by Sydney Williams
That there is a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions in refugees fleeing Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and numerous African nations for Europe cannot be denied. That the causes of these flights are an insurgent, ISIS-run Islamic Caliphate that now controls territory In Syria and Iraq larger than Great Britain, ruthless dictators like Bashar al Assad in Syria and Omar Hassan al-Bashir in Sudan, and Islamic terrorism throughout the region is also undeniable. And we know that Islamic terrorist organizations will not let this crisis go to waste. They will insert terrorists and martyrs among the fleeing refugees, thereby increasing risks to the West.
The UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) have said there were 14.4 million refugees worldwide at the end of 2014, a 25% increase from 2013. Almost all have come from the Middle East and Africa, chased out by fear, famine and pestilence. Additionally, the number of internally displaced persons is put at 38.2 million. The situation has worsened in 2015.
The photograph of the body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach near the town of Bodrum this past week tore at the heart strings of those in the West. It brought a personal element to one of the greatest human tragedies in recent times. This boy, with his Velcro sneakers and red shirt, could have been our son or grandson. In fact he was Syrian, trying to reach Europe when the boat he was on capsized, drowning him, his five-year-old brother and his mother. His father, Abdullah, alone of the family survived. But will that knowledge effect they way we treat the causes of this migration from Hell? Will we finally admit that those being tortured, killed and chased from their homes are not a consequence of “violent extremism,” but are victims of Islamic terrorism? Will we reconsider the role we have played in abetting this horror?
In the past five years, four million Syrians have fled Bashar al Assad’s regime. Another seven million are living in the country, but displaced from their homes. Two hundred and ten thousand have been killed in the five years since the “Arab Spring.” This is the country where President Obama drew a “red line” in the sand two years ago, and then walked away when it was crossed. Will Aylan’s death change the way we perceive our responsibilities to the world and will it alter the hypocrisy of the West’s tolerance of the intolerant?
The truth is that we bear much of the blame for the unwinding we are seeing in the Middle East. We abdicated our responsibility. After invading Iraq in 2003 – an action supported by both Houses of Congress and the UN, but one that can be debated today – we ignominiously left prematurely in 2011, letting the country fall into anarchy. We supported the Arab Spring in Egypt, which caused President Hosni Mubarak to resign. Now, four years later tens of thousands of Egyptians are dead. A February interview by NPR suggested that President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is worse than Mubarak. While “leading from behind” and without Congressional or UN support, we deposed Libya’s leader, Muammar Gadaffi, with no plans for a replacement. We refused to uphold a “red line” we had drawn in Syria. The Taliban has not gone quietly into the night, as forecast. The Council on Foreign Relations recently noted: “The Taliban has outlasted the world’s most potent military forces and its two main forces now challenge governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” And, in appeasing Muslims, we have left Israel isolated.
Why has the West allowed this to happen? There is a belief among the West’s elites that we are not our “brother’s keepers.” There is a perception that we must exorcise the sin of colonialism. The map of the Middle East was drawn by Western nations in the aftermath of World War I and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. It was done with no regard to the tribes who had lived there for millenniums and without concern (or even knowledge) about the differences between Shiites and Sunnis. There is no question of the West’s culpability. But, we cannot sit back and atone for all the wrongs done. We cannot let the process unfold in a way that thousands more will die and millions more will be displaced. We must try to protect the innocent by adhering to universal moral laws that says it is wrong to torture, kill, rape and plunder. If we simply walk away, saying it is not our affair, the crisis will worsen. More blood will be spilt and Europe, already swamped assimilating existing Muslims, will become more troubled.
Like Parkinson’s Law, the void we leave when we abdicate responsibility gets filled. The Russians will increase their presence, or the Chinese will jump in. Will the Middle East be a safer place with Vladimir Putin swinging the night stick? Will peace-loving Muslims, Israelis and what few Christians are left in the region be better served with a beat walked by Xi Jinping? The United States abrogated its responsibilities as the world’s policeman. And, sadly, it has led to the exodus of millions of refugees.
“Western elites,” as Victor Davis Hanson wrote recently, “deny their own exceptionalism.” Our exceptionalism is not a function of race or religion, or brains and brawn; it is a consequence of ideas. It is the belief in consensual government, the rule of law, equality, religious freedom, free markets, individual liberty and success based on merit. These are beliefs unique to the West. But they incorporate rights that are God given and are therefore universal. Defending them is an obligation of those who have them. If we don’t, we risk losing what freedoms we have.
With all of our failings, there has never been a country like the United States. We are not without faults. We read about them every day. But we are the only nation that has both the goodness of heart, the financial resources, the force of character and the military strength to maintain world peace. We cannot do it alone, but we must assume leadership. We must publically talk of values that are universal, that are not exclusive to any specific religion or race. Our error has been that, in our desire to be seen as fair in the interest of being pluralistic, we accepted moral relativism – a belief that there are no absolute values. That is short-sighted and wrong.
To solve the refugee crisis that is flooding Europe means we must increase the number of vetted refugees we will accept, but we must also strike at its root causes – the principal one being ISIS and Islamic terrorism. We cannot wish it away. It will not disappear on its own. It is late and the monster has strengthened; we must confront it in its lair. The peace of the world depends on it.
The Opinions expressed above are mine alone, and do not represent those of the firm Monness, Crespi, Hardt & Co., Inc., or of any of its partners or employees.