Photo: YouTube Screenshot
It’s pretty much impossible to not be shocked about the news coming out of Syria at the weekend.At least 116 people were shot or killed as pro-government militia (or possibly even troops) went door to door in Houla, murdering entire families. Of those 116 people, its thought 49 people were children.
While the Syrian government condemns the attack as a media plot, the details of the killings are especially harrowing. The story of one 11 year old boy who smeared his brother’s blood on himself to look dead for example.
Harder still are the videos that are emerging. The official UN videos how rows of bloody bodies, barely covered with sheets. Videos reportedly from Syrian activists show the bloody, beaten bodies of children. They’re amongst the most shocking videos we’ve personally seen, ever.
The Syrian conflict, which rose out of Arab Spring protests, has been slowly growing steam since it began in Spring 2012. By this point most people seem to consider it the conflict a civil war.
However, the war never seemed to catch the public’s attention fully. Perhaps it was due to the war in Libya, which presented both Western-involvement and a more recognisable enemy, Muammar Qaddafi. By the time the Syrian conflict had dragged out over a year, it lacked any sort of clear narrative. Occasionally, the fact that Western journalists was killed, or incredible footage made it out of the country, captured peoples’ imaginations, but generally however, the public appeared depressed by the news, and Western governments kept as much of a distance as they could.
Has this changed after Saturday? One notable thing happened on Saturday that appeared to show that, yes, it had:
#HoulaMassacreOMG!!!!! Not cool!
— Chris Brown(@chrisbrown) May 27, 2012
Pop singer Chris Brown began tweeting about the massacre.
Now, like him or hate him, Brown has almost 10 million followers on Twitter. He’s one of the biggest musical acts of the last 10 years. Also, it goes without saying that he is not renowned as a Middle East expert. He isn’t a journalist, or a scholar. He’s a guy who happened to find out about the massacre and felt outraged, like countless others.
It’s not clear that the Houla massacre is the “worst” atrocity that has been committed in the Syrian conflict (or even if such a thing could be calculated). It’s thought that 10,000 people have died already, and this is just 1% of that number. But with the deaths of children, and the photographic and video evidence, it’s probably the most visceral.
Now Western government officials seem to be taking notice. Kofi Annan has met President Bashar al-Assad to express his horror over the attacks, Bloomberg reports. France and Australia have expelled their Syrian ambassadors, while Germany, Britain, Italy, Spain and Canada have asked their diplomats to leave. The US is expected to do the same.
Will more action follow? It’s not hard to see how hardening public opinion can lead to hardening official policy. In France, the country that lead the intervention in Libya, official rhetoric is becoming increasingly strident.
“Bashar al-Assad is the murderer of his people,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told Le Monde in an interview published today.
“He must relinquish power. The sooner the better.”
UPDATE: The US has released a statement calling for the expulsion of Syrian diplomats. Key line: “We hold the Syrian government responsible for this slaughter of innocent lives.”
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