The parochial attitude of North Americans is quite disturbing, and unjustified.  We have unparalleled access to information and news from across the globe and by this feature alone we should be attuned to the plight of others and the injustice in the world.   Yet, most of us are not.  As long as shit happens ‘over there’ whether it be across an ocean, or the local river the daily pattern of our lives does not change.

Only when our routines are disrupted and our comfort zones threatened do we awake from our slumber.  In our defence, there really isn’t another way to go about one’s life as the amount of horror in the world is a completely paralyzing notion and can only be examined at arms length if one wishes to remain sane.

But.

I think the balance between our safe cocoons and concern for the situations others needs to be reordered.  The slow-fast human catastrophe that is Syria highlights exactly what I’m talking about.  

“A chemical attack in Douma, the last rebel-held stronghold near Syria’s capital, Damascus, has killed at least 70 people and affected hundreds, rescue workers have told Al Jazeera.

The White Helmets, a group of rescuers operating in opposition-held areas in Syria, said on Saturday that most of the fatalities were women and children.

“Seventy people suffocated to death and hundreds are still suffocating,” Raed al-Saleh, head of the White Helmets, told Al Jazeera, adding that the death toll was expected to rise as many people were in critical condition.

Al-Saleh said that chlorine gas and an unidentified but stronger gas were dropped on Douma.”

We sit complicit while the Assad regime gasses its own people in their efforts to ‘stabilize’ their country.

“We are currently dealing with more than 1,000 cases of people struggling to breathe after the chlorine barrel bomb was dropped on the city. The number of dead will probably rise even further.”

The Douma Media Centre, a pro-opposition group, posted images on social media of people being treated by medics, and of what appeared to be dead bodies, including many women and children.

Rescue workers also posted videos of people appearing to show symptoms consistent with a gas attack. Some appeared to have white foam around their mouths and noses.

Symptoms of a chlorine attack include coughing, dyspnea, intensive irritation of the mucous membrane and difficulty in breathing.”

Being a civilian is Syria isn’t such a welcoming proposition.  Chemical warfare is an agreed upon ‘no-go’ for most of the nations of the world.  There is a treaty and everything.

“The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) is an arms control treaty that outlaws the production, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons and their precursors. The full name of the treaty is the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction and it is administered by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), an intergovernmental organization based in The Hague, The Netherlands. The treaty entered into force in 1997.”

This image released early Sunday, April 8, 2018 by the Syrian Civil Defence White Helmets, shows a rescue worker carrying a child following an alleged chemical weapons attack in the rebel-held town of Douma, near Damascus, Syria. White Helmets via AP

Yet this happens.  And most of NA placidly accepts this.  Maybe some tsk-tisking and/or a lament on how horrible the gassing of civilians is.  But then, most of us just scroll onward past this tragedy that has been disconnected from our consciousness.

What is missing, at least in part, is the feeling of responsibility (not to mention the empathy of what it must be like trying to survive during a civil war) of our part in their ordeal.

Joseph Massad on Al Jazeera said the term was “part of a US strategy of controlling [the movement’s] aims and goals” and directing it towards western-style liberal democracy.[17] When Arab Spring protests in some countries were followed by electoral success for Islamist parties, some American pundits coined the terms “Islamist Spring”[20] and “Islamist Winter”.

Also this from The Atlantic:

“Egyptian military officials wagered, rightly, that they could get away with what became, according to Human Rights Watch, the worst mass killing in modern Egyptian history—as well as one of the worst single-day mass killings in recent decades anywhere in the world.

America’s relative silence was no accident. To offer a strong, coherent response to the killings would have required a strategy, which would have required more, not less, involvement. This, however, would have been at cross-purposes with the entire thrust of the administration’s policy. Obama was engaged in a concerted effort to reduce its footprint in the Middle East. The phrase “leading from behind” quickly became a pejorative for Obama’s foreign-policy doctrine, but it captured a very real shift in America’s posture. The foreign-policy analysts Nina Hachigian and David Shorr called it the “Responsibility Doctrine,” a strategy of “prodding other influential nations … to help shoulder the burdens of fostering a stable, peaceful world order.” In pursuing this strategy in the Middle East, the United States left a power vacuum—and a proxy struggle. During Morsi’s year-long tenure, Qatar became the single largest foreign donor to Egypt, at over $5 billion (with Turkey contributing another $2 billion). Just days after the military moved against Morsi, it was Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait that pledged a massive $12 billion to the new military-appointed government.

 The United States, along with the conservative Gulf monarchies and many others, also viewed Islamist parties with considerable suspicion.”
   Being a world power, only when convenient, isn’t being a world power.  Behaving only to protect the national interest places us squarely in the realm of realpolitik and the (a)moral compass associated with that mode of thinking.  Syria lies on the border of two spheres of influence.  The Russian empire and the American Empire.  Arguably, Russia has greater influence, not least of all because of geographical proximity, on Syria and the maintenance of the current regime is in their national self interest.  Thus the frisson between the American tacit support for the revolution (toward a US friendly regime) and the Russian support for the status quo and continuation within their own sphere of self-interest are the only realpolitik concerns on the table.  The humanitarian disaster resulting from this friction between empires is but a footnote and not really mainstream news worthy – at least not past the ratings ‘bump’ procured for showing disconnected images of human suffering.
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    A non-corporate real media would be all over the context of the situation portraying the real cost in human misery of what happens when spheres of influence collide and how little the ‘national interest’ cares about people dying ‘over there’.  Yet with all our glitzy internet power and googleplexes of information at our fingertips has this sort of contextual analysis even been hinted at in North American mainstream media?
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   Not really.
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   Compare how the Associated Press and Al-Jazeera frame the article (also the sources on which this piece is based).  A telling difference,  the focus on the ‘facts’ versus the human angle that the Al-Jazeera piece.  I think we need more of the second variety as we need to inspire empathy and the common human nature that binds us all together, so we can work toward a more peaceable future.
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   (Unlikely as it may be.)