It is difficult to look across the ocean and see what is happening in the Middle East and in Europe, because of the upheaval in the Middle East, and even, in fact, because of the situations that pertain in much of Africa. How will order ever be restored when nations are dissolving and local political structures are inadequate to offer a stable life to indigenous people?
The parts of the world that have not fallen into total disarray have learned from past experience that there are no simple solutions. Redrawing borders, propping up seemingly malleable leaders (dictators), training citizens, or even waging full-out war have not been effective ways to intervene, even when human rights violations become unbearably obvious and too brutal to tolerate.
Colonization was perhaps the most effective way to control chaos and set a matrix of order over the disorder, but it comes at a cost to human dignity that is no longer acceptable to modern sensibilities. We are at a loss about how to proceed against someone like Assad in Syria. Here is a leader so unenlightened that, in order to hold onto his power, he will do anything to his own people. He is the cruel parent who sees the slightest disapproval from his exploited children as an insurrection, a civil war. Rather than offer some reforms he hauls out the troops, the apparatus of war, the chemicals with which he asphyxiates his own people. He holds onto his power as his nation disappears around him. His people go elsewhere in panic, demanding that other nations offer them succor. Perhaps they do not realize that their sheer numbers may swamp the economies they turn to for rescue.
Not only is their leader corrupt and obdurate (and backed by the Soviet state) but the terrorist force ISIS (ISIL) is pinching these beleaguered people from the opposite border. These Syrian people are truly caught between a rock (Assad) and a hard place (the terrorists). I would run also.
But is there really anywhere to run to? Can nations put their own citizens’ order at risk by allowing too many refugees or migrants in? Will they be able to hold them at bay if necessary? Will prosperous, well-governed nations be swallowed up by the rush of dislocated people desperate to find peace and a future for their children? It seems unusual for people to migrate towards densely populated lands but that is likely to be the new normal as chaos seems to reign everywhere else.
There is no simple set of feelings to reduce our own confused allegiances to. We look on from America and we understand the plight of overwhelmed European nations and we understand the plight of the Syrian people.
There are no simple solutions, either, it seems. Assad is not about to be unseated, at least not without taking on Putin. That is a fight that is best avoided because whatever the outcome, it doesn’t seem like it would be a good one. We could find places to build refugee centers that operate something like military bases (as I suggested in my post entitled We Need a Refugee Plan, 4/26/15), but anyone I have mentioned this to just dismisses it, so it must be an unworkable solution.
Meanwhile we wait for this distant tsunami to eventually batter our shores. And we say to the world that we are fresh out of solutions. We are using private charitable foundations to chip away at things like women’s rights, hunger, poverty, schooling, entrepreneurship. These are acts of everyday love and heroism and hope, but then we have the flood of that huge migration of Syrian nationals and all those loving global attentions seems like band aids on a world battered by powerful seas. My lament does not mean that we should give up our grassroots efforts around the globe. But I do think we need a plan (and I don’t mean just an American plan, although we probably can’t use the UN because the right wing has demonized it), and we need a plan now, or very close to now. Who is working on a plan? Anyone?
It will be quite ironic if all our attempts to lift up people around the globe end up pulling us all down into a new dark age. It also seems all too possible.
By Nancy Brisson