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Rethinking the response to the Middle East

Blue SkyISIS. Terrorism. Fanatics. Iraq. War. Oil. Muslim.

The above words are all words that are associated with a perceived threat from the developed world about the unrest in the Middle Eastern countries. Terrible atrocities have been committed by people who have an extremist viewpoint of the Western World, and the Western World, led by the U.S.A. has turned around and retaliated to make sure that threat stays locked up in the Middle East and preferably, neutralized. But have we got it right?

For this article, I thought I’d do something different – show you how reading/hearing about different facts and viewpoints can really question how you view the world. Over the course of about 3 weeks, I randomly encountered two videos and read one article that really made me stop and think about the issue in the Middle East and the response by the U.S. lead coalition. This is how I often evolve my thoughts and opinions on something – I don’t just read one thing and form a black and white adherence to an idea or theory, I dig and scratch around. It can change everything, but rarely is anyone’s black and white, extreme view correct. So free up 30 minutes of your time, and follow the three steps below and see if you still feel the same way about the Middle East after doing this exercise!

Step 1: An experiment in empathy

The first video is on the infamous TED talks videos. It is a talk given by Sociologist, Sam Richards and takes about 18 minutes.

Step 2: Drones

OK… I admit this can be funny in places, and it can be a bit simplistic at times, but it’s always entertaining. It’s one of the monologues given by the British Comedian, John Oliver from his HBO show, Last Week Tonight (aimed at a US audience). The topic is drones. The entire piece is on drones, but the bit from about the 8 :11 minute mark is very thought-provoking…

 Step 3: Crowd Control

Crowd control? You ask… What has that to do with the two video’s above? Sociologists return in this article published in the New Scientist magazine (30 August, 2014, about the riots in the US city of Ferguson, Missouri:

What struck me most in the above article was how Europe has changed the way they approach crowd control. Many socialists had observed:

One of the most worrying aspects of this drama is what it reveals about US crowd-control methods. In Europe, many police forces have started to accept that the traditional model of public-order policing, which treats all crowds as potentially dangerous, often makes things worse. This model dates back to the French Revolution, which seeded the idea that crowds turn people into primitive, dysfunctional automata, and that the only way to deal with protesters is to attack, disperse or “kettle” them – a draconian form of containment.

Such tactics are slowly being abandoned in Europe because social psychologists have shown repeatedly that they can have a dramatic and often catastrophic effect on how people in crowds behave. They have found that the way a protest is marshalled has a greater influence on whether it ends peacefully or violently than the actions of any hooligan minority within the crowd. This puts the police in a powerful position, even before they take aim with rubber bullets or tear gas.

Crowds are highly cooperative places. From the outside, “they look incredibly dangerous, as if your life would be under threat”. But from the inside, he says, “they seem carnivalesque and friendly. People are in many ways much more sociable than they would otherwise be.” This also makes them responsive. If those policing the event become aggressive, then everyone in the crowd is likely to feel threatened together.

So Europe adapted and…

The new approach involves establishing communication between police and the crowd, and targeting genuine troublemakers only. In the UK, police forces in London, Sussex and elsewhere field liaison officers in blue bibs at public events, who interact with protesters and build rapport.

And the US has not…

In the US, however, police still seem to cling to the old “riot squad” methods. They are wedded to the idea that large protest groups are inherently dangerous and that force is the best way to deal with them. The so-called “war on drugs” and fears of terrorism post-9/11 have seemingly encouraged US authorities to equip their law enforcement agencies with military-style weapons and other high-octane hardware. Containment takes precedence over negotiation.

In Summary…

Recent Noble Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai once said to Jon Stewart (satirical show host in the US) the following n response when asked how she felt when she found out the Taliban wanted her dead:

I started thinking about that, and I used to think that the Talib would come, and he would just kill me. But then I said, ‘If he comes, what would you do Malala?’ then I would reply to myself, ‘Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.’ But then I said, ‘If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others but through peace and through dialogue and through education.’ Then I said I will tell him how important education is and that ‘I even want education for your children as well.’ And I will tell him, ‘That’s what I want to tell you, now do what you want.’

Do you now also think the US-lead response to the activities in the Middle East are correct?


You can see Malala’s interview with Jon Stewart here (the above quote is around the 3:52 minute mark):

About Sally G

Sally is an Earth Scientist with experience in geology and geomorphology. She has always had an interest in general science.