Perhaps one of the cruellest aspects of the Syrian regime’s war on the Syrian population is its success in normalising death and desensitising the world to its harrowing massacres. Missing from the six-digit death toll are the charred faces and untold stories of the martyrs, and of the suffering inflicted upon the loved ones they leave behind. As one Syrian activist put it: «One thing I will never forgive Bashar al-Assad for is denying us the chance to grieve over our martyred friends». Indeed, with mass-murder turning into a horrifyingly frequent occurrence two-and-a-half years on, mourning the fallen has become a luxury most Syrians are deprived of.
The dehumanisation of Syrians was painfully illustrated by the debate that ensued after the chemical weapons attack on 21 August in the Damascus countryside. The victims were treated as mere footnotes by the international community, the mainstream media, and the anti-war camp. For western governments who draw a «red line» with chemical weapons-use – and Israel’s interests – the red blood of Syrian children slaughtered with conventional weapons by the regime and its militias is not sufficiently outrageous. The whole discourse, as Syrian writer and former political prisoner Yassin al-Haj Saleh puts it, is about chemical weapons, not about the criminal who used chemical weapons, the people murdered by them, or the greater number of people murdered with guns.
For mainstream media, the Syrian people are stripped of their voices and agency and the Syrian revolution is instead a «civil war» between two evils: a secular dictator versus flesh-eating, bearded Islamists. Nowhere to be seen or heard is the astounding defiance and communal solidarity that has kept the revolution alive despite all odds; the brave struggle against the oppressive «Islamic State in Iraq and Syria» that controls large parts of the «liberated» areas in Northern Syria; and the ongoing grassroots initiatives and protests against both the regime as well as the Islamist extremists.
Meanwhile, for most anti-war coalitions: «war is peace and ignorance is strength». They parade as facts hackneyed and false dichotomies to argue that all the rebels are terrorists and Assad is now not only ostensibly fighting imperialism, but terrorism as well. That Assad has been waging a sectarian, all-out war on Syrian civilians for the past thirty months matters little. That his regime has systematically arrested peaceful and secular activists while releasing Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists matters less. And that thousands of imprisoned Syrian, including workers, children, unarmed demonstrators, and community organisers, have been tortured to death by regime forces since the start of the uprising matters none at all.
Killed under torture
So it follows that these «anti-war» campaigners will ignore one of the regime’s latest torture victims: Khaled Bakrawi, a 27-year-old Palestinian-Syrian community organiser and founding member of the Jafra Foundation for Relief and Youth Development. Khaled was arrested by regime security forces in January 2013 for his leading role in organising and carrying out humanitarian and aid work in Yarmouk Refugee Camp. On 11 September, the Yarmouk coordination committee and Jafra Foundation reported that Khaled was killed under torture in one of the several infamous intelligence branches in Damascus.