140 civilians dead. Of those, 93 are said to be children. A village decimated, families torn apart and lives left irreparably destroyed. The perpetrator initially claims the incident didn’t happen ↑ . As time moves on, they claim that 60 – 65 terrorists were killed in the attack, asserting that they are fighting a sophisticated and committed internal insurgency.
The conclusion drawn by the perpetrator is that the reported death toll is inaccurate and that the insurgency are to blame for operating amongst densely populated civilian areas.
Where, you ask, did this take place? You would be forgiven for thinking this is a description of the Houla massacre in Syria where at least 108 people, including 34 women & 50 children, were massacred on May 25 by pro-government forces.
However, it is a description of the Granai massacre of May 4, 2009 where American forces carried out an air strike on a village in Farah province, south of Herat in Afghanistan.
Syrian diplomats have been expelled and the UK Foreign Secretary William Hague has explained that his priority is ‘to provide for the end of all violence’ amidst waves of public revulsion at the growing atrocities in poor Syria.
No one would deny that the situation in Syria needs urgent attention and action. But quite what that action should entail is another matter, entirely due to the complexity of a situation where both sides are committing acts of brutality.
However, what leaves a sour taste when listening to the words of western politicians is the stench of hypocrisy that rises out of the faux humanitarianism being espoused by people who, throughout the ‘War on Terror’, have embarked on a decade of murder, torture & destruction.
At a time when new atrocities are occurring all the time, with even Houla being lost amidst the emerging details of the Qubair massacre, citizens must retain their perspective. We must remember that these are the spokespeople for governments up to their ears in the continuing war in Afghanistan and that they were the supporters of the vast destruction carried out in Iraq.
We must remember the estimated 1 million ‘excess deaths’ ↑ from the war in Iraq & the myriad of incidents that have taken place in Afghanistan similar to that of Granai, and we must expose this hypocrisy.
Of course, it is an idealistic fantasy that our governments will consistently implement policies seen through the prism of human rights. But we as citizens who hold our politicians to account can and must do exactly that.
Rather than allowing our compassion to be manipulated when it suits our politicians, as in Syria, we must use that sense of human empathy and grip it tight at all times, using it to guide us when analysing the actions of those who act in our name.
As the situation in Syria appears to be swiftly descending into a sectarian bloodbath, let us do all in our power to help end the violence there. Let us also look back over the past decade and open up a space to have a serious and widespread dialogue about the impact that our war on terror has had on millions of civilians around the world.
Navi Pillay is quite right to suggest that the Houla massacre is a possible crime against humanity, given the wanton murder of civilians. However, the murder of civilians anywhere should be analysed through the prism of principles, rather than who the perpetrator is.
Would it be reductive to describe the Granai massacre of 2009 as amounting to a war crime? This is a vital, if unpalatable, process of self-questioning we must engage with if those who have lost their lives in the wars over the past decade are to be laid to rest with dignity.
We may be living through a time where it is difficult to see beyond the brutality with which human beings can treat each other, but if we are to see the light at the end of the tunnel then we must foster the outpouring of empathy resulting from the reporting of the Syrian situation.
We may not be able to bring about an end to the violence in Syria, but as empathetic human beings we must reinvigorate ourselves as citizens and hold our politicians to account for the deaths of all the many thousands of civilians who have died at the hands of our wars in the past decade.
Let us not allow their deaths to have been completely in vain. Let us demand that those responsible are held to account and ensure that it never happens again.
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