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Sep 05 2013

Torn About Syria: Seeing beyond the numbers and statistics

The use of Chemical weapons must be condemned but it is a pity that all it took for the world to finally sit up and notice the heinous human rights crimes in Syria is a threat of chemical weapons that could affect us.  It is as if the world is saying the indiscriminate killings in Syria do not matter as long as there is no threat of breaking a ‘No chemical weapon’ Convention that could come to haunt us all. Must we wait until there is a direct or indirect threat to us before we notice the sufferings of another?

The use of chemical weapon in warfare was condemned as abhorrent a long time ago. The first international agreement limiting the use of chemical weapons dates back to 1675, when France and Germany came to an agreement, signed in Strasbourg, prohibiting the use of poisoned bullets. The anxiety about the large scale use of Chemical weapons intensified following the horrors of World War 1 finally culminating in the adoption of Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction. The agreement is administered by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

Yes, the ban on chemical weapon is an international agreement, it should be respected. However it is sad that Syria is in the news for the alleged use of chemical weapons that killed hundreds of people but Syria had been in the background even though in the past three years of Syrian war, hundreds of thousands have been killed, more than 2 million displaced and an estimated 1 million children become refugees.

The campaign for a military attack on Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons, looks like all we are saying is that we do not really care about the victims, we don’t care much that Syrians are killing their own people, we do not care that 1 million children have been displaced and thousands killed in this war, but we do care that Syrians, be it the rebels or the Syrian government, should not violate our mutual agreement on the use of chemical weapons.

This to me, echoes the vengeance of a God who does not really care that you killed people all your life but as long as you are able to tell him you love him as you draw your last breath, you are home safe and will be welcomed into His kingdom. Obviously abhorrence for murder was not why the ‘mighty’ one commanded ‘Thou shall not kill’. All along, it was about making laws, commanding respect and asserting authority.

Ignoring the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians and then suddenly getting all uppity about the death of a few hundred from chemical weapons seems a bit odd.syrian 7

Yes, I understand that even amongst thieves there is honour. The world has outlawed chemical weapons; therefore sanctions must be carried out against anyone who violated this agreement. Just as sanctions must be carried out against anyone who violated the many international human rights treaties and agreements.

Even though war is never a way to solve conflicts but not carrying out sanctions against violations makes mockery of treaties and agreements. Playing politics and pretending it did not happen is also hypocrisy of the highest order.

But must the world leaders wait until the use of chemical weapons before they come to the aid of civilians ruthlessly killed daily in Syria?

  • Why do we pretend children are not starving daily to death and made orphans in Syria?
  • Why do we turn a blind eye to the fact that children are being turned into warlords?
  • Why did we turn a blind eye to all these atrocities but suddenly become aware once chemical weapons comes into the equation?
  • Why have we turned this into a debate of political correctness and conspiracy theories?
  • Why can’t we see beyond the statistic and put a face on the victims of Syrian war?

 

If I were in a war torn country where my life is in danger from oppressive government or rebels, I would:

  • Hope that help comes from those who can make a difference especially from the international community.
  • Hope that my life would count and not just be a statistic.
  • Hope people would put a face to me and not just list me as a data.
  • Hope that the world would see me as a human being who needs help rather than just a number to play politics with.

I wish there could be a place in Syria or any war torn countries where civilians can never be attacked. Let all the rebels and government choose a war zone, let everyone who wants to fight the war meet at the arena, let them shoot, maim, kill or tear gassed themselves to death if they so wish, but at least let the civilians have a safe untouchable haven in their own country. Let them have a real choice of whether or not to join the war without fear of any repercussion.

War might be a necessary evil in this stage of our ‘civilization’, but we do not cease being humans because a war is going on in our country.

  • It does not cease to be our country because a few have decided to declare war.
  • Children do not lose the right to life because their parents have decided to fight a war.
  • Women do not sign on to be raped because some men have decided it is war time
  • Men do not sign up to be killed because a few men want war.
  • It does not cease to be their country because a war is on.

Civilians who do not wish to be part of a war must be protected. Indiscriminate killings must be outlawed. If thersyrian 2e must be a war, well, it is time to revisit the rules of war.

Banning the use of chemical weapons does not really seem like the altruistic mission it is portrayed as. It is more like we want to protect ourselves by ensuring that none of us ever comes under chemical attack.

What about we make war rules that are not just about us or our fear of the future? Why not start by outlawing wars, and if we are not evolved enough for that, at least we are evolved enough to lay down rules of war.

