Our Many Ways of Death and Shame

BEIRUT - How many ways are there to die in the Arab world today, other than an act of nature or a natural death? Let me count the ways…

Deliberate siege and starvation must be the worst way to die, and they are happening before our eyes in the Yarmouk region of Damascus that is mainly inhabited by Palestinian refugees, but also in other parts of Syria where government forces deny civilians access to food and medicine and inflict death by slow starvation.

Next on this horror list are the growing incidents of Arabs drowning at sea while trying to immigrate illegally to southern European countries. Hundreds of fleeing North Africans died when their boats capsized near Sicily last year; many others from Syria, Libya, Egypt and African lands risk the possibility of a fast death by drowning rather than a certain slow death in their own crumbling or violent homeland. In just two days of this week, the Italian navy rescued 2400 Arabs trying to reach its shores; they came in 13 different ships—a veritable armada, unprecedented in this grotesque domain of desperate men and women who fear life at home more than death abroad.

Third on my list is the grotesque practice of beheading, often in public squares. This is mostly done by extremist Salafist-takfiri religious fanatics who act like barbarians, slitting throats and decapitating other Arabs whom they accuse of being heretics, mostly in lawless lands like Syria and Iraq. They often display the decapitated bodies and heads in public, and distribute videos of their deeds, making their isolated degeneracy a global spectacle.

Death by torture is number five on my grizzly list. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of Arab men, women and children are tortured or raped to death every year. This is a double disgrace on the face of Arabism, for torture is practiced by both state security authorities and out of control rebel, militias, gangs and other criminals.
The seventh death option is to be at the receiving end of heavy artillery, missiles and barrel bombs sent to kill you by your own government, which is all the more criminal because most of the dead are innocent civilians, not armed combatants. Like starvation sieges, this is a war crime according to international humanitarian law. Thus, many Arab governments and rebel fighters are war criminals, but none have ever been prosecuted or punished.

In eighth place are the daily deaths of people by car bombs or suicide bombers. Most of these cases are Arabs killing other Arabs, not attacks against foreign invader-occupiers or colonizers like Israel in Palestine, or the United States and UK in Iraq, as was the case previously. With the rare exception of targeted political assassinations, civilians are almost always the only victims.

Sniper fire in urban neighborhoods is an increasingly common cause of death, especially in places like Tripoli, Lebanon or Fallujah, Iraq, among many others. Heartless and sick Arabs here pick off their neighbors like shooting helpless plastic ducks at a summer carnival.

Number ten on my list are civilians who die during political demonstrations, whether they are killed deliberately by government troops, accidentally by shooters from all sides, or are trampled by frantic crowds. Even during legitimate and non-violent political protests, death is never far away today for Arabs expressing their views.

Arabs for many years have also died by artillery or other weaponry that is launched from a neighboring country; this occurs increasingly these days when Lebanese, Syrians, Egyptians and Palestinians are killed by fire from neighboring Arab states or Israel, or by American drones in countries like Yemen.

The last entry on my kinds of death list is the worst, because it affects hundreds of millions of Arabs who are alive biologically—but they have died on the inside from the deadly combination of sadness, humiliation and agony that come from recognizing what has happened to their societies and many of their leaders. We adjust to these death methods and go on with our lives, but we walk with our heads bent lower than usual—not to evade a bullet, but to hide our shame.

This is only a passing deviant moment, though, when heartless killers and freelance criminals—some in official positions—trample the decency, humanity and vibrancy of Arab culture and values. These will regain their footing one day soon, I am sure, because they are what I encounter every day across the region. The small relative number of killers and despots will be driven out of town eventually, and we will raise our heads again, remembering how once we killed and died in so many ways during the lowest point of our culture in the last 9000 years of settled human life. Rami G. Khouri is Editor-at-large of The Daily Star, and Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, in Beirut, Lebanon. You can follow him @ramikhouri.
Copyright © 2014 Rami G. Khouri - distributed by Agence Global