One of the victims in Sanaa

The protests against the regime of Ali Abdullah Salih have persevered in Yemen for some nine months with no end in sight that does not result in the past tense of “Irhal” for Salih. Hundreds of thousands of ordinary Yemeni citizens have joined the protest, some living in tents in a makeshift Freedom Triangle. For the most part, given the length and extent of the protests, there has been no violence from the protesters and limited attacks on them. The times that troops loyal to Salih have fired on protesters have only encouraged more protests. But the past couple of days have become ugly. As reported today, at least 21 have been killed a day after 26 were shot dead in Sanaa. Here is the report in Al Jazeera:

According to reports, Monday’s deaths occurred as snipers fired upon passers-by and peaceful protesters demonstrating at Change Square.

“Help me, oh my God look at his slaughter!” said the father of a boy who died from a gunshot wound to the head.

“We were just in the car on Hayel Street (near the fighting). I stepped out to get some food and left my two boys in the car and I heard the older one scream. The little one was shot straight through the head.”

The clashes came as protesters tried to push further into territory held by government forces after extending their camp overnight.

The opposition had earlier vowed to press ahead with demonstrations despite Sunday’s crackdown.

A freelance journalist stationed in Yemen, told Al Jazeera, “Everything points to more protest”.

Meanwhile, Abdu al-Janadi, Yemen’s deputy information minister, rejected accusations that the regime had planned attacks on the protesters and accused what he described as “unknown assailants” of carrying out the acts.

“This attack was prepared so as to kill as many people as they could. … This is a plot against all the Yemeni people,” al-Janadi told a British television station.

A boy sitting in his car as his father is getting food. All deaths in this situation are to be condemned, because all could be avoided if the greed of political foes did not rule out the honorable virtue of compassion. But there is something about the killing of innocent bystanders, whether intentional or not, that galvanizes the moment. The perpetrators are not “unknown assailants,” but clearly individuals told to do all in their power to sabotage the transition to a new government. Their names do not matter because their motives are so clear.

Our punditry analysis on Cable News and through other media treats the governance crisis in Yemen as yet another example of the instability of the region, as though the lifelong rule of dictators is a stability worth having. Here in America we would not tolerate the kind of one-man rule and familyocraty that caused our revolutionary forefathers to rebel and brought the French out of the coffeehouses onto the streets of Paris only a few years later. The blame is easily assigned to groups in the region, be they Al Qaeda, Taliban, Muslim Brothers, Islamists, unruly tribes and the like. The clash talkers see Islam as the problem, as though religion could ever be independent from economic and political causality; smug secularists assume a superior aura of Western superiority over the others that their more devout ancestors set out to missionize; the new generation of security experts paint terrorists behind every bush.

If a bullet could talk, what would it say? Would it announce the factory that made it and lots of money at the same time in the United States, France or Britain as it tore through the flesh of a young boy in the back seat of a parked car? If a bullet could talk, would it apologize for being off target, as though taking life of a defined foe is just? If a bullet could talk, would it insist on speaking the language of the people whose tax money paid for it or would it come with a disclaimer in multiple languages that it was really intended for terrorists? If any of the bullets, drones, tanks, attack helicopters and other mechanical toys that keep dictators in power were willing to talk, would we be willing to listen?

There is a sense, the kind that inspired the revolution in Tunisia, that the death of one person can be so egregious that it becomes a plot against everyone, even those deluded individuals who think they are doing the right thing by pointing a gun at ordinary citizens in the streets. A boy has lost his life, and he is not alone by any means. A father has lost a son, as has a mother, brother and sister. But the Yemenis have not lost hope, even if their power-backed rulers and would-be leaders have lost all honor. The protests will continue, they will get stronger and they will no doubt lead to more violence. As a reader, you can do nothing to stop this, but imagine, if you will, the sound of a bullet as it coldly pierces the body of someone you love. In this numbness you will understand why the days of the dictators we in the West more or less created and sanctioned are numbered.

This commentary has been posted on History News Network.