7 years ago I remember watching news outlets carrying stories about the growing unrest in North Africa. These protests and uprisings became known as the “Arab Spring” and sparked regime changes for many countries in the region. For other countries, it meant the beginning of years of hardship and conflict.
While it would take a voluminous book (that others have likely written) to present the full geo-political history of what led to the Arab Spring…a few contributing factors might include corrupt kleptocracies, severe drought, and the divisive relationships between religions and governments. Decades (if not centuries) in the making, the Arab Spring was ignited from a singular source, an ordinary street merchant simply looking for the opportunity to provide for his family.
An Unlikely Activist
December 18, 2010 started like any other day for the 26-year old Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi, as he left his home in the morning to sell fruit and vegetables via his street cart in order to support his widowed mother and 6 siblings. Lacking a formal permit to do so, a local policewoman attempted to confiscated his cart and scales. When he refused, he was purportedly slapped and insulted in public. He was fed up, angered by years of living under a corrupt Tunisian government and distraught over his public humiliation. He set himself on fire outside the local municipality office to protest the injustices perpetrated by those in power – those that seemed to be denying him even the most basic opportunity to provide for his family. His protest and subsequent death would topple the 23-year reign of Tunisia’s authoritarian government in less than a month.
In a matter of days, Egyptians would follow his lead to stage massive public protests of their own, forcing their President of nearly 30 years to resign. Libya would be next to depose of their leader of more than 4 decades, Moammar Gadhafi who was killed after a brief albeit full-blown civil war (with NATO involvement).
Over the next year, similar sentiments of injustice would fuel protests and calls for revolution in nearly every country in North Africa and the Mid-East, including Algeria, Jordan, Bahrain, Oman, Israel, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Yemen, Somalia, Kuwait, and Djibouti.
War Still Rages
7 years later, both Yemen and Syria continue to experience violent war. The situation in Syria in particular has become a global proxy war, with Russia, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Great Britain, ISIS, Turkey, and the U.S. all actively deploying soldiers and weapons in the conflict. It appears now to have been an unsuccessful attempt to wrest power from the Assad family, which has controlled the country for the past 50 years. The fact that the Syrian war received international attention doesn’t mean it hasn’t been without bloodshed, quite the contrary. While figures vary by organization or group, widely accepted estimates identify more than 400,000 people killed. More than 10% have been women and children. Nearly 2 million more have been injured. Meanwhile, the war has forced more than 10 million people from their cities and homes, with roughly half of those having left the country altogether.
From an economic perspective, the war has severely impacted Syria with poverty now affecting more than 80% of the remaining population. Inflation has reached nearly 700% since the start of the war. An average monthly wage has dropped to $80, while average monthly expenses have risen to $600. Hard for us to even fathom.
So what can we do?
Sorry to disappoint, but I’m as exasperated as you are. The situation in Syria is confusing at best, with blurred lines, misinformation, propaganda and suppression of truth from virtually every side. In the face of desperate stories, competing facts, hyper-nationalism and religious posturing it seems impossible to cut through all the noise to develop an accurate understanding of the situation let alone begin to understand how we might be able to help.
As an organization, Bought Beautifully looks to Jesus to guide our hearts and minds, which inform our choices, and actions. Our heartbeat is to live out his call to love in all that we do. So as we navigate these hard questions we again look to the life of Jesus; peacemaker, shepherd and servant to show us what our response can be, what it can look and sound like. Here are a few themes we feel compelled to share:
Help those who are hurting.
Regardless of how anyone receives physical or emotional scars, Jesus was clear in advocating for the vulnerable. We can give financially to organizations that are well-run, well-positioned, and thoroughly reviewed as being able to efficiently meet physical AND spiritual needs.
An amazing organization that Bought Beautifully partners with and supports is the Preemptive Love Coalition who is helping refugees on the front lines of war and conflict. In addition, here’s a list of other top-rated groups similarly dedicated to serving those impacted by the Syrian war.
And for those of you thinking, “but hey – there’s no such thing as a free lunch”, it’s well-documented that Jesus actually gave free lunches…big ones in fact…we should too.
Labor for justice.
Jesus’ life was marked by a constant struggle against injustice, a life of advocacy and support for those shoved to the side and left behind by their governments and cultures. Instead of being concerned when others unfairly judged him, he stayed on mission, living a life that rejected racism and gave dignity to those whom society considered to be inferior. We often overlook it, but Jesus didn’t come to ensure physical security or safety for those that followed him – he came to serve the destitute, the forgotten, and the displaced – welcoming them with open arms, wallets, and homes – being generous even to the point of death.
Jesus never said justice was reserved only for Jews, or Romans, or Americans…he advocated that all are deserving of justice and sacrificed His life to secure everyone’s opportunity to pursue a life rooted in justice.
Pray, seek and model peace.
While many people, even Christians, fervently debate whether peace is actually possible, Jesus made it clear that it is something that we should always strive for. Jesus did not pick up arms against his accusers or even his eventual murderers, instead he laid his life down and asked that we do the same…daily. In western culture, practically any culture, we have a hard time practicing non-violence. It’s hard to turn the other cheek, to give up our ability to physically protect ourselves – not to mention our world perceives it to be weak and foolish.
This is so so hard for us to live out – myself included. But when we see our world hurting, our response can’t involve more bombs, guns, murder and deceit – our response has to be about love and peace. Will it be effective? We don’t know. Not a popular stance to have right? But let’s not forget that the only popularity contest Jesus won secured his own death at the hands of his accusers.
Closer to Home
This Saturday, April 28th we have an opportunity to welcome a Syrian friend to our community. We met Mariela last year in Chicago after hearing her present during the Justice Conference. Born and raised in Aleppo, Mariela became a refugee in 2013 to escape the violence in Syria. She shares from her heart and helps us understand and connect with those that are hurting, how we can labor for justice, and help seek peace in the Syrian War.
Please join us for this FREE Ted-X styled presentation.
Your presence alone is enough. This step shows your willingness to engage on these difficult questions that face our world, your support for peace in Syria, your openness to learn about the conflict, and to look for opportunities to support those that have suffered because of the war.
Have something on your heart to share? As always, we’d love to have your comments below.
Still reading? Here’s an excellent article that lays out the 21st century history of Syria – incredibly enlightening, exasperating, and sobering.
Additional Statistical Sources