A year ago today, almost one thousand civilians were gassed to death in Syria. In a small besieged town a few miles from the capital, the Assad regime used lethal sarin gas on its own people, killing 429 children.
The images that spread stood in stark contrast to those usually associated with the Syrian conflict. There was no blood. Piles and piles of motionless bodies—but no blood. The world had perhaps grown accustomed to photographs of Syrians blown to bits by barrel bombs and mortar shells, hollowed out with bullets, beaten to death. The only instance of red was the “red line” Obama had declared, and that Assad had crossed.
The international community, was, as always, “concerned”. The UN Secretary General was “shocked”, though it's unclear whether it was at the crime against humanity or at Assad’s audacity to cross a world power’s line.
A year later, and nothing has changed—for the better, that is. In a classic example of impunity, Assad has gotten away with it. Yes, he begrudgingly handed over his stock of chemical weapons as mandated by the international community. But he missed deadlines, and certain chemical weapons were excluded from the deal brokered by the US and Russia. It seems it is acceptable to die by means of certain chemical weapons—chlorine gas, for example, which has been used repeatedly on civilians throughout Syria since the sarin gas attack—but not others.
Chemical weapon attack survivors visited and toured the US, speaking to college students and community members. They sat down with senators and members of the US Congress, testified in hearings, made countless media appearances.
Syrians continue to die daily. An average of 85 per day, I believe, was the last estimate. There are a plethora of ways to die of course: chemical weapons, barrel bombs, mortar shells, sniper bullets, hunger, lack of health care, siege, torture and of course, increasingly, at the hands of ISIS. The media, understandably, chooses to cover less tedious subjects.
I learned a new term a few days ago: echo chamber. This essay and others like it, articles released today, and the little media coverage of any memorials held for the chemical attack victims will circulate among our usual limited circles, what I like to categorize as “people who care”. And then our voices will fade. Ostensibly our voices will never fade, but its hard to not acknowledge the despondency of the “people who care”.
Yesterday I learned of the death of another friend, a neighbor, in a regime prison. This was his second time detained. He was sweet, good-natured, thoughtful. Everyone loved him. He had long wavy hair and a goatee. He was tortured to death.
Maybe when his death receives international condemnation, something will change. Maybe when world leaders don’t need a thousand killed in one day to be “concerned”, something will change. Maybe when journalists don’t need to be decapitated for their words to be heard, something will change. Maybe when international condemnation means something more than a few press conferences and a slap on the dictator’s wrist, something will change, for the better.
Hiba Dlewati is translator and researcher and a recent graduate of the University of Michigan whose work has been published in Today's Zaman, The Michigan Times, Qua Literary Magazine and United for a Free Syria. Follow her on Twitter at @Hiba_Dlewati.