Elie Kedourie, originally from Baghdad, once said to me in a discussion about the Middle East, “Never take your eyes off the corpses.” What he meant by that grim sentence was that the unfortunate masses are likely to be paying with their lives for the disastrous decisions of those in power over them. Victims can do nothing about it. Bystanders have a duty to try to keep the record, plumbing the depths of human cruelty because it might, just might, serve one day to stop some killer’s hand.
Elie would be horrified but not surprised, I believe, by the news from Syria. Terror is now routine in Cairo, Damascus, Baghdad and Beirut. Yesterday there was a report of 30,000 Kurds fleeing from Kurdish Syria into Kurdish Iraq, amid speculation about Kurds fighting with their neighbours for a state of their own. Today there are videos of corpses too numerous to count, laid out on hospital floors in Damascus hospitals, men and women and children, hands folded over their chests. According to reports, they were killed by gas in their homes in the small hours of the night. A Western expert thinks that the dead are showing signs of having been killed by some chemical but not a usual gas like sarin. It so happens that a United Nations team is in Syria with the responsibility of investigating whether the Assad regime has resorted to poison gas. It would be consistent with that regime to resort to gas regardless of U.N. witnesses. It would also be consistent if verification proves not feasible. However, it is safe to assert that the scale of atrocities is rising. Those corpses are warning of worse to come.