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Raffique Shah


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Never lose human compassion

By Raffique Shah
September 28, 2016

You think we have problems in this country?

With days to go before Finance Minister Colm Imbert delivers the Government's 2017 budget, Trinis by the thousand sit in bars across the country sipping beers or whisky, and amidst the din that is common to such establishments, shout to be heard: "Breds, we better drink up, yes...from Friday, we may not be able to afford Johnny Walker Blue!" Big problem, that.

Much like the chatter in supermarket lanes as women, under strain, pushing their trolleys loaded with the finest foreign foods, murmur: "Chile, we better buy that ham and smoked salmon today...who knows what the price will be from Friday?"

Will we have sufficient money to "top up" our mobile phones, pay for cable television—a priority over water bills because WASA never disconnects anyone—or host a grand party for some birthday or anniversary?

See the sacrifices we must make?

Okay, I plead guilty to trivialising some serious issues we face—the state of the economy, shortages of foods and medications, the near-collapse of institutions that are critical to us enjoying life in a civilised society, and so on.

But by comparison with many other countries, from the highly developed to failed states, really, we should count ourselves lucky. Yes, life in Trinidad and Tobago is tough, but it could have been worse. As the late great Lord Pretender sang decades ago, "Always remember it have somebody suffering more than you."

Last weekend, BBC television repeatedly reported on Russian forces' nightly bombing of the northern city of Aleppo in Syria. Images of entire blocks of what must have been residential districts, now reduced to rubble, filled the screen. Scores, maybe hundreds of persons are presumed dead. The living walk around like zombies. And the children...well, you have to be sub-human to not shed a tear for them.

The reporter said that this particular attack disrupted water supplies to the city's two million residents. I was surprised to learn that they still enjoyed potable water or that so many people continued to live in that hell-hole.

Since 2011, when America declared open season on Syria's President Bashar Al Assad, inviting anyone who was so inclined to help overthrow the ruler, it is estimated that the country's population of 20 million has been decimated by ten per cent, mostly ordinary people killed in a war that is hardly civil, or those who fled to join the ranks of refugees seeking entry into Europe and anywhere else in the world that would accept them.

As we know, it was also that open invitation to overthrow Assad that spawned the newest, ugliest face of global terrorism, the Islamic State or ISIS. Today, ISIS has turned with a vengeance upon its facilitators—if not creators—inflicting unspeakable terror on countries like France, and much the way the innocent pay for the guilty in war, inflicting harm on innocent people elsewhere in Europe and the world.

Russia joined the "bombing spree" in Syria recently as Assad's only active ally. The US, Britain, France and Turkey have used Syrian territory for target practice since 2011.

If any entity has benefitted from this free-for-all war, it is ISIS.

And those who have suffered most are ordinary Syrians, especially women and children, pulverised from the air by bomber-aircraft owned and operated by Assad and the most powerful nations on earth, robbed, raped and slaughtered on the ground by Assad's forces and ISIS madmen.

The BBC also did a feature in Yemen where a little-publicised but no less brutal war has resulted in wanton destruction of lives, property and infrastructure, no medical supplies to treat the infirm and the wounded, and near-famine conditions among the hapless population.

In this instance, Saudi Arabia, which has the third biggest military budget in the world (after the US and China), leads a coalition comprising the Gulf states, Egypt, Morocco and poverty-stricken Sudan, that pulverises poverty-stricken Yemen. The coalition is fighting the Houthi rebels who have the support of Iran, although Iran, wisely, has no air support or ground troops involved. Not surprisingly, the Saudis have the support of the US, which has deployed a number of "advisers" who help that coalition with the sophisticated weaponry the Saudis have purchased from—who else?—America.

That the Saudis seem to be losing that war in spite of full control of the skies and vastly superior weapons on the ground, is not my focus.

My heart reaches out to those starving, suffering people I saw on television, especially the children who are dying from hunger, disease and death-from-the-skies inflicted by the holy men from Mecca.

Whatever our woes, they pale by comparison with the suffering I referenced here. We must never lose our compassion for fellow human beings, especially children. That is what distinguishes us from lesser mortals.

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