How to End the Refugee Crisis in the Middle East

 

Blog

Travelling around the world to give lectures about my foundation’s peace-building work, I see such a divorce between the politics of powerful nations and the people within them. The people I meet all want to help the refugees, but few of them know why the Middle Eastern refugees exist, beyond an idea that “they are fleeing war”. They ask me, “How can we help the refugees from the Middle East?” My answer to them is, “Stop the wars and there will be no refugees.” If you ask most people from the Middle East, that would be their answer too.

Of course we should help the refugees directly, through offering them a place of safety and through meeting their essential needs, but this is only placing a sticking plaster over a major wound.

I strongly believe that most of those fleeing the Middle East are doing so to save their own lives so that they can return to their homes when the cause of their flight ends. Most of them did not become refugees because they desired a better life elsewhere. Why would people go to sea in pathetic, unprotected, overcrowded boats in the hope of “streets paved with gold”? For them, life and death were equal. Only when life and death become equal would people throw themselves and their families into the sea in the hope that they might survive. How awful must life be at home, when this is seen as a better alternative, even for your own children?

The war that is driving millions of people out of their homes, communities and cultures, is not simply a homemade war. The Middle East has, for many centuries, been a battleground for regional and especially international powers, for control of resources or strategic locations, for religious or sectarian reasons, or even just because it formed a convenient battleground for two or more distant warring parties.

Today, if we look at the war map in the Middle East, we find nothing different. In Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya and Yemen, we know very well that many different foreign powers are fighting there, including Russia, the United States of America, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and even Britain, France and Germany. In the last twenty-five years, those powers used their own forces to fight directly, and they used very well-paid mercenary armies to fight covertly under local banners; in this way, it can look to the casual observer that they are witnessing an internal conflict. Often, both methods are used simultaneously, as they are now in much of the region.

Therefore, we cannot speak about helping the refugees without acknowledging that many of the countries that are trying to help them are behind the wars that they are fleeing. Where proxy wars are behind an outflow of refugees, then I have no doubt that the powerful countries of the world, East and West, could indeed take action to stem the human flow through stopping the cause. I think of countries such as Syria, Libya, Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan. In each of these nations, the warfare that is driving out or killing their population is fuelled, directly or indirectly, by other parties. I lived through seven years of the Lebanese Civil War when I studied in Beirut, and I experienced first-hand the horrific impact of proxy wars on a society. Lebanon suffered for seventeen years, and there was not a single day of the conflict that did not involve other nations, each taking advantage of the conflict to further their own interests.

How can the most powerful nations in the world claim to be civilised, yet allow such human tragedies to occur that today nearly 50 million people are refugees or are forcibly displaced from their homes? I ask this, knowing that the major reason is war, not natural disasters. Sometimes we are deceived into thinking that our technological advancement equals genuine civilisation. I believe that truly civilised societies should reject armed conflict. More than this, being civilised should empower us to be Ambassadors for Peace! Yet the first world exports 400 billion dollars’ worth of arms a year, nearly all of it to the third world.

As we discuss how to help refugees in this conference, I would like us to remember and keep in mind that we need to challenge our politicians and governments about their own role in those conflicts that are causing so many millions to lose their livelihoods, their homes and even their lives. We must bridge the gap between the people and their nations’ politics so that our nations’ actions genuinely reflect the kindness and generosity of their people.

Finally, we must remember that those refugees who lost everything are not the children of a lesser God; we are all the children of the same God who created us with our differences that we may live in peace and with dignity.

Greatest threat to Palmyra is Western apathy

The world seems to be stunned by the rise of Islamic State, paralysed and unable to act in a coherent and effective fashion. ISIS is like a plague, spreading, infecting and destroying, yet the international community, including their leaders and organisations, is confused and helpless.

The latest shock the world has received is the capture of Palmyra by ISIS this week. The ancient city of Palmyra is a jewel, an oasis of history and heritage in the Syrian desert. It is mentioned in the Old Testament in 2 Chronicles 8, in some translations by its Arabic name Tadmor: King Solomon is recorded as fortifying it after building the Temple and his palace. 

Palmyra is not a city of which you find only in fragments in the sand; it is a magnificent and glorious kingdom still standing, challenging time and revealing the roots of Syrian civilisation which goes back many millennia. The way the Palmyrans depicted their queens holding their infant sons became the genesis of the Madonna and child icons that have so enriched our Christian worship. Palmyra saw the rise and fall of many empires and civilisations around it, yet now it seems that we may be the ones to witness its fall.

Most of us might wonder why ISIS would want to destroy such a rare treasure. The answer is that the monsters of IS do not see the value of anything, either human or cultural, that is not in line with their distorted and misguided interpretation of Islam and their desire to create a state that embodies this interpretation. Because Palmyra is not of “ISIS-brand Islam”, it should be destroyed.

From Palmyra (Cahn AG)What the world still does not grasp is the vastness of the resources that have enabled, and are still enabling, IS to have the most sophisticated weapons. I spoke this week to people fighting against IS south of Damascus; they told me that they had captured ISIS weapons, vehicles and equipment, and all of it is absolutely up-to-date, the best that any army could have. The Syrian and Iraqi armies could never dream of having such equipment – if they did, they would have destroyed ISIS.

IS cannot continue without constant support from outside: a steady influx of jihadi volunteers, weapons, equipment and, of course, money. Turkey’s borders are open to ISIS and the West is not challenging its fellow NATO member. And what does ISIS export? Oil, through Turkey, and propaganda via the internet. The only way even to start to defeat ISIS is by cutting off their external resources, and preventing them from recruiting impressionable young Muslim men and women. As I told MPs in a meeting at the House of Commons a few months ago, internet service providers, search engines and governments have collaborated to prevent access to online child pornography; why can’t they do the same with jihadi materials?

