Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

September 23, 2011

Syria: Now it is the children

Filed under: Futures — by Philip J. Palin on September 23, 2011

Over the years I have wondered what my response would have been if I had been alive when the rumors began of the Nazi regime’s mass murder of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and others.

Official camp record photo of Samu Berkovics (inmate no. 59757), who arrived at Buchenwald Concentration Camp on a transport of Hungarian Jews from Auschwitz

I was several years younger than the four girls killed in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.  I have vague memories of incomprehension.  If I had been older, would have I been outraged? If so, would I have done anything with the outrage?

Four killed in the September 15, 1963 bombing in Birmingham

When I was twelve I read Cry, the Beloved Country and wept.  I inserted South Africa into a couple of courses I taught in the late 70s and early 80s. But I made no meaningful contribution to the struggle against apartheid.  Despite my personal disapproval, I was careful to explain South Africa’s internal situation within a broader historical and geopolitical context.

For more than six months hundreds of thousands of Syrians have engaged in largely peaceful protests against the Assad regime.  More than 3500 have been reported killed, including 217 children.

Children in Lebanon carrying pictures of 13-year-old Hamza al-Khatib, whose tortured and mutilated body turned him into a symbol of the Syrian uprising.

Today it is being reported by The Scotsman and others that, “Syrian children chanting for revolution marched in Damascus and in other parts of the country after school yesterday, only for some to be detained or beaten by security forces. Children as young as ten have been taking to the streets since the new term began on Sunday, according to witnesses, in what appears to be the first major involvement of schoolchildren in the six-month-old uprising against president Bashar al-Assad.”

Today it is being reported by Amnesty International that, “The mutilated body of 18-year-old Zainab al-Hosni of Homs, the first woman known to have died in custody during Syria’s recent unrest, was discovered by her family in horrific circumstances on 13 September. The family was visiting a morgue to identify the body of Zainab’s activist brother Mohammad, who was also arrested and apparently tortured and killed in detention. Zainab had been decapitated, her arms cut off, and skin removed.”

What should I do?

I can, of course, question the veracity of the reports and the credibility of sources.  I should certainly be aware that information is usually framed and targeted for a purpose.  This is especially the case  in a complicated context such as contemporary Syria. I can recognize the risk associated with any revolution.  I can be cautious.   I can give attention to serious problems closer to home.

But when a wide range of sources from the New York Times to Facebook all bring similar stories of courageous calls for freedom meeting brutal oppression week after week after week, what should I do?

When children choose — or are being used — to join the protests and are being beaten and killed, what should I do?

At the very least I should not avert my eyes.  At the very least I should acknowledge what I have seen.

This is not enough, but it is the very least I can do.

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Comment by Philip J. Palin

September 23, 2011 @ 3:23 pm

I could make a complicated case for how this really is a homeland security topic. Instead, I will acknowledge that in this instance I have failed to conform to the appropriate expectations of readers that an HLSWatch contributor stay on-topic.

Comment by Dan O'Connor

September 23, 2011 @ 8:02 pm


A poignant and dramatic point of view. I do however, humbly disagree with your assertion that you’d need to make a complicated argument that this is a homeland security issue.

Perhaps not in the direct sense, but tangentially without question, this is a homeland security issue. Things will continue to move from order to disorder and in that complexity these burgeoning crises will have an impact on our Nation.

Either by culture, crime, or circumstance this environment lends itself to extremism and its nefarious outcrops and within that context, an opportunity for others to rise to the occasion and exact terrorism on us and/or others.

Also, at some point and I could never identify that point, excessive human right violations could be an impetus for introduction of forces…akin to Somalia in ’93 but under different or nebulous circumstances.
What to do is becoming a painful road to travel. Decisions looming will be difficult and heart wrenching.

We must see that understanding homeland security as a holistic, synergistic state is as important as merely trying to envelope it in some defined static constraint.

Thank you for bringing this to light.

