Sunday, 4 September 2016

Past and Present Refugees

Robert Fisk                     Independent UK                     2 Sept. 2016      

The Trojans and the peoples of the Middle East today were and are fleeing for their lives. What both also have in common is the war which drove them from Anatolian shores. For burning Troy, read burning Aleppo. For the destruction of the ancient city of King Priam, think of the pulverisation of the Great Mosque and the soukhs of Syria’s largest city, and the slaughter of its peoples. Fire and the sword, shell and the barrel bombs.

And so we come to the flip side of this tragedy. Not the history of the past, but the history of the future. In the age of the internet, we have stopped thinking about this. The question is rarely ‘how did this come to pass?’ but ‘what should we do NOW?’ Don’t ask why 19 men who claimed they were Muslims committed the international crimes against humanity of 9/11. Invade Afghanistan! Don’t question how Saddam achieved power in Iraq. Invade Iraq!

Whether or not the Trojan wars were a Greek (and later Roman) myth or the husk of a real 12th century BC conflict, the story – whether it be of Homer’s Odysseus or Virgil’s Aenias – is as contemporary as the present Arab tragedy in the Middle East. Muslims and Christians leave their mosques and churches behind. Along with his father and friends, Aeneas could take with him only his household gods, his ‘penates’. All were fleeing the folly of kings and warlords, militia leaders and dictators.

Which brings us to the next, even vaster fleets of refugees who will trek from their homelands in the decades to come, victims of the ferocious Saddam-like autocrats and satraps whom we currently support in a different part of the Muslim world. I’m talking here of the little emperors – complete with praetorian guards, statues and president-for-life status – in the ‘Stans’ that lie between Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia and Iran.

Daniel McLaughlin, among the best correspondents in central and eastern Europe, has drawn attention to the dangers inherent in the Muslim Asian states which emerged from the ruins of the Soviet Union a quarter of a century ago. In a region of oil and gas wealth and strategic importance, their leaders, courted by both Moscow and Washington, are guilty of appalling human rights crimes, massacres and torture of their own people in their war – you guessed it – against Isis and the Taliban.

In Tajikistan, where a civil war in the 1990s claimed – with statistics as wild as Syria’s – up to 100,000 dead, a thousand of Rakhmon’s citizens have joined Isis, along with Gulmurud Khalimov, the former Tajik police commander. Khalimov, I should add, was trained in the US. The Americans maintained post-9/11 air bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. The ghastly Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, a creature whose torture chambers and abuse of civil rights are close to Karimov’s standards, pays millions to his hard-working adviser and would be scourge of dictators, Tony Blair. You get the point.

And when these vicious Ruritanias explode, the refugees will come again, the ‘exiles by fate’ and the ‘fugitives of destiny’; Uzbekistan’s 30 million population is almost a third larger than Syria’s. And they will drift across their frontiers and many will come to us, mixed up with more Afghans, Syrians and Arabs. And then we will ask not ‘why?’, not ‘how did we come to this?’, but ‘what do we do NOW?’. And it will be too late again. What was the name of that little chap on the beach, we’ll ask ourselves then? Aylan, wasn’t it? Or Alan? And behind those refugees will be the burning cities of the ancient Silk Road, as surely as Aleppo burns today, and Troy long ago. [This is the concluding section of a long article by Robt Fisk]

No comments:

Post a Comment