Soothing Apathy: Humanness and Conflicts

If you have lived in this world for so long or have read part of the chronicles of our humanity, you might have come across the words “never again.” These words are most audible in the darkest moments of human history: the Holocaust, and the great loss of life in Cambodia, Brazil, Bosnia and the Rwandan Genocide represent just a few of the calamities that have plagued the world. Most often targeted at the poor and minorities — either ethnic or religious. Having experienced the Rwandan genocide, those words echo volumes to me. But I always wondered why we choose to wait to be stunned by calamity at the grandest scale for us to react. Why are calamities so commonplace to an extent that the most recent ones are the ones that spark some guilt in us, forgetting that these calamities stretch across the globe and span across time?

The Syrian crisis invites us to think broadly and question our humanness. The Syrian crisis is a different face of a bigger problem. More like a problem mutating into different faces because the older face dies into our apathetic memories, and the new face emerges to capture our attention again, when our attention starts waning it looks for another face to resuscitate our morality. It is as if our apathy has given calamity an attention seeking behavior; evolving to capture our attention.

However, evolution suggests an improvement, which of course we are far from. Also, putting it in the way I might have suggested that calamities are trying to help us find our humanness — that is not what I am trying to communicate. But to some extent I invite one to ask him, herself or theirself, “What more do we have to see to cry out for the rescue of humanity?” From the Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya, Sudan to Syria, it’s all calamity.

This is a huge problem and one might think we have seen enough. The fact of the matter is that we haven’t and the prolonged conflicts, in this case, are testament to that. Don’t we have a responsibility? When rape and death prevail in parts of the world?

It’s been a year since we saw a picture of a Syrian toddler in a small red t-shirt, tiny blue shorts and blue shoes face down in the beach sands. The water had thrown him out for us to question our humanness; are we Rousseauian kind of humans or Hobbesian kind of humans? This picture was shared on social media and all over the world; newspapers and television news channels picked up on it and put it right before the eyes of those who might have had ideas of ignoring the issue of atrocities around the world; the veil had been raised. Our apathy was being questioned. Despite the somberness the picture had displayed, there was also a positive feeling about it for those who shared the same views as mine that the picture was going to bring about a very significant wave of discussion in the midst of anti-refugee sentiments shared in parts of the Western world and conflict condonement shared in the world. I thought that was going to stir a discussion on issues surrounding giving refuge to displaced populations.

Sadly, it didn’t, the picture has been archived to recesses of memories now silent and dormant. It is as if we went back into our consciousness — awaiting for another picture to awaken us again. Fortunately, the emergence of another one did not take long.  It came and it hit our conscious hard. This was a picture of a dusty disoriented Syrian child sitting alone in an ambulance after being saved from rubble in Aleppo. His face was caked in dust and blood, he was a victim of aerial bombardment.  A television presenter cried on air, which is normally unprofessional. But there is a time when humanity and professionalism clash; when something very disheartening is presented before us and is very hard to contain, our moral-self just opens up spontaneously. But, even more worryingly, there are so many of these pictures from the aforementioned countries hidden in our briefly empathetic minds.

In the twenty-first century, the lack of information is no longer the most immediate problem. Instead being informed has not been enough to spark the urge for change. Emotional impact has dulled us; we have become fatigued by the images and the news of injustices at home and across the globe.  We are not awakening our conscious-self. The question is, what really prevents us from securing and living — and working — towards our moral inclinations.

When rebels occupy regions in the Democratic Republic of Congo, rape women and displace a population in order to mine coltan for cellphone manufacturing, we stay silent and still buy the same cell phones. Are we accomplices or just bystanders? When the price of oil goes down through the means of war, are we accomplices or bystanders? What about cheap chocolates from child labor in Ghana? What about trade deal born out of corruption or conflicts? All these examples point to the fact that we are not bystanders; we are accomplice, because bystanders do not benefits from injustice, they watch injustice unfolding and stay silent. Accomplices on the other hand, benefit from injustice, which we all are. However, even if we were bystanders, inaction does exonerate us, for “inaction is the same action.”

About the Author:
William Hatungimana was born in Rwanda. He fled Rwanda with his family following the Genocide in 1994. He grew up in a refugee camp in Swaziland. After graduating from Mpaka High School, in Swaziland, he attended Waterford Kamhlaba UWCSA where he completed his International Baccalaureate Diploma in 2011. He went on to pursue a BA in the USA at Luther College where he recently graduated as a member of the Class of 2016; he will be pursuing a PhD in Political Science at the University of Kansas beginning August 2016. William’s interest is in the areas Comparative Politics and International Relation. He is active in discussing and reading about international politics. While at Waterford Kamhlaba UWCSA, William joined with classmates as one of the founders of the Malindza Refugee Education Initiative, a program designed to provide education for refugee children.  At Luther College and Waterford Kamhlaba, he pursues a number of leadership roles including the Luther Student Senate-Culture and Religion Representative, Living Values Community Service Program Planner and an assistant coach in soccer. William plans to continue his involvement in children’s education with a special focus on refugee children, and in areas of armed conflict as well as communities in transition following the resolution of civil war and occupation.

Guest Authors Initiative:
The IIT Syrian student blog welcomes guest contributions from university students from Syria and around the globe.  To learn more about the Guest Authors Initiative, please contact Suhaib at

Suhaib was born in Kamishli, Syria, and earned his bachelor’s degree in December 2014 from Illinois Institute of Technology’s Armour College of Engineering, with earlier studies at Aleppo University and Damascus University. Suhaib majored in Civil Engineering with a concentration in structural engineering. Upon graduation, he accepted a position as a project engineer working on projects throughout the state of Illinois; he lives in Springfield, Illinois. Suhaib previously worked with Jasmine Baladi Studio, an NGO that works to support Syrian children in refugee camps in Turkey. Suhaib regularly writes for the Syrian Students for a Better Future Blog.


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