Kiana Thorpe (Geography 2012) and Nicky Padfield report on one of this term’s Master’s Conversations
On 2 February the College enjoyed an extraordinary ‘conversation’ on the vast subject of ‘stability’ in the Middle East (with a special focus on Jordan and Palestine). The three speakers had only ten minutes in which to outline their arguments, but packed in an enormous number of thought-provoking ideas.
The first speaker was Ardi Imseis (Fitz 2014), a UN lawyer currently studying for his PhD on the gulf between international law and international legitimacy in the work of the United Nations. Having worked with United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), his interests lie in political, legal and humanitarian issues in Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria. He argued that peace was rather more important than stability, exploring the reality of political power, the power imbalance between Palestine and Israel which he saw as central, crucial to any peaceful settlement.
The next speaker was Edward Chaplin (Queens’ 1969), who had been the Foreign Office’s Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Ambassador to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and between 2004-5 Ambassador to Iraq. He agreed that the quality of the stability (peace) is what matters, and that feelings of injustice drive radicalisation. He suggested that good governance and strong leadership is the Middle East’s biggest problem, and cannot be solved externally.
Finally, Jonathan McIvor (Diploma in Applied Criminology and Police Management, Fitz 2000). A former soldier and policeman turned security reform consultant, he presented a view from the perspective of change, particularly in relation to community policing structures in Lebanon and Jordan. He explored the practical problems created by the concentration of refugees in the north of Jordan, arguing that the dual imperatives of stability and change stand somewhat in contradiction.
By the end of the discussion it was less clear that peace should rank above stability as an objective, since the two concepts were so inter-dependent. The prospects for both seem to be increasingly remote as atrocity builds upon injustice, and the mixed communities living in close proximity seem to be inexorably extinguished. The taxonomy of difference is complex and the emotion associated with different identities and belief systems apparently impervious to rationality.
The three speakers were at one in believing that neither peace nor stability would be achievable in the region until solutions were found to the cohabitation of Israel with its neighbours. While that prospect seemed remote, the human calamity unfolding in the region was now so great that it ought nonetheless to rank amongst the highest priorities for global leaders. The cynical lens of national interest is disgracefully inhumane.
There was a fascinating debate, which ranged from the broad perspective of international diplomacy to the small picture of life in a refugee camp. There were no easy answers, but plenty of challenges: an erstwhile police officer calling for more popular protest and an erstwhile diplomat asking the international community to recognize its limits. The influence of religious leaders was set against the frightening absence of women in the peace process, and in public life more generally. The need for good governance, trust, fairness, and respect for human dignity at all levels is so obvious, and yet seemingly impossible to achieve. Worth having the discussion even when the issues seem intractable?