Friday, April 19, 2013

A New Green Arabia

Most analysis points to economic failure, unemployment and corruption as the lead causes of the uprisings in the Arab world. Certainly, the frozen and oppressive political cultures have not delivered what people need, neither materially nor, equally importantly, psychologically in tems of dignity, autonomy and other key needs. 

However, there is mounting evidence that changes in the Arab world are also the result of a larger global process: climate change and the poor human response to the changes we are creacting on the planet. The Center for American Progress, the Stimson Centre, and the Center for Climate and Security have produced a collection of essays that demonstrate how climate change has disrupted the Arab world.

Climate change is causing fluctuations in food supplies and prices across the world, but the top nine wheat importers in the world are in the Middle East, and seven had political protests and violence in 2011. Furthermore, the Middle East is already one of the driest regions of the world, with considerable water security problems.  In terms of political culture and structure, the Arab world was and continues to be ineffectively set up to react to these very significant challenges. Indeed, the whole planet and all countries will have to manage and adapt to these human-created shifts. The Arab world may simply be the weak link in the chain in terms of both resources and political resilience and the ability to react successfully to these global challenges.

We have discussed before how our ¨old mind¨, with its simple and dramatic perceptions and built-in greeds, cannot perceive slower change or see the larger picture (Old World New Mind), such as how our behaviour affects the climate. We are all somehow victims of the world we ourselves have created, and the Arab world may simply be the worst victim of all.

Despair need not be the response to this realistic diagnosis. The report discussed here and others suggest constructive ways forward, including "greening" Arab economies (underway to some degree in some countries), adopting innovative technologies and aligning government policies with these critical steps. However, as we see every day, Arab politics, especially post-revolutions, are immersed in ideological or ethnic battles that suck up all the society´s resources in a massive distraction scheme from the necessary work of responding to these very real life challenges.

The Arab world and the Middle East can respond successfully to the water, food and resources needs of its populations and the inevitable pressures of climate change. This will demand, however, new kinds of thinking and paradigms: regional perspectives, cooperative rather than zero-sum game approaches, including between private and public sectors, and a considerable shift of understanding about human behaviour. One of the key paradigms that needs to be inculcated in this process of evolution is that human behaviour cannot be changed until it is better understood (see Human Givens and our posts on The Missing Piece).

If these steps are taken and greater awareness does occur, there is no reason why the future could not see a new "Green Arabia".

Monday, April 15, 2013

Armenia's City of Ghosts

Situated at the far-flung reaches of eastern Turkey, just metres from the border with Armenia, is the ghost city of Ani. The ruins of this once stately medieval capital - home to over 100,000 Armenians at its apex in the 11th century – sprawl across an undulating steppe land and hint at a civilization said to have rivaled Cairo, Baghdad and Constantinople. 

Armenian builders and masons, once famed throughout the Middle East for their ingenuity and mastership, reached the pinnacle of their craft at Ani, building magnificent structures of which only a few remain today. Although the city’s 5th century founders chose a site as defendable as any in the region, nothing could compensate for the fact that Ani - and Armenia in general - was parked in the middle of an ancient autobahn used by armies to cross continents.

The city was pummeled time and again by waves of marauders; its residents slaughtered repeatedly, only to re-populate the town and face fury of the next interloper. The Byzantines, Seljuk Turks, Mongols, and the warriors of Tamerlane each dealt Ani heavy blows in succession, bleeding it of its vitality until it became a dusty, ruinous shell in the possession of the Ottoman Turks. 

A visit to the ruins of Ani today is something of a poignant affair. Though nearly finished off by earthquakes and the ravages of time, the city emits the haunting emanations of a place still - somehow - occupied. Winds blowing into the site from Central Asia and the Caucasus carry Ani's forlorn whispers. 

Its great 11th century cathedral, gutted and empty, stands solitary amid the vast expanse of ruins with tufts of grass growing on its roof, looking like a titanic 19th century European cottage. The circular Church of the Redeemer, seen fulsome and intact from one side, becomes a half-circular shell when looked at from the other – a full side of the building was blown to smithereens by a massive lightning strike in 1955. Kurdish shepherds and their flocks move quietly through the site, with the sheep’s bells ringing to the sound of the wind and the enduring silence.

The kind of charged politics that led to Ani’s demise also endures. Atop an ancient castle, off-limits to tourists sits a garrison of the Turkish army. The soldiers face the adjacent border posts of the Republic of Armenia, situated across a deep ravine of the Akhurian River. 

Despite recent attempts by both sides to let go of their historical and political differences, the border between the countries remains closed, and both governments are still not talking. So stubborn and vitriolic is the hatred that the tourist billboards at the entrance to Ani don’t even mention the words “Armenia” or “Armenians” in conjunction with the site’s history.

Blood, trauma, ghosts, and layers of misperception and misunderstanding have created a politics of obduracy - and an invisible and unnecessary wall between peoples and cultures as thick and solid as the great stone wall that encapsulates Ani and its ghostly lamentations.