Wednesday, January 02, 2013

No to Online Vigilantism!

In a conflict that has given us a steady stream of gruesome videos, the recent video purpotedly showing regime soldiers knifing Free Syrian Army prisoners to death is particularly grim. It is no justification for the regime or anybody else to justify atrocities by saying "the other side" does them too. It is also no justification to say that with the breakdown of law and order the traditional methods of dispensing justice are to be ignored.

Especially without justification is the growing trend for online vigilantism by Syrians using social media. Shortly after the video surfaced online, mugshots of the men said to be involved in the killings were starting to be distributed. Many people who should normally know better have, in their shock at the barbarity displayed, shared these photos in the hope that these men be known. But what they are also doing, wittingly or not, is to sign a death warrant for the lives of each of those men. It is imperative that this matter be talked about and discussed because each and every one of us is faced with a moral choice when we see these pictures. Do we share them on, vent our frustrations, and express our shock at such barbarism, or do we resist that urge and hold on to such information for the relevant authorities, if and when they emerge?

Whatever their crimes, this kind of "trial by Twitter" is inexcusable. It brings to the fore moral and ethical considerations that the Syrian people cannot afford to ignore, especially and not because of, the brutality they have had to endure over the past two years. What if one of those men is innocent? Or what if somebody is mistaken for one of those men? The number of tragic consequences of such seemingly harmless behaviour are too many to consider. It is no excuse to claim that the situation is so bad that nobody could possibly maintain a semblance of justice in Syria, or that anybody can keep track of all the atrocities. It is also no excuse to say that by distributing such mugshots they did not forsee or hope to see any harm come to the suspects. This act in itself is an incitement to violence that any reasonable person should have foreseen.

As unbelievable as this might seem today, the fighting in Syria will stop one day. When that happens, it is the duty of every Syrian with conscience to call for and demand an in-depth investigation of each atrocity, filmed or otherwise, and to begin the costly and lengthy process of investigation, trial and judgment. There might be some who ridicule such ideas as pedantic or unrealistic, but these people should remember that at one point so was any talk about overthrowing Assad's regime, or of effecting change for the better in Syria. Amidst all the fighting there is still a revolution taking place in Syria, and this revolution is in the way we think about ourselves and our country.

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