This week the world observed the 20th anniversary of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, when up to one million Rwandans were butchered over the course of three months by extremist Rwandan Hutus. To mark the event, solemn ceremonies were held. Speeches made. And countless determined resolutions were uttered that such inhumane savagery would “never again” be allowed to happen.
Never again. The promise that time and again has proven to be humanity’s most perverse lie. The lie the world tells itself to assuage its guilt for allowing past atrocities, decades after the fact.
There are few things more contemptible, than hearing the words “never again” uttered by those who have displayed nothing but disgraceful apathy towards atrocities being perpetuated, at the very moment the words “never again” were being spoken. In Syria, the world has witnessed the indiscriminate bombing of cities. The maiming, imprisonment and torture of hundreds of thousands. The depopulation of entire towns and villages. Refugees in their millions. Even as countries solemnly pledged “never again” in remembrance of Rwanda, the United Nations was forced to drastically cut the amount of food it provided to each Syrian refugee family, due to lack of funding from donor countries. Never again, the lie that serves as the anesthetic to the world’s conscience.
As with all atrocities, the horrors in Syria will one day be written about in history books. And future generations will shake their heads in dismay and wonder how such terrible things were ever allowed to happen.
Well, it was quite easy really. Countries told themselves that any humanitarian intervention would only make matters worse. That there were no good guys. That Arabs had been slaughtering each other for generations. That there were no vital interests involved in preventing the genocide that had destroyed an entire nation. That the millions of refugees and obliterated towns and cities were part of some “Neocon-Imperialist-Wahabi-Salafi-Zionist” misinformation campaign. That the barbaric chemical weapons attacks were perpetuated by the victims themselves to evoke the very intervention that the world should have felt itself obliged to undertake, if “never again” was ever a serious pledge.
All of which just proves that wise old Yiddish proverb; “When you don’t want to do something, any excuse is as good as another”. The world didn’t do anything, simply because it didn’t want to do anything. “Never again” is just for the history books that are to be written and ceremonies that are to be held decades later, it has never been part of any concrete foreign policy doctrine at the very moment it could have saved lives. How did the world allow it to happen? Just as it has done throughout history; with an endless string of reasons to excuse inaction. Such excuses come most easily to those who are morally bankrupt. Just ask the poor unfortunate Rohingya Muslims in Burma, themselves the victims of a murderous genocide at the hands of fascist-like Buddhist extremists.
However, as has always been the case even in the darkest chapters of human history, there have been the noble few to whom “never again” was a promise to be kept regardless of the cost, and who have risen above the prevalent apathy and helped those in most need. Despite having their resources and capabilities stretched to the breaking point, for three years neither Jordan nor Lebanon ever closed their borders to the multitude of Syrian refugees. Refugees who managed to reach Turkey found a country and people whose hospitality and generosity knew no limits.
And despite having every reason to hunker down behind a big fence or wall, Israel did no such thing when it came to helping Syrians in need, and thousands of Syrian lives were saved by Israeli medical assistance on the Golan. It was indeed a twisted sort of irony that land Syrians regard as being occupied, would serve as a temporary refuge from a murderous regime hell bent on butchering every last Syrian in opposition to it. While “never again” may have proven to be a lie, the pledge “Assad or we burn the country” was indeed one that was being relentlessly pursued and executed.
As sure as the rising of the sun and the moon, humanity seems doomed to perpetually regretting the atrocities that could no longer be prevented, while failing to prevent the ones that can be. Far from serving as a testament to a new-found will to end the horrors that have repeatedly plagued human history, the words “never again” only serve to highlight the crass hypocrisy of a world that has never cared, until the day that all the caring in the world would not have bought back a single life.