Even now, when the carnage and destruction throughout Syria has been so extensively documented, there are still those in the West who parrot the Assad regime by claiming that most of the blame for the war rests on foreign jihadists and their Arab and Western supporters. It’s a claim much easy to repeat than it is to substantiate.
While the Assad regime has the most blood on its hands, culpability must be shared by a world that preferred to ignore what was happening at the very beginning as a civilian uprising was brutally crushed.
Those who had spoken out most loudly during the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, largely remained silent during Syria’s descent into hell.
Western imperialism was apparently much easier to oppose than ruthless oppression.
At the same time, for those with no particular political axe to grind, Syria remained easy to ignore because it could be viewed as part of a region a world away from the concerns of the average American.
It feels like an obscene question to ask of the photographs of Aylan Kurdi, the 3-year-old Syrian Kurdish child whose body washed up on a beach in Turkey yesterday morning, images that have since appeared on the front pages of the major American and European newspapers and flooded Twitter with video montages and sorrowful memes, the social-media equivalents of the stuffed animals and bouquets that pile up at the sites where children have died in car accidents or shootings.
But as human rights groups have grown hoarse reminding us, nearly 12,000 children have reportedly been killed so far as a result of the Syrian civil war. Nearly 2 million more are living as refugees, according to Unicef. Both the Islamic State and its enemies have enlisted child soldiers in their causes. It’s not just the numbing statistics that are familiar. The Internet is flooded with images of dead Syrian children, and it’s hard to imagine that the people who were transfixed by Aylan on Facebook yesterday had not seen at least some of them. Why this picture? Why not all the others?
For me, it was the shoes. Aylan appeared in my Twitter feed early yesterday afternoon, and I spent the rest of the day wrecked by his image. More than once I found myself staring out the window, thinking about the boy on the beach. I have a young son, a couple of years younger than Aylan but close enough to him in size that every detail of the photo — down to the angle of repose that, as more than one artist noticed, so precisely echoes that of an exhausted child asleep in his crib — was terribly familiar. [Continue reading…]
As I wrote yesterday, we didn’t see him as other; we saw him as ours.
And perhaps lurking beneath that sympathy and sense of kinship was a subliminal awareness of the absence of those visible marks of otherness — that other than by name, he was not visibly Middle Eastern or Muslim.
Four years ago, the lives and sometimes gruesome deaths of individual children in Syria were details in an unfolding drama whose outcome seemed to matter little to most Americans and Europeans.
On March 30, 2011, the New York Times reported: Hamza Ali al-Khateeb, a round-faced 13-year-old boy, was arrested at a protest in Jiza, a southern Syrian village near Dara’a, on April 29. Nothing was known of him for a month before his mutilated corpse was returned to his family on the condition, according to activists, that they never speak of his brutal end.
But the remains themselves testify all too clearly to ghastly torture. Video posted online shows his battered, purple face. His skin is scrawled with cuts, gashes, deep burns and bullet wounds that would probably have injured but not killed. His jaw and kneecaps are shattered, according to an unidentified narrator, and his penis chopped off.
“These are the reforms of the treacherous Bashar,” the narrator says. “Where are human rights? Where are the international criminal tribunals?”
In Syria and beyond, the youth’s battered body has cast into shocking relief the terrors wielded by the Syrian state against its people.
Circulating in various versions, the video has injected new life into a six-week uprising against President Bashar al-Assad that has appeared to settle into a bloody stalemate of protests and violent government responses. In the days since news of the death spread, more than 58,000 people have visited and expressed support for a Facebook page memorializing the boy, Hamza Ali al-Khateeb, as a “child martyr.”
Demonstrators in several Syrian cities protested the boy’s death last weekend, weaving chants and banners dedicated to him into the mix of antigovernment slogans that have become staples of the uprisings shaking the Arab world. [Continue reading…]