Can bridges be built between ancient enemies?


I haven’t done a ‘good news’ segment in a while, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk about a couple of items in the news that made me particularly hopeful.

First off, I have been remiss in talking about the serious humanitarian crisis in Pakistan:

Massive flooding in Pakistan has killed at least 430 people as monsoon rains continue to bloat rivers, submerge villages and trigger landslides, according to rescue and government officials. At least 291 people have died in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, in the country’s northwest, since Wednesday, said Mujahid Khan of the Edhi Foundation, a privately run rescue service that operates morgues and ambulances across the South Asian country.

The flooding, caused by heavy monsoon rains, started in late July. Since then, the death toll has risen to over 1,500 people, with more than 1 million people forced to flee their homes. The international community has been… let’s say less than eager to provide aid to the country for a number of reasons, not the least of which is its history of inaction on terrorism and hostility to Europe and the U.S. Of course, the Taliban aren’t helping much either:

In the last the six months, the level of violence has reduced, but since the flood crisis began, the Pakistani Taliban has warned against accepting international aid. Its leaders seem to view accepting foreign assistance and the presence of international aid workers as welcoming foreign interference in their country. Pakistani Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq said Thursday that the United States and other countries were not really focused on providing aid to flood victims but had other “intentions” he did not specify.

None of this seems like particularly good news, does it? Well there is a tiny spark of good in this morass of catastrophe and unrelenting evil:

Pakistan accepted $5.2 million in aid from India for flood victims, a rare expression of goodwill between the feuding neighbours at a time when Pakistan is reeling from one of its worst natural disasters.

Those of you who are unfamiliar with the region may not know that India and Pakistan are bitter enemies. There has been ethnic and religious tension between India (with its Hindu majority) and Pakistan (with its Muslim majority) since before the countries were formed. This enmity is not a thing of the past, or even quietly simmering on the back-burner, but continues to this day.

It’s heartening to see that despite the threat of mutual destruction (thanks to both countries’ nuclear arsenals) and an ancient blood feud, India was moved to offer aid to its neighbor in time of crisis, and that Pakistan was able to overcome its pride and accept the offer. Considering the dire need that the people of Pakistan are experiencing, a gesture like this may be a baby-step forward toward a time when diplomatic relations can replace the need for military conflict. Then again, with a government like Pakistan’s, devoted to keeping the boot of theocracy pressed firmly on the neck of human rights, it may be all for naught.

Flooding seems to be the watchword for peace talks, if the Korean peninsula is any indication:

North Korea has responded to an offer from South Korea of emergency food and medical aid, saying it would prefer to receive rice and building materials. The South Korean offer, worth more than $8m (£5m), was made last week after severe flooding in the North.

It’s heartening to see that amidst decades of bitter enmity, war, recent allegations of terrorism and the threat of war (possibly nuclear), diplomacy hasn’t been completely exhausted. The tragedy, of course, aside from the massive loss of life and property, is that it takes massive loss of life and property to spur such shows of charity.

Israel appears to be reaching out to its enemies as well, although in a very different way:

The Israeli authorities are introducing a new scheme to make Arabic-language classes compulsory in state schools. The programme, which will start in 170 schools in northern Israel, will make lessons mandatory for fifth graders.

It is easy for conflicts to become entrenched as people age. We get older, we get more stuck in our ways, and become resistant to change. Israel, perhaps recognizing this, has shifted to focus of its efforts to model tolerance and acceptance by equipping its children with the opportunity to tear down some in-group biases. Israel has a large Arabic-speaking minority, and clashes between members of that group, as well as its Arabic-speaking neighbours, have been ongoing since the country was founded in the mid 20th century. Beefing up the military hasn’t worked to reduce violence. Peace talks haven’t worked (although apparently a new round is on the horizon). Becoming a nuclear power hasn’t worked (big surprise there). So it looks like Israel is trying something different.

I mention this often, but I really do believe that the answer to settling deep enduring conflicts is to re-draw the circle of “us” and “them”. The wider we can draw that circle, the harder it is to go to war, or deny assistance in times of need. Hopefully some good can come out of all this calamity.

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