Don’t turn away from Yemen this holiday season

One of the inconvenient truths in the chaos that is Yemen today is that we, the United States of America, are supplying bombs and are backing government policies of a friendship with Saudi Arabia, no matter the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, no matter the destruction of innocent civilians.

As many Americans celebrate the joys of Christmas and Hanukkah and other holidays with wholehearted involvement and enthusiasm, it can be all too easy to detach from the gruesome horrors in Yemen, if we even know they exist..

The New York Times article by Jeffrey E. Stern — “From Arizona to Yemen: The Journey of an American Bomb” — has implications for all of us that are so profound and so clear.

“Together, the bombing campaign and blockade have spurred the worst continuing humanitarian crisis in the world. Eight million people are on the brink of famine; according to Save the Children, an international aid organization, 85,000 Yemenis under age 5 have already died of starvation. A cholera outbreak has spread to 21 of Yemen’s 22 provinces,” Stern wrote.

What flowed into my mind as I read those words last week was hearing about the multitude of deaf and disinterested eyes and ears during the Holocaust amidst the plight of millions of Jews and many other minorities. When I was younger hearing about that coldness, it was something that seemed unthinkable, almost unbelievable. But really is there anything different, in the deaf ears and eyes of today as related to these eight million people on the brink of famine?

When this happens, the genocide we are witnessing may induce a horror that makes us quickly turn away. Or it may provoke us to use the mechanisms that protect us from real compassion. The latter include our tendency to “otherize,” to see people in groups outside our own, or those in ethnic, religious or racial groups from whom we tend to detach and whom we thus tend to dehumanize. Once a person is in that “other” grouping, the cruelty attending them can seem inane, meaningless, beside the point. A lot of people may be thinking right now, “Yeah it’s too bad about those people in Yemen. But we need to keep the Middle East safe from Iran; we need to defend our military interests.”

I am convinced that the more we dehumanize others the more we become dehumanized ourselves. I understand that there are tactical and technical issues in foreign policy that may go beyond humanitarian concerns. However once we collude and ally with those who take the Nazi role in a given conflict, we risk not only making enemies of much of a region; we risk being further immune to functioning with any decency or dignity in the world. When we target nationalism as our key goal, we isolate not only from other human beings but also from our own humanity.

Christmas is around the corner, and along with odes to presents given and received, there is a tendency to sing many carols and other songs that fill the air with thoughts of peace and kindness — of tenderness.

This holiday season, I am seeing something more clearly. Yemen, in other words, is not a distant land on a distant planet with people or beings unknowable. For better and for worse, our technology allows us to see so much up close and personal. If in fact we are ready for the personal side of things, as political and as real, we have to be or become ready to pressure our government to stop aiding and abetting the genocide that is occurring.

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