“They’re shooting them down like pigeons,” I kept repeating, mainly to myself.
It was about that time when “nothing was happening in Syria,” when everybody loved Bashar al Assad because he was a reformist with a potential of being the father of his nation one day, just like his father, Hafez, had been.
I was coming back from Wadi Khaled, a rural area in North Lebanon, right at the border with Syria. It was end of March 2011and the first refugees from Tal Kalakh, a village next to the Lebanese border, had crossed Nahr al Kabir in the middle of the night. They were women and children, scared out of their minds. So scared that they wouldn’t even come out of the bedroom they had locked themselves in. So scared that they saw Syrian moukhabarat (intelligence) agents everywhere. So scared that they were shaking while telling of what they had been through. That was just the terror of the regime. There was no war; just a regime that had been killing for 40 years; a regime that had been dragging young men out of their homes to throw them in dungeons. A regime that had shot the men protesting in the streets, gunning them down one by one, indiscriminately, young or old.
“They’re shooting them down like pigeons,” I kept saying.
“You guys come from the West with all this human rights bullshit. Get a life! You people don’t understand that they just don’t know what a human being is in Syria,” I was told.
When babies are in pain, they usually cry. It’s a distinctive cry, nothing like the cry of hunger or impatience. It’s a cry that breaks your heart. Babies who are in a great deal of pain – pain that would cause and adult to faint, extreme pain – don’t make a sound. They look at you so serenely, their eyes only penetrating your soul, asking you for help, asking you to save them.
These were the eyes of this little girl in Douma. She must have been around 7-8 months old, peeking over her mother’s shoulder; her big brown eyes piercing with pain and questions, her head broken, her eyebrows arched, two streams of blood coming down from the tip of her head on her forehead, to the corner of her eye and down to her mouth. She wore a tiny dress with a teddy bear and three cute white buttons on her chest. She wasn’t badly hurt. Not as badly as other people. Doctors were rushing to treat children covered in blood, rescued from the ruble of their houses, with amputated limbs. All photographed by the same man who took the picture of the little girl with the bloody face and her teddy bear and white buttons dress. A five year old boy in shock lies on a bench while his father, who has a 5 cm hole in his shoulder, gets treated. They are images one cannot unsee. She was lucky to have survived.
A mother’s eyes are numb with pain; she’s rather absent while she emerges from the rubble of what was her house holding what used to be a little girl with long brown hair. One of the mother’s eyes is swollen, closed, shut. Probably hit by a piece of brick when the barrel bomb fell. The other eye is twisted looking down, pointlessly. Her face is splashed with blood from her child’s face that was torn off. She holds a white blanket wrapped around her bloody, faceless child. The woman is not even crying. She’s simply lost.
To value or not to value a human being
“They don’t know what a human being is in Syria.”
The words remained with me. They haven’t been truer than yesterday. That’s when Douma burned. They say 100 people died. They’re probably more.
For the world, it was just another bombing in Syria. There was no Islamic state involved, just the usual “terrorists” from the Army of Islam. The regime media published a few pictures of five or six fighters killed in the strike. They didn’t air any of the dead children. The international media is shy to publish pictures from the massacre for fear they might horrify the public. Bombings and massacres in Syria have become white noise already.
Barrel bombs have nothing special about them. They’re not crucifixions, nor stoning, nor public hanging. There is nothing spectacular in death by a barrel bomb. We wow so easily when it one Jordanian pilot burned alive by a group of psychopaths, but we find it so easy to get over a massacre where hundreds of people were burned alive.
The Douma bombing was not perpetrated by the barbaric, medieval Islamic State, but by a so-called secular regime that the Western world believes is a better option for the regional security. A government that the Western world holds as a possible partner for fighting religious extremism. A regime that has been killing for 40 years, that had trained torturers who have no clue what the value of a human being is, men who would kick you in the stomach while you’re down shouting “There’s no God but Assad!” It’s the regime that practically created the Islamic State and invited Al Qaeda only to show that there can be worse.
There is not better alternative for the dead children in Douma. And the reason is, sadly, not that the Syrian regime doesn’t value human beings; but that the rest of the world doesn’t.
Ana Maria Luca tweets @aml1609.