“When societies cannot be bothered by mass murder occurring elsewhere, then a perilous threshold has been crossed.”

Michael Young, the Opinion Editor at The Daily Star in Beirut, is a keen observer of events in the region, including in particular Syria. He brings to bear in his analysis and reporting the regional context, memory of events, and perspective of one who has followed events closely for many years. On November 14, he wrote a poignant column calling out the West for its callous indifference to the atrocities and human suffering in Syria.

See Michael Young, “Typhoon Assad and Western indifference, The Daily Star (Beirut), November 14, 2013 12:16 AM (Last updated: November 14, 2013 12:50 PM).

Young wrote of how the West is now using fear of the jihadists as the latest excuse for indifference to the suffering in Syria, and for inaction. His observations are sharp, and deserve widespread attention:

You can sympathize with Syrians looking longingly at the extended coverage in Western media of the humanitarian catastrophe in the Philippines caused by Typhoon Haiyan. When it comes to Syria, no such concern is evident. There is an assumption that saving the Syrian people from their regime only means reinforcing Al-Qaeda.

Not surprisingly, on the ground the regime has also given a wide berth to the most extreme jihadist groups, letting them gain ground and sowing dissension among rebels. Western publics, little concerned by the details and utterly credulous when it comes to the media’s jihadist focus, has swallowed the Assad version hook, line and sinker.

This has been compounded by the peerless incompetence of the Syrian opposition….

But not everything can be blamed on the opposition. The images from Syria have shown a far more complex picture. Not a day seems to go by without new images of civilians, many of them children, killed or injured in government bombardments or retaliation by the regime’s thugs. One can become inured to violence after a while, but something is profoundly wrong when this sense of hopelessness is transformed into indifference of the kind that greeted the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons last August. In opinion polls, majorities in the West opposed punitive military action by their governments, even if the regime had used chemical weapons.

When societies cannot be bothered by mass murder occurring elsewhere, then a perilous threshold has been crossed. Americans and Europeans are not obliged to empathize with Syrians, but somehow when room is left only to debate the economy, health insurance, and gay marriage, it doesn’t say much about a society’s commitment to its stated humanitarian values. One cannot in the same breath loudly lament the killing of some 3,000 civilians on Sept. 11, 2001, and yet say that nothing can be done at all about a regime responsible for the death of an estimated 36 times that number since 2011.

Young Americans and Europeans are brought up on the memory of the Holocaust, particularly the complicity of many societies in Europe with the slaughter of Jews during World War II. One theme that keeps coming back is how blameworthy were those who preferred to look the other way on the crimes that were being perpetuated.

The Trenchant Observer