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What’s in a name
This undated photo shows Dr Abbas Khan. (The Daily Star/Free Dr Abbas Khan Twitter account)
This undated photo shows Dr Abbas Khan. (The Daily Star/Free Dr Abbas Khan Twitter account)
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The case of Abbas Khan, a British physician who died last week in Syria, has received a considerable amount of media attention of late. Khan was declared to have committed suicide in a Syrian jail; he had been reportedly enthusiastic about his imminent release; a prominent pro-Damascus British MP was caught up in the saga; Britain’s prime minister has taken a personal interest in the case – all of these certainly played a part in catapulting the story around the world.

Around roughly the same time, several hundred people have been killed in the city of Aleppo alone by a sort of primitive weapon: the so-called barrel bomb. Throughout the country, a daily death toll of 100 people has become expected, with the figure sometimes even topping 200.

In short, there are at least 100 Abbas Khans every day, and a large number of them are children. Western governments and international media seized upon the Khan case because it is newsworthy and significant but they have little or nothing to say about the individuals who are being cut down each day by a low-tech form of weaponry that speaks volumes about the regime’s lust for killing.

The Syrian regime has also used chemical weapons against its own people and probably on more than one occasion. The victims of these more expensive weapons are also unworthy of the world’s attention, judging by the reactions to the massacres in the Ghouta in August, which focused more on the principle of the matter than those who lost their lives.

That atrocity led to high-level diplomacy as Western countries, led by the United States, threatened to carry out a military strike against the Syrian regime. This was averted when Damascus said it would destroy its chemical weapons and stockpiles and threw into stark relief the priority list of the international community: arriving at the scene of the crime to remove a smoking gun from the hand of a murderer and walking away, leaving the murderer to pick up a new weapon and kill again.

Even Syrian children can discuss how the outside world has cared only about the weapons – not about the victims or the perpetrators, and certainly not about seeing the perpetrators face justice.

Abbas Khan is lucky to have a name, while in most cases the Syrians who are being killed will likely never be anything more than statistics. The only things that the world is increasingly aware of are the kinds of weapons used to murder Syrians every day – from Sarin gas to crude barrel bombs or even knives – and in the meantime, the relations of these victims are expected to jump for joy when they hear of diplomatic exercises such as Geneva II. Multiply Abbas Khan by more than 100,000 and anyone can figure out the level of outrage and disappointment that has been sown by the international community’s callous indifference to ending the Syrian crisis.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 24, 2013, on page 7.
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