Syria may have been dominating the headlines lately, but this comes after years of suffering that the international community, for the most part, was content turning a blind eye to.
In a 2014 op-ed piece written for the Washington Post, the late Stephen Hawking noted:
“What’s happening in Syria is an abomination, one that the world is watching coldly from a distance. Where is our emotional intelligence, our sense of collective justice?”
Dozens of articles, ranging from 2013 to 2018, dubbed the civil war in Syria a “blot on the world’s conscience.” Images and videos of starving children, besieged hospitals attempting to treat babies, toddlers being pulled out of the rubble, and the children of struck parents walking around helplessly (and vice versa) have all floated the internet, only to be met with no more than a few hundred likes and retweets. In an interiew with Buzzfeed published just a month ago, aptly titled “Here’s Why You Won’t Read This Article About Syria,” 22 year-old journalist, Nour Adam, stated:
“When I take a photograph or a video and post it on my Twitter I really hope that someone will really help us, and really see what is happening here in Ghouta… I work so hard to try and post videos, but no one cares. I don’t know what to say. They just see the article or report, and just say: ‘Oh, that’s really sad.’ And after that they turn the internet off and go and live their lives.”
With hundreds of thousands of lives already lost, the U.N., no longer able to verify the death count, has stopped counting. But what is perhaps almost as unconscionable as even the tragedy itself is the indifference of first world countries. Of course, the importance of the strikes, coupled with the fact that anything President Trump touches becomes explosive – overtaking the focus of every corner of our culture, from news reports and editorials, to tweets, talk show monologues, and SNL sketches – has brought Syria to the forefront of our attention now, but how much notice is being placed on the ordeals of the victims themselves, over the “Wag the Dog,” World War III in the making hysteria, and how long before it’s over?
The fact is, Non-Western (namely, White) lives, simply don’t appear to matter as much. And as social media remains a primary platform for finding and reacting to news, it has been continually demonstrated by the distinct lack of social media coverage during such incidents, be it the people of Ghouta or the literal genocide of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.
I can still remember the lump that developed in my throat when, after the fleeting coverage received by the death of 141 school children in Peshawar, Pakistan, hundreds of thousands of celebrities, political figures, and ordinary people, showed their support through the hashtag #jesuischarlie, after the death of twelve people in the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris just one month later. Obviously, comparing tragedies isn’t a sustainable task. When the death of one is as painful as the death of a hundred, such a metric simply doesn’t exist. But both these incidents were acts of terror and deliberate attacks on our most fundamental of values – so why the disparity of attention?
I don’t believe it’s a lack, or crisis of empathy that yields this level of massive indifference. The best parts of social media, Humans of New York, for example, which recently raised over $2 million for refugees after posting a series of testimonials, shows that people care. But whatever the excuse is (likely that proverbial bubble enlarged by obstacles of geography), at a certain point, there is no justification for silence, and our detachment makes us complicit.
Whether you agree with the methods of intervention taken by the U.S. is an entirely your prerogative, and possibly even, an different issue itself. What is essential, however, is staying aware – a powerful weapon in it of itself – and making sure that the plight of these people, and those like them in the future, remains in the national consciousness. It happens to be the least we can do.
Photo credit: Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock