Thursday, July 24, 2014

"Give us back our dead"

I watched the return of the coffins to the Netherlands closely. There was a solemn procession of cars, flags at half mast, crowds of people giving their respect, piles of flowers along the route. The newspaper headlines screamed at Putin, "Give us back our dead". World governments united in their condemnation and made it clear in no uncertain terms that the tyrant of Moscow had gone too far. After the indignity and outrage suffered by the victims of flight MH17 the almost flawless processions organised by the Dutch were the least anybody could do for them. It's about respect and love for the dead. They might not care, but for the families it must have meant a lot. I know if I was mourning somebody the idea that the whole world is mourning with me, caring for my loss, would be some comfort however little. Now we wait while DNA analysis takes place to painstakingly identify the passengers of that ill-fated flight. That's what countries with self-respect and dignity do for their dead. Especially when they die in such a horrible way.

But for Syrians there is none of that. Syria is a country with no self-respect and no dignity. There was no unanimous decision to refrain from showing our dead on the news, naked for the world to see. Nobody dipped their flag half mast in the capitals of the world, there is no painstaking DNA analysis to identify our dead, to give them respect, wash their bodies, and pray over them. We will have no time to mourn, no time to remember. There will be no coroners report to establish how each of us died. No next of kin will be notified with a letter. No flags will be at half-mast. We are the cursed, the unwanted.

A distant relative of mine died under torture a year ago - or was it two? - and his family have not been given his body back. They will never get his body back. He was murdered by his own government, tortured to death, denounced by his own flesh and blood. The young man had flown down from America to see his family, he was arrested, I don't know how. Nobody ever saw him again. His father is a wreck, his mother screamed at the man responsible for daring to come to the boy's wake. How did he die? What happened to him? Nobody would tell them. Then the world saw the "industrial scale" murder factories that Assad is running. They saw the warehouses with emaciated naked bodies piled together neatly, catalogued and photographed. My relative's parents must have seen them as well. They must have thought, somewhere in that assembly line of death is our son. But his country doesn't care about him, and so the world doesn't care about him. We have a jackal for a president who laughs at them and at the families of his victims every day on the television and there isn't a god-damn thing anybody can or will do about it.

Even in death the world is divided between the "haves and have-nots". The haves are treated with dignity and respect when they die, the have-nots are wrapped in a sheet of plastic - if they are lucky - and dumped into a hastily dug hole. We want to mourn our dead, we deserve to wash their bodies, to sprinkle rosewater on them, to wrap them in the white burial shroud, to pray for them. All those mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, brothers, and sisters deserve this after all the horrors they've seen. Give us back our dead and leave us in our grief.

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