If We Tolerate This; Our Children Will Be Next
The death of one person is a tragedy; the death of millions is a statistic
Like most people in the free world, I was horrified by the brutal murder of journalist James Foley. It revealed once again, the psychopathic blood lust of ISIS specifically and terrorists in general. We see it currently as a radical Islamic Jihadist issue but all terrorist groups and many political regimes have resorted to the same brutality.
Stalin, Hitler, Mao Tse Tung and others like them were responsible for the deaths of millions although those are just numbers to us now. The horror of the deaths of millions reduced to little more than numbers on historical tally sheets.
The IRA, Black September, the Baader-Meinhof Gang and Aum Shinrikyo have been responsible for the deaths of thousands all relegated to historical footnote. It is never the hundreds, the thousands or the millions that capture us; it is always the individual death.
“The February 2002 decapitation of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, true to its intention, horrified the Western audience. . .The Pearl murder and video catalyzed the resurgence of this historical Islamic practice. In Iraq, terrorists filmed the beheadings of Americans Nicholas Berg, Jack Hensley, and Eugene Armstrong. Other victims include Turks, an Egyptian, a Korean, Bulgarians, a British businessman, and a Nepalese. Scores of Iraqis, both Kurds and Arabs, have also fallen victim to Islamist terrorists’ knives. The new fad in terrorist brutality has extended to Saudi Arabia where Islamist terrorists murdered American businessman Paul Johnson. . .whose head was later discovered in a freezer in an Al-Qaeda hideout. A variation upon this theme would be the practice of Islamists slitting the throats of those opponents they label infidels. This is what happened to Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, first gunned down and then mutilated on an Amsterdam street, and to an Egyptian Coptic family in New Jersey after the father had angered Islamists with Internet chat room criticisms of Islam.” –Middle East Forum
And then there was Margaret Hassan.
Like Foley, she was a non-combatant. She was the Director of CARE in Iraq and had dedicated much of her life to helping Iraqi children and the poor. She had even converted to Islam but in the end, like Foley, she was kidnapped, held hostage and eventually taken into a back room and shot in the head.
Her death has haunted me ever since and I have little difficulty understanding how widely the death of Jim Foley has impacted people but what I do have trouble understanding is how little impact the deaths of so many others have had.
Perhaps Stalin was right. Perhaps we aren’t capable of responding to the deaths of large numbers of people and so we relegate them to little more than a statistic.
Certainly that seems to be The West’s emotional response to the almost 200,000 deaths in Syria; far too many of them children. We support our governments’ humanitarian aid efforts but restrict our discussion primarily to the politics of that civil war.
Perhaps the horrific mortality numbers are simply too much to deal with.
It is just as true in Gaza. Prior to the start of the last ceasefire, the month-long conflict between Israel and Hamas had resulted in just over 2,000 deaths. Of those, 67 were Israeli with 3 of those being non-combatant civilians. On the Palestinian side, there were approximately 2000 deaths with 80% being civilians and of that number more than 400 were children.
Consider that for a moment. As many children were killed as all IDF and Hamas fighters combined. Some were killed in schools, some in a hospital – some while sleeping in their own beds.
We may look at those numbers and cluck our teeth a little but we restrict our discussion and our outrage to debating the politics of the war between Hamas and Israel. We talk about Hamas using civilians as human shields as if that somehow justifies killing them. To my mind that’s like the police simply shooting the kidnapped to get at the kidnappers.
The debate becomes so abstract, so devoid of humanity that to express horror at the deaths of Palestinian children is to risk condemnation as being anti-Israel or pro Hamas. It is neither, it simply means were human.
It is becoming too easy for all sides in a conflict to use civilians as shields, as bargaining chips or simply as expendable pawns.
In 1945, the United States used Japanese civilians, including children, to send a terrible message to the Japanese government by dropping atomic bombs on two Japanese cities. They were not cities of strategic military importance; they were simply highly populated and served to send a message. As far as that goes, it was effective at ending the war but it is a terrible thing to achieve the end result by being even more brutal than your enemy.
Even our governments’ most tepid response to conflict – economic sanctions – are aimed primarily at the civilian population in the belief that economic hardship might cause the citizens to influence their government to change course. It is a milder form of the same technique used by terrorists who kill civilians in order to inflict sufficient fear on the civilian population as to cause it to influence government.
In the end, it all amounts to the same thing. At some point, the innocent will die and in great numbers. Sometimes in such numbers we can no longer relate to the humanity those numbers represent.
Perhaps we have difficulty relating to it all because until 9/11, North Americans had not faced the horror and devastation being faced by others in countries like Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan. I don’t think we understand the full brutality of what is inflicted on the innocent in other parts of the world because we have never had to face that reality on our own soil.
North American cities are not battlegrounds of continual war nor have they ever been bombed to rubble. The bodies of our neighbours are not strewn among the fallen bricks and we don’t have to organize daily teams to pick up those bodies for burial.
The reality of war: the death and destruction it brings is an abstract concept for us.
We recently ‘celebrated’ the start of WWI, as if the start of any war is something worth celebrating. It is, however, worth remembering the sacrifice made by more than 165,000 Canadians who gave their lives in that war and another 160,000 who died in WWII. In the past 50 years, however, fewer than 1,000 Canadians have died in conflicts around the world – slightly more than half the number of civilians killed in Gaza in the past month.
Almost 200,000 have died in Syria and the best we can do is condemn Assad while continuing to provide arms to the rebel forces; many of whom are among the same terrorist groups who threaten us and the civilian populations in other countries.
It is a confused response at best to both the slaughter and what to do about it and I can appreciate how difficult it is to know how to deal with a stateless enemy that places no limits on its brutality. But I don’t believe that justifies either treating the deaths of thousands of the innocent as little more than statistic or responding to the threats with the same callous brutality against civilians (intentionally or otherwise) as the enemy.
If that remains the best we can do then the enemy has already won by reducing us to their level.
It’s small wonder that so many in so many parts of the world don’t see The West as being much different than the terrorist regimes that oppress and threaten them.
If we continue to tolerate this slaughter of the innocents by all sides in a conflict, then all too soon it is our children who will be next. It will be our cities that will burn and our families that will be slaughtered. It will be us and them who become little more than just part of some meaningless statistic in newspapers and history books.
It will be too late then to wish that we had placed a higher value on our common humanity.
© 2014 Maggie’s Bear
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