The U.S. shut down embassies around the Middle East based on (we now learn) communication from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Penninsula out of Yemen. Hundreds were freed in a prison break. Anti-American violent leadership is now Yemen-based. Militants are flooding in to Sana’a, from around the region, the BBC reports, as part of a (foiled?) plot to attack perhaps ports, oil installations, or U.S. diplomats. In return or in anticipation, U.S. drone strikes have been increasing, and drone surveillance to intercept more terror communication. Yemenis are said to be suffering post-traumatic stress from so many buzzing drones carrying death.
Is Yemen America’s next war zone?
This painful set of developments has me thinking of Yemeni friends I made there 20 years ago — a young couple. He was mid-20s, training to run his family’s mid-range hotel in Sana‘a, the capital, the old part of which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (…for now)….will it go the way of Aleppo? His wife was a teenage girl, living with her parents, not really wife yet, she’d get there later. They seemed happy hanging out.
The people are what we miss in war stories, with notable exceptions like Anthony Shadid‘s incredibly rich and profound coverage from inside Iraq. The people, their culture, the experience of exchange that comes from being places and immersing in conversations…
(…sometimes stoned out of your mind on the local stimulant of choice, qat, chewed with a mint or while sipping tea. Below, my friend is buying.)
The war against terror informs — distorts — inflects, effects, all we do overseas and how we experience the world as Americans. Who are these people of Yemen but harborers of terrorists? Al Qaeda’s new haunt?
So, I share my 20-year old photos of Yemen & some Yemeni people.
Terror movements need 3 things: alienated constituents. People willing to be complicit. And a legitimizing ideology. This isn’t me; this is scholarship (Louise Richardson formerly of Harvard, now Vice Chancellor of the University of St. Andrews). It is motivated by 3 goals: revenge, renown, and reaction from the enemy. By this logic, massive military campaigns, ours (and Israel’s, in many cases) simply give the enemy, here Al Qaeda – both the great renown and the horrific overreaction it seeks. There are “the stimulants it needs to prosper” (Richardson).
Yet, scholars like Richardson tell us, what anti-terror campaigns prove (Turkey’s against the PKK, Peru’s against the Shining Path, Britain’s with the IRA) is that what is fundamentally a political challenge can only be addressed politically. By separating the terrorists from their base in the community, by addressing their grievances seriously.
Success requires maintaining the moral high ground. Which, to me, means remembering people. Faces, friends. We haven’t met them (yet). We don’t know eachother, most Yemenis and most Americans. But they will bear the consequences if we take the war to yemen. If we are to be fully human, let’s at least try to connect before we destroy.
- Yemen claims to have foiled al-Qaeda plot (thehindu.com)
- American In Yemen: More Scared Of U.S Drones Than Al Qaeda (huffingtonpost.com)
- Yemen Says It Foiled Al-Qaeda Plot to Seize Energy Plants – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
- US will not reverse Middle East terror precautions in wake of foiled plot (theguardian.com)
- UK and US urge all citizens to leave Yemen ‘immediately’ (telegraph.co.uk)
- Panic in Yemen: Terrorist Threat Shutters U.S. and U.K. Embassies (world.time.com)
- U.S. Embassy Warns of Yemen Threats, Urges Citizens Leave (bloomberg.com)
- Yemen on ‘high alert’ over warning of imminent al-Qaida attack (theguardian.com)
- Yemen steps up security amid terror attack fears (edition.cnn.com)