Where Did Our Rage Over Syria’s Catastrophe Go?

Whether we lost interest early or late, the civil war has brutalized us as well as the combatants.

By Crawford Kilian 12 Aug 2016 | TheTyee.ca

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

Something very bad has been happening in Aleppo for five years, but now it begins to look like something even worse: a public health catastrophe in Syria, and a moral catastrophe in Canada. The New York Times says two million people in besieged Aleppo now have no water and or electrical power. That’s more than three times the population of the city of Vancouver, and close to the total of Metro Vancouver.

The UN says millions of Syrians are in “free fall” as a result. Even getting humanitarian aid into the city is difficult to impossible until the Russians and the Assad government agree to much longer cease-fires than they have so far offered—three-hour breaks in the violence, when 48 hours would be the minimum.

If this continues, the consequences are entirely predictable: outbreaks of waterborne diseases, from diarrhea to cholera; severe malnutrition; deaths from normally preventable causes; a spike in child and maternal mortality. Those who survive will be severely traumatized. Whichever gang of wretches finally rules after the civil war, it will have won a Pyrrhic victory, and a wasteland to celebrate it in.

We outsiders are casualties as well. In 2011 we cheered the prospect of Syria’s Arab Spring and the imminent fall of the Bashar Al-Assad regime. Then he didn’t fall, and Assad’s enemies turned out to be at least as vicious as he is. Before we knew it, we were fighting some of those enemies, now known as the Islamic State.

Whether we lost interest early or late, the civil war has brutalized us as well as the combatants. Now we shrug off the use of chemical weapons that have been anathema for a century, and the prospect of the destruction of two million men, women, and children disturbs us very little.

Almost a year ago we first saw the dreadful image of two-year-old Alan Kurdi dead on a Turkish beach. That tiny tragedy shocked the world, for a while. But the International Organization for Migration tells us that 2,753 others died that year, and another 3,176 so far this year.

Scores of thousands of other refugees remain trapped against national borders, surviving on a fraction of the aid they need. In one trap alone, on the Jordanian border, Doctors Without Borders estimates 60,000 to 100,000 people live without latrines, and reliable food, water, or health care.

Well, tough luck for them. Whatever their troubles, we suffer too. Ours is the terrible affliction of donor fatigue. The death and suffering of strangers just tire us out.

If poison gas doesn’t upset us, and deliberate bombing of hospitals doesn’t upset us, and we’re more concerned about doped-up Russian athletes than healthy Russian fighter pilots, we are indeed afflicted.

When 4.8 million Syrians have been forced to leave their country, and 6.5 million have been internally displaced, we take 25,000 refugees (about a fifth of one per cent) and think very well of ourselves. But we’re still afflicted.

And it is a terrible affliction: It makes us complicit in crimes against humanity, bystanders shooting video at a massacre.

Worse yet, it deceives us into thinking that however bad life may be in Aleppo, or Haiti, or South Sudan, it’s really not our problem.

But it is indeed our problem, it is going to get worse for the rest of our lives, and if we continue to ignore it we only ensure that we ourselves, and our children, will soon be under a siege as pitiless as that of Aleppo.  [Tyee]

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