Keeping hopes alive for a life beyond war

Aladdin Shamoug describes the horrors of war for millions of people.

Being a newcomer to Aotearoa, after a decade spent working and living in war zones, between Sudan, the Balkans, Afghanistan, Turkey, and lately Syria, I think I have a kind of answer for the question of ``what does war look like?''.

Living in such tragic places is a life-changing experience in both good and bad ways.

The bright side of it - if any - is that it makes you more appreciative of small things that you might not have enjoyed or even noticed in the past: having running water the whole day, endless power supply, schools for your kids, hospitals up and running, traffic lights, roads and bridges, and much more we don't notice in our day-to-day lives. Unthankfully, we presume they are constant, having always been there and always will be.

Living in a war zone allows people to see the dark side of human nature, where death, injuries, suffering, and grief is part of life, not a scene in a movie you watch with friends.

Sadly, for millions of people, it's not an exception or abnormal to see such horror with their own eyes, from their windows, or metres away from doorsteps.

The war is neither what you hear in the news, nor what you see on TV. It's not a battle between good and evil, it's not about army against freedom fighters, or state and enemies of state. War is driven by those who benefit from it: warlords and death traders.

They say in wars there is no winner or loser. This is not truly accurate. In wars, violence wins always and humanity loses.

In wars, the first thing to die is the rule of law, and all stories about justice - both divine and man-made - transform into fairy tales to tell your children when they can't sleep at night.

War assimilates fairy tales, in many ways. The similarities between them are endless: crossing the Mediterranean on rubber boats, miles-long lines of humans, walking in an epic exodus from torture and genocide, keeping the keys of one's confiscated house for 70 years, distilling plastic bags to produce kerosene for cooking and heating, and many more fairy tales to tell.

Taking kids to kindergarten is a daily routine for many of us. Taking them to kindergarten in a war zone is a journey between life and death.

When you think of housing problems, expense and difficulties and fear of homelessness and displacement, I think of four million people in the Middle East, who lost their houses 70 years ago, living in refugee camps, suffering from a shortage of services, and lacking basic human rights.

They are not only deprived of their homes but also stripped of hope, dreams, and a future. I met some of them, and some still hold the keys to their lost homes as a symbolic act of resistance and rejection of unjustness.

Most of us have jobs. We go to work for eight hours a day. In those hours we might miss the comfort of our houses and warmth of our families.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to estimate the cost of war and to understand prevention is cheaper than cure.

Among many approaches to prevent war is to support grassroots development organisations that work on education and health, underpinning livelihoods, to build resilience among other basic services in developing countries, to help people progress, strive, and keep the hope in a better future alive.

Losing hope sparks wars. Such support might not magically overnight transform those countries into ideal places to live in, though in the long run, it will.

Aladdin Shamoug worked for the United Nations from 2004 to 2017. He is studying towards a PhD in information science at the University of Otago.

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