2014: A year of uncertainty or hope?

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“Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.”

Albert Einstein

As we enter 2014, it is becoming ever more clear that the world is a fast-changing place, one increasingly more violent and less safe. As 2013 fades into distant memory, the snow in Volgograd is stained red with the blood of many (including a year old baby) killed in a series of terrorist attacks, a political statement from extremists in the neighbouring region of Chechnya, (though currently it is yet to be seen). It seemed a depressingly fitting end to one of the most uncertain years on the international stage, certainly bloody like most years in the 20th and 21st century, but more uncertain than most I remember.

Parts of Africa continue to be gripped by turmoil, and what has caught the attention of many is the increased Islamic extremism that is developing across the continent; some formed by Al-Qaeda, others by the Al-Shabaab, or some simply splinter groups inspired by the notorious terrorist organizations. Somalia, Mali, Nigeria were all torn by civil strife and insurgents, the former of course is of no surprise and I fear it may be too late to correct the course Somalia is on, thanks in part to our neglect of the country since the 1990s. Al-Shabaab has made its intent know, and has shown it has the capacity to affect not only internal affairs in Somalia that provides the foundations for continued instability, but also their capacity to affect the entire of East Africa. This was best illustrated by firstly their attack on Uganda in 2010, and this year illustrated by their attack in Nairobi which claimed the lives of seventy-two. This certainly gained more international attention and it seems it will not be the end of the Islamic insurgence. Mass-graves in the South Sudan, and the threat of genocide in the Central African Republic

The season of hope in 2011 and the onset of the Arab Spring is but a speck on the horizon, the assent of democracy in Egypt, a corpse and the strong people fighting for democracy, a better standard of living and human rights find themselves trapped between two warring factions, the military and the now branded ‘terrorist’ organization, the Muslim Brotherhood. The army certainly played a massive role in overthrowing Mubarak in 2011 and helped pave the way for Egypt’s democratic elections, however in 2013 their coup which removed the incompetent Morsi from power, came across so badly that it has left Egypt looking like a potential hot-bed for civil strife for years to come. Undoubtedly Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood blew a unique opportunity; to prove that an Islamist government could govern effectively and relive the economic stress of previous years. They failed, abusing their privileged position as a fairly elected government as seen by the seeming relapse in women’s rights and continued economic deterioration and Morsi proved foolish enough to call himself ‘a Pharaoh’. Undeniably the government had to go, but the manner in which it was removed has left it looking like a legitimate government has been unlawfully ejected from power, and the result has been that extremists within the party or outside of it have exploited the situation created by the army. They can argue that Egypt is now simply a military/police state, that their cause, which is starting to involve more radical tactics, is just. A just cause for an Islamist party and hard-liners within is very often a potent cocktail.

The Middle East is a black hole, Syria the epicentre for a potential regional catastrophe, at worst a very serious international war which nearly proved to be the case in late August 2013. Who knows what would happened if the U.S.A had decided to act unilaterally in response to the use of gas by the Syrian government (certainly it has the capacity to do so). I would never argue that the use of gas against soldiers or civilians is ever right, far from that it a war crime, a crime against humanity, the images streamed across the world the most horrific to behold. However the U.S.A has tied its own hands in the region by invading Iraq and Afghanistan in the early 2000s without the approval of the U.N and international community. It has left Iraq in a mess, and let’s face it Afghanistan is not looking like it is paving the way to a prosperous and peaceful future. Quite rightly in my opinion the United Kingdom remained away from Syria, we have neither the capacity militarily or economic and financial stability to be involved in another Middle Eastern conflict, it is harder to talk about wars than they are to win and we should longer follow the policy of blindly following the U.S.A into a quagmire from which it very difficult to detach as seen in Iraq, a legacy left behind by Tony Blair. I certainly do not condone what is happening in Syria, the appalling slaughter, the Youtube footage of butchered children, the siege at Aleppo, the starvation of thousands, and the humanitarian disaster unfolding before our eyes. What I find baffling is the lack of cohesion between the big players such as the United States, Russia and China to end the Syrian conflict and lift the tensions of the region, and they do have the capacity to act more effectively. It is too late for that now, the result is that the entire region has become a training ground for extremism, left, right and centre which has spilled over into Lebanon, Iraq (increasingly resembling a failed state), Yemen and Turkey, with the potential to drag in more dangerous players such as militant Israel, Iran and deteriorating Egypt. Outsiders including myself are finding very difficult to define who the enemy is in Syria, the shame being that the Free Syrian Army has splintered into radical factions, eclipsing those fighting for democracy against Assad’s government.