Let us create a safe zone in war torn countries. Let only the fighters face themselves and fight it out. Let there be a time limit to their fight. If the allotted time expires, the UN or whatever body we delegate with this ‘big person’ responsibility has a duty to move in and take interim control for as long as needed.

If it is going to be a global world, then it has to be a global responsibility. It is only truly a global community when everyone counts, regardless of geographical location, religion, sexual identity, skin colour or political affiliation. It starts when we ensure the safety of each and every member of our global society,

Let us stand up for the children of Syria.  The human rights crimes in Syria have been called a “moral obscenity” that should “shock the conscience of the world.” Let us ensure that no more civilian lives are lost and that those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity are brought to justice.

I am befuddled when some people insist that Syrians must solve its problems alone. How is it OK for government and rebels to massacre their own people in the name of Freedom, but wrong for UN and its superpowers to curtail these killers just because oil is involved? Are we measuring the price of lives based on oil interest? Genocide should be prevented whenever possible. At least let Syrians live to choose who lead and manage their oil deals!syrian 6

The USA’s real interest in wanting to now come to the aids of Syrians to curtail further massacre might be oil, but the Syrians would be glad they have something to attract the world superpowers’ interest. Unfortunately, many people in war torn countries are massacred by dictators in power without anything more than a verbal condemnation by the superpowers. The Syrians need to be alive for them to be able to exercise their right to choose a leader. This gift of life is more precious than any oil interest. Assad and the rebels killing Syrians must be stopped.

For those who are making this about their personal hate for ‘big brother’ USA, if you simply loathe the involvement of USA or any other world power because you hate the big brothers, then, I must tell you that:

  • You are no better than those who play politics with the lives of the Syrians.
  • You are no better than those who will only intervene if it suits their political and economic agenda.
  • You are all about the politics, about your hate, about your conspiracy theories but not about the real human beings that are victims of your politics, your conspiracy theories and your hate.

Please remember, this is not about you.

  • This is not about your politics.
  • This is not about your ideology.
  • This is not about your religious beliefs or non belief.

This is about the people of Syria.

  • This is about the millions of children dying in a war torn country.
  • This is about saving lives.
  • This is about our humanity.

When the odds are down, I will like to know that my life, the life of my child, the lives of my loved ones and the lives of all human beings are valued much more above our politics, our ideologies, our religion, our flags, our borders and even our sovereignty.

I will like to be rest assured that:

  • The United Nations does not think that my government has the right to kill me in my country simply because it is a sovereign state.
  • The world powers would agree with me that innocent lives are more precious than treaties and agreements.
  • The Universal Declaration of Human rights apply to everyone regardless of their politics, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation or geographical borders.
  • The world will spare the resources to stop the killings of innocent civilians.
  • Human lives are valued above borders, flags and sovereignty.

Only then can we truly say we are equal. Only then can we truly say we are a global community. Only then can we truly say we have made progress since world wars 1 and 2. Only then can we truly say we have universal human rights.

It pains me when politicians, comrades and even the ordinary people on the street do not put a face to victims. It is sad when all we see are data, statistics and not the real human face. Statistics and data cover pains, cover feelings, dulls empathy and makes people just another number. And in some ways, we are all guilty of blurring out human faces with statistics.syria 3

Some of us, as socialists, as comrades, as progressives, refer to the downtrodden as ‘The masses’. Under this term, “The masses”, we commit atrocities of our own. We stop seeing human faces and replace it with our ideology. We say we fight for the masses but we do not care that our neighbor goes to bed hungry. We scream on the street to protest about the masses plight but shut out that beggar on our doorstep, because after all, we have done our bit for the beggar by going to the street to protest for decent wage and a democracy. Our once in a while protests and banners somehow absolve us of personal responsibility towards that member of ‘the masses’ who has a face.

Our political activism somehow gives us that feeling of atonement and redemption. This is akin to what many religious believers feel when they go to church, pay tithes and thinks that this qualifies them as decent human being.

When we only see statistics, we degrade people from humans to mere numbers.

As someone who is an avid activist, was a student union leader and international trade unionist, I have had my fair share of street protests and high table negotiations. However, I started seeing the trend that even amongst the high level activists, people were becoming statistics. “We are for the masses” has become a meaningless tirade used to protect personal jobs and advance careers.

“The masses” have ceased to have a face, “the masses” have ceased to be humans, “the masses” are just statistics people throw around to justify their politics or ideological leanings.  We have let our political ideologies, including our left leanings desensitize us to the real humanity; the one that has a face. The masses are screwed, whatever direction they turn.

