I was winding my evening up, thinking about how to organize my next post on programming, when I got a notice from MSN of the truck bombing in Sadr City in Baghdad. It turned my thoughts back to yesterday’s topic.
In the aftermath of Hussein’s arrest, I had a dream about Muqtada Al Sadr, the “firebrand” cleric whose father had been assassinated in the south of Iraq for his outspoken opposition to the regime. Muqtada and his Shia militia had been playing a game of cat-and-mouse with the occupying forces, attempting to wear out US resolve. In the dream, he railed against the hypocrisy of American intervention, seeing it as merely a far more active example of the means we use throughout the world to secure our corrupt lifestyle.
I did not dispute his point, only offering “But Osama is right. If Muslims lived according to the Qur’an, what America did wouldn’t make a difference.” I waited while the point sank in, and then asked “So tell me, what is the source of your anger?”
And I was down on the street with him as a wailing mother carried to him the daughter that had died of starvation.
“Everyone mourns the death of a child.” I laid in my bed and wept, and when the tears stopped, showed him my own burdens. “It’s not possible to prevent suffering in the world. The role of the spiritual leader is rather to guide the beloved community away from anger and fear by turning their thoughts toward the miracle of healing.”
The situation in the Middle East demands enormous strength from those such as Ali Sistani and Al Sadr. I see the region going through the exercise that Europe pursued in the first half of the twentieth century. Europe in 1900 was a continent full of peoples that hated each other. It wasn’t limited to the Jews – the Jews simply didn’t have an army. World War I was inevitable due to the interlocking and contradictory alliances of convenience that triggered a general mobilization following the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. The Treaty of Versaille and subsequent blockade of German ports were a bloody cross borne by the German people for the continent’s hypocritical great power politics.
World War I is my model for the Middle East. The conflict is not waged trench-by-trench under the barrage of artillery, but street-by-bloody street after the truck bombs explode. As in Europe, it is a cancerous explosion of violence perpetrated by men lacking the skills and imagination to succeed in productive collaboration with their neighbors. It is a cancer fed by the cowardice of leaders that surround themselves with their ethnic peers for fear of bringing the enemy too close.
The resolution in Europe, after fifty years, was brought only by the complete destruction of the industrial economies of the continent. The nations of Europe realized that there were no longer winners in wars. Today it is even worse: modern chemistry makes it too easy to create weapons, and the accumulated grief of the Middle East provides a steady stream of suicidal delivery men.
So what can America do? Until the leaders of the region agree to intervene to create peace, little except to try to brake the spread of the disease. Among the recognized governments, that may include creating dependency on advanced weapons systems that require frequent maintenance using expensive parts sourced from America. Another means is to organize economic sanctions against rogue states. Finally, we can wait for the violence to turn inwards, creating a new generation of martyrs whose avengers help us target the leaders of extremist movements.
There are no grand gestures here, no quick fixes. It’s a long grind against evil, by an American people and government that give the world plenty of reason not to trust us. But as was demonstrated in the Cold War, the Philippines and South Africa, it’s the only material means of foreign policy that will effect change.
And for those without access to those mechanisms: Pray. Open your hearts to their suffering. Will them to receive the best of your strength, faith and wisdom. It makes a difference, in ways that cannot be proven. In the face of all the reasons they have to fear, ultimately our compassion is the only way of bringing courage to the citizens that must find solutions in the Middle East.