Racism runs like sewage underneath Western attitudes to Syria. It is not obvious, and not the sort we endlessly uncover and deplore. But it is key to an understanding of how the catastrophe could happen.
What makes Syrian lives worth so much less than nothing? It is not Islamophobia or what, inaccurately, is labeled racism against Muslims. Islamophobia is widespread in the West, and it may shape Western policy once Trump - and perhaps LePen, or Fillon, or Frauke Petry take power. But they are not in power now and they are not responsible for the West's worse-than-nothing response to sadism and slaughter on a truly historic scale. Obama, Hollande, Merkel and other diversity-worshiping Western leaders are responsible. They and all their terribly nice supporters don't hate Muslims.
Quite the contrary. Decent People all over the West deplore Islamophobia with all their hearts; after all it's such a low-class sentiment. They are so self-reproachingly reverential about Srebernica's massacre of Muslims, you fear they'll never recover. They also show deep love for the Kurds, even those aligned with the monstrous Syrian régime. Perhaps they even know the Kurds are Muslims.
No, Decent People don't hate Muslims. And the policymakers deplore atrocities committed by Muslims only when ideology demands it. In 1965, Muslims murdered between 600,000 and a million Indonesian communists. No one minded much, then or ever since. More recently Chechen Islamists were able to commit quite vicious acts of terrorism against Russians, which was ok, because that was the Russians' fault.
Palestinian terror, by contrast, doesn't get the red carpet treatment, even among the most bleeding-heart 'supporters' of the Palestinian cause. In Syria, ISIS arouses horror like no other; the whole world goes to war. Assad can kill literally ten times as many, nothing happens. Why is that?
It's not because of any political imperatives. Before Syria became a charnel house, it was a pariah, an ally of the detested Iranian régime, the main supporter of the terrorist group Hezbollah, and the enemy of that beacon of democracy, Israel. Why, then?
Palestinians and Syrians are, on dubious but widely accepted definitions, Arabs. Assad is as un-Arab as his secularism, his UK education, and his London-born wife can make him. He is as un-Arab, indeed, as the West's darlings, the Jordanian rulers, with their thoroughly Westernized ways and wives. This matters. It's not that the Decent People of the West hate Arabs, any more than they hate spider monkeys. It's just that they can't really see Arabs as part of the human race.
Consider the evidence. 6000 terribly human, utterly important Muslims die in Srebernica, but they are Europeans. Compare this with the deaths that don't matter in the Middle East. The thousand unarmed protesters slaughtered by Sisi, out in the open before the eyes of the world. The million Iraqis who died in the shadows of Western press coverage. The 175,000 who died in Algeria. The long, bloody tyrannies in Tunisia and Libya, and well before the current holocaust, Hafez Assad's mass killings in Hama, 1982. Even black people are thought to deserve at least tears for their agonies, in Biafra, in Nigeria, in Ethiopia, in Sudan, most of all in that locus of Western breast-beating, Rwanda, but Arabs? Frankly, they can just fuck off and die.
Look too at the West's allies: the more Arab they are, the more they are detested. Decent People hate the Saudis and look on the Gulf States generally as, well, a bunch of jerks. Already in the 16th Century, Francis I of France saw fit to enter into a military alliance with the Muslim Turks. Two centuries later, Montesquieu saw much to emulate in Muslim and Ottoman ways, but thought Arabs were the dregs of humanity. The Enlightenment could admire the Persians as well. But the Arabs, never. Perhaps their wave of conquest so appalled the Westerners, they never got over it. Only a few rogue Englishmen and women in the 20th Century, from Gertrude Bell to T.E.Lawrence and Wilfred Scawen Blunt, could sympathize, and even admire something in Arab culture. Their voices fell on deaf ears.
Racism against Arabs helps explain why even the most professedly anti-Assad pundits and analysts, to a man, would never support giving the rebels serious arms, and especially not MANPADS. Whatever the 'solution' to the Syrian 'problem', it's something for the Great White Powers, not the excitable little Arabs who - all of them - would do God knows what with grownup weaponry. (Instead, the 'anti-Assad' commentators have the effrontery to propose 'concrete plans' they know with absolute certainty will never be adopted.) Arabs, in the eyes of their Western 'supporters', are incapable of autonomous activity. They can't be trusted to run their own affairs. The only Arabs who get serious military equipment are those who can pay fabulous sums - however low the Arab race, their money's still good.
The point of this exercise is not to excoriate Westerners yet again. Anti-Arab racism needs noticing because it explains not only Western policies, but Western attitudes and especially the attitudes of enlightened, intelligent Western 'analysts'.
Assad is a killer and torturer on a level with Pol Pot or Idi Amin, or the butchers of Rwanda, in savagery far exceeding even swine like Pinochet, the Greek colonels, or the Argentine junta. Yet he is regarded like the latter, not the former. No one talked of compromise, accommodation, with the first bunch. No one had nice interviews with them. No one thought that well, maybe after all, keeping them in power would be the least bad option. No political scientists worried about their sovereignty or their place in the international order. No analysts preened themselves on their Olympian neutrality between the butchers and those resisting them. No nation bombed resistance groups because someone somehow managed to imagine they might someday possibly pose some danger to the West. Above all, no one thought that, while the leaders of the massacres should be deposed, it might be best if their administrations be kept in place: public order, you know.
The best, simplest explanation of why the monsters of Syria get a free pass is that their victims are Arabs. Muslim lives, black lives, Cambodian lives may matter. Arab lives do not. And the next time Arabs look for even the most minimal decency from the West - including from the Decent People who deplore Islamophobia - they would do well to remember this. In the West, their agonies serve only to invigorate the careers of professional Middle Eastern experts.