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Claude Salhani

Claude Salhani

Claude Salhani is the senior editor with Trend News Agency and is a journalist, author and political analyst based in Baku, specializing in the Middle…

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A Cry from the Heart: Syria and the Mathematics of War

Take a good look at the horrific pictures all over the Internet today showing the massive destruction to the city of Homs, in Syria, and then come back to this article.

With the images of destruction fresh in our minds, let us try and put politics aside for a moment, if that is at all possible. Let us put aside who is in the right and who is in the wrong. Let us forget for an instant that there are good guys and bad guys, Islamists and secularists, communists and Baathists, and so on.

Forget for a minute the commercial reasons why war is justified or not. Let us just look for a moment at the issue through simple mathematics.

Let us also put aside the commercial incentives that are normally attached to the reasons countries typically go to war. One: resources: oil, land, water, access to sea lanes. Two: ideology, or three: plain stupidity. Let us examine this battle for control of Homs through simple mathematics.

Located in western Syria, pre-war Homs had a population of about 1.033 million people, (2002 estimate).  Today it lies in ruins. No one is capable today of knowing exactly how many of the city’s residents remain or how many have fled.

Looking at the images of the devastation I was reminded of one of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin infamous quotes,” a single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.”

And how right he was.  We lament over the death of an individual but brush off the destruction of an entire city with a sigh and a wave of the hand and say something like, “it’s terrible,” or “those poor people.” But it’s hard to imagine the plight of a million people, so put aside the devastation to the overall city. Instead, zoom in on just one small area of the devastated city. Pick a neighborhood. Anyone. Now pick a street. Again, it does not matter which street. Now focus some more and pick a city block. Anyone will do. Again, zoom in closer on a single building, narrow your focus on a floor in that building and re-focus on a single apartment. Now, what do we have?

This is a typical apartment where a family of four used to live. A man and his wife and their two children. A boy and a girl. And perhaps a cat, too. They were nobodies. They were typical, important to each other and to their friends and families. They were common everyday people. The man was employed in a bank, maybe. The wife as a school teacher. The two children were still in school. The boy was bright and his father had high hopes for him. The daughter had started to have panic attacks every time the shooting resumed. The cat would run and hide under the closet.

The couple had all their worldly goods in that apartment.  The washer-dryer they had scrimped and saved for, the Persian rug they were so proud to have bargained for during a trip to Aleppo a few years back.

The boy was into computers and his refurbished laptop was his prized possession, along with the 3,245 songs he had collected over the Internet. The girl had a small and modest collection of dolls that relatives had given her over the years.

When the fighting began to get closer to their apartment, the family would seek refuge in the building’s staircase, considered to be the safest place in the building. At first it was almost a pleasant diversion. The men would bring out chairs and a small table and play backgammon, women would sit a corner chatting together and the children would play games. But as the fighting intensified the residents had to take shelter in the basement. And then one night they had to flee, leaving all behind. The furniture, the washer-drier, the Persian rug, the little jewelry that the wife owned. The computer and the doll collection. And the cat. All that had to be abandoned.

This is a fictitious account of a fictitious family. But the war is very real and the suffering of the people is equally real. There is no doubt that there are tens of thousands of families just like this family across Homs and across other cities in Syria who are facing the same predicament.

More than 100,000 killed. Probably another 100,000 maimed. Some 1.6 million turned into refugees.

What in the world justifies ruining the lives of so many people?  What religion, what philosophy, what ideology, what belief, business, political, religious or otherwise justifies committing so many tragedies? While a million deaths, or in this case “only” 100,000 deaths may well be a statistic, it is primarily a tragedy multiplied 100,000 times.

By. Claude Salhani




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Leave a comment
  • Zipzap on July 31 2013 said:
    As a teenager i was a vitness to same story happening to my city. The tv said it was the evil - serb/croat/muslim nationalists fault. The same tv showed concerned international community calling for peace while i watched their airpanes and red cross trucks deliver weapons to the weakest side in the war. The purpose? Divi?e and conquer. Same strategy romans used thousands of years ago. Pit people with same heritage against eqchothwr tlling them they could hqve the whole country, while taking their wealth. And now there is no country no more.
    Later i found that the warring sides did business with eqxhother, and the whole thing was a large scake robbery, followed by privatisation. Its all business as usual, for thousand of years, and the rest of e world doesnt care, doesnt want to hear, doesnt want to challenge the tv narrative, because we, as syrians, were "non civilized". Its far away from their videogames and reality shows, and although this article makes a great effort in tge empathy section, acting upon it requires to leave the comfort zone for most. Thats why it will the same story until the war comes knocking on the "civilized" peoples doors. Thats why i have no hope, and thats why i am certain i will see a world war in my lifetime
  • Paul Krauss on July 31 2013 said:
    Very sensible article.

    Had you written this article at the start of the Iraqi war you would have been decried as non-patriotic or an outright traitor.

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