Comment by William R. Cumming

September 23, 2011 @ 10:54 pm

What are crimes against humanity? Review JUDGEMENT AT NURMEMBERG with Spencer Tracey, Burt Lancaster, Maxmillian Schell. The value of a single human life. That is the key to humanity. Those in the USA leadership who oppose the ICC and other efforts to control the bestiality sometimes present in the World themselves make you wonder what and who do they represent. The hope for humanity is the RULE OF LAW that to the extent possible matches NATURAL LAW. Though shalt not kill!
And Phil rightous indignation biblical in scope is always pertinent to HOMELAND SECURITY IMO!

Comment by Philip J. Palin

September 24, 2011 @ 5:44 am

I might have added examples from Cambodia, Rwanda, (former) Yugoslavia, Uganda, Sudan and a host of other places, just in my adult life.

I am inclined to agree with Dan that there are self-interested connections we should not neglect. I certainly agree with Bill that righteous anger is better than neglect.

And… I know whenever the dogs of war are unleashed there will be unintended consequences, usually bad, no matter the original intent. (There are increasing reports of the so-far mostly peaceful Syrian protests being “weaponized”.)

So… we deploy increasingly harsh words. Our ambassador to Damascus takes increasing personal risk on our behalf. We try to enforce sanctions. All appropriate. I wish I shared Bill’s confidence in the ICC and related juridical processes.

In the case of Libya we seemed to have a confluence of an especially urgent threat (a massacre in Benghazi), European economic self-interest (Libyan oil and related), near-term political self interest (especially on the part of Sarkozy) and a strategic concern regarding the direction of the Arab Awakening. All this produced an unwieldy, restrained but just barely effective intervention.

At the very least Syria is an example of where individual engagement is not nearly enough. If something meaningful is to be done in regard to Syria — and future Syrias — it will involve collective action. Before there can be collective action there must be considerable collective concern, and that does not yet exist in regard to Syria.

Comment by The "Brutes of Tehran" and the "Syrian Thugs"

September 26, 2011 @ 8:44 am

The “Brutes of Tehran” and the “Syrian Thugs” should have long ago heard the F-18 and F1-16 and bombs bursting everywhere to rid these evil doers – why are the western forces participating against the evil doers in Libya and not in the past on the streets of Tehran and presently in Syria — it is time for a show of force, but heck fellas, why don’t we wait just a bit more for our US Navy fleet to become more aged and our air force the same–we need replacement vessels and aircraft and little is being done to address these strategic requirements — it is time to get folks employed and build ships and aircraft — for our fleets are being overworked and we are more often than not, unprepared….

Treason – a word Barry Obama does not like and cautions one when using it — well, Barry, as a US (natural born w/certificate in hand), from my perspective, much of the ill spent monies and the exponential increases in an already bankrupt economy is treason when I see our naval and air force so ill equipped and never mind Russian, but Chinese subs off the Atlantic coast.

Get a grip on reality for the quest for Jerusalem and this generational utilization of Palestinians as pawns will never materialize into meaningful peace and w/Iranian markings of explosives and the Syrians in the mix, yes, from my perspective, it is treason when we have failed to appropriately respond to those killing our US soldier — the case can easily be made, however evidently easily dismissed — the Syrians have blood n their hands and like the Iranians, willing to even kill their own — cold blooded murders whose uncivilized actions all witnessed by God!


Comment by Philip J. Palin

October 9, 2011 @ 4:53 am

The accusation that specifically pushed me to prominently post off-topic was the mutilated 18 year-old reported above.

This accusation has since been disproven. See: Rights groups admit Syrian identity mistake.

This error does not undo considerable evidence of widespread torture and mutilation by Syrian authorities.

But the error does encourage caution and care, even — perhaps especially — when there is cause for righteous indication.

Pingback by Homeland Security Watch » Seeing Syria

February 23, 2012 @ 2:54 pm

[…] to Syria in this blog.  At first I was restrained.  This is a homeland security blog, after all. Since September I have been less and less restrained.  For the last few weeks I have been preachy and insistent. […]

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