A child carries a poster showing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin during a protest outside the Russian Embassy in Kappara, outside Valletta, February 12, 2012. Photo by SyriaFreedom published by Freedom House.
A person I follow on Twitter circulated today a very graphic full-length video of the air strike of the people waiting in line for bread in Syria in which at least 60 people were killed and many more wounded.
It's appalling as you see the terrible carnage, but somehow strangely uplifting when you see that despite the grinding horrors of war after all this time, there are still so many people to care on that scene, so many people that come and check pulses, lift up stones from those under rubble, help bloodied, limping people away from the scene. Someone shouts something right in the face of the cameraman, but I don't think it's the Western reproach, "Why are you filming suffering instead of doing something?" because there are actually a lot of people on the scene trying to help, if anything, some are getting in each other's way, and the cameraman's job, like Anna Akhmatova, is "to describe all this."
But still, somebody should do something to stop this madness and this horror, and that's why, in a news story about the strike, one Syrian man is quoted as crying in anguish:
"Where are the Arabs? Where is the world?"
By "the Arabs," he means the big and powerful and rich Arab countries who should be doing more about all this. His fellow Muslim believers. His fellow Arabs.
In fairness, the Organization of Islamic Community (OIC) has done more than it has ever done before on other atrocities, i.e. Sudan, because with the Arab Spring, things began to change in the OIC, and they realized that they would have to respond more to these human tragedies. A number of the countries that used to obstruct progress on human rights resolutions at the UN Human Rights Council are now more cooperative. It's far from a perfect situation, but it's better than it ever was. Now, the OIC send envoys and fact-finders and humanitarians, too, just like the West, and then suffer the same setbacks and frustrations with Assad.
Remember, if it hadn't been for the OIC, UN Security Council Resolution 1973, on the airstrikes in Libya, might never have passed, as so many efforts at action at the divided Security Council don't pass due to vetos. The OIC endorsement was crucial to its success. And while I'm sure those more knowledgeable about the region and the Syrian situation could have reproaches of the OIC, and various big powers like Saudi Arabia on this situation (not to mention a big critique of Iran), there is another big power that has to be held to blame, that doesn't have the excuse of maintaining the Arab League's dictatorship mutual aid society.
And that's Russia, and that's why I keep mentioning that we need to hand them ownership -- full moral and financial and political responsibility -- for this unfolding nightmare. It's all theirs. They paid for the arms; they backed up Assad; now let them back him down and use their arms and political skills to ratchet down the conflict. No one is getting in the way of them doing that.
We can go on asking "where is the world" -- by which they mean where is America, which is already bogged down in three wars against Muslim countries which haven't gone so well -- one is sort of over, with us as the losers and the terrorists and Sunni extremists as the winners and the Iraqi government collapsing; the other -- Libya -- is supposedly over with us winning and backing rebels, but the situation is deteriorating and really untenable with terrorist backlashing and disorder and ruins everywhere; and of course we didn't leave Afghanistan yet and keep losing people and being unable to stop the Taliban from massacring people in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. So, in answer to your question as to "where is America," let me say that America is already fighting with its arm pinned down in other theaters, and somebody else will have to take on this one.
So that's why I come to this: where is the Russian intelligentsia? Why aren't you protesting? This is the biggest, most monstrous thing your government has presided over in decades. When the Soviet war in Afghanistan was unleashed in 1979, brave people of conscience like Andrei Sakharov protested -- and that was in fact why he was exiled to Gorky, now Nizhny Novgorod. Other young men refused to go in the armed services and a Belarusian author protested about the "zinky boys" (those returning in zinc coffins from the field of battle). They were willing to suffer reprisals and even jail over that big war.
So where are all you oppositionists now? Yes, I realize you have a lot of your own problems. But come now, your issues seem, well, important, but maybe a bit trivialized by the carnage of this Syrian bread line courtesy of your government's support.
Yes, the orphans bill is horrendous, and it's great that so many of you have used the Internet to come and click comfortably on our whitehouse.gov page with petitions to express your rage. But you know, Russia is filled with kind babushki (grandmothers) who will help a lot of those orphans anyway, and say, maybe some of your officials might accept some bribes to let a few of the really sick ones out.
The NGO "foreign agents" law is pretty awful, but what, are you saying you can't help at least orphans without a foreign grant? I realize some of you "seminarians" and "resolutionaries" used to travelling abroad to nice hotels with hefty per diems to attend seminars and write resolutions in committees are going to feel the pinch. But some of your brethren are willing to go to jail for their beliefs about the awfulness of Putin and to keep coming out in the snow even when the police wield their truncheons. Are you? If there were more of you coming to these events, would maybe it be harder to beat those kids doing things like creating a flashmob for the "burial of the dolls"?
Come on, rebyata. I haven't seen hardly a single poster about the war in Syria. I saw a Circassian once, who cared about his fellow Circassians in Syria, obviously. I've seen a few bloggy mentions here and there -- maybe there's a sign about "hands of Syria" I missed in a big demonstration with a hundred causes on display.
But you know and I know that you are missing in action on this. And that's not right. And that's not fair. You could plead repression of your own for a long time, but now you have Facebook and now you have Bolotnaya -- at least where you've been, even if you won't come again.
Where are you? This one is yours. This one is your government's. This time you can't wince and strike an affected "progressive" pose and hate on America and cluck about its wars even as you sigh quietly about your own far more reactionary leadership. This time you can't posture and ask about the closure of Guantanamo and finding a place for about 160 persons arrested on the battlefield, many of them in fact for acts of violence or who still incite imminent violence and are hard to place. That many people are dying every day in Syria -- what are you doing about them! And we can't place the Gitmo prisoners in Russia, you know -- your prisons are too horrible and there's too much torture.
So we get it about how hard it is to be civic and active in Russia. Yet you do it. Tens of thousands express touching outrage about orphans and "foreign agent" status. So go a few more blocks and protest this. It's far more awful.
Please don't make me hold your hand. Write the petition yourself, in Russian. There are plenty of web sites now even in Russia for this. Spread it through your networks. Stop this war. You are in country with the factories that make the bombs and planes and guns. Even if you aren't directly involved and you don't have the powers of civilian oversight that Americans or British have, you have your moral courage, moral courage you have demonstrated to the world on many occasion in the last century.
So use it now! Display it now! Stop the atrocities in Syria!