too were bombed, and some of the UN workers were killed.

Again, the sad truth.

The intriguing question arises of comparison, across all the centuries, with the mothers of Bethlehem and Aleppo.

Whatever about subsequent events, it is palpable that the teenage Aleppo mother’s sufferings to date are on a par at least with anything that happened in Bethlehem.

Has her husband/partner been already killed in the war?

If so, was he the victim of one of the many executions?

Or was it a barrel bomb from high above?

Is it not a poignant enough echo also that, as she joins the swirling tide of European refugees from war and hunger that, if she and her child survive, they could easily find themselves, like that first family, fleeing into Egypt.

I suppose we will never know for sure.

But, as our fairy lights of goodwill begin to twinkle Irish peace and goodwill, I know I will never forget those terrified liquid eyes.


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