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Monday, March 12, 2012

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Bashar?

Unless you live under a rock or exist in some parallel university where newspapers, 24 hour television news and Twitter don't exist you'll be aware that there is something of a situation in Syria. A situation that is, tantamount to a genocide in the eyes of some people, a situation that is costing the lives of hundreds of innocent men, women and children all in the cause of keeping Bashar Al Assad and his regime in power. Its not an unfamiliar scenario. It was one that was played out only a short while a go in Libya. The only real difference is the reaction. Whilst a myriad of countries including the USA, UK, France and Qatar were quick to condemn the situation in Libya and the Ghaddafi regime and support that condemnation through a variety of military and diplomatic  actions, this time round many of these countries are less quick to commit. Whilst most politicians across the globe have expressed their horror at what is happening in Syria, many have removed their diplomatic missions and dismissed Syrian diplomats from their countries, beyond that they seem hesitant to act. A UN security council resolution on the issue was vetoed by both Russia and China and the situation remains in a holding pattern. And whilst the men and women in power hold their breathes and mark time the death toll rises and the atrocities mount.

So the big question here is 'Why'? Many would counter that this question has a brutally simple answer. Oil. Syria doesn't have any. There is nothing to be gained or lost by the continuing situation for the majority of countries who would be best placed to intervene. Its close relationship with Iran, a country long viewed with suspicion by much of the world, might be another factor. This is, quite obviously, an appalling state of affairs and one that sits very uncomfortably with the majority of decent people who care about the lives of others and feel that a government is there to serve its people and not the other way round. Go through your Twitter feed or check your Facebook news feed. Thousands of people around the world are watching in horror and asking 'Why aren't we doing anything?.

Unfortunately, to many policy makers this makes perfect sense. Whilst they decry the actions of Assad and his government they are simply not willing to put lives and hard cash on the line for something which is not in the interest of their countries. Its a terrible state of affairs, but in a world where the global economy is in free fall, we're all still reeling from the failed war in Iraq and the failing one in Afghanistan and a US election year, everyone is more cautious.

So what can be done? Clearly its not a situation that can be allowed to continue. The question lies in just whose job sorting out this mess should be. The UN is currently stymied, at least until such time as China and Russia change their position (and there is immense pressure on them to do so), individual countries such as the US and UK are reluctant to act outside of this for both political and economic reasons. So who should it be?

In my opinion its time for the Arab world to step up and take action. There have been stirrings of it. The Arab League have been attempting to mediate in countries such as Yemen, Qatar has been highly vocal in its condemnation of the various regimes whom have been challenged by the Arab Spring. Its a solution that makes sense. Western intervention in incidents in the region has been fraught with problems. Lack of cultural understanding on the side of the western forces, a feeling of being 'occupied' by those being aided and alas, often a general lack of understanding and respect from both sides mean that whilst western intervention can get rid of one problem it can often cause a greater one and the impact of this can be far reaching. The events of the last 10 years in general and specific events in the more recent past are testament to this. By using Arab forces, not only would the region be empowered with the idea that they can be the makers of their own destinies, something which a number of these nations are now beginning to realise, but it nips many of these problems in the bud. The problems work both ways and are creating further division and giving those who would damage international relationships fuel to their fire. Had Arab forces been fully involved in current international situations mistakes such as the recent Quran burning might never have happened, the trashing of the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Libya, in the wake of the UK's intervention might never have occurred, or at least might not have left quite such a  feeling of distaste in so many mouths. In addition to the cultural aspects, The Arab League contains a number of incredibly wealthy countries. Qatar alone was very recently estimated to have somewhere in the region of 9.5 Trillion dollars worth of hydrocarbon reserves. They can afford to fund military action within the region. In addition greater involvement of other Arab countries in the reconstruction period could help these countries find what better suits them. I also feel that by letting the Arab world 'keep its own house in order' so to speak, it could have a positive impact on relationships between not only the Arab world, but the wider Muslim world and the West. Greater influence within their own regions coupled with an increased profile on the world stage, I feel would lead to greater understanding between nations and lead to a decrease in conflict and prejudice on both sides.

Friday, March 9, 2012

A new start.

I initially started this blog a while back to replace one that never really got off the ground and wasn't really going in the direction I wanted. A couple of the posts found their way here and then real life got in the way and this one was pretty much abandoned too. I'm hoping to blog a bit more regularly from now on.

This blog will cover a wide range of topics. I live outside my home country so I have my finger in a lot of different pies, so to speak. You're every bit as likely to read an article about things going on in South East Asia, the States or the Middle East as you are about happenings in the UK. One post might be about a parenting issue, another an educational one, another a political one, and, well you get the picture. My interests are eclectic and this blog will also be eclectic. Please feel free to comment on what you read. I love spirited discussion and as adults I'd like us to be able to share our opinions, however, abuse either towards me or other commentators won't be tolerated and I'll simply remove your comments.

In it together?

So Kony 2012. Its the latest viral video and unlike many it carries a message. Those of you haven't seen it can view it here . I think you'll agree its emotive stuff. Whilst the video is being seen across the world thanks to the power of Twitter, Facebook and other social media, the backlash to this seemingly well meaning campaign has, of course, begun in earnest. Many, including the Guardian's Michael Wilkerson, who posted this article and the Daily Want who posted this article have criticised both its methods and its aims. The main complaints, from both talking with people about the phenomena and reading the numerous articles dedicated to it,  seem to be that the campaign is naive, that its too narrow in scope, that its  not addressing the heart of the problem, that the problem isn't as bad as the film leads us to believe, that the film maker is being less than altruistic in his motives, that by targeting US policy makers its not targetting the right people. And I can't help but think that in all but the last point, which I concede willingly, its all a bit, well, picky.

