My friend Sunny Hundal forwarded this on Twitter, and I’m not sure what to make of it. It appears to be a video of Syrian troops spontaneously breaking into dance over a song by the hit R&B/Hip Hop-artist Usher. It’s at once adorable and chilling.
These kind of videos fascinate me. In one way, they’re incredibly humanizing - while at the same time these are Syrian troops brutally attempting to crush a nascent democracy movement in their country. The UN has confirmed reports of child torture in Syria.
Children were slaughtered, tortured, sexually attacked and used as human shields by pro-government Syrian forces, according to a damning United Nations report released late on Monday.
“Children were victims of killing and maiming, arbitrary arrest, detention, torture and ill-treatment, including sexual violence, by the Syrian Armed Forces, the intelligence forces, and the Shabbiha militia,” the U.N.’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy said in a release issued along with the report.
Yet, Syrian soldiers get just as turned on by American Hip Hop, and posting funny videos on YouTube, as any American kid their age. What does it mean when we see Syrian shoulders who don’t vomit green slime and speak in tongues, to borrow the wonderful quote from Judy Jones?
I’m having a “banality of evil” moment.
Banality of evil is a phrase used by Hannah Arendt in the title of her 1963 work Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Her thesis is that the great evils in history generally, and the Holocaust in particular, were not executed by fanatics or sociopaths, but by ordinary people who accepted the premises of their state and therefore participated with the view that their actions were normal.
This video is the humanization of the inhuman. Does it show a human side to the Syrian troops, or is it all the more chilling that guys who act like us, who get into Hip Hop and funny YouTube videos, could still commit such heinous crimes? Perhaps both.