The Hysteria Over Chemical Weapons in Syria
Published Thursday, February 7, 2013
“Down at the arsenal they keep the nerve gasses
Guarded day and night by caged white rabbits
Been sitting there for years
I'm gonna have at it
I cut through the fence, run right in and grab it
Go crazy crazy crazy crazy!”
- Dead Kennedys, “Chemical Warfare”
As the armed conflict in Syria continues to spiral unabated into ever more horrifying depths with each passing day, the physical depravity is matched by exceedingly polluted narratives from all parties to the conflict. Nothing reflects this more than the political and media hysteria over the existence and alleged use of chemical weapons, whether by the regime or armed opposition groups.
We must take pause here and muse for a moment over the fact that death and destruction by so-called conventional weapons has become ingrained and normalized in our collective consciousness. A bullet that shreds skin and shatters bones, or a bomb that vaporizes a home is as mundane and natural as an uncomfortable storm on a cloudy winter day. Why else would they be designated conventional weapons after all?
But throw chemical weapons (or frankly any form of weapons of mass destruction) in the mix and now we pay attention. We twitch and shiver. Gun shots are normal…Agent-15, oh my, that’s just evil. The charge of WMDs sounds off alarm bells, sets our fickle moral compasses spinning, which in turn forces us to react rather than shrug and tut in disapproval. It is flashier, alluring, more exotic than simply shelling a human being’s home.
For months now, news agencies and particular Syrian opposition groups have alleged the use of chemical weapons by the regime’s forces. By the end of December, rumors swirled to wild heights in certain Western, Arab, and Israeli agencies, and only settled after the American and Israeli authorities cast doubt on these very claims. The paranoia flows and ebbs. Today, it is most ominous after the latest airstrike by Israel on Syria, with a few speculating apocalyptic outcomes if no immediate action is taken. Tomorrow, it’ll likely be forgotten, until, of course, another event captivates our attention, and we see a repeat of articles, opinions, and other prophecies of Syrian chemical weapons unleashed on us all.
The same is true in regards to the armed opposition. Media agencies, Arab or otherwise, concerned by these ‘savage terrorists’ tend to erupt in mass hysteria whenever they catch a whiff of a rumor alleging the acquisition or use of such weapons, in some sort of fantastical conspiracy to garner sympathy and support for a foreign intervention. We shudder at the thought of wild bearded men holding such destructive power, despite the fact that those who have used these weapons are by and large clean shaved and civilized.
Beyond touching on the inherent double standard, where there is an overbearing anxiety placed on the Syrian case, while not an eyelash is batted regarding the possession and use of weapons of mass destruction by other states (looking at you, Israel and the US), the essential issue isn’t really the horror of chemical weapons.
Ultimately, stories claiming the possession and use of chemical weapons by the regime or the armed opposition are typically propagated – despite questions of credibility, authenticity, and simple common sense – to emphasize and prove the righteousness of one’s ideological position and score cheap shots against another’s narrative, as opposed to out of actual concern for preserving Syrian lives or the pursuit of facts. This is true for all media, from al-Jazeera to al-Mayadeen, from Fox News to Pravda, and the rest in between – whether they stand with this brutal, repressive regime or are apologetic for the horrendous crimes of the opposition.
And this is a major insult to those thousands upon thousands of Syrians who have died, and to those Syrians who will likely perish in the future as the war machine churns along.
Abdul-Latiff Hineidi is a Syrian journalist in Beirut.
The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect Al-Akhbar's editorial policy.
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