Bariq Mahadin is an aspiring Jordanian student of international relations and a friend of mine. Since the Middle East is constantly in the centre of media attention, yet seldom do we hear from the people who actually live there, I decided to ask him personally about Syria, refugees and other hot topics.
You were born in Jordan, studied at the Lebanese American University and now you moved to the United Kingdom. What do you see as the most striking and widespread misconceptions that people from the Arabic world tend to hold about the West and vice versa?
To tackle this question, one has to establish a clear distinction between the West as governments and policies, and the West as peoples and individuals. On one hand, people from the Arab world have grown skeptical of the West, as governments and policies, due to what many perceive as the West’s constant interference in their political, economic, social or cultural affairs. Here, history provides many examples on where and how Western intervention has made the lives of many in the Arab world all more difficult, a clear example would be the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
On the other hand, the West has always had the tendency to conceive the Arab world as a homogenous entity, disregarding the immense diversity that exists between Arabs from different countries in the Middle East. For example, not all the people in the Arab world are Muslims, or live as nomads, or even speak Arabic! Therefore, the main highlight seems to have been always centered on the religious or ideological aspect of the Arab world, clearly undermining the rich cultural, educational, philosophical, historical and humanitarian legacy it also enjoys.
From the European point of view, the notion of the Arab world may often be too simplified, having a very homogenous view of it. In which way are Jordan, its culture and its people special? What differentiates it the most from Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt etc.?
Well, allow me to answer this question with a quote from His Majesty, the Late King Hussein of Jordan, he said: “Jordan has a strange, haunting beauty and a sense of timelessness. Dotted with the ruins of empires once great, it is the last resort of yesterday in the world of tomorrow. I love every inch of it”.
Mainly, what sets Jordan apart from other countries in the region is its leadership and its people. Here, by leadership I am referring to the Hashemites who have ruled the country since its inception towards the end of the First World War. The Hashemites are direct descendants of the Prophet Mohammad, and their rule over Jordan as seen today has always been characterized by wisdom, courage, vision and devotion to the land and the people.
As important, considering the tribal composition of the Jordanian society, the people of Jordan have always had a profound sense of pride, national unity and sacrifice to their country. This cohesive mosaic has made Jordan a safe sanctuary for all those who seek refuge, shelter, protection and haven. Thus, it is absolutely no coincidence that Jordan now hosts a massive number of Syrians, Iraqis, Egyptians, Libyans, Yemenis and other nationalities residing in the country. In a volatile region where turmoil, violence, extremism, bloodshed and destruction have become the norm, Jordan continues to set an exemplary model of strength, stability, economic opportunity and more.
Along with Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon are nowadays taking in the biggest numbers of people who fled Syria. How does the refugee situation in these countries look like?
While some variations are found between the situation of Syrian refugees in each of the aforementioned countries, depending mainly on their economic capabilities and the amount of international support they receive; the situation still looks regrettably sever, painful and even inhumane at points. Particularly in Lebanon and Jordan, which both faced economic hardships and financial challenges prior to the Syrian crisis, combined with lack of resources and high rates of unemployment, the situation now is dire for all those involved, not only for the Syrian refugees.
For instance, the Syrian refugees hosted in Jordan are nearly 25% of the population, with a little higher number for Lebanon. To put things into perspective, this is the equivalent of over 2.5 million refugees taken by the Czech Republic, almost a double of the population of Prague! Hence, it is time for the international community to step up to its responsibility in supporting countries such as Lebanon and Jordan, recognize the crisis for what it is: the most immanent humanitarian crisis since the Second World War, and to engage actively to alleviate the suffering of millions by finding a just political solution through the different means which are at disposal.
Considering this, what do you think about the reactions coming from Europe these days? Do you think they are adequate?
When compared to the response of countries such as Jordan and Lebanon to the Syrian refugee crisis, surely the European response could be perceived as inadequate. Importantly, and not to fall into the observation we made earlier about the Western misconception of the Arab world, Europe is not a homogenous entity as well. Countries within the European Union have different policies, rules and regulations governing immigration and refugees intake.
From there, one sees the urgent need of formulating a ‘European’ policy that would deal with the refugee crisis from a systematic, comprehensive and inclusive standpoint. The European policy should allow for taking in more refugees until the circumstances allow for the Syrians to go back and start rebuilding Syria. It is rather unfortunate to hear the echo of some European voices presenting the crisis as a threat of religion, culture or identity to Europe, as it reflects a complete negligence of the key fundamental facet of the crisis: the humanitarian one.
When asked about the solution to the Syrian war, Western politicians often remark that there won’t be any real resolution without a considerable involvement of the Arab states. Is this something the Jordanian public could agree on? And what potential solutions resonate in the Middle East in general?
Without a doubt, the Syrian crisis has best resembled the interconnectedness between the local, the regional and the global in world politics. In a highly globalized world, it is no longer an option for any state not to engage, be affected or at least be concerned with a war or a crisis thousands of miles away from its borders. This is exactly why the Syrian crisis will only be resolved through an effective global effort, inclusive of all actors and players. The Arab states are no exception.
Regarding Jordan, since the outbreak of the Syrian crisis, Jordan has been a strong advocate of a political solution inclusive of all the factions of the Syrian society, which must also ensure the territorial integrity of the Syrian state. No solution to the Syrian crisis will bear any fruits if it does not consider the multifaceted nature of the crisis. Simply put, the crisis will not be resolved just by the removal of Bashar al Assad, or the elimination of the Islamic State; rather, a solution to the crisis will be achieved when the talks between the West, including the United States and its Arab allies, and Bashar’s strong Russian and Iranian allies successfully pave the way for rapprochement, allowing an agreeable framework for a comprehensive solution. A framework addressing the future of President Bashar in a post-Bashar arrangement, the fight against terrorism and radicalization, the refugee crisis, and most importantly the rebuilding of the Syrian state.
While any arrangement to end the fighting and bring the different actors to the table might be a good first step, it must be highlighted that Syria will need years to recover and reestablish itself as a strong, functional state based on efficient institutions, and here is where the international community will be in dire need than it was ever at any point during the crisis.