Flavour of the weekFriday, January 6, 2017
Not one traffic lane cut over Aleppo?
For The Herald
Here’s a big one for the annals of hypocrisy.
Imagine, if you will, that a United States air attack had hit a hospital in the Middle East, Africa or elsewhere, destroying it, because something had gone awfully wrong in some operation in the war on terrorism.
Even though it hadn’t happened on purpose, and the US apologised profusely, investigated the incident and sought extra measures to prevent a repetition, there would most likely be heated protests in many parts of the world. Prominent intellectuals and actors would sign manifestos. Very likely, here in Buenos Aires, picketers would cut streets to traffic and probably march on the US Embassy to deliver a protest letter. In the US, Noam Chomsky would start preparing a new book on his country descending to a new level of iniquity.
To take the mental exercise to a higher level, imagine now if it had been Israel that had destroyed the hospital. Its insistence that it had been accidental would be drowned in howls of scorn and rage. In Buenos Aires, the everyday picketing would be joined by the elite -masked and club-wielding storm troopers. At the UN, the Security Council would go into emergency session, circulating a resolution with the most categorical condemnation of the atrocity.
Back to real-life events. During Syria’s reconquest of the city of Aleppo from an unholy assortment of anti-government groups, bombardments and airstrikes by the armed forces of Syria and Russia systematically destroyed all hospitals in the rebel-held areas. There wasn’t even any pretence that the attacks were accidental or collateral, and they succeeded each other, day after day, until none were left (while the pummelling of other sites raged on). The objective was openly to ensure that all those who were injured in the bombardments died.
The only surprise was that Aleppo had so many hospitals in the first place. Maybe some that were described as such were “merely” dispensaries, but lives were being saved there. Until they were brought down, with the doctors, patients and others inside them.
This didn’t happen unreported. It was in the media every day. Photographers photographed. Editorialists editorialised.
But where was the consequent popular anger, where was the splenetic condemnation by the usual voices of conscience in Western countries? Did you get any emails asking you to sign petitions to the al-Assad-Putin axis to stop razing hospitals? Were you late to work because of street pickets over this carnage?
What applies to the clear targeting of hospitals can be extended to the brutal blitz of Aleppo as a whole.
Commentators have, of course, gone to work on the fact that Russia has unabashedly shown little worry over trying to avoid civilian casualties, in conflicts in general; and they have reached valid conclusions. What the present column is about is the two-faced nature of much moral outrage.
Also, remember when the US was roundly censured — very rightly so — for propping up a string of revolting dictators as long as they were anti-Communist? Have you heard anything remotely comparable over the fact that Russia and China back the gasser Bashar al-Assad (in their case, the reasons being anti-terror and, especially, anti-separatism), alongside other backers like Iran and Hezbollah?
Some might attempt the following justification or explanation of the crashing silence over all of that: one knows that with nakedly strong-arm Russia or China, let alone with Syria or Iran, it’s hopeless to try to shame them or appeal to their better nature — so that’s why nobody bothers to try.
But maybe many of those who wield that argument should re-examine what it entails. To hold the US or Israel to higher standards is to pay them a compliment — it necessarily signifies that they are better countries.
Not all of their automatic critics may be able to grasp that logic. But for at least those many who have the brains to understand it, is that really what they want to be implying?
Another reasoning might be that protests didn’t materialise because people at large can’t follow the complexities of the war in Syria. That doesn’t hold any water. If, say, a US drone strike against a Taliban leader mistakenly destroyed a hospital in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, you can imagine the fury it would unleash — and don’t tell me people keep abreast of the intricacies of the situation in Kandahar.
Conversely, it might be argued that people understand Syria all too well, and if there were no demonstrations, it’s because they’ve concluded that every player there is morally beyond the pale. That’s a bit harsh on the Kurds, for example. But anyway, is that a real justification for being less incensed over the targeting of hospitals?