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Why Isn’t There More Outrage Over Yemen?

Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch was talking [1] about the war on Yemen last week, and said this:

What I find more disturbing, understanding the limited coverage, is the absence of a framing of a narrative into the terror that’s being brought on the Yemeni people. You know, there’s this global outrage when Brussels Airport and a coffee shop is struck, and Yemenis are asking me, “Why is there no global outrage when our schools, when our universities, when our hospitals, when our clinics, or when football fields, when playgrounds are bombed with U.S. bombs? Where is the outrage at attacks on civilians here in Yemen?” [bold mine-DL] And the absence of that parallel framing, of that comparison, is very, very difficult for Yemenis to understand.

This touches on something I said in another post [2] on the war. War crimes committed by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen are treated as accidents even when they aren’t. Despite the fact that they illegally declared an entire region of the country to be a military target, Saudi claims that they don’t attack civilian targets deliberately are often accepted at face value. Client governments are usually given the benefit of the doubt even when they don’t deserve it.

That still doesn’t explain why there isn’t more outrage about the humanitarian crisis created by the Saudi-led blockade. Considering that Yemen is suffering one of the greatest contemporary man-made humanitarian disasters [3], how is there not more outrage against the governments responsible for creating that disaster? How is it that it can be greeted with such indifference outside of the country where it’s happening? I offered some possible reasons last week, and I’ll say a little more about it here.

I suspect that the lack of international outrage stems in part from the example set by political leaders in each country. There is some public debate and criticism in Britain about the Cameron government’s support for the war, but there isn’t a lot of it. There is almost none here because very few members of Congress want to say anything about it one way or the other. If we assume that most people take their foreign policy cues from political leaders, there is so little outrage because there are so few politicians even talking publicly about the war, much less criticizing it. Because the blockade is the result of a U.N. Security Council resolution, the other major powers are implicated in the disaster the blockade has caused, and that gives them an incentive not to draw attention to it.

Unfortunately, a lot of coverage of the war in the West has accepted the framing of a Saudi-Iranian proxy war that the Saudis and their allies would like it to have. Despite Iran’s negligible role in the conflict, this framing allows the Saudis to present the war dishonestly as “self-defense” against Iranian “expansion” that many Western audiences are already predisposed to believe. That in turn makes it easier for many people to continue paying little or no attention to the victims of the Saudi-led intervention. The Saudis are supposedly on “our” side in regional conflicts, and so their abuses and wrongdoing are not judged as harshly or they are simply ignored all together. The civilian victims of military campaigns by U.S. clients and allies tend to be overlooked in Western media more often than civilian victims of other governments, and this conflict has been no exception.

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9 Comments To "Why Isn’t There More Outrage Over Yemen?"

#1 Comment By RudyM On April 4, 2016 @ 12:27 pm

It’s also good business for the arms industry:


And at the same time, it’s very easy to present it to the US public as something far away that we aren’t really involved with (if it’s covered at all).

#2 Comment By Kurt Gayle On April 4, 2016 @ 12:48 pm

Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch looks at the question of why isn’t there more outrage over Yemen: “You know, there’s this global outrage when Brussels Airport and a coffee shop is struck…”

Bingo! A suicide bomber carrying a Yemeni passport hits a US target somewhere in the world.

The sad rule of thumb regarding Middle East reporting: No US or Israeli bodies — no news.

#3 Comment By balconesfault On April 4, 2016 @ 1:34 pm

a) My mailbox is constantly inundated with pleas to help out different Middle Eastern Christians who are being slaughtered by Islamists in one locale or another. Perhaps if there was a Christian population in Yemen that was suffering, it would make our radar.

b) In general, ME fatigue. After decades of involvement over there, I think that unless some issue or conflict can be spun into some kind of threat to America, getting anyone to care is really difficult (unless there are Christians involved – see above).

c) Outside of the fracking fields, Americans are loving their $30 a barrel oil. And the Saudis are seen as the current guarantors against any oil price increase. Nobody wants to frame them as the “bad guys”, no matter what the evidence shows.

#4 Comment By Jihadists Killing Jihadists On April 4, 2016 @ 4:02 pm

The Yemen war is seen mostly as Sunnis jihadists with Sunni country backing (Saudi) vs. Shiite jihadists with Shiite country backing (Iran).

In addition, the Yemen factions have persecuted and drove out the Jews of Yemen and large portions of the Christians.

Quite frankly, most of the world is burned out on feeling any compassion for the Muslim/Arab Middle East, and are willing the let the Muslim jihadist slaughter each other as long as they leave the West out of it.

#5 Comment By Dread On April 4, 2016 @ 4:04 pm

They aren’t white. And they are Muslims, so they are automatically the OTHER.


#6 Comment By Chris Chuba On April 4, 2016 @ 4:26 pm

The starvation blockade of Yemen is justified because the U.S. and other navies have seized three weapon shipments from Iran in ‘recent weeks’

This cargo had 1,500 AK-47’s and 200 RPG’s; the U.S. made Saudi weapons are no match for this hi-tech equipment (sarcasm).

Hmm… so OUR navy is DIRECTLY participating in the starvation blockade?
This truly is an outrage.

#7 Comment By SaintRhon On April 5, 2016 @ 9:59 am

Probably due to that ever present belief that somehow a state is not involved so long as a citizen of their country isn’t directly killing someone.
Even if they have provided one or both of the sides with arms, training, targeting data, and “Freedom of the seas” aka “sink the ships of the side we like least and provide a blockade our friends could never accomplish in the name of “freedom””

#8 Comment By GoRoyals On April 6, 2016 @ 11:05 am


You’d be interested to know that many, many Christians have faced unthinkable violence as a result of the war, especially in the port city of Aden which the Saudi’s claim to have control over (and, quite suspiciously, has since been overrun by Al Qaeda forces). Nuns have been executed, and even on Easter militants threatened to crucify a popular priest in the local parish.

I hope Christians like you start paying closer attention to these wars, because if you did, you would be compelled to stand against the actions of your government which have consistently put Middle Eastern Christians in danger. Christians have lived in the Middle East alongside Muslims for centuries and millennia, and it hasn’t been a real issue until recently. In these modern Middle Eastern conflicts, our government has empowered the wahhabi kingdom of Saudi Arabia, allowing it to spread a hateful Salafist ideology that directly endangers Christians. And even while our supposed “enemies” like Hezbollah and Iran and Assad fight to protect Christians, we hinder their ability to do so by sponsoring Sunni takfiri contras that, when they claim a victory in battle, celebrate by sacking Christian churches and communities and forcing them to pay the tax required of Christians under Sharia.

I’ll leave you with this story: at one point in 2013, there was a battle in the Syrian town of Ma’loula, an Assyrian Christian community that had been overtaken by the moderate Sunni rebels that our government trained. When the town was freed by forces loyal to Assad, it was a Hezbollah fighter that rang the Church bells. There can be hope for Middle Eastern Christians, just not with our US gov’t continuing this status quo.

#9 Comment By Mac61 On July 6, 2017 @ 1:02 pm

We don’t know where it is or what it is?