We Cannot Ignore the Human Rights Abuses of Dictators
It seems that when we can’t face the truth, we devise our own. America did this in Iraq, believing that all civilized people when given a choice will become Jeffersonian democrats. We did not bargain on Iraqi factions having little interest in our conception of liberty or governance.
We could not fathom the Arab Spring turning into the deep freeze of the Arab Winter. Surely, after decades of repression, hundreds of millions of people in the Middle East would settle for nothing less than their turn at New England town meetings. Once more, through self-delusion, the truth was hidden from us.
Which brings us to Syria. Yes, we know that much of Assad’s known chemical weapons cache has been neutralized–but at a staggering price. For the foreseeable future we empower this barbarian in a suit to continue to rule. Realpolitik? Better the devil we know? Should we take pride that this war criminal’s capacity to inflict harm on his people has been severely diminished?
Perhaps one of Assad’s hi-tech arrows from his quiver of horrors has been disabled, but never underestimate the capacity for evil.
Even as the “civilized” world congratulated itself on degrading Assad’s WMD, Syria’s president turned to one of the oldest and most gruesome tools of war, borrowed from antiquity. Assad is laying siege to his own citizens, slowly and painfully starving them to death. Michel Kilo, a leader in the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces reports that after failing to oust rebels from the al-Ghouta and al-Homs regions, Assad began implementing a program of deliberate starvation. Agents took whatever food they could find off shelves. Portals to the region were sealed off. Prices of staples such as sugar and rice initially skyrocketed. By now there is none to buy at any price. People are dying of hunger. Kilo spoke of a mother who gave birth and expired within days, not having eaten for ten days before delivery. Her baby, never having been fed, soon followed. Kilo estimates that “the shadow of death hovers over nearly two million people.”
The biblical verse in Lamentations comes to mind. “More fortunate were those who succumbed to the sword, than those who succumbed to hunger.”
How terrifying for the victims to know that word of their suffering has reached the outside world, yet no one seems to care. Once again in the Middle East, very old and the very new terrors embrace in a macabre dance of death.
The Internet exposes every pixel of reality, save the Truth. Truth itself has become a casualty, having to hide its face from our delusions, incapable of looking helpless innocents in the face.
In Syria, self-delusion feeds on deep-seated enmities that skewer reality. Mr. Kilo accompanied his horrific report with analysis of who is responsible for the mass starvation. Predictably, the Great Satan is Israel. The Western powers, he asserts, could intervene on behalf of beleaguered Syrians but choose not to because only Israel’s security is important — everyone else be damned.
It is a measure of the entrenched hatred in the Middle East that this Syrian opposition figure, with the courage to stand up to Assad’s tyranny doesn’t have the capacity to acknowledge what is before him in plain sight. One of the few places that Syrians can and do turn for assistance is Israel. Near the border it shares with a country with which it is still technically at war, Israel has been treating injured Syrians for months. Israeli doctors volunteer there; many give up their weekends with family and friends, and head for the field hospital in the Golan Heights, where they treat wounded civilians and soldiers alike. No identities are revealed, no payment required. There is something terribly wrong when people whose own loved ones are endangered cannot recognize good, while the rest of us can’t recognize evil.
Nowhere are the stakes higher than in negotiations between Western diplomats and a nuclearizing Tehran. And nothing can be more dangerous for world peace than our capacity for self-delusion.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center where Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is director of interfaith relations.
This article was originally published by USA Today.