Hibaaq Osman Headshot

Ebola Isn't the Only Illness Out There Killing Our World

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The United Nations and especially its western members are patients in serious need of medical attention. Onset of symptoms has not been sudden. This is no acute illness. Instead, it is a chronic malaise characterized by an imperceptibly slow but steady degeneration of neuropathy leading to sensory deprivation, organ failure, and risk of death.

In fact, illness has crept up on our patients so stealthily that they never even noticed the systemic and systematic failures taking place throughout their bodies -- for example, even now they are unaware that they have lost the power of sight and touch. As a result, they remain convinced that the world around them is still palpable, recognizable, and definable. However, in reality they only see shapes and shadows. And so our patients sit, immobile, unable to perceive events taking place around them or to interact with them meaningfully. Our patients cannot look after themselves. No one can remember the last time they managed to stand up on their own two feet. Unfortunately, their speech has also become slurred and incomprehensible, making conversation pointless at best and antagonistic at worst. The others in the hospital learned some time ago that token placatory gestures suffice; our patients will acquiesce and behave well enough if left alone in their stupefied reverie.

Those who recognize the disease have given it all types of names: Apathy, Ambivalence, Cowardice, and Unawareness, to name a few. But the primary symptom is always the same -- self-congratulatory delusion that attitude is the same as behavior, that saying something is the same as doing something, that words amount to the same as actions. They do not.

The illness started by turning our patients, key actors on the world stage, into common members of the audience. Lead roles like Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Prime Minister Cameron, and Chancellor Merkel all put down their props and sat down to watch the tragedy unfold in chaos. Even the Conductor, President Obama, tossed his baton into the pit and took a seat, weak gesticulations about "democracy" and "human rights" proving hardly compelling enough to make the orchestra play.

What is happening on stage in the wake of this rampant disease? Leaders and even entire countries are acting with impunity, happy in the knowledge that no one will carry through with their empty threats. In Syria, the years of devastation and trauma coupled with cruelly dashed hopes for a more democratic future look set to continue. In Ukraine, the evident impunity with which superpowers can behave has culminated in the downing of an aircraft full of innocent civilians. In Gaza, there have been weeks of relentless and untargeted bombing, women and children facing injury, death, and displacement as a result of ongoing war tactics conducted by Israeli soldiers. Last week alone, as many Muslims prepared to celebrate Eid, 60 Israeli airstrikes killed UN staff members and more than 100 Palestinians. In a prior attack at a UN school, at least fifteen died and 200 were wounded from just three shells. The image of screaming babies -- less than two years old -- and frantic parents filled television screens as journalists showed us just a glimpse of what has been taking place there.

Who suffers the most? It is always those who are most vulnerable. Children in Syria, Ukraine, Gaza, and many other "theatres of conflict" lie on stretchers -- if they can get them -- bruised and bloodied, unsure of why these tragedies are happening to them and why no one is actually doing anything about it. The combined death toll in Syria is close to 200,000. In Gaza, for hundreds of Palestinians, it is happening even faster and in an even more asymmetric way, with Palestinian civilians bearing the brunt of the consequences of this war. Gaza officials say at least 1,499 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed and 7,000 wounded. A quarter of Gaza's population has been displaced by the fighting.

On July 28th, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged a long engagement. In response, the U.S., Britain, and others continue to do virtually nothing, failing to take harder line measures in creating consequences for Israel's mass murder of Palestinian civilians. As a matter of fact, to this very day, the U.S. continues to support Israel with the transfer of new weapons. In other shocking news (or perhaps not so shocking, considering what Israel has been doing), a blogger at the Times of Israel published a piece on Friday -- which was later deleted by the publication -- suggesting genocide is a justifiable way to solve conflict in the Middle East. The op-ed was titled, "When Genocide is Permissible."

The international response has been pathetic. After all what kind of madness and level of irresponsibility must we have reached for it to take so long to have consequences for the demolition of house, hospitals, power plants and schools; the murder of women and children; the devastation of communities stripped of the electricity, shelter, and emergency health care necessary to survive? I wonder if those who have the power to stop this hear the children of Gaza crying for help. Do they really sleep at night, knowing what they know?

The United Nations and especially its western members purportedly believe in the values of security, peace, democracy, and justice. They say that they believe in what is fair and claim they are committed to defending these values against any who will seek to tear them down. What is taking place at the hands of Israel is nothing short of genocide. What are we doing about it? Why has the Israeli government been freed of consequences for its crimes against humanity, crimes that members of the international community have pledged -- through agreements, commitments, and resolutions -- to punish in the harshest terms, with the swiftest actions?

Later, the international community will blame Palestinians for the hatred they harbor against Israel. We will also look retrospectively at the emergence of violent extremism in Syria and Iraq and use this as a justification for not getting involved. But the United Nations and especially its western members, if they do not replace meaningless words with action, will lose any remaining credibility and integrity when speaking about the core principles of freedom and fairness. They will lose the trust the world long ago placed in them to take moral stands and uphold peace, humanity, and civility. The United Nations and especially its western members have a role, a responsibility, a remit and a duty to protect those who cannot protect themselves, and that starts with vulnerable groups such as women and children. No more words. It is time for visible, tangible, and real action. If we fail to do this, our ailing cast will surely die and with them will die our dream that together we can be greater than the sum of our parts.