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Against solidarity of the powerful

Is it true that western powers’ silence over Yemen stands in opposition to their solidarity for the Syrians? Or, or do they both acquire the same quality?

United Nations Security Council meeting on Yemen, on April 17, 2018. Picture by Li Muzi/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images. All rights reserved. Friends and acquaintances often ask me, as a Yemeni living in Australia, about the situation in my own country. The conversation usually concludes as follows: “We do hear about atrocities in Syria, but rarely do we hear anything about Yemen!” 

Such remarks are also voiced by my family and friends living in Yemen, who too often lament that “no one cares about us, the world has ignored us.”

Many concerned academics, activists, and journalists also worry over the “world’s silence” demanding “the world” to “speak” against atrocities inflicted on civilians in Yemen.  

Yet curiously, mainstream media and academia have not been short of reporting on brutalities and the violations of the international humanitarian law in Yemen. 

This, then, begs the question: whose silence is evoked here? 

Perhaps this suggests that the “world” appealed to in such demands refers to the powerful western nations and International community. To those who desire the world to “come out of its silence,” it seems, condemnation uttered by leaders’ of the world powerful nations and institutions has a special quality that makes it highly desired. 

It indicates that their condemnation and solidarity has the capacity to ward off injustices and atrocities in the world; for they are the guardians of global justice and since WWII they vowed: “never again.” 

But is it true that western powers’ silence over Yemen stands in opposition to their solidarity for the Syrians? Or, or do they both acquire the same quality? Are the effects of their silence on carnages in Yemen different from their frequently pronounced solidarity with the Syrian people? 

The recent response by Donald Trump to atrocities in Syria and Yemen is quite telling. In a recent alleged use of chemical weapon by Assad against his people, Trump seemed passionate about showing solidarity with Syrians, stating that this “evil and despicable attack left mothers and fathers, infants and children thrashing in pain and gasping for air. These are not actions of a man; they are crimes of a monster instead.”

However, Trump said nothing about Saudi Arabia’s continuing bombardment of Yemen for three years. Yet, in response to a Houthie’s missile attack on Riyadh, the Trump administration and European allies condemned the Houthies and blamed Iran for the attack. 

Indeed, Trump and the European leaders appeared to be showering Saudi Arabia with solidarity against Iran by signing arms deals worth billions of US dollars during Mohammad Ben Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, recent tour in the US and Europe. 

As Trump decided to wage a war against Syria “in solidarity” with the Syrian people, Russia Today (RT), a media platform funded by Russia, condemned western leaders by publishing an op-ed entitled “Strikes on Syria as Yemen atrocities ignored”.

A year and a half into the Saudi collation’s war against Yemen, and in what seemed as a gesture of solidarity with Yemen, RT caught the Saudi Ambassador to the US (Prince Abdullah al-Saud) responding to a journalist asking if Saudi Arabia is going to stop using cluster bombs in Yemen. 

The Prince’s answered laughingly: “This is like the question ‘will you stop beating your wife’.” The seemingly out of proportion answer only echoedthe Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth AffairsBoris Johnson, who once averred that the Saudi’s brutish war in Yemen, backed by the UK, US, and France, is “not only justified, but legally sound.” 

What we see are instances of solidarity of violence 

Interestingly, Johnson’s silence approval of the Saudi collation’s killing of civilians, as well as, bombarding of hospitals and schools in Yemen, exhibited outrage when he condemned the boombing of schools and hospitals in Syria by the Syrian regime aided by the Russians. 

One could simply feel perplexed about how the world’s powers are responding differently to what is happening in Syria and Yemen. They are mobilized to end the suffering in one country while turning a blind eye on injustices in another. However, the effects of these seemingly different responses are the same. Here, what we see are instances of solidarity of violence. 

On one hand, western leaders’ condemnation of the Syrian regime and the Russian involvement comes at the expense of the lives of innocent Syrians since their condemnation and gestures of solidarity are invoked only to justify further violence and more military intervention in Syria. 

On the other hand, their silence on atrocities against Yemen has the same effect. It authorizes the continuance of Saudi Arabia’s violence against Yemenis. Likewise, Russia condemns the Saudi collation war in Yemen, but it does that to silence condemnation on its involvement with the Assad regime in perpetuating atrocities against Syrians. 

So, there might be some truth in the assumption that there is a special effect of the western leaders’ condemnation, but it’s not distinct from their silence since both harbour thesame violent effects. Both have been garnered certainly not to end human suffering but only to prolong it. 

Perhaps, this should be an invitation to stop fantasising about the solidarity of the powerful. Being the guardians of global justice does not mean that their solidarity will allow Yemenis, Syrians, Palestinians, Rohingya, and dehumanised people elsewhere, access to justice.  

Meanwhile, those brutalised societies can only wait for justice. As we are watching them, we can only hope for them that while waiting, they will have the strength to re-invent novel ways of existence and co-existence to mitigate the devastating effects of injustices bestowed upon them. 

About the author

Kamilia Al-Eriani holds a Ph.D. from the University of Melbourne, Australia. Her research interests include state politics, the processes of de-democratization, and modes of ethical politics.

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