Op-Ed: A shocking tale from Syria, but is it true?

Posted Dec 13, 2012 by Alexander Baron
There is a war going on in Syria, and wars always produce atrocities, but does that mean we should believe everything we hear?
I child cleans debris off the roof of his home after Syrian military launched an attack on a neighbo...
I child cleans debris off the roof of his home after Syrian military launched an attack on a neighborhood in Damascus.
Remember that old saying, the first casualty of war is truth? During the First World War all manner of atrocity stories were circulated about the bestial Hun, including the one about the Belgian baby that had had its hands cut off, a baby that was said later by a Member of the British Parliament to have travelled "through the towns and villages of Great Britain, but it went through Western Europe and America, even into the Far West".
There appear to have been few if any such stories come out of Syria, but on the BBC news here last night a tale was related that has been heard before, including in an entirely fictional setting.
A girl called Thumaya told me she had crossed the mountains with her parents and five siblings - including a four-month-old sister - several months ago.
Her father had been wounded in Homs, and they had no choice but to flee to get him medical treatment. Crossing the mountains, they had to hide from an army patrol.
"My baby sister started crying. My father told my mother: 'You either kill her or we all die.' My mother put her hand on the baby's mouth until she couldn't breathe. She was going to die until my uncle came and pulled my mother's hand away."
What may have been the original of that story happened in the Far East, and there, the babe in arms really was killed.
Of course this story from Syria may be true, but frightened little women, especially girls, make compelling witnesses. It should be noted though that the word compelling does not mean true. Who can forget the testimony of 15 year old Nayirah and the tale she told about wicked Iraqi soldiers killing newborn babies? There must have been over 3 million Arabs in Kuwait at that time, and the clever Yankees managed to find one who spoke fluent English, which is hardly surprising when one considers that her father, Sheikh Saud Nasser Al-Sabah, qualified as a barrister in London!
Again, any particular atrocity story may be true, these things happen on both sides in many conflicts, but when you hear such a story and it is accompanied by somebody passing around a hat, or even worse, when you hear sabres rattling in the distance, you should exercise a little critical faculty.