This article appeared in Counterpunch on May 26, 2016.
What is the Syrian death toll now? 400,000? Less? More? While the aphorism “One death is a tragedy, one million deaths is a statistic”, has been attributed to many, it is likely none foresaw the inverse utility of this concept for shaping narratives in an age of humanitarian intervention. Statistics are now weapons in themselves. Raw numbers are ambiguous; as journalist Sharmine Narwani writes, “It doesn’t tell us who is killing and who is dying. And that information matters – the global political response to a genuine civil conflict would be different than to a genocide committed by a ruthless authority.”