Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Children Are Still Dying of Wars Around
By Ramzy Baroud
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, August 27, 2012
Violence is Not News
Somewhere in my home I have a set of photo albums I rarely go near. I
fear the flood of cruel memories that might be evoked from looking at the
countless photos I took during a trip to Iraq. Many of the pictures are of
children who developed rare forms of cancer as a result of exposure to
Depleted Uranium (DU), which was used in the US-led war against Iraq over
two decades ago.
I remember visiting a hospital that was attached to
Al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad. The odor that filled its corridors
was not the stench of medicine, but rather the aroma of death. At a time of
oppressive siege, the hospital lacked even basic anesthetic equipment and
drugs. Children sat and stared at their visitors. Some wailed in
inconceivable pain. Parents teetered between hope and the futility of hope,
and at prayer times they duly prayed.
A young doctor gave a sweeping
diagnosis: “No child that ever enters this place ever leaves alive.” Being
the young reporter I was at the time, I diligently made a note of his words
before asking more questions. I didn’t quite grasp the finality of death.
Several years later, Iraq’s desolation continues. On August 16, 90
people were killed and more were wounded in attacks across the country.
Media sources reported on the bloodbath (nearly 200 Iraqis were killed this
month alone), but without much context. Are we meant to believe that
violence in Iraq has transcended any level of reason? That Iraqis get blown
up simply because it is their fate to live in perpetual fear and misery?
But the dead, before they were killed, were people with names and
faces. They were fascinating individuals in their own right, deserving of
life, rights and dignity. Many are children, who knew nothing of Iraq’s
political disputes, invited by US wars and occupation and fomented by those
who feed on sectarianism.
We often forget this. Those who refuse to
fall into the trap of political extremes still tend to process and accept
violence in one way or another. We co-exist with tragedy, with the belief
that bombs just go off randomly and that surviving victims cannot be helped.
We somehow accept the idea that refugees cannot be repatriated and the
hungry cannot be fed.
This strange wisdom is most apparent in Sudan.
In the Upper Nile state, people are dying from sheer exhaustion before they
reach refugee camps in Batil. Some walk for weeks between South Kordofan and
the Blue Nile, seeking respite and any chance of survival. Those who endure
the journey - compelled by fighting between the Sudanese army and rebels
groups – might not survive the harshness of life awaiting them at Batil. The
BBC News reported on August 17, citing a warning by Medecins Sans Frontieres,
that “[p]eople are dying in large numbers in a refugee camp in South Sudan.”
I almost stumbled on the ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ in Batil (as
described by MSF's medical co-ordinator, Helen Patterson) while reviewing
reports of the deteriorating situation in some Darfur refugee camps. Batil
now hosts nearly 100,000 of the estimated 170,000 refugees who recently fled
their homes. According to the medical charity, 28% of the children are
malnourished, and the mortality rate is twice that of the accepted emergency
Darfur is, of course, a festering wound. Many of the
internally displaced refugees often find themselves in a constant state of
displacement, as was the case earlier this month. UN officials say that
‘all’ 25,000 people in a single refugee camp, Kassab, went on the run again
after armed groups clashed with government forces. They settled in another
‘shelter’ nearby, the town of Kutum. According to the African Union-United
Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), the supposed new shelter ‘lacks water,
food and sanitation’ (CNN, August 9).
Since then, the story has
somewhat subsided. Not because the fleeing refugees are in a good standing,
but because this is all the attention that 25,000 refugees can expect from a
media awash with news of two-faced politicians and celebrity scandals. It
might take a ‘peacemaking’ celebrity to place Batil or Kassab on the media
map for another day or two, and surely nothing less than a sizable number of
deaths to make the refugees a relevant news item once again.
said, no attention-seeking VIP is likely to venture out to Mali anytime
soon. While the humanitarian crisis in West Africa is reaching frightening
levels, the media continues to address the conflict in Mali in terms of the
logic of Western interests being threatened by rebels, coups and jihadists.
Aside from the fact that few ask of Western complicity in the chaos, 435,000
refugees are flooding neighboring countries. This was the most recent
estimate by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on
August 16, but the fact is ignored by most media.
The World Food
Program says that the food crisis is devastating - not only for distraught
refugees, but also for millions within the country. Malian children are, of
course, outnumbering all other victims. They are helplessly dragged around
through endless deserts. When they die, they merely leave a mark as yet
another statistic, estimated without much certainty, and, sadly, without
However, here may lay the moral to the story. Every Malian,
Sudanese, Iraqi, Syrian, Palestinian, Yemeni or Rohingya child matters
immensely to those around him. His or her life – or death - might
conveniently serve to fortify a political argument, make a good National
Geographic reportage, or a Facebook photo with many ‘shares’ and ‘likes’.
But for parents, families, friends and neighbors, their children are the
center of their universe, however poor and seemingly wretched. Thus, when
UNICEF or UNRWA complains about a shortage of funds, it actually means that
thousands of innocent people will needlessly suffer, and that centers of
many universes will dramatically implode, replacing hope with bottomless
despair, and often rage.
It may be convenient to assign conventional
political wisdom to explain complex political issues and violent conflicts.
But protracted conflicts don’t make life any less precious, or children any
less innocent. It is a tragedy when Iraqis seem to be on a constant parade
of burying their loved ones, or when the Sudanese seem to be on a constant
quest to save their lives. It’s a greater tragedy, however, when we get so
used to the unfolding drama of human violence that we can accept as destined
the reality of children crossing the Sahara in search of a sip of water.
- Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net)
is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of
PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter:
Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London.)