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Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Syria: Where next?

As I view the world around me, I am saddened by the events which are unfolding and search in vain for answers. When our Grandparents fought in the war and their parents in the Great War, I wonder if they would have done so if they could see the legacy of their sacrifice today?

The Arab Spring of 2011 has ended in Syria. The formula is a painfully familiar one. A Dictator who is willing to cling on to power at any price has resorted to the murder of the very people he pertains to represent. The civilised, democratic nations in the morally superior West pontificate and procrastinate while village after village of innocent people are remorselessly butchered by their despotic ruler. Truly, it is an absolute disgrace that this is being allowed to happen.

The current situation in Syria is a timely reminder of what happens to real people when war happens. Nobody ever wins and the human cost is tragic. It isn't just war either as evidenced by the recent events in the Philippines. I heard a marvellous quotation yesterday which was attributed to no less a person than the Dalai Lama. He is reputed to have said that "to be born and given life is the greatest miracle of all and the challenge is to decide how to make the most of that gift". Although this is so obvious in so many ways, it's not always apparent when we look around us.

In 2013, Syria just fought. Human life became a painfully cheap commodity and the world looked on wondering what to do. In spite of just about everyone else in the world being against military intervention in Syria, Obama seems to be caught in a trap. When he proclaimed that he would never stand by in the event of chemical weapons being used anywhere in the world, he rather laid himself bare to criticism. He'll be damned if he does intervene and he'll be damned if he doesn't - might have been better to keep quiet on the matter and keep his cards close to his chest. Speak in haste and repent at leisure...

Developed in the 1950s, vaccines against the polio virus were used to great effect to reduce the number of cases of polio. One of the most feared diseases of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, poliomyelitis bestowed a litany of health problems on the unfortunate people affected.

In 1988, there were 350,000 cases worldwide. By 2012, there were just 223 cases reported globally. It was sad but perhaps not unexpected then to observe that a polio epidemic is gaining momentum in war torn Syria. The irony is that the vaccine is given orally and is really easy to administer. It's heartbreaking to consider that such a simple solution is being denied to the children of that country due to the abhorrent behaviour of the adults. Polio is spread by the faeco-oral route so it's capacity to spread in a conflict such as this one is almost unlimited.

The Syrian regime seems resistant to peace as evidenced by their well documented targeting of voluntary health professionals. This goes against one of the oldest rules of war. To target voluntary medical personnel is unforgivable.

The Syrian situation is happening against the back drop of a power struggle in the Arab world. Such struggles are hardly new but the results are no less distressing. Thus far, Western powers have elected to stay out of it. The risk of such inaction was that terrorist organisations such as Al Quaeda could move in with ease. They have since done so. The prospect of peace in Syria has consequently faded with the passing of each day. Just as a bacterium thrives on a defenceless host, the terrorists have thrived on a country in disarray. The only certainty is that there will be no winners. Whatever they achieve in Montreux at the latest summit, I wish them luck. Iran watches from the sidelines and the terrorists prosper. Meanwhile the innocent Syrian people are the real losers in more ways than we dare imagine.