Selective outrage over civilian suffering in Syria – hyping Syrian government abuses while downplaying the effects of U.S.-led Coalition air strikes – undermines the legitimacy of human rights advocacy, argues Jonathan Marshall.
By Jonathan Marshall
Few things threaten the legitimacy of human rights advocacy more than partisans invoking it selectively to promote one side in a violent conflict. That’s why people with genuine concern over the plight of war victims should be disturbed by the latest pumped-up campaign of selective outrage over the Syrian government’s bombing of Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus.
That bombing has unquestionably been savage, and arguably even criminal. It should be condemned in no uncertain terms. But it does a grave disserve to the nearly half million people killed over the course of Syria’s civil war to single out the tragic killing of more than 300 civilians in that suburb as especially remarkable. Indeed, it betrays a political agenda aimed more at punishing the Damascus government than saving innocent lives.
News stories are full of quotes painting the situation as nearly unprecedented in its horror: “hell on earth,” “never seen anything like this,” “one of the worst attacks in Syrian history,” and “flagrant war crime” on an “epic scale.” A New York Times editorial, calling the battle “one of the most violent episodes of the seven-year war,” demands that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russian leaders be tried for war crimes. And a columnist for The Guardian says “Eastern Ghouta is turning into Syria’s Srebrenica,” the Bosnian enclave where thousands of Muslims were killed by Serbian forces in 1995.
Anyone who tries to correct the record risks being misinterpreted as trying to minimize the real suffering or defend the government. I wish to do neither. I harbor no illusions about the regime’s motives, and I can only imagine the anguish of those living under daily bombardment, trying to care for the wounded while wondering if and when they will join the many who have already died.