I have discovered I am not the only person who suddenly feels alert or wary when scrolling down their news feeds on Twitter, Facebook or YouTube. This is especially true when I see a picture of a head or a body looming at the bottom of the screen. No sooner do I hold my breath in anticipation of once again seeing a severed head being brandished in front of the camera than someone comes along and justifies bringing images such as this onto my and hundreds of others’ screens.
These days, full as they are of blood and killing, the motives of those who post photographs and videos of decapitations, crucifixions and executions range from spreading news to expressing horror to, of course, showing their pride in these acts.
The fact that these images are becoming almost “mainstream” puts the differing aims of those who spread them on an equal footing. We have been blind to the changes that have occurred within us—the diminishing of our humanity that we endure by accepting, and becoming so desensitized to, such images.
Here we are then, about to reach the end of the fourth year of living with the reality of widespread death and destruction, which, in the last two years especially, has reached a peak in terms of the stream of violent images reaching us online.
We feel such misery, we who were naively deluded back in 2011, when we remember how we thought we were moving towards having our dreams and wishes for freedom fulfilled in our countries. Now there is darkness and blood and death, all overflowing to the extent that one need only open one’s eyes for a brief moment to want to immediately shut them again.
What can one do in the face of these insane violations of our most basic right—the right to live? How can this have been dismantled with such ease and intensity, to the extent that we are unable to fathom the meaning of the death of an individual, any individual?
Proof of this is the debate surrounding the images of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)—or “Islamic State”—executing Syrian soldiers after taking over the airbase in Tabqa. This incident shows the kind of circumstances we are living in right now, ones that no longer stir in us the kind of feelings and questions one should associate with such things. Here they are, Syrian soldiers being dragged and stripped of their uniforms, some shot and others dealt with in the way only ISIS has become so adept at. The comments then flood in over the pictures, with a large proportion of those posting and spreading the images condoning the criminal actions they depict and seeing the Syrian soldiers as being no better than their executioners.
Here we saw how easy it was for some to accept what happened, to even be happy about it out of spite towards the soldiers, who were conscripts. We all know how much choice such conscripts have when it comes to fighting in the Syrian war, how they are recruited by the regime and driven to their places of death without anyone from that regime so much as batting an eyelid over their fate.
In moments like these we discover what we are and what we believe in. The right to life is not a luxury; the idea of human rights not merely a book that we open up and leaf through in our spare time. Condemning the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in no way, shape or form justifies the actions of ISIS’s fighters against its soldiers, whose lives the regime seems always ready to trade with and abandon.
The Iraqi tyrant Saddam Hussein, during his last moments before his death at the hands of vengeful executioners, became a victim. The Libyan tyrant Muammar Gaddafi, in his last moments, dragged across the ground, violated and tortured, became a victim. These are simple truths from which we cannot deviate. Fighting against the excesses of political regimes, and the killers and deviants they employ to do their dirty work, requires a moral framework and values that are total anathema to those regimes and the crimes they commit.
Yes, the Syrian regime has killed and continues to kill its own people. But ISIS’s atrocities cannot achieve justice; they will only spread more death and destruction. What happened to the Syrian soldiers at the hands of ISIS was abominable. Our acceptance and tolerance of it deadens us for a while . . . only for us to go back to drinking our coffee with our friends once we are done.