Western apathy sets dangerous precedent
I was going to write a story about Syria this week and provide some basic information and commentary on a massively significant development in the conflict. I was going to write about how a dozen rebel groups have distanced themselves from the internationally recognized opposition and proclaimed their desire to enforce Sharia law because that did happen and it is important.
But I took a second and thought about my motivations for writing stories on the Syrian conflict and the motivations of readers. Beyond that, I thought about the motivations of the parties I am writing about in Syria, including NGOs, and the proxies controlling them.
I came to the disheartening conclusion that no matter how much gets written or documented or filmed about this conflict, we just do not care.
I watched a special on Syria’s children in the conflict recently and the situation on the ground is horrific. Bombs are going off in playgrounds, families are torn apart, their homes and livelihoods irrevocably destroyed and field hospitals are filled far over capacity and ill equipped to help.
Most victims requiring intensive care have to be transferred, sometimes very dangerously, to Turkey for treatment. The bureaucracy of NGOs prevent aid being provided to camps and makeshift communities where disease is rampant and sanitation poor.
None of the many sides fighting in Syria are representing the victims. And neither is the international community. We say international community as if it’s some distant and elite group of actors. But it’s us; we are the international community. And we do not care about Syrians.
People follow global conflicts (Syria is no different) as they follow sports, awards shows and other cultural phenomena. We want to be kept up to date not because we want to make any kind of difference but because we desperately feel the need to be part of the conversation and kept in the loop. We want the highlights, the conversation points and the cliff notes. We love to read news pieces and articles with action-filled images like the one above.
Western society, complacent in its security, is unmoved by conflicts that we do not experience first-hand. We are desensitized yes, but it’s reached a point where we are desensitized about being told we are desensitized. It means nothing. It’s not a motivator nor a wake-up call.
It’s an effort, and even an act of nobility, to seek out information and educate ourselves about global conflict. By educating ourselves we strive to be different from the ignorant and trivial folks who care little about international happenings. But really, what’s the difference between ignorance and education if the end result is inaction in either instance? We ask, “but how can we do anything?” and we pass off responsibility by saying “it’s all in the government’s hands.”
It’s true that the government does not care, as conveyed by over two years of apathetic policy.
The government is only able to stand back and watch because the public isn’t pressuring it to do otherwise. We can heatedly debate the antics of pop stars, but shy away from topics that make us, for some twisted reason, uncomfortable.
I know I am simplifying the complex dynamics of humanitarianism, but when children are dying, I get really pissed off. NGOs, which exist for situations like the one in Syria, are not motivated enough to get through red tape.
We give to charity and support NGOs so we can feel better about our humanity and even those institutions fail in times of adversity. Governments pump billions into intelligence to try and find criminals and prevent catastrophe but when a humanitarian crisis is staring them in the face, it’s shuffled way down the priority list.
There is an argument, however boorish and maddening to me personally, that it isn’t our responsibility to get involved in conflicts and protect people harmed in them.
It’s not our job to police the world when the West continually gets blamed for the world’s problems. I would argue that it isn’t our responsibility in the traditional sense but rather a responsibility driven by conscience.
And this is not about policing, but it is about getting help to those in need and removing people from danger. If people want to fight, we don’t have to play mediator but we certainly don’t have to help build a barrier preventing people from escaping harm’s way.
One day, maybe tomorrow or a century from now, the West will need help. Whether from war, natural disaster, man-made disaster or economic collapse, the people will need assistance.
Assistance will be even more crucial to these people (us) due to their inexperience with suffering and helplessness.
I can only hope that the people of the developing world share a sense of community and humanity that we have so clearly forgotten. Or, perhaps more deservingly, they will look at us with a sad look in their eye and go back to worrying about their own existence.