Mine Eyes Have Seen the Gory – Why are human rights activists dumping on Syrian protesters?

Posted: 01/25/2012 by editormary in Grassroots Activism, Human Rights, Middle East, People's Movements / Struggles, Rant / Musings / Discussion, Refugees, Resistance

100 Syrian civilian vicitims in 2 days of attacks against them


“You may as well be born an animal rather than a Syrian. You would have been given more protection.”

I have been wondering to myself and at times aloud, “What the hell has happened to the empathy and humanity of the activism movement? When did they start deciding whose blood was expendable? Where did their compassion, empathy and sense of justice go?”

There are a few qualities that an activist should have as a mandatory part of their baggage.  Not all of them are required to have a solution to the problems that are afflicting the victims or the weak in the causes that they are advocating. Nor are they even required to dedicate a lot of time or money to the cause. One can be an activist nowadays locally or even if they are disabled and unable to leave their homes, as they can express their views, share information and engage in solidarity by means of internet. The qualities however that should be part of every activists’ tool kit include empathy, a bit of courage and a strong desire for “good” to overpower and defeat “bad”.  And, that this vital and obligatory baggage has become so selective, has got to be the most fatal blow to the activism universe. It makes it reek of hypocrisy and plays directly into the hands of the oppressors.

Empathy is a social and emotional response to the conditions that other sentient beings are in. Since we all can agree that pain and suffering (including being a victim of abuse, starvation, deprivation) are negative things, it is not difficult to feel bad, “as if” what is happening could be happening to us or to the people or animals we love. If we are able to unplug the empathy because we have an ideology that we buy into, accompanied by a kind of strange peer pressure, something has gone wrong very seriously. If we are selective in such a subject as human pain and our acceptance of it, we need a major time out to rethink what we are doing in activism. We should remember that empathy can be a tool towards change, we should put it to use and understand that suffering people (and to some extent animals) are aware of our involvement or our detachment, and they tap into the capacity of (especially) activists, to make the feelings of empathy manifest and bring about an end to the suffering, which is the primary and immediate goal.

By understanding, witnessing and realising the extreme suffering that some are subject to, an activist has the ability to concretely help to change the condition of pain and suffering through the recognition of the condition followed by acts that aim at intervening in favour of the victims. On the other hand, their indifference can empower the abuser and oppressor, who believes that there is justification for his violence.

There has been no lack of evidence for many many months coming from Syria that the situation in Syria is a humanitarian crisis of an extremely severe nature. To cite some statistics, much of them from international organs that are considered to be highly authoritative such as the UN, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and others, in eleven months since the first protests against the regime in power took to the streets, there have been a confirmed 6000 civilians killed, by snipers, shelling, bombs and beatings, though other sources claim that the actual number is much higher, since discovery of mass graves and bodies of “disappeared” protesters is a constant occurrence. 70,000 persons have been arrested, most of them charged with nothing or charged with crimes that would not stand up in any normal court of law, including thought crimes and crimes of intention. There have been constant and documented abuses and torture, with corpses bearing the signs of brutality one can hardly imagine. The scenes are so horrible and devastating, in years and years of activism for human rights and especially Palestinian rights, I have never witnessed this level of depravity, this level of gore.

Last week, the town of Idlib had a most gruesome event: a group of people were victims of the explosion of a nail bomb, sending tiny projectiles into the flesh, damaging internal organs and causing internal bleeding until painful death comes. They were brought to the civil hospital for holding before their funerals, but 60 other bodies were discovered in the refrigerator cells, all of them bearing signs of gruesome torture. The hospital was occupied by the regime’s militia who also prohibited any wounded from receiving treatment. Hospitals were now simply for serving the regime’s fight to stay in power at all costs. What came to mind to an activist I know who had seen the still shots of the bodies face down in pools of their own blood was scenes of Sabra and Shatilla. But these are Syrians, and for some strange reason, most activists for Palestine are ignoring this. Are they wearing blinders or are they unable to empathise with the Syrians?

That there are over 20,000 refugees who have sought refuge in Turkey in a tent facility is another number that should cause any activists to tremble. We know the fate of refugees, the way they often never come back and mostly, the dire living conditions they are faced with. An activist should be concerned about this problem. How many Syrians have fled to Lebanon or even farther? No one knows the numbers because often these people continue to be threatened and hunted even in exile.

Why do the activists fail to understand the severity of the situation? Why do they denounce the protesters in the same exact terms used by the regime with mountains of evidence against it being a humane government? Why have they tweeted, blogged, shouted for weeks about pepper spray in the eyes of American demonstrators, yet the mortal assaults on civilians (including 300 children who have had a violent death at the hands of the regime, many of them subjected to arrest and death at the hands of their torturers) are all but ignored? Are Syrians children of a lesser God? Are they less worthy of protection and concern? Is it possible that American university students who later in the day can go to their dorms and realise their lives are not in danger get more sympathy and empathy from activists than innocent Arab children who have lost their lives under the cruelty of a repressive militia?

