An Arab man is glued to his television. The scenes are spectacular and unprecedented. The most powerful country in the world stands alarmed and tries to salvage what can be saved. Nature’s anger is a beast that cannot be detained.
The hurricane speed exceeded 200 kilometers per hour. It uprooted everything: roofs, houses, power poles and advertising boards. The rain is cold and ruthless. Heavy floods have swept trucks and cars away. Public squares have turned into swamps with pieces from smashed houses floating over. Authorities declared a state of emergency. All state bodies were put on alert. Millions of people were evacuated.
Television stations broadcast images of families leaving their homes, wrapped only with tears, fleeing to safe shelters… Men grieving for their houses, which they put too much effort to build… As if enormous tusks had pounced onto a wide area and implanted into its depths… Blood, mud and horror poured. It is Hurricane Irma, which has quickly occupied a prominent place in world record books.
Losses were estimated at $150 billion. Many houses will suffer from darkness, waiting for the start of reconstruction. The next day, the Arab man skims through an issue of Asharq al-Awsat newspaper. It is the issue of this Thursday, September 14th.
The source of the story is the National Agenda for the Future of Syria, which is supervised by Syrian and international experts under the umbrella of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA). According to the report, the cost of the Syrian war amounted to $327 billion; including $227 billion due to lost opportunities and $100 billion due to destruction.
The issue of who governs Syria must be resolved by the Syrian people under a constitution based on citizenship and justiceGhassan Charbel
Vulnerable to destruction
The Arab man delved into the details of the report. The housing sector was the most vulnerable to destruction as it incurred 30 percent of losses or about $30 billion. The proportion of destruction in the industrial sector reached nearly 18 percent, 9 percent for the electricity and water sector, and 7 percent for the agricultural sector. Statistics do not include destruction in the cities of Raqqa and Deir al-Zour.
The Arab man read the Syrian numbers as someone rubbing salt into his wounds. He was eager to search the Internet to know the cost of Iraqi storms, the tornado of Kuwait’s invasion, that of the invasion of Iraq and its consequences, the Sunni-Shiite strife and its aftermath… the fall of Mosul into the hands of ISIS, the hurricane of corruption, which is not less destructive than the blood hurricanes.
It is enough to hear an Iraqi politician say: “We have spent more than one hundred billion dollars to resolve the problem of electricity and the problem still exists”. The Arab man disregarded the figures. He remembered that the Iraqi and Syrian hurricanes have produced more than one million deaths and much more wounded and disabled. The loss of lives is much more painful than that of walls.
He felt the enormous difference between hurricanes. As soon as Irma recedes, reconstruction works will begin to remove its effects. There is a state there. There are institutions; a public opinion that monitors, judges and holds accountable. Our hurricanes are different.
At the beginning of the hurricane that hit Florida, normal questions were raised: Are the rescue and civil defense bodies ready for their duty? What lessons can be learned to limit the losses when nature gets angry after years or decades?
Our hurricanes are different. They are more severe and terrifying: winds coming from outside clash with the internal gaps. The state is decomposed and the map is broken. The components are fragmented. The national fabric is torn down. The army is disintegrated and militias are in a state of war.
The national flag is isolated and a forest of foreign flags surrounds the country. Flags from distant and nearby states, with conflicting stories and differing grudges. A Chechen man comes to kill a Syrian in favor of the regime, or an Afghan comes to kill a Syrian in favor of the opposition…
The hurricane exposes us. Countries that used to boast about their cohesion are divided and fragmented. A country, which used to have a powerful role, has become very frail to the extent that seeing its population getting killed is no longer a shock.
The country, which used to be a main player on the regional map, has become a playground for small armies, which are drawing with Syrian blood tiny maps protected by international or regional powers… areas of influence… and a decision that is lost in nearby and distant capitals…
Hurricanes expose us. They reveal that we are futile countries, lost peoples, and wasted institutions. No army saves the country from outer dangers. Security does not save the citizen from criminals. The Constitution does not protect people’s rights. The courts do not dare harass the perpetrators.
The hurricane shakes us. Our country becomes a platform for all kinds of newcomers, as if we were a testing ground for bombs and knives, for those seeking alternative wars, and those carrying ideas that are more treacherous than daggers, for the promoters of policies of revenge, for those wanting to change the balance of powers by using people’s blood, for the promoters of injustice and darkness, and for cruelty in all its forms.
The fury of nature can uproot a roof, smash cars and break columns, but it cannot dismantle a state and fragment a map. The absence of a real state is what triggers hurricanes. Outside storms cannot uproot a nation that is built on the values citizenship and justice; a state with a constitution that guarantees the rights of citizens and defines mechanisms for the rotation of power and for improvement.
Internal gaps are the first ally for the poisonous wind coming from outside. Feelings of marginalization tempt some people to jump out of the train and plant bombs to blow it up or change its trajectory.
I am an Arab and I only want Iraq to be a stable, prosperous and natural country that plays its role in its surrounding environment and leads its citizens to the future. Who governs Iraq is a matter that must be left to the Iraqis on the basis of citizenship and democracy that guarantees rights of minorities before those of the majority.
I am an Arab and I only want Syria to be a stable and prosperous country that plays its natural role in its surrounding environment… A country, which does not live in the shadow of a forest of flags that have infiltrated from conflicting locations to deepen the wounds of the Syrian components… A state, which poses no danger to itself or to its neighbors…
The issue of who governs Syria must be resolved by the Syrian people under a constitution based on citizenship and justice. The absence of a fair, modern state transforms minorities into buried mines. The absence of an actual state makes the land favorable to hurricanes.
The first lesson learned from hurricanes is to re-install the idea of the state, which applies its constitution and practices on all citizens, as citizens of one nation; not guns to be used by the leaders at the moment of collapse.
This article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat.
Ghassan Charbel is the Editor-in-Chief of London-based Al Sharq al-Awsat newspaper. Ghassan's Twitter handle is @GhasanCharbel.