While we reassure ourselves with our own humanity in the face of horror, the war continues—and our borders turn back its refugeesby Lyndsey Stonebridge / April 12, 2018 / Leave a comment
Although thoroughly man-made, just now Syria’s violence appears to have taken on a dangerous force of its own. Some in this war, of course, believe that violence is divine. But most do not, and find themselves floored, physically and mentally, by a force that seems as indiscriminate as it is unstoppable.
We look on in appalled horror, or fidget manfully about our options, but at some level we know that the chances of making this kind of violence more humane by intervention are slim. Intervention changes wars, sometimes it can prevent or end wars, but rarely does it humanise anything other than the sentiments of those not being butchered.
Samuel Beckett once noted darkly that ‘humanity’ was a word we reserve for use in times of massacres. When times are dire we reassure ourselves about our own humanity by noting our ability to register the inhumanity being done to others.
This perspective—or perhaps defence mechanism– requires some strategic forgetting about the agency of those “being done to.” People from Syria rarely get to speak in their own voice in the western media; instead they suffer passively. Syrians are people who get pulled from rubble, usually by other Syrians, who are also doing the original and dangerous filming that is edited for our screens. It actually takes a lot brave action on the part of Syrians to convince the world of their abject passivity, but we rarely pause to think about that.
And we are not in circumstances where sentiments can be soothed without serious risk. We still call it the war in Syria, but just now that ‘in’ is beginning to look like wishful thinking. The UN’s Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, recently warned of an escalation with “consequences so devastating they are difficult to even imagine.” The war could all too easily suck in those beyond the region into its vortex.
The difficulty of imagining this war—how we see it, and what we chose to see or not to see—could well have fateful consequences in this context. We look at war through two lenses today: one geopolitical, the other humanitarian. Where dodgy ideology, Twitter, and poor intelligence hamstring the first, the second has been reduced to helplessly reiterating the bleeding (literally) obvious:…