What started as hope for change for the better, hope for a better future, hope for democracy and human rights, soon descended into calculated chaos. None of the countries afflicted by that spark have faired well. None. Heavy handedness in dealing with popular demands, deep mistrust between the ruled and the ruling elite, the view of the demand for change as an existential threat and prioritising myopic tribal or familial aspirations mandated the crushing of that hope.
What’s happened and continues happening in the Middle East will be rich text-book case studies for a plethora of topics. Sociologists and other scientists will have ample fodder for their consideration in the not too distant future. They will most probably look back and reflect on the central issue of how the rejection of dialogue and compromise disintegrated nations and directly contributed to their demise.
Back to the present, I cannot help but feel completely helpless as an individual when I witness various conflicts, civil wars, and an almost complete absence of democracy and human rights in this dystopian Middle East. What irks me more, actually, is the complete disregard of the plight of our fellow human beings affected directly by these situations.
Let’s take just two places where fighting is at its peak; Syria, with over 220,000 fellow human beings killed and over 11 million people displaced; 4 million fled the country and 7.6 million have been internally displaced. Over 12 million including 5.4 million children currently require humanitarian aid. With a population of 22 million, those should be very sobering numbers. [BBC / Wikipedia]
Yemen has an even scarier tally as far as the displaced is concerned. Out of a population of 26.7 million, 21 million require immediate humanitarian assistance, 20 million are without access to safe drinking water and sanitation, and 12.9 million have an insecure food supply. In a country were 90% of food is imported, the naval and air blockade has devastated human beings, let alone the country. [BBC]
I say all this from a humanitarian perspective, not a military or political one, and I fully realise that both Yemen and Syria – even before the conflicts – were failed states suffering from bad governance, instability, absence of the rule of law, cronyism and widespread poverty. War has amplified those ills by several factors.
Reading up on both the Syrian and Yemeni conflicts, it’s hard to decipher who’s fighting who. The gullible will side with one sectarian faction or another depending on their own confessionalism or political affiliation. The reality of the situations is much more complex. I don’t believe these are simple proxy wars in which regional powers are just duking it out. That’s partly the case to be sure, but you would be remiss if you didn’t factor in the dissatisfaction of the people with the current rule and social injustice. These alone have given the necessary fodder for ISIS, Alqaeda and various other non-state actors who readily promise the creation of a better, more just society where Sharia rules supreme to establish a just society. In theory this is all good, and this is one of the main reasons why these groups receive the sympathy and support they need from a desperate populace to propagate and sustain their rule. However, in practice we’ve seen that it doesn’t work. That cloak of religiosity simply hides and also justifies their avarice, throne grabbing and terrorism they revel in.
How are these conflicts going to be resolved? History has taught us that political differences cannot be resolved through the use of force. In fact, the use of force should be expedient to get those who can influence change to the table; however, here, it seems to be used in vengeance, purely and simply. Decision makers conveniently forget that the only victory they will realise ultimately is a Pyrrhic one.
How these conflicts must be resolved is through dialogue and incremental victories for all sides. War is not and never has been the answer. It just doesn’t work. At best, war distracts governments from the real challenges that if not addressed immediately will ensure that the whole Middle East will not be habitable in just 25 years. Wars will just accelerate that eventuality. The challenges we face include the acute dearth of water, despicably bad education, unemployment, over population, an undiversified income and bad investments, the finite availability of oil, cronyism, and of course political and human rights ills. With these critical shortcomings, why add war into the mix? Isn’t it just another energy depleting factor sidetracking us from what we actually need to take care of? Aren’t the challenges we face not existential enough? Is war really necessary in the first place?
Let me add one more thing to that despicable list. We are morally bankrupt.
How can our countries see all the suffering of the people of Syria and Yemen and not open their doors wide to receive the refugees and the destitute to lessen their suffering, even if temporarily?
Why are our governments appear to be sitting idle while our Arab brothers and sisters put themselves in peril crossing seas and walking vast distances to seek safety, just to be rejected at borders?
Isn’t it our moral obligation to receive them and ease their suffering? Why are we leaving it to European countries to offer them succour and help in the name of human rights and we shun them completely as if they don’t exist? Didn’t we play a role in their destitution in the first place? While the conflicts didn’t just start because of terrorist parasites, they definitely greatly contribute to the conflicts now. Where did those fighters in Iraq, Syria and Yemen come from in the first place? Did they descend from space? No, they were bred and raised in our own countries only to now wreak havoc all over the world. Yes, we need to defeat them. But we also need to accept those who need our help and open our borders to them while we mount operations to crush the terrorists. The two are not mutually exclusive.
Our countries are a mess, but solutions are staring us in the face!
How about starting with respecting human rights and apply fair and universally accepted laws across the board without favouritism? How about introducing real democracy in order for the rights of everyone be protected and establish a more just society in which the individual regardless of affiliation is respected and protected? It can’t be that difficult. All that is required is political will to allow these changes to be adopted over time.
Remember though, we just have 35 or so years to real peril. Now that a timeline has been set in stone, we need to work toward those sustainable goals. Goals of peace and democracy.
We really have to give peace and democracy a chance. For our children’s sake.