The bloodshed in Yemen has been continuing for over a year now. With thousands dead and cities razed, the situation has been described as a humanitarian catastrophe. The conflict has received scant media attention. But the Daily Vox’s executive editor AZAD ESSA says it’s not just the Western world that’s been ignoring events in Yemen.
Last Friday, the city of Taiz in the Yemeni highlands woke up to the smell of death. Sixty-five civilians, including 20 women and 15 children had perished under the previous night’s pyrotechnics. One family reportedly lost 17 members.
For a conflict that has already killed, maimed and injured a disproportionate number of civilians, this latest atrocity in Taiz was particularly chilling.
Since late March, Saudi Arabia and nine other Sunni allies (UAE, Sudan, Qatar, Egypt, Morocco, Senegal, Bahrain, Jordan and Kuwait) have launched an aerial war in an attempt to restore President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
The Yemeni president was displaced by Shia Houthi* fighters in a move that shook the precarious power plays in the region. The Houthi insurgency marked a new phase in the greater proxy war between the two regional powerhouses, Saudi Arabia and Iran.
It is a war that has cost the lives of 4000 people, including 1000 children.
— MSF International (@MSF) August 21, 2015
And yet it is an altogether too familiar story: 1,5 million people displaced, some 80% of the population is in need of food, medical supplies and water, and hundreds of others are recruited as child soldiers. While the scale of devastation in Yemen is hard to quantify, humanitarians have been quick to detail the colossal damage the war has brought upon the country’s most vulnerable. Entire neighbourhoods have been razed to the ground, hospitals and schools demolished, and the injured have nowhere to hide or find relief. Last week, Stephen O’Brien, the United Nation’s humanitarian chief described the level of suffering in Yemen as “incomprehensible,” cautioning that unless the fighting ends soon, “there will be nothing left to fight for.” Before him, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator in Yemen said the country was a “human catastrophe”. In addition, the World Food Programme said the country was fast approaching “a famine”.
Of course, coverage of Yemen has battled to secure the interest of international journalists. The story is complex, the actors many and Yemen is not quite safe, even in better times. The horror of the airstrikes has then been received with a collective groan, drowning the realities of the suffering in a story few actually understand.
As human beings continued to be counted as collateral damage, Glenn Greenwald predicted that civilian casualties would be ignored in the media because the perpetrators were US-backed. Greenwald said the litany of crimes committed would only reach the levels of western outrage if the roles were reversed. “All of that stands in the starkest contrast to the intense victim focus whenever an American or Westerner is killed by an individual Muslim.”
It is the prevailing tale of most coverage of the subaltern: westerners have names, the rest of us are numbers.
We know the reasons why this story will not be told in the West. Greenwald’s point is not new, nor is it surprising. But aside from the West, remarkable silence has come from within the global Muslim community. This is not a uniquely Muslim problem, which Muslims must now try to solve miraculously, but the question must be asked: where is Muslim outrage and solidarity for the horror unfolding in Yemen?
Azad Essa is an Executive Editor of The Daily Vox. Follow him on Twitter.
*Update: a previous version said President Hadi was displaced by Iranian-backed Houthi fighters. It is understood that Iran has been assisting the Houthis covertly but there are scant details on the precise nature of the relationship.