Selective outrage: Why the silence? What’s outrageous in Gaza is no less so in Aleppo

Fintan O’Toole writes: The United States and Israel are bombing an ancient city, targeting hospitals and slaughtering children, women and other non-combatants. All across Europe, ordinary people are appalled. Protest marches to the US and Israeli embassies attract hundreds of thousands of people, denouncing these crimes against humanity. But what if the perpetrators are Russia and the Assad regime in Syria? Protests against the bombing of Aleppo, such as that in Dublin last weekend, have been small and muted. Why are Russian war crimes so much less obnoxious than American atrocities?

On Vimeo, there’s a short film of a demonstration against the Aleppo bombing at the Russian embassy in Dublin on August 27th, led by the veteran peace campaigner Brendan Butler. It is a very fine gesture by compassionate and concerned people. But I counted the crowd stretching a banner across the entrance to the embassy. It didn’t take long – there are 14 people. One of them is a young boy with a poster that says “This isn’t happening in a galaxy far, far away”. But it might as well be. [Continue reading…]

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2 thoughts on “Selective outrage: Why the silence? What’s outrageous in Gaza is no less so in Aleppo

  1. Óscar Palacios

    Roger Waters recently played in Mexico City and he denounced president Peña Nieto, to the great delight of everyone. He also showed images of Palestinian resistance, like the famous image of a Palestinian kid throwing a stone at a Merkava. But there were no images of Aleppo.

    To answer the question in the title, I’m inclined to think in what could be thought of as cynical fashion. I guess the Palestinian issue is so shocking because the perpetrators are the survivors and descendants of a cataclysmic genocide, in which disgusting supremacists decided that they could do as they wished with the Jewish people. And now many Jews appear to have the very same supremacist inclinations.

    Additionally, we in the West have been made very aware of the Holocaust or Shoah -mainly through entertainment. We’ve all seen Schindler’s List and The Pianist. So how can these victims later on become the perpetrators? Even if the Palestinians are not being made to suffer as the Polish Jews, their suffering is *more* outrageous because of the self declared purity and goodness of the perpetrators. And these cynical perpetrators are constantly reminding the rest of the world that they were once victims, adding to the outrage. Many in the world are disappointed about the Israelis. Aren’t they supposed to be on the side with the Good Guys, the Blue Team?

    In contrast, when it comes to Assad and Putin, no one expects nothing good from them. Both Syria and Russia are countries which have been regularly vilified in the West for decades. Again, just look at the way the entertainment industry portrays Arabs or Russians. So when the well-known villains rape, torture and murder, there might be outrage about the facts themselves, but since no one was expecting anything good coming from Syria or Russia, the crimes become business as usual.

  2. Paul Woodward

    I think that what you’re saying here is largely true: outrage is typically a reaction to perceptions of the perpetrators rather than the victims. At the same time, this outrage is usually proclaimed in the name of the victims. Activists declare they are standing up primarily in support of Palestinians more than in opposition to Israelis.

    The basic issue is this: when people suffer the effect of war, does the onlooker need to scrutinize the political motives and historical conditioning of the perpetrators and contextualize the violence within a set of ethnic and cultural expectations in order to determine how much sympathy these people deserve?

    When a child loses a limb or sibling or mother, the pain and grief she experiences is no less or more irrespective of whether the perpetrator was Israeli, Syrian, or Russian.

    A sense of justice that renders people indifferent about the suffering of others is one in which antipathy tramples on sympathy.

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