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'The Global Village'...Morgues and Tears

'The Global Village'...Morgues and Tears

Monday, 7 November, 2022 - 12:00
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

Baghdad was writhing with the sound of explosions and the scenes of blood and rubble. An Iraqi official accused the media of amplifying the number of victims, and controversy erupted on the matter. I was overwhelmed by journalistic curiosity, so I asked an Iraqi friend to find me the contact number of the morgue in Baghdad. I called and asked to speak to the person in charge of the place.

The man quickly said that he was an ordinary citizen and could not give official statements. I reassured him, and he replied that around seventy to eighty bodies were received daily, due to bombings, kidnappings, and assassinations.

I thanked the man and asked him about the cruelty of his job, and how he could live among the corpses. He said: “This is my job, my destiny, and my livelihood. Then you get used to seeing dead bodies. What you never get used to, are the tears of mothers and wives, when they find the body and when they don’t.”

When you are a journalist and come from the horrible Middle East, the question about corpses becomes an item on your to-do list. But the morgue employee considered the tears of mothers and wives to be harsher than the sight of those bodies looking for someone to bury them in peace.

The story of the morgue came back to my mind as I read a report in the New York Times about Russian mothers going to the morgue to ask about the fate of their children, who were sent to Ukraine and with whom all contact was cut off.

I felt this cruelty when I read that mothers had to stare at a torrent of pictures, some horribly distorted, to recognize a ring or a particular detail.

On the other side of the war, Ukrainian mothers and wives go to the morgues in search of the bodies of those whose phones were silenced, as if announcing their deaths without revealing the location of their bodies or what was left of them.

I knew the pain of war years ago. A ceasefire was announced and the director of An-Nahar newspaper, may God forgive him, requested me to go to a hospital in the eastern part of Beirut. I went and asked about the victims and they led me to a hall. The scene was terrible. More than sixty bodies were lying on the ground and covered with sheets. My colleague, the photographer, was afraid of the lack of time and gave me the most difficult task of my life. I unfolded the sheets so he could take pictures. Among them were small corpses that still visited me whenever war broke out.

I learned another lesson on the streets of Beirut. The militias mourned the victims with chants of revenge and heavy bullets. The images of the martyrs covered the walls of the city, to later fall with the autumn leaves and the first rain. Nothing remained of the martyrs except the tears and sufferings of mothers, wives, and orphans.

In recent years, several Arab countries were tormented by the flames of revolutions and wars. Newspapers turned into what looked like mortuaries. Before sending the pages to the printing press, the journalist had to re-check the number of dead and wounded. A painful calculation was necessary to win a prominent front-page seat. In the last moments, the journalist’s role was similar to that of a gravedigger, as he had to find a place for the new arrivals.

The New York Times report drowned me in the anguish of war. The war on Ukrainian soil is the most dangerous event we have experienced in decades, as especially as analysts repeat that Vladimir Putin “cannot lose.”

A question arises in this context: Did Putin fall into the trap, or did he fall into it and dragged the whole world with him? Concerns mount as we watch the developments in the strategic region of Kherson.

The questions are many. Did Russia decide to evacuate civilians from the area to keep them away from dangers, or for a more serious reason? Does Putin intend to turn the battle of Kherson into a modern version of the Battle of Stalingrad? Does he want to lure the Ukrainian army to the region and surprise it with a weapon that will cause colossal losses to Zelensky’s army, and restore the strong image of the Russian forces? Is it true that getting out of the Ukrainian tunnel is only possible by putting the world on the brink of a devastating nuclear feast promoted by Dmitry Medvedev, Putin's companion, and shadow?

Is it true that the director of massive murder in Ukraine injects terror into the veins of the world, so he rushes to an unconditional cease-fire to devote himself to burying the victims and shortening the world's pain?

I have followed Putin’s journey before he “captured” the Kremlin. I used to admire the man, who saved the Russian Federation from disintegration, and the world from a series of extravagant ethnic and religious wars.

I admired him when he presented himself as a gentleman and an outstretched hand, knowing that he came from the KGB empire and the corridors of spies and secret reports.

I thought the man to be a patient hunter, who would retaliate in time after concealing his intentions. I thought that judo taught him to throw the opponent to the ground. The image of the brilliant hunter was confirmed when he regained Crimea and intervened militarily in Syria in a move the West did not realize its dimensions.

The journalist’s admiration for a great player leads him to a wrong guess. When Russian forces crossed the international border with Ukraine on February 24, I ruled out that the skilled hunter and reader of the reports had fallen into a miscalculation. We expected that he would occupy or besiege Kyiv and that the world would call for a solution based, for example, on declaring Ukraine’s neutrality with expanded autonomy for the regions he later annexed.

In the ninth month of the war, we realize the mistakes in our predictions. Putin has fallen into the trap and dragged the world with him.

Never has the world been so dangerous. Slaughters are taking place on European soil. Taiwan is on the brink of war. Kim Il-Sung’s grandson is playing with missiles and tormenting officials in the southern part as well as in Japan. Generals are checking the capacity of their conventional and nuclear arsenals. Europe is terrified of the approaching winter. Talk about grain and gas promises the poor with worse days to come.

Putin underestimated the toughness of the Ukrainians and the generosity of the West in their support. He fell into the trap and we fell with him.

War is not just about generals and maps. Some soldiers go and do not return. Economies collapse, while hunger and suffering spread in the alleys of the “global village”.

It is about the millions of displaced people and the tears of Russian and Ukrainian mothers at the doors of the mortuaries.

We are preoccupied with breakthroughs, statements, and balances of power. But the most painful thing in the war is those tears that we forget.

The “global village” was a symbol of scientific, technological, and human progress, despite the varying pace of trains. Some injustice does not justify uprooting the pillars of the temple.

Who caused the “global village” to fall in the time of morgues and tears?

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