Before the Killings: The Children of Houla
Anyone who has seen even a small fragment of the videos and images from Friday's killings in Houla, in which 112 people died, has probably asked, "Exactly why is this being allowed to continue?" Anyone, that is, except for those guilty of this crime.
One of the videos is of a crowded interior, with dozens of men and women standing around. How many I don't know, because I could see the dozens of bodies of children, some as young as 3 or 4. Children laying on the ground, their heads blown open like grotesque flowers in bloom. I still carry the vision of one boy shot in the jaw, his gaping mouth a real scene in a horror movie.
A man picks up each body like a rag doll. There is wailing in the background, with echoes of "Allahu Akbar". One little girl is dressed in fancy red, almost as if she was at a tea party, her lifeless body laying as if asleep.
I have heard claims that the 49 children died from shelling. Not true, from this imagery. The dead appear to have been targetted individually, with bullets aimed directly at heads.
This was not a random killing.
Even if it was, what difference does it make? What is the difference between killing 49 children by dropping a bomb on them or using snipers to kill them one by one? And what's the difference between the life of a dead child and a dead woman or man, for that matter?
The substantive difference is that the perishing of children especially tugs at our hearts. We can't bear to see a child cry from pain or hunger, even if it's not ours. Our genes force us to protect them because they are the ones who carry on humanity.
That sacredness we bestow upon our young makes the murder of these children an even more grotesque act. It makes us ask rhetorical questions. How can a man, in this case President Bashar al-Assad, and his cronies act so mercilessly, without a shred of humanity, and kill children like this? How can they subject the parents of these children to such torture? How can these political and military commanders sleep at night?
The answer has been in front of us for more than a year. They can because they want to.
The Houla Massacre may be the curtain that had to be drawn to show the world that Syria's regime is prepared to take any and all actions necessary to stay in power, including the mass execution of children. This is an act planned and committed by sociopaths. To expect them to suddenly turn their course, because a US Secretary of State is outraged, is a gross underestimation of the lengths to which they are willing to go.
If the past, present, and future crimes of this regime are forgiven, if a course such as that taken in Libya is not pursued, the world should prepare itself for more Houlas and more dead children, captured on film with horrified eyes wide open. This regime has shown once more that it is prepared to kill thousands to stay in power.