By Malathy Sitaram
The heartbreaking death of a child
It took the photo of a Turkish soldier gently carrying the little body of Aylan Kurdi on front pages of most newspapers and on television last week, to capture the world’s sympathy and desire to help refugees fleeing the ravages of the four year old bitter sectarian war raging in Syria. Aylan was drowned along with his mother and brother when their rubber dinghy capsized. Their father’s grief- stricken image in every paper produced an outpouring of sympathy from the public who wondered why our govt. seemed so unwilling to assist in any way. The PM, David Cameron reminds us that we have taken in a few thousand of Syrian refugees in the last few years and that millions of pounds are being spent to help people in refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.
We have in recent months been watching and hearing about the huge number of deaths everyday as desperate Syrian families prefer to brave the sea in fragile dinghies on the short journey from Turkey to Greece rather than face barrel bombs and horrific torture by the regime police at home in Syria. We applaud the kindness of the Italian coastguard and people who take in the survivors of these dangerous voyages from Libyan shores who hail in the main from Africa. The Greeks too are taking in thousands almost daily onto their small islands such as Kos and Lesbos. The only people profiting from these leaky voyages are the heartless, rapacious smugglers who are making fortunes from people in extremis who surrender their life savings in payment for an uncertain voyage.
A mass exit from Syria
The plight of the Syrians and African has touched the hearts of people all over Western Europe. A discordant note was struck in the harsh announcements by leaders of Hungary, Poland and Estonia that they would not welcome Muslims to their lands. Which attitude makes one wonder if we are still living in medieval times! In stark contrast, the German government has opened its arms to refugees for whom Germany now represents a place of safety. Both in Austria and Germany, people have volunteered to house the tired, hungry families that the trains disgorge several times a day.
People stand in the stations with Welcome placards and masses of useful gifts for distribution to the exhausted travellers. One cannot help wondering at the huge contrast between their present day kindness and generosity and the hideous ideology of the Nazis, not so long ago, who would have considered the refugees to be of an inferior race and therefore not worthy of rescue. Sadly there are still some followers of Hitler’s crazy ideas and they have marched in protest against offering refuge to the migrants. Angela Merkel’s courageous and generous stand is worthy of the world’s respect.
Germany to the Rescue
Within a week, Germany has taken in several hundred thousand refugees. It has set a shining example to their EU partners who are dragging their feet and simply wringing their hands over the crisis. The EU has held emergency sessions and has asked for member states to share the responsibility of offering refuge. Britain and Denmark have refused the fixed quota avenue. But after the huge rush of sympathy triggered by the death of two infants, Cameron, wise politician that he is has changed his tone and has offered to take twenty thousand refugees spread over a few years. A dramatic change indeed.
Will We, Won’t we?
In Britain there are mixed reactions. Farage and his party not surprisingly, do not want any immigration but there are a huge number of people wanting to help. Religious leaders have urged the government to offer concrete help. Many people have offered to take in families. But at the same time there are dissident voices being raised. Questions are raised about the risk to security, the threat of terrorism, the huge cost of rescue operations and the effects of unexpected large intake of people. Can schools and hospitals and other facilities cope with the sharp and sudden rise in population when they are already stressed?
Where are the Arab Nations?
The question arises “Why are the stonking rich UAE countries doing nothing?” Their monarchs lead unimaginably luxurious lives, straight out of the Arabian Nights. Here the fault line is religious orthodoxy. The Gulf Arabs and Egyptians are in the main, Sunnis and the Syrians are in the main, Shias. Both sides claim the true faith but are sworn to centuries old enmity over an event that took place in the 8th century after the death of their prophet Mohammed when there was conflict over his succession. The Shias believe their candidate was murdered and they still mourn his violent martyrdom every year. It is this schism that has led to the formation of Al Qaeda and ISIS. The Sunni bloc pumps money and arms into the hands of the jihadis who are fighting President Assad’s regime which is supported by Russia and Iran. The arms of course are American and Russian. A proxy war! The recent Anglo-American forays into Muslim lands have also contributed to the current unrest and disorder in Iraq and Afghanistan. The fall-out from that ill-judged intervention has made our government reluctant to take military action against ISIS but that might prove to be a costly mistake.
Death by Drone. Is it Moral?
The 8th September, 2015 will be a date that will not be forgotten soon. It was the day that the govt. Released the startling news of a British drone strike that targeted and killed two British citizens on August 21st. The two young men had run off to Syria to join ISIS like a few hundred other Muslim youths who had joined ISIS in Syria. It has taken a long time for Britain to go down this path first pioneered by the CIA whose motto is probably ‘Shoot first, Questions later’. The ethics of drone warfare are questionable to say the least. An unsuspecting victim going about his daily business is suddenly dead and no killer is in sight. Why, because someone can bomb his target whilst sitting comfortably thousands of miles away in a military building. Intelligence services would have provided the necessary info about the target’s movements and satellite technology would provide his exact location. The victim would not know what hit him and that would be one enemy less. Though many of us would argue that ISIS or ISIL is evil, ruthless, dangerous and must be fought, defeated and taken off the face of the earth, using drone technology to dispatch its foot soldiers does raise moral and legal issues. The govt. claims it has intelligence that Britain was going to be attacked imminently, thereby making ISIS an enemy of the state and that the Security Committee had sanctioned the strike. They would have to say this as otherwise the killing would be blatant assassination. Was the killing legal, was it moral? No doubt we will be hearing a lot about this in the weeks to come. The Americans killed a great many Afghan civilians, using drones either because the intelligence was wrong or the civilians were sadly in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The Deadly Sectarian Divide
The hated enemy of the Sunni bloc is Iran, the home of Shias and supporter of Hamas and Hezbollah both described as terrorist organisations because of their hatred of and avowed aim to dislodge Israel from Palestinian land. The unexpected development today is Obama’s decision to lift sanctions against Iran on condition that it does not pursue its perceived aim to develop a nuclear bomb but confines its activity to developing nuclear power for civil use. This is probably the most controversial decision of Obama’s presidency. He has soothed the Saudis by promising to send them even more sophisticated weapons systems! The politics of the region are fiendishly complicated.