American Savage: Idle Hands in Syria


The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.
— Albert Einstein

In a far away country most of us probably couldn’t find on a map, children are dying. In an obscure Muslim nation thousands of miles away, evil lives in the streets, spitting bullets into little bodies and punishing the righteous on behalf of the wicked.
In Syria, where citizens have demanded civil rights and open elections since last January, hundreds have been killed in cold blood by armed beasts commanded by the nation’s president, Bashar al-Assad. A report commissioned by the U.N. was released this week and its findings are of such a detestable nature, it physically aches to record them here.
The report states forces of the Syrian Army murdered 256 children. It says some of the children were raped and tortured first, sometimes in front of their families. Thousands are detained without reason in secret prisons, and snipers at public demonstrations target the children of political dissidents.
American interests have little time for international atrocities. Our limited involvement in the Egyptian and Libyan revolutions was roundly criticized by conservative politicians as unwarranted meddling.
Isolation. That’s what we need in these times of woe and want: isolation and distance from the troubles of the globe. No time for the European debt crisis and no time for the troubles of the many Muslim nations experiencing an identity crisis. Stick to the plan, create some jobs and do a little shopping. It is the holidays, after all.
The international community has harshly criticized the Syrian army, which continues to deny all allegations of crimes against humanity. But that is where the international community ceases to be effective. A formal complaint, an official reprimand.
Someone once said that idle hands were the devil’s plaything, and our idle hands regarding the Syrian troubles are making demons of us. Our complacency is as good as our endorsement, and children are dying.
While Libya had the support of French airstrikes and NATO medical professionals, Syria has been ignored. And we, the idle hands of the world’s most advanced military, are effectively allowing people to be slaughtered because they are too far away for us to be bothered.
There are few certainties in the world, and even fewer absolutes: death and taxes, sure, but little else. Even our notions of good and evil are hotly contested.  It would be easy to label al-Assad as a monstrous fiend, a bloodthirsty dictator yet to be captured and punished by his people.
Syria shares a border with Iraq and Israel, which we have shown an obsessive interest in. We were boldly prepared to undo the vague evil of Saddam Hussein, yet so inescapably blind to the calamity next door.
What kind of evil is that? I wonder while I watch international news in hopeless despair. Hannah Arendt once wrote about the banality of evil. Arendt expressed the most egregious acts of evil in our history were not committed by fascists or psychopaths or demons. Painfully ordinary men in tremendously unordinary circumstances commit evil, she said.
Human atrocities of violence and depravity in hard-to-pronounce nations are banally evil — painfully, expectedly evil. When capable nations turn their back, that is the extraordinary evil.
Al-Assad is a painfully normal creature: the brutal despot of some desert nation in the sands. We, the idle hands of America and our failure as humanitarians, we are the New Evil.
We can’t have a world without evil. We can’t even have a world without the occasional barbarism and violence. But we can have a world where our hands are not idle when evil men act.
Two-hundred and fifty-six children are dead in Syria, and Americans are preparing for holidays and looking for sales. Two-hundred and fifty-six children are dead in Syria because of the banality of evil and our idle hands pushing shopping carts.

American Savage is a weekly opinion column written by Journal opinion editor Collin Reischman

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