Some will say, “Why do you say that it’s worse if someone is killing their own people?” as a kind of excuse to then talk about a different geographical place, a different situation. Others will say that the Assad regime is the last bastion against imperialism, which is the sole argument they seem to be able to muster. They are certain there is an imperialist plot behind all of this, something they were reluctant to say with the same protests in Tunisia, Egypt and to some extent, to the Palestinian Intifadas. Many of these people who are proclaiming it can’t be a sincere popular revolt or revolution live in affluent societies in Europe and North America, where they have the right to say what they want to without being arrested and yet, have never taken part in a revolution or revolt. Others will say that there should be no outside intervention, but they root for Russia, Lebanon and Iran continuing to arm the regime and give it economic solvency for as long as possible. Others will say that the Free Syria Army is an imperialist militia (???!!!) and that it is fomenting war and is not a true resistance militia. Yet others are claiming that both sides are to blame, putting them on equal footing, something they would never dare do if this were Palestine. How can an armed power that controls government, the economy, can turn off water, electricity and gas at a whim, arbitrarily arrest people in the thousands, close down hospitals and invade cities with tanks, bombarding people as they are within their own homes and placing snipers on the roof should they dare seek to escape be equated with the civilians?

A Syrian friend of mine said to me a few months ago, “If only we were animals, then I think that more people would feel for us and care.” After a few weeks, he noticed even the total abandonment of the Activists for Palestine, who are touting the Assad line without a practical reason to do so unless they are inhumane or blind. He said, “We should just tell everyone we are Palestinian, perhaps they will then be upset about how we are dying”. I would take it further: several years ago Vittorio Arrigoni wrote a piece that was very poignant. I ask especially the activists for Palestine to read it and reflect upon it.

“Take some kittens, tiny little cats and put them in a box” said the surgeon at Gaza’s main hospital called Al Shifa, while the nurse placed a couple of big boxes on the floor right in front of us, covered in splashes of blood. “Seal up the box, then with all your might jump on top of it until you hear the little bones crunching, and the last suffocated “meow”. I’m astounded and I stare at the boxes. The doctor goes on “Now try to imagine what would happen straight after the broadcast of a scene like that, the justifiably indignant reaction of the world-wide public, the denunciations of the organisations protecting animals…” The doctor goes on with his account and I can’t take my eyes off those boxes placed by my feet. “Israel has enclosed hundreds of civilians in a school as though in a box, dozens of children, and then it squeezed it with all its might using its bombs. And what were the reactions of the world? Almost nothing. You may as well be born an animal rather than Palestinian. We would have been given more protection.” At this point the doctor leans towards the box and takes the lid off in front of my eyes. Inside there are mutilated limbs, arms, legs, from the knee down or whole femurs, amputated from the people injured inside the Al Fakhura United Nations school in Jabalia. Up until now there are more than 50 victims. I pretended I had an urgent telephone call, I told Jamal I had to go, but actually I ran for the toilet, I bent over and threw up.


Right now those victims are Syrians. At this moment, the average of 40 victims each day, at times close to 100, belongs to Syria.  “You may as well be born an animal rather than a Syrian. You would have been given more protection.”

  1. lancethruster says:

    Not all of them are required to have a solution to the problems that are afflicting the victims or the weak in the causes that they are advocating.

    Brilliantly and lovingly expressed, Mary (as always).

    Sometimes all we can do in response to such injustice is to be a witness (whenever possible, as vocally as possible). To be sure, there are instances of what I call “compassion fatigue” whereby immersing yourself in the pursuit of the minimizing of the misery of others can be emotionally draining, but the rational option is to allow yourself time to “convalesce.” As I have heard it said, we need to develop a leathery exterior, not a hard shell like a clam to shut out the rest of the world.

    “Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral. ”
    ― Paulo Freire

    Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.
    ― Theodore Roosevelt

    Read more: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/t/theodore_roosevelt.html#ixzz1kVnLtMxB

  2. Mary Rizzo says:

    thanks so much Lance. the fence sitters irritate me, those who justify it or repeat the Assad propaganda as if it were “objective and correct” sicken me.

  3. Maher Alhomsi says:

    we will fight till the last drop of our blood .tens are being killed everyday so what.at last bashar is going we will stay but could the humanity live with this heavy burden of abandoning the victims and biasing tawrds crulity .i thiknk it can. Assad the father did it befor killd thousands of people in Hama and years passed as if nothing happened.so why now humanity should care after all they are human they dont want to have a headache .stay relaxed man let the others being slayed and you just relax.

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