Rules and ethics of war are always known to have been flouted. Moreover, the 21st century has made it sufficiently clear to the world how horrifying and ruthless war can be.
A quote from Tolstoy explains how people feel while others die during wars. “War has always interested me; not war in the sense of maneuvers devised by great generals… but the reality of war, the actual killing. I was more interested to know in what way and under the influence of what feelings one soldier kills another than to know how the armies were arranged at Austerlitz and Borodino.”
The situation is far more dreadful now. Maybe only 10 years ago, we never thought that people fleeing their countries would be held up at border crossings, that bodies of children would be washed up on the shores, that hundreds of migrants deceived by life jackets made of foam rubber would be left to drown in the sea while the world would sit back and watch and do nothing. The Halabja massacre had been consigned to history as the decision of a psychopathic dictator, never to happen again. But the tragedy at Ghouta in Syria unfolded before our eyes. The shelling of people’s homes, hospitals, schools, bakeries and markets was not part of war as we know. Civilians have almost been the main target in 21st century wars. These wars have been waged in a climate in which cruelty no longer knows its bounds and humanity been lost.
Would you not say that starving civilians to death was the height of cruelty? We did not believe it when people in Yarmouk were left to starve. But this ghastly torture has become a tradition in Syria — theater of a dirty war. Deaths from starvation in Madaya have attracted people’s attention. The region, that is being wracked by hunger, has been under blockade for the last seven months, by opposition groups from within and by Hezbullah and Bashar Assad’s forces from outside. Sadly, people started dying before the world took any notice. Until recently, one kilo of sugar was being sold in the region for 60,000 Syrian lira (about $145), a liter of oil for 70,000 lira (about $170) and a kilo of rice for 40,000 lira (about $100). Now, however, there is nothing left. Media showed how people were boiling grass to eat. Now, the grass is covered in snow, erasing that hope for survival also. Hope the UN aid that has just started reaching the area will continue.
Things are no different in surrounding villages. Although aid has recently arrived, the situation in the villages of Kefraya and Foah, some 7 km to the north of Idlib, is also grim. Ghastly dramas are playing out in many areas of Syria. The impressions of an eyewitness or a single photograph that is leaked out demonstrate the depths of maltreatment over there. Pawel Krzysiek, a spokesman for the Red Cross which has been delivering humanitarian aid to Madaya and outlying villages, said he saw many people on the street, “some of them smiling and waving to us, but many just simply too weak to do that.”
The world turning a blind eye to such situations is nothing new. Some of those who share pictures of the food they enjoy on social media may perhaps be unaware of the terrible drama unfolding in Syria.
Unfortunately, the problem is that some people do not believe that everyone has a right to life. According to their logic, war is a means of natural cleansing in which the weak need to be weeded out. In their eyes, therefore, it makes little difference if someone who ‘deserved’ to be weeded out drowns in the sea, is bombed in a marketplace or starves to death. Neither coalitions nor humanitarian aid produces the desired results. A different strategy needs to be adopted. There is an even greater problem than war — forgetting humanity. The solution to that therefore needs to come from another direction.
First of all, exposure is what is needed. If an act of cruelty is exposed, it will no longer be able to thrive. The exposure of what has happened in areas left to starve since July has enabled aid to be got through, albeit late. Those responsible have avoided assuming that responsibility, at least on paper. That may not prevent subsequent acts of cruelty, but the international reaction may at least go some way in preventing ruthlessness.
The second important thing is that negotiations should be held on the emergency evacuation of civilians from such areas. The protection of civilians is a human rights issue. Setting it aside as a domestic issue and failing to take measures means becoming a part of the violations. A program to ensure immediate evacuation of civilians from the region and to bring them to the Lebanese border, with Russian support if necessary, must be quickly set in motion.
Our most important responsibility, however, is to develop the kind of language that reminds people of the values they have forgotten. Efforts need to be made to eliminate the political language and the language of hate. Absence of timely action will encourage some people to forget the concept of humanity completely.