Mellanöstern och Nordafrika Tidningen
Published On: Tue, Jul 7th, 2015

Looking away from “Bombs Away”

Two days ago there was a massive crash during the NASCAR race at the Daytona International Speedway in America. While sideswiped in a line of cars speeding around 200 miles per hour, Austin Dillon’s car careened over two rows of other cars and smashed into the fence protecting the viewing stands.

Victims of a bombing raid on the Yemeni coastal town of Harad (photo:

Victims of a bombing raid on the Yemeni coastal town of Harad (photo:

Then the car was hit by another car, knocking the engine out with Dillon’s car coming to rest as a complete wreck upside down. Miraculously the driver walked away unharmed. The millions of racing fans were riveted to the screen, expecting the worse. I am sure no one could look away.

Every day in Yemen the Saudi bombing campaign attacks relentlessly with civilians being killed, often blown to bits and unrecognizable. You may see a building in ruins, but you will not see the corpses on your local news or the major Western media outlets. Few of those hit by sophisticated, made-in-the-USA missiles and bombs are as lucky as Austin Dillon. Those who do survive face uncertain access to health care in a country where humanitarian aid has been cut off. There is an old saying that someone will cut off his nose to spite his face. In the current war on the Yemeni people the entire body is being cut off. But hardly anyone is watching. It seems that very few people care.

Why is it that we are attracted to scenes of violence and accidents but look away from the brutality of war? Hollywood can woo us to watch bloodshed in a theater, but horror movies only last a couple of hours. The killing in Yemen has been going on for over four months. And there is no end in sight. All sides, it seems, are sticking to their guns as Yemen is literally disintegrating. There is some attention being paid to ISIS because they dare to destroy antiquities and because the U.S. shows its global concern by stepping up a bombing campaign. But Yemen is not deemed newsworthy on a daily basis. The Arab Spring back in 2011 had almost 24-hour coverage by CNN and the other media giants, but news about Yemen is avoided today. Were the kind of destruction going on in Western Europe, it would be a top story. But Yemen might as well not even exist. And with the current rate of bombing, that might just be the case.


Looking away from the death and destruction in Yemen also means not looking into the plight of Yemenis outside their country. There is no working Yemeni government; its embassies are hollow buildings unable to issue passports or visas. Imagine that you are a Yemeni student with your passport or visa expiring. There are very few countries that will accept you these days. For some the arduous trek across the Red Sea to Somalia, which has been sending refugees to Yemen for several decades, is about the only place a Yemeni can go. There are a few good Samaritans out there, several voices in the social media wilderness, that care. One petition to the U.N. to stop the slaughter has only garnered 43 signatures, but petitions are no match for arms sales. A few charitable and aid organizations are bravely trying to work on the ground in Yemen, but it is a war zone and dangerous to all involved.

Is there a cure for looking away? One way to start is by looking inside, looking to see why the trauma of fellow human beings caught in a terrible political conflict means so little. Why is more attention paid to the thrills of a racing accident than the daily mutilation of individuals who have committed no crime other than being citizens of a country where spoiled politicians are hungry for power? Why is the suffering going on worldwide, with a massive flow of refugees not seen since the last world war, not the major news story of the day? Is it because Yemen is far away? That most Yemenis are Muslims? That Muslims killing Muslims justifies ignoring the humanitarian crime? Perhaps one day historians will look back on Operation Decisive Storm as yet another example of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of almost five centuries ago or the Mongol destruction of Baghdad in 1258 CE. But such historians may not yet be born.

About the Author

- Anthropologist and historian with 40 years of experience researching and working in Yemen. Varisco is currently the President of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies, Senior Fellow at the Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg of Bonn University, and an expert advisor to MENA Tidningen.

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