There is something else that we must do, and that is to equip our young people, in the West and in the Middle East, with the culture of peace so that they can overcome the extremist culture of ISIS. I returned last week from Syria, where I led an Awareness Foundation programme to teach more than 85 young Christians to become Ambassadors of Peace so that they can engage with their communities to build a future for everyone in Syria. I believe that Ambassadors of Peace remain our greatest and best counter to the IS Emissaries of War.

Revd Nadim Nassar, blog in The Tablet, 22nd May 2015

The Pen Will Always Be Mightier Than The Sword

God created everything, and the Torah says that after this magnificent act, God found that everything was good; the first ever art critique. Creativity belongs to divinity. God has given humanity one of the best gifts that could be considered as the crown of every gift. When we do anything creatively we are imitating God. Writers, painters, musicians and all other artists make life more meaningful.

The horrendous and inhumane act of killing the artists and staff of Charlie Hebdo reminds me of the assassination and silencing of the Palestinian cartoonist Naji Al-Ali. Their creativity had enabled them to speak so eloquently through their art about that which was never spoken; as a result they were considered by some to be dangerous. Sadly, a few decided that Charlie Hebdo needed silencing too.

Creativity can produce beauty, but it can also threaten, upset, shock and even confront. This makes artists vulnerable because the interpretation of the art is in the minds of others. Sometimes art is for art’s sake, but often, and always in the case of cartoonists, the artist uses their art as a vehicle for their message. As Jean Cabut, one of the cartoonists who was killed, said, "Sometimes laughter can hurt but laughter, humour and mockery are our only weapons." Because of that, we must defend the freedom of people to express themselves creatively. Satire is one of the most effective political forces in the world, and it can change attitudes, hearts and minds when nothing else will work.

The greatness of art is that it immortalises the artist and constantly conveys their message. It reminds us that the work of God in those special people is beyond the reach of time and of evil. Art cannot be silenced, just as God cannot be silenced!

The message of art to those who try to destroy it is that it cannot be destroyed, and there will always be others who will keep the flame of creativity alight.

This article was originally written for Faith Matters, a not for profit organisation founded in 2005 which works to reduce extremism and interfaith and intra-faith tensions around the globe.


We will stay here for you

O Muslims of the East, we, the Christians of the East,  will stay in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine.  We are a religion that is rooted in the East to our core. In your name, we are persecuted, in your name, our churches are burned, in your name, we are displaced, in your name, we are killed, and for you, O Muslims of the East, we are staying, no matter how heavy our cross is becoming, because our resurrection is in you and with you. 

They shout “Allahu Akbar” and slaughter us, we together say “Allahu Akbar” - God is greater than our hatred and the darkness of their hearts.

We will not be separated from you, and we have no home without you, because God has made ​​our destiny shared, our pain shared, and our joy shared, and even our mourning is shared. If they displace us from Mosul, the holy Najaf will be our home; if they slaughter us in Raqqah we will move to Damascus; if Mosul and Raqqah fall, then Aleppo and Basra will witness that the Lord is one and His house is the house of prayer wherever it exists.

O Muslims of the East, we faced together the foolishness of the Crusaders, and the darkness of the Ottomans, and the greed of the West. Together we will go back to Mosul and Nineveh, Raqqah and Aleppo, we will fast Ramadan again and welcome the birth of Jesus at Christmas. Before we rebuild the burned churches and mosques, we want to rebuild humans, who were created in God’s own image. God created us, people and tribes that we may know each other and build relationships of love with Him and with each other. He created us different out of great wisdom and endless love. He wanted us to have different religions so that we could worship Him in our diverse ways to enrich and serve each other, revealing in the process His own image and live His own culture, the Culture of love and giving. 

We will not leave, O Muslims of the East. The umbilical cord which joined us for centuries, neither ISIS nor the masters of ISIS will be able to cut. All our ways in the East lead us to you. All our prayers we lift with you and for you. They destroyed the Cross raised on our churches, but they will not be able to break the crucified one because He rose from the dead as a power of love and forgiveness. They burned the churches, but they cannot dismantle the body of Christ on earth, because “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18)

We are with you. Together we are the hands of God, and His feet, and His heart, and His face on this earth. Do not be afraid: Hulagu Khan ended and Genghis Khan fell, and all the conquests and occupations of the East and West were defeated only because we realized that hands that interlock can perform miracles. The road to Damascus, which was travelled by the Apostle Paul when he saw the light of Christ, is also leading to Beirut, Jerusalem, Baghdad, and Raqqah and Gaza, to Mosul and Nineveh. The Road to Calvary, which was walked by the great teacher Jesus, ended with a cross; this is our way, when we left our homes in Mosul and Nineveh and Aleppo. The Way of the Cross was never a way of brokenness and weakness. Jesus was crucified, He died and He rose again. He rose again for us and for you. He forgave us and you; He loved us and you. If we were to leave today, we would come back tomorrow to knock at your doors and stand on your doorsteps and eat from the same bread, because the table is not ours but it is God’s, and He is calling us to fill it with joy and love and to plant the fields of our homes with the seeds of peace and light.

Translated from a speech in Arabic delivered at a meeting with the Christians of Iraq and Syria in London and reported in As Safir, a leading Arabic-language daily newspaper in Lebanon.

 

About my Blog

The Revd Nadim Nassar

My blogs are personal reflections on topics and issues that I feel are relevant to the work of the Awareness Foundation and to our lives in general. It is important that we take the time to comment on what is happening around us and make our voices heard if we want to make any difference in the world.

Nadim

Follow me on Twitter too!