|"2012: Electricity, communications and water are cut off as temperatures plummet. Food supplies, especially for children, are said to be dangerously low, and many people are too scared to venture out." (Associated Press)|
By Robert Fisk
The Independent, March 7, 2012
"No entry to the International Red Cross. Not yet. Maybe in a few days, when the area has been secured. Men and boys separated from the women and children. Streams of refugees. Women, children, the old, few males. Stories of men being loaded on to trucks and taken away. Destination unknown. Devastation. No journalists, no freedom of movement for the UN. The place was called Srebrenica. Parallels are seductive, dangerous, frightening, often inaccurate. Nasser was the 'Mussolini of the Nile' to Eden in 1956, Saddam the 'Hitler of the Tigris' to Bush and Blair in 2003. Standing up to tyrants -- unless they happen to be 'our' tyrants -- has been quite the thing. It's only when we don't stand up to them that we get a bit queasy and start asking awkward questions. Why did we 'stand idly by'? Hafez el-Assad's massacre of his Sunni Islamist opponents at Hama in 1982 comes to mind. Saddam's massacre of his Shia and Kurdish opponents in 1991. Srebrenica, of course. And now Homs. In Libya, as Gaddafi advanced on Benghazi, it was 'chocks away!' During Homs, our chaps lingered at dispersal and the 'scramble' never sounded. Yes, the phantoms of Srebrenica move across our planet faster than we realise, high-speed ghosts whose shadows darken the prisons of Libya and then the towns of Syria. Or maybe those ghosts of -- Hama of the nouriya water-wheels, still creaking away as the Syrian Defence Brigades battled their way through the city's underground tunnels 30 years ago, fighting Islamist suicide girls with grenades strapped to their bodies -- had visited Srebrenica before its fall in 1995. Mass killings, executions are a kind of revolving wheel. Now you see them. Now you don't. And afterwards, we all ask 'why?' How did we let it happen?
In Hama, perhaps 10,000. In Srebrenica, more than 8000. In Homs? Well, if all Syria has lost 8,000 souls in a year, Homs's sacrifice must be far smaller. But then the UN statistics do not appear to include the thousands of Syrian army casualties. Government soldiers were also killed in Homs. As they were in Hama. Not many Serbs in Srebrenica. Of course, Benghazi could have been the next Srebrenica if Nato hadn't bombed the Gaddafi tanks which were already nosing into the city last year. Even the Syrians made fun of Gaddafi's 'zenga, zenga' -- 'from alleyway to alleyway', to be sure a loose translation -- in Benghazi. Now the Syrian government forces are doing a little 'zenga, zenga' of their own. There are other parallels, of course, between Srebrenica and Homs. In Srebrenica, the local Muslim commander -- Naser Oric, mysteriously rescued before the Serb onslaught -- had been killing Serb civilians around the town since 1990. In Homs, the armed defenders had indulged in sectarian killings of their own. NGOs retreated from Baba Amr during the siege with terrible stories of 'Free Syria Army' soldiers boasting of cutting their opponents' throats. In Srebrenica, Serbs claimed they were fighting 'Islamist terrorists' -- a favourite claim of Messrs Karadzic and Mladic -- and this is exactly whom the Syrian Baathists claimed to be fighting in Homs. Then there are the terrifying mirrors of Srebrenica and Homs with which these reflections began; no Red Cross entry, no journalists, men and boys separated from women, the female refugees and their stories of slaughtered menfolk, men taken away in trucks. The failure of the 'international community'. In fact, there are a lot of differences, too, enough to take our foot off the indignation pedal for moment. In Srebrenica, Christians were killing Muslims -- because they were Muslims. In Homs, Muslims are killing Muslims, albeit that one side is biased towards Shia Alawites, the other towards Sunnis. The UN had granted Srebrenica 'safe haven' status. Indeed, the Dutch UN battalion (albeit one of the world's more pathetic military units) was there at the time, watching the Serbs taking the men away. Neither the UN nor Nato had blessed Homs with such dodgy protection. [...]"