Middle East dilemmas

One of the dilemmas is we tend not to hear too much in the news that attempts to dig deep as to the calamities and what is going on in the Middle East, given the tendency of those who provide the news to be selective, appeal to our soundbite mentality and favor stories which have more immediate national implications.

If we do get to know any of this, we have a tendency not to pay too much attention to the various happenings taking place anyway, and (if we were to think about it) which are taking place at an alarming rate. Then there is the question of what we can do about it and the temptation to conclude not a lot given that our government will have already come to a view based on the national interest and our ability to influence events or be involved in assisting some of the fall out will be much limited or worse still go down the old get out route: “charity begins at home”. There is no excuse for not being informed, for not urging our democratically appointed leaders to act in the right way and challenging them when they don’t, for not helping out practically when it is in our/their power to do so and, if we believe in the power of prayer, entreating the Almighty on these matters.

I have already reflected on some of these matters, both from a secular and religious perspective, e.g. “Iraq’s Eternal War” (and also here), “Letter to a Zionist friend” (and related links), Islamic Fundamentalism” (and “understanding Islam”) and “Navigating the New Middle East”. The problem is knowing how to continue and respond further but, as a watchman on these matters, continue and respond I must. I had in mind to start with a country South Yemen but I feel I don’t know enough; then there is the Israel / Palestine situation with all sorts of ramifications, and no doubt to this subject I will return, with new developments taking place sooner than we may think; then there is the rise of radical Islam and the inroads that continue to be made by the group Isis, among others and its impact on western culture; and not to mention the many countries that make up the Middle East, all of which merit our attention.

For this blog posting, and given it is specifically to do with facing these our moral dilemmas, I will focus on three media happenings occurring in the past few days that each have a bearing on these matters. The first was a brief interview in the Radio 4 Today program (1 hour 50 minutes in) with someone who knows a good deal about what is going on and has been putting that knowledge to good use. The second is as a result of listening to the latest episode of the “Moral Maze”, a Radio 4 program that looks at some of these moral dilemmas and, in this case, it revolved round a discussion between knowledgeable guests and expert witnesses around the question: “What is our moral duty to Mediterranean migrants?” The third is to do with the state of the Christian Church in Iraq and what should be done (while I take a particular interest in what Christians are going through, I am mindful other groups that are not Christian face similar predicaments), considering two articles that have encouraged me in continuing with this line of thought.

Firstly, when it comes to the Today interview, I should add that I have a huge admiration for those who know what they are talking about on things that matter (in this case what is happening in the Middle East) and to put that knowledge to good use, especially when they fulfill the role of peacemaker. One such person is Canon Andrew White, who has stood by his task of pastoring people in the church for many a year and against all odds, and dealing empathetically with folk from all sides and situations. It has sometimes occurred to me that if I had my time over again I might have gone down this route myself and as it is I can still apply some of the key principles to the situation I find myself in and try to make a difference. In the interview, the lady being questioned, Emma Skye, had long been involved in Middle East affairs and had opposed the 2003 Iraq war. But she volunteered to help rebuild the country after the war and earned the respect and trust of those in power. I was struck about her knowledge of the different factions involved and the issues being faced. Clearly, there have been many missed opportunities e.g. winning the hearts and minds of the people. If I have a criticism, the western US led powers have failed to see things as they are and could have done more to help and still may.

Regarding the matter of the Mediterranean boat people, it wasn’t that long ago that I was bemoaning the British government for stopping search and rescue missions for people escaping in unseaworthy boats controlled by criminal gangs and getting into trouble, yet insisting on upholding British Values. At least that is changing and people are being rescued, the numbers of which are alarming, there being little sign the situation is going to change soon. The moral maze discussion was around what should be done, not so much about rescuing those in distress on the seas, but what to do after, given many are fleeing from situations out of desperation, in hope for a better life, and that the western powers were on the whole unwilling to take in such folk as asylum seekers and inept when it comes to dealing with the situations that caused such desperation in the first place. While the program was inconclusive on these matters, at least these were given a good airing. Sadly the moral dilemma remains and, I fear when it comes to the immediate and long term solutions, my hope in government is limited at best.

The article titled: “Iraq’s Christians Need Sanctuary, and the West Should Provide” begins “it has been one year since Islamic State began its conquest of a third of Iraq and its destruction of that country’s ancient Christian civilization. While a massive international aid effort has helped most of the exiled Christians to subsist, it is time to look for a new strategy to help them fully live” and then goes on to reflect on the eradication of Iraq’s Christian population and the disastrous aftermath we have witnessed, with little being done to reverse what is happening. In a similar vein, another article, titled: “Archbishop of Mosul: ‘We have sacrificed everything for our faith” and begins “Christians in Iraq have lost everything because of their faith, the Archbishop of Mosul said yesterday, but God cannot forget us“, concluding with the archbishop’s own words: “I am like someone who is dreaming or drunk. I can’t understand what is going on around me. It is a nightmare. All our heritage is in Mosul… we have no news about our churches and monasteries because we have no-one left in Mosul to report on it.”

Regarding this third item, I am almost at lost for words as to how to respond. But along with the other two, I realize my responsibility is to “Watch and Pray” but it cannot stop there. There is a need to understand and be informed, to help in the practical realm when we can and to put pressure on our democratically appointed leaders to do the right thing, working toward just resolutions.


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