How curious to see The Guardian newspaper, perpetually at odds with any kind of intervention on Arab land, compare yesterday’s chemical weapons attack in Damascus, Syria to Saddam Hussein’s slaughter of the Kurds at Halabjah in 1988.
It’s so difficult to understand what kind of horrors reek in the streets of that capital. As we walk from building to building in our own safe nation, from the cafe down to the train station, to work, to home, we don’t see perpetual violence, perpetual death, the perpetual suffering of a civilian population wedged between two sides of the same Muslim coin.
While yesterday’s attack may have left between 500 and 1300 Syrians dead, it is but small change against the total human cost of the Syrian Civil War. As the martyrs from Hamas strap the black flag of Islamic Jihad to their foreheads, the UN are strapping regulations to their chests in the struggle to complete real and decent work in a broken country.
There is a desperate need for international aid in Syria – be that military or logistical – but most regular citizens here seem so apathetic to the plight of Syrian civilians, and the bordering nations forced to hold these disenfranchised people in stasis until annihilation comes, or intervention occurs.
We don’t want to see brown people dying on white people’s television, to put it rather callously. We’ve been seeing it year after year. We’re fatigued by the street battles, the gas attacks, the military crackdowns, the incessant shouts of ‘Allahu Akbar’.
Lisa French Blaker, a Kiwi nurse from Medicins Sans Frontieres, who worked extensively in Darfur, told the New Zealand Herald this in 2007:
"I'm quite aware that people who open the newspaper and read about what's happening in Turkey or Afghanistan or Burma or Iraq. There's so much out there, you've got to choose...I challenge anyone who says that they are numb to it. It is soul destroying to see how wicked one person can be to another.”
And it’s the doctors who work in field hospitals and triage centres in these hellholes who are so often overlooked by the observing authorities.
”I have very few medicines and all the oxygen tubes I have run out now,” Sergeant Abu Ali told the Guardian as he worked on 60 gassed patients in eastern Damascus. “People need intensive care."
We’ve had these specific images on our televisions, read the bile-inducing reports from the front line, heard the desperate cries for help from a population under attack, and yet nothing has been done. The UN’s recent move to install chemical weapons investigators is the first boots-on-the-ground move since Observers were pulled from the country due to “escalating violence” in August last year.
A sinister irony, indeed.
No politician, American or otherwise, would be willing to risk the public perception moving against them should they urge intervention in the Middle East once again. Perhaps if the promise was made to learn from the noble-cause-turned-tragedy that was the United States’ most recent campaign...
The lesson drawn up on a scarred blackboard by the Americans is most convincing: don’t wait too long, don’t underfund those soldiers you do send overseas, don’t underestimate the cruelness of an enemy with God on their side, and don’t forget that the civilians are the most important players here, because they will be the ones to vote in free elections, and they will be the ones who rebuild their cities from the dust upwards.
At what point does the West, with all its wisdom and might, learn the lessons of Halabjah?
Gas attacks there 25 years ago went unpenalised. The UN resolutions that came desperately close to chastising Saddam Hussein permanently in April, 1991 after the success of the First Gulf War only gave the mad mob boss license to continue his authoritarian rule.
The same example could be set for Syrian tyrant-president Bashar al-Assad. Unless there are convincing steps taken to aid the Syrian people, including an attuned international community, license and permission for genocide will again be granted, and another nation in the cradle of modern civilization will be reduced to a ruin.Follow James on Twitter: @James_ARobins