Germany stops exporting arms to Saudi Arabia, due to the murder of regime critic Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian embassy in Turkey. Instead of relief or happiness, I felt a stitch of bitterness. Why now? Why not after all the other countless human rights violations, why not after Saudi Arabia bombed the only 2.5 per cent of land usable for agriculture in Yemen to trigger one of the most devastating humanitarian crises of our century? Probably because people do not know enough about those issues, while the Khashoggi case was heavily publicised. Legislators had no choice but to react to avoid a vast outcry.
I could leave this be. Better sooner than later, right? But the combination of ignorance with the rampant, undeserved self-confidence in one’s own opinion when it comes to what should be done in the Middle East infuriates me.
Experts of foreign policy pop up everywhere. “Islam” is the problem of this region or it's all “the oil” or because those cultures are so “uncivilised and clan-based”. Think of your own country and the 1000 different nuances that each tiny debate already has there. It needs no actual foreign policy expert to understand, that crises of dozen countries cannot be that simplistic.
However, this stereotypisation, called Orientalism, is a ‘proud’ Western tradition. By exoticising and otherising the East, we start to instinctively consider Middle Easterners as “less human”, hence less deserving of nuance – a result of our terrorist-frightened culture. Having so much underserved confidence in a field, while needing the case Khashoggi to get properly angry at Western Middle East – policy is an extent of hypocrisy very hard to endure.
With Syria, Libanon and Yemen not getting out of a perpetual cycle of crisis I cannot wish anyone to simply shut up, given that this would considerably hamper debate culture. Exactly because the Middle East is actually close, because we might be afraid of terrorists or maybe even Islam or Arabs or both, we should take each day to think 10 minutes or more about the Middle East. To research, to read some news from there, to educate yourself about the historical mess this region must deal with. I promise that arms exports will not be the only thing you’ll be angry about after that.
Asena Baykal, alumna European Studies