Most of us have the experience of that Big brother/sister in our family or friend circle that we really do not like approaching for help. But when push comes to shove and our survival or the survival of our children depends on the help the big brother can render, we seek them out. Even though we loathe them, even though we hate ourselves for asking for their help but a look at our helpless children’s faces tells us that it is time to bury our pride and put survival first before the luxury of personal feelings or ideologies. In our attempt to survive and keep our children alive, we ask for help.syria 4

The mothers in Syria who watch their children die, the woman who had her three sons shot right before her eyes, the children who had their parents killed in their presence would not give a hoot about your conspiracy theories or hate for big brother. They no longer care about who rule Syria or even if Syria remains a country, all they care about is survival.

They need protection, they want safety, and they fear for their lives. Some of them have paid the ultimate price for what they did not sign for. For many of them, life no longer has dignity or respect, all they want is a safe abode. They need a place to feel human again, a place to feel that yes, they do count as human beings. They need to be assured that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights applies to them.

Please, whatever our ideology, whatever our leanings, whatever agreements we have signed:

  • Let us remember first and foremost that we are talking about human beings.
  • Let us remember that children are dying.
  • Let us remember that an injury to one is an injury to all.
  • Let us remember that we are not really free until we are all free.
  • Let us remember that every human being wants to survive, and not just survive but at least survive with dignity and respect.
  • Let us remember that the people especially the children of Syria are not just statistics, but first and foremost human beings.

When we sit at our comfort zones and debate about whether or not the USA should attack Syria for allegedly using chemical weapons to kill hundreds, discuss who is selling guns and other war weapons to whom or spurn conspiracy theories , please remember that:

  • There is a mother crying yet again for the death of another child
  • There is a child going hungry again because there is a war on
  • There is yet another child made orphan because some adults are killing themselves
  • There is yet another child made into a warlord because the rebels need more people to kill for them and they are not beyond turning a child into a killing machine.

You might say, “Hey but I didn’t start the war”, well remember the saying that if you do not have a solution, do not compound the problem.

  • Silence is not a solution,
  • Denial is not a solution,
  • Your hate for big brother USA is not a solution
  • Your conspiracy theory is not a solution
  • Also, your dismay that chemical weapon was used if you never cared when knives, machetes, guns and bombs were used on children, is not a solution.

We might not even have a solution now, but whatever we can do to ease the pain and sufferings of the innocent vicsyrian 8tims in Syria, please let us do it. Let us show the innocent people in Syria that they are not just a number. Let us assure them with actions that they count not as just another number but as human beings. Let us come together as a global community to help the people of Syria.

Life is precious, more precious than data. Syrian needs the world. I hope the US does not have to plan a military attack alone. I hope the United Nations will come together and act as a united force. I hope the UN will take the necessary action, not just against the use of chemical weapons, but a necessary action to save the lives of Syrians from indiscriminate killings and a long drawn war.

Please when next you speak about Syria or any war torn country, kindly see beyond the statistics, data and numbers. See the real faces behind the numbers, see the humans crying for help, stop a second to feel their pain and kindly put a face to them maybe that might stop you from denying them the acclaimed universal right to life, respect and human dignity.

9 comments

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  1. 1
    CaitieCat, in no way a robot nosireebot

    The only problem I see with your solution is that such a zone would pretty much certainly have to be policed by other military people, who would probably have to fight, and kill, and die, to impose the solution. My own least-damaging solution suffers the same issue -- being a Canadian, I want to see UN peacekeepers separating the fighters until they can come up with a way to live beside one another. But the only way that happens is the same problem as yours: Canadian and Indian and Nigerian and Brazilian kids start dying beside all the Syrians and others already dying.

    I honestly don’t know what the solution is; I know I haven’t seen one yet such that I’d have any belief in its having a hope of being implemented, or that it is more moral.

    What I do know is that lobbing a few missiles into the area isn’t going to help anything; it’s hardly going to deter someone desperate enough to deploy gas weapons, and it, too, is going to kill more Syrians. More boys and girls won’t go home to their families after it happens, more parents won’t come home from work.

    The most likely-to-work option, IMO, is for the backers of the various dogs in the fight -- the Iranians backing the Islamists, the Russians backing Assad, the US backing the secularists and Christians -- to sit down at a table and get their stays and cables sorted out, so they can pull the same direction and make some headway in stopping the trouble. That’s by far the most likely to end in the fewest deaths. I don’t think it’s very likely to happen, though, or at least not soon, because the US has a bunch of people strongly affiliated with Israel’s opposition to iran, and they aren’t going to let anyone (politically, in the US) sit down with Iran to work some of this shit out, and the Iranians have the same problem. And Putin’s really just interested in sticking his thumb in anyone’s eye, so he can look tough for the uber-nationalists back home.

