The Solution We Are Ignoring in the Middle East
It’s about the economy. It is always about the economy.
Sure, nations have waged wars for all sorts of reasons, but revolutions are always about the economy. Every revolution is manned by people who were pushed to the limit. People who do not know if they can afford their next meal, their children’s education, or next month’s rent. Just look at the American, French, or Russian revolutions for examples.
What is currently happening in the Middle East is another example of a revolution and the suffocating circumstances that cause it. Five years ago, on December, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor, set himself on fire to protest the confiscation of his wares. This became the catalyst that sparked the Tunisian revolution which ended with the ousting of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. But it is important to remember, Bouazizi did not mean to overthrow the president, the government, or even the most junior of local officials; he just wanted his stuff back so he can have a chance to live an honest life.
The Tunisian revolution sparked the Arab Spring, fueled by people in the same situation as Bouazizi. Some of these revolutions succeeded in overthrowing their governments, others failed to gain traction. But the cause of these revolution remains the same. Hard economic times create ticking time bombs; and during the Arab Spring, these bombs were set off one-by-one.
The Syrian revolution and the ensuing Syrian Civil War are no different. Even with its extreme results, the cause is still the same. The disenfranchised youth fighting in Syria are fighting because they want a better life for themselves or their communities. The community part is important, not everyone who joins the fight does so because they are personally in economic hardship, but you can bet the hardships of the community as a whole is part of the recruitment pitch. Regardless of which side they are fighting for; it is always the promise of a better future that made them join.
Which brings us to the problem of ISIS. The true threat of ISIS is not what military strength it has on the ground. No, the true problem is its ability is draw a few (and I should stress, a very few) sympathetic people who are naïve enough to believe their narrative. And as long as the economic cause is not addressed, they will continue to join. Even if ISIS were to magically disintegrate today, the economic ticking time bombs will create and fuel the next ISIS.
We have been through this before. Ten years ago, Al-Qaida was the biggest terrorist threat. Today, after many interventions to limit their reach, they are on the decline. Not that it did us much good. ISIS was ready to take Al-Qaida’s place. As long as the economic cause is not addressed, there will always be another Al-Qaida, another ISIS.
Here is the surprising bit, the fact that the cause of this mess is economic should give us hope. Fighting ideology is neigh impossible but fixing economies is doable. There is historical precedence, if Europe could rebuild its economies after the destruction of WWII, then Middle Eastern countries could build economies that offer youth a chance at a decent life. We can stop the problem at the source.
Just as an example, what would happen if Gaza looked more like Singapore than a ruin. All sides would benefit from such a situation. Nothing makes people collaborate better than trade. Gaza would finally stop being a part of the recruitment propaganda of extremist groups (remember the community part of economic hardship?)
Stop! Whatever you are thinking right now, the reason you think building Gaza is not possible. Yes, that, whatever it is. That is what we need to help solve. That is what is stopping us from having peace. There are a million reasons why this could not happen but peace is the one reason that makes it worth a try. I am not saying this would be easy, I am saying it is the only long term solution.
Will we adopt a solution that would solve the problem at the source? Probably not. No presidential candidate is willing to suggest a solution where we air drop economists instead of bombs. It does not get the blood pumping the same way “we will beat them into a pulp” does. So yes, we have bombed Al-Qaida, we are bombing ISIS; but when the next thing comes, I hope you know what solutions the next set of politicians will have in store.