October 30, 2016

Education is the only hope for the Middle East

Fierce fighting between a US-backed coalition, which includes support from Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, is under way to oust the forces of the Islamic State (ISIS) from the Iraqi city of Mosul.

The United Nations said it is expecting about 150,000 people displaced by the fighting to seek shelter in makeshift camps.

In all probability, those num­bers are likely to grow when equally heavy fighting follows once the battle for control of Raqqa, the main stronghold of ISIS forces in Syria, begins, creating a second front against the extremist jihadist group.

With winter weeks away, there are good reasons to fear for the well-being of these displaced people. They will most certainly spend at least the coming winter under UN tents.

Judging by the scale and the ferocity of the fighting in Mosul, it is conceivable that it may take months before Iraq’s second city is safe and reinhabited by its residents. ISIS has had a long time to prepare for the battle for Mosul, so Iraqi troops and their allies can expect to have to go slowly to remove improvised explosive devices and unex­ploded ordnance.

ISIS combatants deployed hundreds of booby traps in cities and towns from which they retreated.

The powers involved in the coalitions fighting ISIS — the US-led group, the one led by Moscow as well as Arab countries involved — should begin to reflect on the future of these two cities, their adjoining regions, their battered populations and where they are likely to go from here.

There are two battles to be fought. The first is to remove the threat posed by ISIS. The second, which may prove to be more difficult than the first, is to educate the people of the region to avoid repetition of past conflicts.

If one is to look at the region’s history as a guide for what its future may be, the prognosis is rather bleak. Before these battles end is the time to take action and reflect upon how the future will shape the battered populations of this region. Hundreds of thou­sands of people should not be left to idle away months and years in refugee tents. Doing so only provides potential recruits to perpetuate the never-ending cycle of violence.

The Arab countries that have invested much in financing the wars in Iraq and Syria should continue their investment in those two countries once the fighting subsides. This time they must invest in rebuilding not only the physical aspects of the battered cities and towns but also contribute towards establishing proper education for the children. And that should include religious education.

One place to start the rebuilding is to lead the inhabitants of Iraq and Syria into the unchartered waters of national reconciliation. Traditionally, animosity in that part of the world has tilted towards revenge, the eye-for-an-eye philosophy mentioned in the Bible.

The trouble with the old ways is that they quench the desire for immediate vengeance but do little to address the problems they create for future generations.

What would it take to bring reconciliation to the Middle East conflicts? What would it take to replace strife and quick, almost knee-jerk reactions with dialogue and political maturity?

Defeating ISIS would be good but how do we avoid repetition of such violence?

The answer is education, educa­tion and more education. A pertinent question though is: Who is to carry out this educa­tion?

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