People partake in a solemn vigil Jan. 13 for seven students from York Region north of Toronto who were among the 176 killed when Iran mistakenly shot down a passenger plane. Mickey Conlon

Editorial: Victims of madness

  • January 16, 2020

What does war look like? It has many faces and countless innocent victims.

Razgar Rahimi, 38, was returning to Toronto from Iran with his pregnant wife and three-year old son when a missile hit Flight 752, wiping out the entire family.

Fareed Arasteh, 32, had been married three days and was on the same flight, returning to Ottawa to continue PhD studies in biology. Ayeshe Pourghaderi, 37, was a Vancouver bakery owner flying home after the holidays with her 18-year-old daughter.

They were seven of the 176 victims, including 57 Canadians, killed when a passenger plane was mis-identified Jan. 8 as a military target. A missile hit the plane after Iran, in a state of high alert, rained rockets on an Iraqi air base in retaliation for the American-directed assassination of Iran’s top general.

The world was outraged when the jetliner went down, but who could be surprised? Civilian deaths — what generals call collateral damage — are an inevitable and deplorable outcome whenever nations turn their war machines on each other. 

The 21st century has already seen hundreds of thousands of civilians killed in the Middle East — mostly women and children. The difference this time is that Flight 752 victims were memorialized in the media. Most civilian casualties go unrecorded outside of immediate family and friends.

In Iraq, the civilian death toll well exceeds 200,000 since the 2003 U.S. invasion, and that excludes untold thousands of indirect deaths from hunger and disease due to the destruction of homes and health-care infrastructure. Likewise in Syria, where confirmed civilian deaths are estimated at more than 100,000 since 2011. 

Yemen’s civil war has killed some 10,000 civilians, mostly from air strikes, and millions of Yemenis face starvation as war rages on. Further east, civilian deaths from conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan are into the tens of thousands. 

For the most part, these people died in their homes, workplaces and markets while going about daily routines. Some were executed or caught in the crossfire of ground assaults, but mostly they died by airstrikes, bombs and heavy artillery or, in extreme cases, gas attacks or missiles fired recklessly at a civilian jetliner.

The downing of Flight 752 was a horrible tragedy, but it was much more than just a panicked, errant decision to fire missiles at a blip on a radar screen. Thousands of years of human history have shown civilian tragedy becomes inevitable when cries for war drown out pleas for peace. 

Those 176 people — the teachers, the bakers, the students, the newlyweds — died because of a persistent human mindset that regards the madness of war as a reasonable option. The missiles came from Tehran but their flight path traces a human history of militarism.

We mourn the victims of Flight 752 and grieve for a world that remains stubbornly blind to peace.

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