Tuesday, 13 March 2012

A Syrian Situation

A small headline at the bottom of the front page of the Times this morning caught my eye. It said 'Mass Murder Claims'. Nothing new there, I thought to myself, and half-wanting to drag my eyes away to read about something less gruesome, I sipped my latte and reluctantly scanned down the small piece.

30 minutes later, I realised today was the day. Today was the day I stopped turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to events unfolding in Syria, because having read what I read, and knowing what I now know, how can I? I've avoided the news, avoided the tv programmes, thought, "Oh, that's terrible!" when Marie Colvin, the Sunday Times journalist, was killed alongside her French counterpart in the Syrian city of Homs, and then thought little more of it.

But I could barely believe what I was reading this morning. Between 45 and 50 (depending on which paper you read) women and children murdered in Homs on Sunday. According to reports, there were around 26 children and 21 women who were killed - some with their throats cut, some with their 'heads mashed in', some set on fire. 4 of the children were only aged 5 or 6. 19 of the women were raped. 1 was pregnant.

Both government forces and Syrian opposition are denying responsibility for the massacre, but it seems to be largely accepted that this was the work of President Basahr Al-Assad's regime, who are desperately trying to opress opposition forces. 

Reading these facts made me feel physically sick. I looked around the coffee shop I was sitting in. It was busy with morning trade, older people clearly part of a walking group, a large table of mums and babies, pushchairs grouped round the table like a line of defence. All laughing, chatting, soothing the kids. What would those Syrian women have given, I thought, for this? Just the normal every day freedom that we in the West take for granted. Just the basic human right to live our lives.

And I wondered why this was just a small column in the newspaper. It was one of the most sickening things I'd ever read. Researching more on the internet, reading reports from newspapers, CNN, and the BBC, this is the latest (probably not even that by now) in a line of almost 9,000 murders of Syrian civilians in a year. Like a lot of people, I'd probably not really paid much attention to these events, coming as they do, far down the line of 'Arab Spring' atrocities which we in the West have been drip-fed almost daily since the outbreak of upsurgance in the Middle East in December 2010. Eygpt, Libya, Iran, Syria...sometimes it all seems to blur into one. The politics are enough to make your head spin. There are opposition parties, activists, Security Councils, United Nations, treaties, government officials and human rights groups banded about like political confetti. Terms of slaughter are thrown at us from the media on a daily basis, to the point of saturation, and Afghanistan and Syria merge into one cesspit of human tragedy.

But what kind of regime attacks its own most vulnerable citizens in this way? What kind of man takes a knife, a rock, a match, to his own people, to a young child? Civilians being treated in hospitals, apparently, are now becoming victims of torture in their beds. And yet Britain, no doubt wary of further military involvment in yet another conflict which 'isn't our war', hops around on the sidelines, wringing its hands; the US, on similar shaky ground, leaves the platitudes to Secretary Of State, Hillary Clinton, and urges the international community to join in condemning Syria's "horrific campaign of violence" against it's own people. Right, Hils. That'll scare them.

Tellingly, given Britain and the US's reluctance to commit any form of military allegiance to the Syrian opposition forces, there are two countries whose voices have not been heard condeming President Assad: Russia and China. Russia, whilst being diplomatically pressurised by Clinton and William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, to stand with them in backing the UN against Assad, is known to be supplying the Syrian government with the arms it's using to butcher its own people; the landmines being planted along the border with Turkey to blow up Syrian refugees as they are flushed out of their villages and towns are Russian-supplied landmines. The fetid stink around world politics is growing, as the humanitarian situation becomes more and more desperate. 

As Paul Conroy, the Sunday Times journalist who was seriously injured in the attack which killed Marie Colvin, said in an interview with CNN, "It's really hard when you've got people presenting you with bits of people saying, 'Why aren't you helping?' What can I tell them? It's not like we don't know what's happening any more. We do know."

And then there are these people. Entirely innocent, except of being Syrian civilians in a volatile environment; women and children, just going about their every day lives of repression and political silence. Look around you today - count 26 women as you walk down the street. Count 21 children as you pick up your kids from school or nursery, or on your way home from work. Think of all your friends who are women, and the freedom we take for granted every day. And then imagine what those Syrian women felt, unable to protect their children or themselves, unable to speak out. Utterly helpless.

It's too easy to think 'There's nothing I can do', and to get on with your every day life, with its own problems and situations. But please just take time to read about the events in Syria, to arm yourself with knowledge, however minimal; think about it, imagine if this was happening to you; talk about it, tweet about it; don't ignore it #helpSyria.