As we drove home from Heathrow airport yesterday afternoon, we listened to the radio and heard how Syria had erupted into violence. The Syrian human rights organisation Sawasiah said at least 400 civilians had been killed during a month of protests including at least 35 in Deraa since Monday. It said 500 people had been arrested in the past few days, and the BBC were running an interview with a protestor who claimed they were risking death by speaking out.
It's awful, of course, but our main emotion was one of relief: C's mother was due to be in Syria right now, but after several weeks of umm-ing and ahh-ing, had cancelled her trip (at the cost of her deposit) a week or so ago. The violence that we heard being reported utterly vindicated her decision, and made us very glad that she had decided not to travel after all.
The British foreign secretary, William Hague, also featured in the news, making a statement in Parliament about the crisis:
"Syria is now at a fork in the road," Hague told MPs. "Its government can still choose to bring about the radical reform which alone can provide peace and stability in Syria and for the long term, and we urge it to do so. Or it can choose ever more violent repression, which can only bring short-term security for the authorities there. If it does so we will work with our European partners and others to take measures, including sanctions, that will have an impact on the regime."
His statement made me feel uncomfortable. When I was present at a Clegg & Cameron question and answer session in my office a few weeks ago, Nick Clegg made the point that we should feel pretty terrible as a nation if we sat back and watched as Gadaffi butchered his own people.... a sentiment that I agree with entirely, even if the Libyan rebels currently being shelled in Misrata might wonder exactly what that sentiment is actually worth. The situation in Syria is different to that in Libya, of course, and I think it is broadly a good thing that Hague is speaking up and adding his voice to those putting pressure on president Assad's regime
..... But I can't help but wonder at our motivations here.
We send our jets to Libya to enforce the "no fly" zone; we speak up about the need for the Syrian government to stop brutally repressing their own citizens; we helped to "liberate" Iraq from Saddam Hussein; we have troops in Afghanistan helping to prop up the western-approved regime.... all well and good. But what about all the places we don't speak up about? Where were our strong words and military aid to places like the Sudan or Rwanda? Or Nigeria? People are being killed and repressed all over the world every day. If Hague's stern words already sound a little empty to the people of the Middle East, imagine how his silence must sound to those suffering torture, persecution and repression somewhere not appearing on the Foreign Secretary's agenda.
When plans change
3 days ago