Or do they?
Right now there are fierce battles raging in Fallujah, where thousands of civilians have been prevented from fleeing the notorious central Iraqi city, and are being used as human shields.
Here are trapped civilians, inside one of the world’s most intense urban combat zones, surrounded by forces armed with heavy weaponry who couldn’t care less about human rights.
I have yet to see one mainstream news report about massive civilian casualties, let alone any series of headlines dominating the front pages.
Rather, the narrative has been the triumphant return of the Iraqi army and police units to assault the city, and we are updated regularly with their territorial gains. Why isn’t the topic of civilian deaths here the central issue?
Yemen. Saudi Arabia and Iran have been waging a proxy war in this strategic Arabian country. The Saudis instituted a bombing campaign while the Iranians having been arming fellow Shi’ite Houthis to the teeth. According to the UN, over 3,000 civilians have been killed in the fighting- more than those killed in Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in 2014, even according to the wildest estimates (well, unless you ask this guy). Yet no screaming headlines, no mass marches, nothing similar to #BlackLivesMatter and certainly no “I stand with Sana’a” campaign.
We used to hear about Syria- only because of the sheer scale of the killing- but civilian deaths there are now “old news”. In Raqqa, the ISIS “capital”, Russian and Syrian bombers kill indiscriminately- so much so that recently the Russians have killed more civilians than Assad or ISIS.
In Libya, civilians are being killed constantly in battles between various factions in a country where at least two political bodies claim to be the official government, militias rule, and airstrikes target heavily populated areas. No major New York Times op-eds there for now.
In Iraq, car bombings and other regular violent acts have resulted in significant civilian casualties and are a daily occurrence.
We don’t even think about countries like Sudan and Somalia anymore- so total the destruction- where thousands upon thousands of civilians have been killed.
This list continues- in fact choose any Arab country, and chances are you will find dramatically under-reported civilian deaths and horrific human rights records, with dictatorships, authoritarian regimes, or absolute chaos the rule – with accompanying violence, terror, and of course civilian deaths.
A few things strike me about this tragic situation:
There’s a subtle but dangerous discrimination here. The World, especially the West, clearly don’t believe that #ArabLivesMatter- or at least that they matter less, much like in books of the early 20th century where racism was ingrained and Arabs or Blacks died nameless and en masse while the white hero survives against all odds. (Having said that, Wilbur Smith’s “Eagle in the Sky” is a must-read.)
The sad thing is that Arab society and leadership seem to share this view.
It’s that “soft bigotry of low expectations” that we have come to expect from Arab countries. They get away with a lot more because the standards applied to them are completely different to the rest of the Community of Nations. The greatest disservice we can do to the Arab people is to continue to not hold them accountable.
Arab deaths don’t sell newspapers or online ads. Most people are no longer shocked at mass casualty attacks that take place in the Arab world. The losers are the Arab people themselves, but everyone else loses a little bit of their humanity and compassion, too.
It puts things other issues like the media bias against Israel into sharper perspective. When Arab civilians (or even terrorists) are killed in Israel, suddenly it’s news. 600 journalists poured into Israel to cover the Gaza war in 2014. This would be unheard of for conflicts in Arab nations, particularly given the scale of the fighting. It dominated headlines for weeks, and elicited marches and protests all over the world.
Staying with Israel, another unavoidable contrast is the value placed on human life. Syrian jihadists are treated by the Israeli army, and incredibly even terrorists– post-attack, after murdering Israeli civilians- are cared for in Israeli hospitals.
Finally, it shows up everything wrong with many “human rights” institutions of today. According to Human Rights Watch founding chair Robert Bernstein, “The region is populated by authoritarian regimes with appalling human rights records. Yet in recent years Human Rights Watch has written far more condemnations of Israel for violations of international law than of any other country in the region”, which is especially ironic given the obvious violations happening in Israel’s neighbouring Arab countries.
At the UN, which should be the bastion of world human rights and set the tone on global issues, the same thing is happening. As Yair Lapid noted, in the past decade, the The UN Human Rights Council has voted for 61 resolutions condemning human rights abuses across the world and 67 resolutions which condemned Israel- completely absurd.
The composition of the Council further perpetuates the problem. Luminaries such as Russia, Qatar, Cuba, China, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia all set the UN’s human rights agenda, as has been excellently documented by Hillel Neuer at UN Watch.
It has to start from within. Until Arab leadership and society start valuing life at least as much as is done in Israel and the West, the world will keep believing that Arab lives don’t matter. Until the same standards that are applied to Israel and the West are applied to these countries, we’re going to see no end to the violence, conflict and destruction plaguing the region.