Syria’s Aleppo on the brink of a humanitarian crisis? Hasn’t that happened?

Peter Harrison
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As a journalist working for an international website I find myself regularly questioning the logic behind what riles the world and the language used.

Take the recent announcement that Aleppo was on the brink of a humanitarian crisis. With millions of civilians already displaced and hundreds of thousands killed since the start of the Syrian civil war, haven’t we past that brink?


Recently I traveled to Beirut to see the work of the British Council with Syrian refugees. While I was there I heard Syrian people of all ages (including children) recall experiences most of us can only imagine: friends and family members killed, homes bombed, families uprooted and forced to live in single rooms.

Most of them spoke about their desire to one day return to their homeland – although all were realistic in the view that this might not happen anytime soon.

Meanwhile across Europe there are millions of refugees living in squalid camps on the sides of roads or in town centers, inside tents. They come from all walks of life – from construction workers and street cleaners to doctors, teachers and engineers. Isn’t a situation where so many people’s lives have been changed so much for the worse a humanitarian crisis already happening?

What we humans seem to perceive as acceptable seems to follow no hard fast rules. Throughout his presidency, Barack Obama has been criticized for his use of drones. Drones are seen as this terrible object of war - even when it’s the bad guys being hit.

Yet on the flipside, when a jet fighter, piloted by a human being, targets the same so-called bad guys, this is somehow now acceptable. Why the difference?

If bombs are being dropped and the desired target is being hit, then why does it matter whether a human was sitting in the aircraft or watching on a screen in some distant office while directing the craft via remote control?

Obama's 'red line'

I keep asking people these questions and still no one seems to have been able to explain to me why this is the case.

In 2014 Obama said that if the Assad regime in Syria was found to be using chemical weapons this would be a red line issue. They did and many people died excruciating deaths.

Little over a year later reports are coming from Syria that the Assad regime is dropping barrel bombs on civilian residential areas, flattening neighborhoods and wiping out generations of families.

Barrel bombs have the same indiscriminate impact of chemical weapons – they’re certainly not a precision weapon and kill anyone who happens to be in their way at the moment of impact – yet this doesn’t appear to be one of those red line moments.

As a journalist I believe it is my job to get the information across as accurately and succinctly as I can – it is not for me to tell the reader how they should feel, that is for them to decide. But I find the politics and language of war bemusing to say the least.

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