Meet and let die

Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria visits the Zaatari Refugees Camp for Syrians who fled the civil war in their country in Mafraq, Jordan, Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)

Syrian refugees who have been enduring distressing conditions for months in the dusty Camp Zaatari in Jordan gave Hollywood star Angelina Jolie a warm welcome when she turned up last week to check on their situation on behalf of the humanitarian apparatus of the United Nations.

When U.N. peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi arrived this week they greeted him with an angry protest and handfuls of rocks, to express their anger at the international political community’s lack of results.

Syrian opposition figures have been busy recently, holding meetings in various countries to figure out when they will be able to hold their next meeting.

In Cairo, government officials representing the countries of a “Syria Contact Group” also met recently, and took the following weighty decision: They will hold another meeting.

No one is opposed to the notion of sitting down to talk about the significant topics of the day. But when the issue involves the bloody events in Syria, politicians and officials should remember that a whole host of independent and international agencies and organizations have been loudly setting off a range of warning bells.

They have explicitly informed the world about the horrific state of affairs on various fronts: extra-judicial killings, kidnappings, economic woes, the collapse of the educational system, deteriorating health and nutrition conditions, and the tremendous toll the violence has taken on civilians, in particular children.

The head of the U.N., meanwhile, can only supply the common-sense conclusion that both the government and the rebels appear ready to “fight to the end.”

When politicians and officials hold meeting after meeting, with nothing to show for it except a decision to meet in the future, a dangerous level of frustration and anger results. It is the kind of rage that can explode in the face of someone such as Brahimi as he comes into contact with ordinary Syrians.

This anger and frustration has grown even more acute in recent days with the worldwide focus on the so-called “rage of Islam” phenomenon, generated by a demeaning American-made “film,” and caricatures in the French press.

The Syrian people are watching their homeland spiral into chaos and even more destruction that was thought possible a few months ago. Every single day spent planning the next meeting or conference has a terrible price tag of at least 100 people who lose their lives.

They have been fed a steady diet of political blame – one side says that another is responsible for the crisis in Syria, or is responsible for blocking the solution.

Such people might be content to play the short-term political game, but every day that is spent planning the next meeting – to talk about the possibility of making progress – means that the solution for Syria, and the recovery of Syria, will be that much more difficult and costly.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 20, 2012, on page 7.




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