Last year I was with an American family staying at a small, luxury camp in the Serengeti. There were only three others in camp (or so we thought), including two very well behaved Arab boys who appeared about the same age as the California preteens I was guiding.
My kids exchanged shy glances with the others, then wider smiles and soon were taunting the other boys clearly against their father’s reproofs. So we invited the father to join us to free his kids to run around with ours.
The father was exceedingly polite, introducing himself as a luxury car dealer in Jeddah and a personal collector of Lamborghinis. His English – like his sons – was impeccable. It was our kids not his, of course, that were tempting the dark African bush with preteen mayhem, but he was the one to apologize. He declined our offers of wine but loosened up and began profusely thanking us Americans for supporting the Saudia bombing of anti-Saleh Houthis.
The Yemen conflict like so many in the Mideast and Horn of Africa is the centuries’ old Shia/Sunni divide. Strongmen like Saddam Hussein, Bashar al-Assad and in Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, kept a lid on things for portions of centuries.
Until concern with the way they kept the lid on – growing global human rights concerns – and then the Arab Spring crushed their grip.
When it comes to religion – beliefs that can’t be substantiated except by faith – there is no room for compromise: I’m right. You’re wrong. The West’s obsession with democracy is no help. If those in the wrong come into the majority that doesn’t make them right. Or even more cleverly, it’s not right that they’re the majority.
The intellectual elite believes it can mediate religious division by citing tolerant versions of religion that have evolved mostly in the west, but these are hugely watered down versions of original doctrine and certainly don’t exist in the part of the world I’m talking about.
Just as they didn’t for years in Ireland, Armenia or the Balkans.
Yemen is no different. The Sunnis are supported by Saudia Arabia and the Shias by Iran. The enemy of your enemy is your friend, so America supports the Sunnis.
Yemen’s civil war is the most recent to errupt. A war weary world is so tired of such conflict that we’ve effectively ignored it. Friday CARE denounced the world’s indifference “an absolute shame on humanity.” CARE doesn’t usually make such statements.
Today about 18 million people are injured, starving and/or displaced in Yemen. The worst cholera epidemic the world has ever seen is spreading across the country. Based on the Horn of Africa’s normal demographic distributions that’s probably 10 million children or 12-13 million young people no older than our own Dreamers all suffering terribly.
Friday the UN Human Rights Commission blamed Saudi bombing for most of the wanton destruction. As the Lambergini collector explained, thanks to America that Saudis can continue to bomb so effectively.
Our kids played with his kids until the wine on our table was gone. We had an early morning game drive coming up. The Saudi family was leaving in the morning.
The next dawn we watched lions stalking zebra; we were all so excited our appetites were exceptional so we raced out of the cars to the dining tent. The Saudi man and his two sons had actually delayed their departure so that they could say goodbye to us!
The kids ran around some more as we adults exchanged calling cards. The large black unmarked SUV with its black tinted windows that was taking them around and trying to be some kind of game viewing vehicle pulled up to the mess tent. We delayed woofing down our eggs to wave goodbye.
The father entered the car first in the front, then the sons in the back but the big black menacing car didn’t leave. It seemed odd. Then hurrying out of the nearest tent came a person entirely clothed in black. The door on the opposite side was opened for her and she disappeared into the car even as it began moving away.
When intractable beliefs conflict with one another, resolution isn’t possible. Religious conflict cannot be mediated. Instead, the only so sad plausible tranquility comes when one side kills off the other, or let’s disease do it.
It’s promising today that youth seem to be discarding religion. It’s one necessary step in achieving all the compromises that a peaceful, congested and connected world must embrace.
Meanwhile, there’s Yemen. And Lamborghini collectors. Lions chasing zebra and American bombing support.