Saturday, May 26, 2012

Killings in Houla: There's Hope in What Wasn't Said

This is bad news. Tragic.
"Syria crisis: Houla child massacre confirmed by UN"
BBC News (May 26, 2012)
"UN observers have counted at least 90 bodies, including 32 children, after a Syrian government attack on a town...."
But what isn't in this article makes me cautiously hopeful. I'll get back to that.

I'm covering quite a bit of ground in this post:

Houla Killings: Real? Very Likely

Interestingly, Syria's boss isn't claiming that the killings in Houla didn't happen: or that the place doesn't really exist. Maybe Syria's leadership learned about keeping a story plausible, after that experience in 2007. (October 17, 2007, September 23, 2007, September 18, 2007)

A major problem with denying that anybody got hurt in Houla is that someone took video of the aftermath:
"...Horrific video footage has emerged from Houla of dozens of dead children, covered in blood, their arms and legs strewn over one another. It is unverified, but our correspondent says such images would be difficult to fake.

"International media cannot report freely in Syria and it is impossible to verify reports of violence.

"A team of UN observers visited the town on Saturday and afterwards Maj-Gen Mood said they could confirm 'the use of small arms, machine gun[s], artillery and tanks.'

"But he did not say who was behind the killings.
(BBC News)
I hope the BBC correspondent is a bit more sophisticated than the folks at Reuters, who didn't spot what may be the worst bit of botched digital editing outside 'Photoshop 101' classes. I've posted about that before:
(Back to the list of headings)

Who's Said What

Here's a summary of comments on the houla killings, according to the BBC:
  • UN mission head Maj-Gen Robert Mood
    • "Indiscriminate"
    • "Unforgivable"
  • UK Foreign Secretary William Hague
    • An "appalling crime"
  • UN chief Ban Ki-moon
    • A "flagrant violation of international law"
  • Syria's government
    • The fault of "armed terrorist gangs"
  • "Activists"
    • The result of
      • shelling
      • Summary executions
      • Butchery by the regime militia known as the "shabiha"
  • Arab League head Nabil al-Arabi
    • A "horrific crime"
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Words and Actions

Those folks in Houla are dead, and nothing's going to change that. But in circumstances like this, survivors often expect some sort of action to be taken. Or at least an official statement to get drafted. Here's what we've got so far, apparently:
  • UN-Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan, and the Arab League
    • Condemned Friday's assault
  • France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius Fabius
    • Making immediate arrangements for a Paris meeting of the Friends of Syria group
  • 250 UN observers
    • Observing
Giving credit where credit is due, the UN observers seem to have at least been keeping score:
"...The UN says at least 10,000 have been killed since the protests began...."
(BBC News)
Tempting as it is to write something sarcastic about arranging a meeting in Paris, I won't. Just 'doing something' can be effective in action movies: but this is real life.

Quite a few people in quite a few countries have to figure out what can and should be done. Maybe Paris is a place where the folks involved won't get into an argument over what city the discussion should be held in.

(Back to the list of headings)

Friends of Syria

That "Friends of Syria" outfit include Western and Arab nations, but not Russia or China. Russia and China don't seem to like the idea of sanctioning Syria's current boss, and have blocked United Nations sanctions before.

I'll grant that whether or not sanctions work in situations like this is debatable, and that's another topic.

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Promises and the United Nations

Briefly, here's the sort of concrete action that's been promised:
  • UN-Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan
    • Contacting Syria's government to
      • "Convey in the clearest terms the expectations of the international community
    • Visit Syria
      • Do the same thing
  • UK Foreign Secretary William Hague
    • Will call for an urgent session of the UN Security Council
      • Pretty soon
  • Arab League head Nabil al-Arabi
    • Has urged the Security Council to "stop the escalation of killing and violence by armed gangs and government military forces,"
  • The opposition Free Syrian Army
    • Unless the United Nations Security Council can keep civilians alive
      • the ceasefire is off
I mentioned what the United Nations is doing in Syria before. UN observers are - observing:
"...A team of UN observers visited the town on Saturday and afterwards Maj-Gen Mood said they could confirm 'the use of small arms, machine gun[s], artillery and tanks.'

"But he did not say who was behind the killings....
(BBC News)
(Back to the list of headings)

"Just Refused to Come"

I don't really blame Maj-Gen Mood and the observers for showing up a little late, observing bits and pieces of people, and concluding that they'd been killed by a variety of weapons. My guess is that their orders limit what they can do: and that the UN observers lack both the authority and the means to do more than keep score.

On the other hand, I'm sympathetic with the local folks. Back to BBC News:
"...Our correspondent says local people are angry that the observers failed to intervene to stop the killing.

"Abu Emad, speaking from Houla, said their appeals to the monitors failed to produce action.

"We told them at night, we called seven of them. We told them the massacre is being committed right now at Houla by the mercenaries of this regime and they just refused to come and stop the massacre.'
(BBC News)
Again, I think it's very likely that the United Nations observers simply can't get involved: and don't have the equipment to take effective action. Or the authority.

The situation is sad, tragic, and intensely frustrating. Syria's current boss is, I think, unlikely to stop killing Syrians. Bashar al-Assad seems to like the newfangled title of "President," but his actions strongly suggest that he's an old-school autocrat.

There may have been a time when a country's boss could instill loyalty by killing large numbers of his subjects. These days, even the Arab League finally got fed up with the Syrian 'President' and his enforcers.

It's not the 20th century any more, and I think all but the most committed - or clueless - autocrats are beginning to realize that 'the good old days' are over.

(Back to the list of headings)

News About Syria: What's Missing

What impressed me about that news about the latest atrocity in Syria was what wasn't there. None of the people or organizations mentioned BBC News seems to have blamed Israel. That, in my opinion, is remarkable.

Maybe the United Nations will get around to condemning Israel for what happened in Houla. The rationale could be that, because Israel always starves Palestinians and does bad things, someone in Syria had to kill all those kids.

Putting it that simply, the idea sounds daft: and I think it is. Add enough emotionally-charged words, and I think some folks might still believe it. Or want to.

The rest of us, I suspect, are beginning to realize that it's a big world: and that killing folks who don't follow the local neighborhood association rules can't be tolerated any more.

We're a very long way from having an "international authority with the necessary competence and power"1 to deal with people like Syria's Bashar al-Assad effectively. But going nearly 24 hours without blaming the Jews for an incident like this is, I think, a hopeful sign. Maybe more folks are starting to consider the idea of living with neighbors: instead of killing them.

It's a start, and that's yet another topic.

(Back to the list of headings)
Somewhat-related posts:

1 I think the United Nations is an international authority: but I also think that it's a far cry from the "international authority with the necessary competence and power" I mentioned. That term is from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
"All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war.

"However, 'as long as the danger of war persists and there is no international authority with the necessary competence and power, governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense, once all peace efforts have failed.'106"
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2308)
Implying that it might be okay to develop an "international authority with the necessary competence and power" to handle regional troublemakers does not mean that the Catholic Church is plotting to take over the world. I've discussed government, Catholicism, subsidiarity, and lizard men, before:

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.