    It’s a right fucking mess, is what it is, and a lot more people are going to die before it’s cleaned up. Thanks for writing about it, Yemmy. Is it okay if I call you that, btw? I don’t want to be imposing names on you. :)

  2. 2
    Yemisi Ilesanmi

    @CaitieCat- It is such a mess :( I wish humans were evolved enough not to ever have to go to war. It would help if the only people who have to fight a war are the very people who declare it. If Assad, Putin, Obama, Cameron and all the other backers could just get themselves in a ring and fight this out amongst themselves with no army, just the head dogs, well we might see more backers willing to sit down and negotiate rather than get into the ring. As long as there are other people to do the actual fighting on their behalf, peace would continue to be a dream.

    Of course you can call me Yemmy, this is the shortened, westernized version of my name.:) It is YEMISI (YEMI) in my local dialect, Yoruba :)

  3. 3
    Pen

    The problem with ‘we’ needing to take responsibility is that we don’t have much in the ways of institutions or mechanisms for taking effective action. Accepting refugees, creating camps and supplying food and medication? Good, but it’s a band aid on disasters that have already happened. Military intervention? Based on past experience it’s a means of producing a bigger disasters. What else?

  4. 4
    Meggamat

    Whilst I can to an extent concur with your desire to place human life as the paramount concern, I think you are being rather too harsh on the anti-chemical weapons laws. It is important to note that you are viewing these laws from a historically and culturally objective perspective, without considering the background of the situation. The precursor to the United Nations was called the league of nations, and it formed in western Europe in the immediate aftermath of trench warfare. The cultural effect of those chemical weapons has only recently begun to fade in this part of the world, and largely due to the death of all of the Great War veterans. It is unsurprising then that a visceral reaction is often had to such weapons.

    I do agree with you, but I think you are being very unfair to these laws, as you see them from a modern, Nigerian viewpoint, not the traumatized, Anglo-Francan viewpoint they were written from. Ask yourself how you would feel if you were twenty years older and the weapons being used in Syria were the weapons that were used in the Nigerian Civil war?

  5. 5
    Yemisi Ilesanmi

    @Meggamat -- Read the article again. Your comment says the very opposite of what the article is about.
    I am not against enforcing the anti-Chemical weapons agreement. If anything, from the very first paragraph to the last, I asserted that international agreement including anti chemical weapons treaties must be enforced. I also ended this article with a call that UN must not leave USA to act alone but must join forces together to enforce not just the chemical war sanctions but also ensure Syrians are protected from indiscriminate killings be it from Assad or the rebels.

  6. 6
    Meggamat

    Sorry. It was just that you commented upon the hypocrisy of invasion (or the discussion thereof) due to chemical weapons, as opposed to the equally deadly kinetic weapons, and I was asking if you had considered the historical reason for those laws.

    As you say, the situation is dire. it is beginning to seem more and more likely that only a complete nuclear sweep, essentially a reduction of population to zero, will solve the catastrophe in that part of the world.

  7. 7
    Yemisi Ilesanmi

    @Meggamat -- In the article, I made comment about the hypocrisy of only caring when a violation of an international agreement endangers not just the immediate victims but also others outside the war zone. In the sense that letting Syria get away with the use of Chemical weapon could be the beginning of an indirect encouragement of the use of Chemical weapons. Other countries and rebels might try to do same just to see how far they can get away with it. Which leads to the conclusion that since wars against chemical weapons have consequences for all of us, it cannot be be said to be an altruistic mission. This is not in anyway saying there should not e an enforcement of the agreement but rather a query as to why wait til there is a threat to us all before we react and seek to act to protect the people of war torn Syria.

    Of course I had considered and commented on the historical reasons for the law, dating back to the 1675 Strasbourg agreement between France and Germany. This was actually part of the introduction to the article, with a link for those who wish to read up on the history of the International Law on Chemical Weapons.

  8. 8
    Meggamat

    My apologies. It is likely due to the fears of the “progressives” in modern day superpowers that international action is not more readily forthcoming. There are those who fear the label of imperator, despite the fact that empires generally tend to induce peace and prosperity throughout the world. It is nothing more than colonial guilt.

  9. 9
    intergalacticmedium

    This is the most sane post I have seen on Syrian intervention I have seen across basically the whole of FTB, people seem to so easily fall to reflexive anti neoconservatism which blinds them to what can be done to help.

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