” […]Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” This poem by Martin Niemöller, he wrote thinking about what happened in the 19th and 20th century in Europe. However, reflecting on Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lybia, it would not be a false comment there either. Baghdad, Aleppo, Damascus, Sana and Benghazi all once had big Jewish populations, and now have none or almost none. Jews there were amongst the first that got expelled and pushed out, in some places violently so, marking the beginnings of an ever less tolerant and more monotone Middle East. There is no doubt in my mind, that Israel must be a safe haven for Jews, a country, with a clear Jewish history, in which many of the refugees from these places and from others now live. This, in spite of the wrongs and pain, that the reestablishment of a larger Jewish settlement caused on all sides. Because of the historical ruins on which the country stands, Israel is however morally also obligated to be mindful of its Muslim, Christian and other non-Jewish citizens and regional neighbours. Whilst that is not always easy, the spirit of #protecting and securing ethnic and religious minorities with mutual tolerance, respect and dignity is a virtue that must be spread throughout the wider region.
(This text was first published on my facebook, Daniel Zylbersztajn)
In Britain the question is currently waged before parliament if the country should support air strikes against Syria.
The question of bombing Syria or not is an interesting one. First and for most any action must not be carried out because of Paris, but because of the countless civilians killed and tortured in Syria and Iraq, doing otherwise looks out of proportion.
Throwing bombs from the sky is actually the easy thing. The hard issue is to deal with the power struggles of the Middle East. Shia versus Sunni, Russian Federation versus NATO, Muslim and Non-Muslim Minorities versus Muslim Majorities. The question therefore is what follows any bombardment of Syria?
The Middle East suffers in all corners from the way French and British forces settled and divided it nearly 100 years ago in the same fashion they had already done with Africa, Asia and the Americas, and the Middle East was only relatively stable before that, suffering many conquests and counter conquests before this. This is why in the end the only aim of military operations must be the creation of strongly protected zones for each of the groups. However the former Yugoslavia, the best modern example thereof, shows, that it created only cold peace and a bureaucratic machinery exploited by all sides (see Guardian here). A plan for the Middle East must go beyond what has been achieved in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The issues are fundamental differences on ways of life, ethnic divisions exaggerated by external injections of support and arms, and the fragility of peace through quick escalations, when terror actions committed and dictated by usually but a few occur.
One might see military strikes as doing something, rather than nothing, but the real question is bombing what and for what? And to what extend will strikes cause more harm to civilians? Militants tend to hide amongst civilian populations these days (see Gaza, and in ISIS held Syria it is apparently not different).
If strikes are to occur mainly because of Paris, they will fail, because it feeds and confirms the believe that Britain and France stand at the root of much that is going on, and if not for what they did 100 years ago, for what the allied forces did more recently in Iraq. If however military operations are part of a general drive towards a better Middle East, then monstrous hard work is ahead. There is no sense in anything without involving in a most intense way all regional direct and indirect players, and dealing with economic and religious issues.
Players like Iran and Saudi Arabia, The Russian Federation and NATO must then be able to see in each others eyes with a sense of purpose, just as much as the different ethnic and religious groups in the region must be prepare to do. With so many involved it always easy for one to walk out, but only when all feel they can agree for the benefit of a more settled and just Middle East will things have a chance to be different. Bombs are unlikely to do much here.
It is certain that the crisis in Syria and Iraq begs solving, and the ideology of religious inspired militancy that disregards respect for human lives needs to be halted. Morally such militants are in a state of deficiency already. The majority of people, including the majority of today’s Muslims reject this blind militancy. This fact is a great asset. Militant Islamism only had a chance due to power vacuums and general political incompetency and injustice, as in Syria with Assad before the outbreak of the civil war and in post-war Iraq, and through some externally driven access to arms and munitions.
The Middle East is complex and diverse. The problems it faces can only be settled, if all agree that there should be increased justice and security for all, which for some means they need to concede for less, but gain through that greater acceptance. Not just in Israel, by the way. Whilst the borders between Israel and Palestine are discussed by many, the problems are actually everywhere in the region. When British and French bureaucrats took to ruler and pencil and drew lines in inches and centimetres on paper maps, in order to create their colonial protectorates which later became, often unchallenged in its borders, modern states, they failed to take into consideration any reality on the ground, because there was no other reality, but what suited France or Great Britain, the only real states that mattered being them.
And so suitable local rulers where imposed in accordance to their allegiance to the colonial and imperial masters, usually with disadvantageous consequences for a host of local others, who also lived in these states, and some being directly ignored.
As we approach the centenary of these divisions and ask ourselves about whether we should bomb Syria, the damage of that legacy and its continuance into post-colonial times, all based principally on the security of mercantile routes, and oil and gas supply should be laid bare. It caused too many lives to end prematurely, too much injustice, hate and bloodshed.
It is not impossible to imagine a new more grown up reconfiguration, but in order to get there, we must no longer seek comfort in the status quo under benign dictators.
Israel for that matter was one area where the League of Nations attempted to be just to two equal valid claimants. That is long forgotten now, because the plan failed to secure agreement and assurances amongst feuding neighbours and could not prevent the outbreak of war and claims and counter claims to this day. But it was also driven by fundamentalist undertones and an ideology that only one religion should exist here or there autonomously. Whilst many areas in Israel no longer have Palestinian populations, though there are still Palestinians and non Jews living there, nearly the entire Middle East has been ethnically cleansed of its Jewish population. A symbol of how the border and nation politics of the West let to ethnically and religiously defined exclusiveness, the same that let further on to the division of the Indian subcontinent into a predominantly Muslim and a predominantly Hindu half.
Isis and other fundamentalist organisations are connected with the Arab Spring and the desire amongst ordinary people for revolutionary reorganisation. During the preceding autocratic dictatorships, which either favoured Russia and its predecessor the USSR or the West, political ultra conservative Islamic fundamentalism became often the main opposition force present and accessible. No wonder in the first elections, people tended to vote for these, as the main alternative they knew.
If this force is to be discharged, one needs to take the argument out of its mouth that it can answer the difficult realities of the Middle East with its monotone, intolerant and often just as destructive order. But neither can bombs, even commando units going after its most ferocious and brutal leaders yield more than temporary gains, without a later reconfiguration of the Middle East, that takes account of all needs, rights and ethnicities, and that desires to come to fair agreements on those contested areas and sites and places upon which lie multiple interests.
One might add that this also must also happen in the other places still under the curse of imperial and colonial organisation around the world.
There are no easy answers here. Bombs, guns and explosive devises are perhaps at best the expression of a desire for a quick fix, on all sides. The search for peace and security is a harder more time intensive task. But it could be less destructive and more long lasting.
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