From the off I will state that this blog is op ed. I'm not affiliated in anyway with the Kony 2012 campaign, Invisible Children Inc or Tri. These are just my opinions, but something that I felt sufficiently strongly about to merit writing about after a fairly extended hiatus from the blog (and one that will hopefully give me the impetus to actually blog a bit more often!). This is not a 'rebuttal' of particular article, simply my two cents on what is fast turning into a contentious issue.

Whilst there are issues regarding the legitimacy of the charity and how the money is spent, I'm only going address, that fleetingly, purely as I know very little about how charities are organised and administered and the percentage of money that generally makes it to where we think it does whenever we make a charitable donation. I won't talk about things from a position of ignorance so I will work on the assumption that the article in the Daily Want, which does address this has done its homework, and I will concede to them that the charity needs to look at how its funds are being disseminated.

One of my biggest concerns when reading pretty much any of the criticisms of the video and the campaign seems to be the tendency to down play the issue that Jason Russell and his cohorts are trying to bring to light. Yes, Joseph Kony isn't the baddest of the bad guys out there. Yes, he might not be responsible for quite so many kidnappings and murders (at least in recent years) as the video might lead us to believe, Yes, the video might turn out to be fruitless in the attempt to capture and bring to trial Joseph Kony. However, in my opinion, all these criticisms miss the point and in doing so do a grave disservice to the video, those who are behind it and the millions of people across the world who have taken this cause to heart.

It is clear from the outset of the video, from the very personal nature of the way the video is structured that this is a cause close to Russell's heart. His desire to bring this cause to light stems from his real encounters with real people who lived this. None but the most cynical and hardened of us could fail to be touched by the young Jacob's very candid views on just what life was like and its lack of worth to him in his situation. I'm sure there are some who are accusing Russell of gaining fame off the backs of those less fortunate. To those, I say, more power to him. There are people who are famous for a lot less and for a lot worse. If professional success happens to be a by product of this particular project, is anyone seriously going to say he doesn't deserve it? Russell cites a desire to create a better world for his son, again, why is that so wrong? In a world where the value of the legacy you leave behind is counted increasingly the number of material possessions you amass, why is this idealism so misplaced?

Several articles have also cited the fact that Kony is relatively 'small time'. To me, this is the poorest and most diabolical of any of the arguments against the campaign. This argument supposes that value of life lies in the quantity of those taken and that it renders the campaign somehow fruitless. Why? Why does the fact that according to critics of the campaign Kony's recent victims number only in the hundreds some how mean that it is a less worthy cause (this view also ignores the fact that the 30,000 children that have fallen victim to the Lord's Resistance Army over the last 30 years.)? What if that was your child? Or your neighbour's? Or the person you stood next to at the bus stop everyday? If this happened to only one child in most societies, there would be uproar, there would be parents on the street, it would be on every 24 hour news channel around the clock. We would care. That life would matter ever bit as if it were 100. So why is this situation any different? Why are these children's lives so much cheaper in our eyes?

There have also been accusations thrown at those who support the cause of 'fauxtivism'. Again, I find this a cheap dig. Another thing this movement has managed to do, that others have more than failed to, is galvanise people in their hundreds, if not thousands. Its showing people that no one is too small or too busy or too unimportant to make a difference. In a world that is increasingly selfish its shown us that by uniting behind a common purpose everyone has the the ability to make a difference. It might be a small thing, but a lot of people doing a small thing creates a big thing. One of my biggest beefs with this particular line of criticism is that it undermines this principles. It reinforces the idea that we can't make a difference so why should we bother? Accuse the people involved in this cause of naivety and idealism all you want but its certainly better than the stony cynicism echoed in this particular sentiment.

Many have countered that Kony himself is unworthy of the prominence he is receiving and again, I say, 'So What?' Kony is just one warlord, just one of the many butchers of children in the heart of Africa, but all things start somewhere. Its true, these men should be as well known as the George Clooney's, Rihanna's and Angelina's of this world. People should know who these men are and just what they do. Why not start with Kony? The message it sends is sound. That we will no longer stand for such brazen criminality, that these children are important to the world. Just because Kony isn't the biggest fish in the pond, it doesn't mean he should be allowed to remain in it.

I'll be the first to admit that there are intrinsic flaws in the campaign. The financial administration, its support of military intervention, its tacit support of corrupt regimes in Uganda. Yet, somehow this has done what countless of other charities and causes have failed to do. It's roused people. It's touched people. At the time of writing approximately 5 million people around the world have watched the video. That's 5 million people who now know Joseph Kony's name. That's 5 million people who now know that there are children that are afraid to go to sleep in their own beds for fear of what the night might bring. That's 5 million people who might never have realised they had a voice who know believe that they can make a difference and that they matter in the grand scheme of things.

The strength of Kony 2012 lies not just in the immediate results in which the campaign hopes to effect but in that which it instils in others, knowledge, understanding, compassion, humility, cooperation, the belief that we have the power to change things for the better. Those who criticise the campaign and its methods should look not at what it wants to achieve but possibly can't, but what it already has.