It is nearly one hundred years since the First World War began and many on-lookers are beginning to compare the Middle East of today to that of the Balkans in the early 1900s; a ticking time bomb, two sides building up, with the capacity to ravage the entire region and the consequences would be severe upon the international community. Certainly both regions are different and there were different reasons for conflict starting, a century divides the problem areas in question and they are undoubtedly hard to compare in many ways. History may not repeat itself, but it does certainly rhyme, the most worrying thing is that this is the 21st century, and mankind has developed the weapons and means by which in can wreak havoc and death upon itself more efficiently and effectively than in 1914. Machine guns in 1914 were the killing machines, now incomparable to drones, hydrogen bombs, nuclear devices and long-range missiles. I don’t usually predict events, but genocide and a nuclear device are most likely to be set off in the Middle East at the moment, I pray it doesn’t.

Mass graves in South Sudan as ‘The White Army’ threatens to run riot, the threat of genocide and religious conflict in the Central African Republic between Christian and Muslims, the growth of radical Islam and the continuation of civil war in Africa and the Middle East, and economic uncertainty across the globe, not to mention continued and increased tensions this year between China and Japan, not to mention frayed nerves over North Korea in March 2013; it certainly doesn’t bear well for 2014. We haven’t even mentioned the problems afflicting the Democratic Republic of Congo, development issues across the globe and the continued and pressing matter of combating the issue of HIV/AIDs, poverty and environmental problems. Attacking these basic social, political, economic and environmental problems are the most likely solution in the long-term to prevent the ascension of extremism. Certainly at this moment in time I am inclined to agree with the lyrics of ‘War Pigs’ by Black Sabbath because sometimes I do not understand politicians and their sense in some matters. Power and greed, the need of the vote over the welfare of their people too often plague governments these days. Perhaps it is men in power who grew up in the Cold War era that still dictate politics today, the idea that there are two sides, that there are power blocs, acting in the irksome words ‘national interest’, which the United States has always used on an infuriating basis. Moral and muscular government is needed in these uncertain times, that transcend simple national interest and be focused upon international, worldwide ones.

I won’t say the cliché statement that we are all human and that everyone can be saved from poverty, death, and destruction, nevertheless a more positive focus on development, poverty would be a more constructive way of expending our money.  However this has to be done with realistic options and given the current situation in many areas of the world such a statement is not ready to be deployed and as such would be unrealistic and naïve for now. The world is like each individual. There are always problems, during the course of life whether you like it or not personal problems sometimes. Despair, frustration, anger, sadness, hard-work, anxiety , hopelessness, death, fear, cowardice and an endless array of conditions that stalk us continuously are simply things that will always exist whether we would like it or not. There will never be a time where we all sit down, that terrorists will skip merrily into the setting sun hand in hand with Obama and the West, good as gold friends forever, there will always be people that seek to harm us and commit violence. There is always a problem on an individual and collective basis and ultimately how to deal with and adapt to those problems is the bigger question. For example Nelson Mandela (very topical in recent months) did not find that his release from prison was it. In fact he found that it was one of many simply stating that there will always be more mountains to climb, those being combating the legacy of apartheid and both social and economic problems in South Africa. Certainly the world is approaching/at a juncture and is facing severe problems and how individuals, nations, the international community act at this divide in the road is of great interest.

Matthew Williams

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One thought on “2014: A year of uncertainty or hope?

  1. Tom February 8, 2014 / 4:44 pm

    Well done dear

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