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.
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.