Gaza not the only place where the fires of injustice burn
It is easy to think nothing is going on in the world aside from the Gaza slaughter, given the media’s justified focus on this tragedy. At the IISS Manama Dialogue this month it was virtually the only subject political leaders and delegates wanted to discuss. However, that shouldn’t blind us to the fact that other momentous events are in play around the world that demand our urgent attention.
The xenophobic extreme-right continues its remorseless advance throughout Europe, not least with the shock win in the Dutch elections by Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party. Among his anti-immigrant comments, Wilders demonized Moroccan immigrants as “scum” and warned of an “Islamic invasion.” He also denounced the Qur’an as a “fascist book,” and has called for Palestinians to be forcibly relocated to Jordan.
Under Giorgia Meloni, Italy has its farthest-right regime since Mussolini, and like-minded entities constitute core parts of governing coalitions in Finland and Sweden. Far-right parties are surging in popularity in Germany, Austria and Greece, and Marine Le Pen is currently ahead in the French polls. Hungary’s Viktor Orban has been a prominent cheerleader and patron for these anti-immigrant authoritarian tendencies. In South America, radical far-right candidate Javier Milei has just been elected president of Argentina.
Poland’s nationalist Law and Justice party came top in the last elections, but may be shut out of government by a coalition of centrist parties, while the populist Robert Fico won the Slovak elections in September. The Portuguese far right hopes to capitalize on this momentum in elections this March, although Spain bucked the trend with the right-wing Vox party suffering setbacks in the July vote. With elections probably a year away in Britain, rabble-rousing populist right tendencies have set the ruling Conservative party on course for abject defeat. And in America, heaven alone knows whether by late 2024 Donald Trump will be on course for the White House, a prison cell — or both.
Wilders’ rhetoric about quitting the EU is causing sleepless nights for European politicians, still traumatized by the self-defeating wrangling of Brexit. Gaza is an additional factor in fomenting European divisions, between staunchly pro-Israel leaderships in Germany and Britain, set against pro-Palestinian sentiments in Ireland, Belgium and Spain. Vast pro-Palestine demonstrations throughout Western capitals further up the ante.
The Gaza crisis has also had significant knock-on effects for Western efforts to curtail Iran’s nuclear program. As one senior diplomat disturbingly commented: “There is no appetite to provoke a reaction in Iran in the context of the war in the Middle East.” This is despite the latest IAEA report showing that Tehran now has enough 60 percent-enriched uranium to manufacture three bombs. Following the detection of modified centrifuges allowing enrichment to 84 percent, Iran removed accreditation for a number of IAEA inspectors — eliminating transparency at a critical moment.
Vast Iranian proxy militias in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen not only are a symptom of the international community’s failure to crack down on glaring manifestations of instability and disorder, but also make it far more likely that the Israel-Gaza conflict will become regionalized. Iran feels further emboldened because of the diplomatic cover it receives from a comparably emboldened and confrontational Kremlin.
Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, can’t believe his luck at how the Gaza carnage has played out. Not only has coverage of the Ukraine war evaporated from the media agenda, but America and its allies are diverting critical weapons supplies to Israel — raising the question of whether further territorial gains are possible for an equipment-starved Ukraine, and making it more likely that there will be a peace deal fudge. It likewise suits China that the US is distracted with Middle Eastern flareups. Some observers raise concerns about whether Beijing could seize the moment for further expansionary activity in the South China Sea, or strengthening its military posture toward Taiwan.
Gaza is an additional factor in fomenting European divisions, between staunchly pro-Israel leaderships in Germany and Britain, set against pro-Palestinian sentiments in Ireland, Belgium and Spain.
There are also so many other simmering conflicts and crises that receive zero sustained global attention: Nagorno-Karabakh, Myanmar, Venezuela, Libya, Syria, Ethiopia, Yemen — not to mention the turmoil in the occupied West Bank. Africa’s entire Sahel belt is a calamity of coups, insurgencies and war, with Darfur’s population again facing extermination at the hands of Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, and large areas of Somalia, Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso are under jihadist control. Meanwhile international pressure on the Taliban over its gender apartheid policies against Afghan women has entirely dissipated.
Superpower rivalry between China, Russia and the West has paralyzed and discredited the UN Security Council, and neutralized international law institutions, rendering global momentum to resolve these disputes all but impossible. These divisions likewise neutralize cooperation around massive efforts required to reduce carbon emissions and stop the planet boiling — green policies which the ascendant populist right suicidally opposes.
It shouldn’t need saying — but the international community should be capable of grappling with more than one crisis at a time. That the world’s diplomatic capabilities are so constrained is largely due to the absence of capable and visionary global leadership. The prevailing domestically focused tenor of Western politics over the past decade left so little bandwidth for planet-wide challenges that Putin sincerely believed he could devour Ukraine in its entirety without suffering adverse consequences.
When civilized nations fail to defend international law, they encourage pariah states and hostile actors to seize the advantage and wreak further mayhem. A vicious circle is thus perpetuated in which injustice breeds injustice.
That 14,500 people have been killed in Gaza, 70 percent of them women and children, with a further 7,000 probably buried under the rubble, speaks volumes about the criminal levels of global lethargy, inaction and inhumanity.
Ukraine and Gaza are wake-up calls. Global leaders must collectively up their game on the international arena. According to numerous metrics, stability, standards of governance and social justice are all in steep decline in any part of the world you care to look.
As Martin Luther King said: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” As chaos besets us on all fronts, only by taking a stand on behalf of the Palestinians, the Ukrainians, Sudanese, Syrians and other oppressed peoples can we expect to enjoy long-term stability and justice ourselves.
• Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.