“We have entered the age of inconclusive wars,” said Ambassador Hesham Youssef, a key official of the League of Arab States. He was speaking at a workshop Strategic Foresight Group had jointly organised with SMWIPM Institute of Peace Studies at Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt in August this year. The war in Lebanon had sparked massive rage all over the Middle East. The US might have declared victory in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but they are still very active killing fields. Most significantly, there is a war of terrorism and a war on terror.
A few days after our workshop, the UN Security Council forced a ceasefire in Lebanon and within a few days of the ceasefire, it was already violated by Israel. If despite these incidents the ceasefire holds, is the war over? Israel has signed peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. It maintains good formal relations with some of the Gulf States and informal political equation with Saudi Arabia and the mainstream political forces in Lebanon. Is the conflict between Israel and Arabs limited to the real estate deal over Palestine or is there a more serious war going on that is difficult to conclude? Will there ever be lasting peace between Israeli and Arab people?
I have not fully understood the hostility between the Israeli and Arab people. For thousand years, they were on the same side of suffering and helped each other out of difficult times. The European Christians persecuted both. When Pope Urban inaugurated the chapter of Crusades in the world history, the Crusaders would first annihilate the Jews of Western Europe before taking over Jerusalem and killing Jews and Muslims to create rivers of blood. When Salahuddin won Jerusalem in a subsequent Crusade, the Jews were the first ones to welcome him. During the Spanish Inquisition both Jews and Muslims were persecuted. In fact, many Jews found it much more comfortable to live under the Ottoman Empire. As the Jews all over the world were persecuted by their hosts, most notably in the Holocaust, they needed a land. The Balfour Declaration between US and UK provided it to them in the Middle East on the Biblical basis. It is to the credit of the Israeli people that they have transformed an inhospitable terrain into an economic success. But it is not clear to me how they forget the history of one thousand years, accept the basic reality that the British could offer this land to them because the Arabs were then subjugated people, and that wars and hostility with those whose land they have taken will not create a lasting peace.
It is also not clear to me why the Arabs forget their own history. They once had a highly advanced civilisation, which was destroyed by the Mongols. In the subsequent period, infighting between Arab kingdoms and a highly incompetent rule by the Ottomans made it easy for the British and the French to take over their lands. They were in no position to protest between 1917 and 1947 when the state of Israel was being conceived. And even if they might look back and feel that they got a rough deal from the history, Israel is now a fait accompli. It is not going to disappear with wars and hostility.
It is only when the two sides come to terms with history, and build a future based on dignity and a fair deal for the Palestinians who have become innocent victims, without any fault of theirs the conclusion of the Arab-Israeli war will be possible. Israel can not afford to live in insecurity for ever. The Arabs and the Palestinians have more to gain by focussing on their progress and retrieving their potential to be the most advanced scientists, technologists, administrators and poets in the world than by watching their children become suicide bombers.
The two sides may want to read from experience next door in Europe how the wars that were not concluded soon do get concluded at some stage but at a very heavy cost. The wars of religion in Europe concluded with Westphalia treaty that separated the Church and the State in 1648 after almost 300 years of hostility and 30 years of direct military confrontation. In the process, one third of Europe’s population was massacred. The wars between France and Germany from 1870 when Germany was founded in Versailles, outside Paris until 1919 when the German delegation was asked to sign an instrument of surrender in the same room where their nation was founded, only to start again a few years later and conclude with an atomic explosion by far away Americans on far away Japanese in 1945. In the process, some 50-100 million people were killed and the nuclear bomb, which might one day conclude the human history in the most devastating manner, was invented. Now, of course, Germany and France are leading members of the European institutions. It no longer matters which of them legally owns Alsace Lorraine, since economics has forced it to belong to both.
Not too far from the southern frontiers of the Middle East, the war between Hutus and Tutsis was concluded very swiftly but only after one million people were brutally murdered in a small area in a short period of time.
Of course, the war between Israel and the Arabs is not the only war going on in the Middle East. In fact, some analysts perceive the recent conflict in Lebanon as a dress rehearsal for one of the other wars that the US is fond of imposing on the region. The war in Afghanistan has established order in Kabul. But the war with Taliban has not concluded in the southern provinces.
What happened in Easter Island, a small piece of paradise and advanced civilisation in the Pacific, is of relevance to the entire world. What the Easter Islanders did there is being played out on a bigger screen on the earth. The two tribes, very successful fishing communities, fought over the size of statues they built as memorial to their ancestors. The fight went to such an extent that they used all the material they could against one another. When they ran out of weapons, they used the boats, which brought them food. The fight went on until the last piece of wood in the body of the last boat was used as a weapon. In the end, every single human being on the island was killed. Now you can visit the island to see the statues, some of which have survived. As for the progressive human life on the island, it served as a testament to The End.
In Iraq, it is now more than 1000 days since the US invaded but despite 1000 American casualties and innumerable Iraqi deaths, it is an inconclusive conflict. This conflict, along with the American pursuit of power in the Middle East, is now enmeshed with another inconclusive war – the war of and on international terrorism. The most dangerous question in the spread of terrorism is whether A Q Khan has sold nuclear technology and fissile material to any terrorist group. If he has done so, we are all living on borrowed time.
The result of all these inconclusive wars cannot be measured only in terms of direct casualties. It has to be seen in the context of policy neglect of significant issues like poverty, environment, and unexpected risks that technology may pose one day. As we have discovered in Europe and Easter Island, wars do conclude but if they take too long to do so, they cause massive annihilation. In the past, the world outside Easter Island could carry on despite the killings of 10 to 30% of the population in the theatre of conflict. In the future, with weapons of mass destruction in abundance around us, we may not be that lucky. If we do not conclude the wars that should be concluded, the concept of human life may reach a sad conclusion.
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