Over the past six weeks, I have been writing a book that is set in Yemen. Now, don’t worry, I’m not here to talk you into buying it (mostly because it’s not been published yet and probably won’t be for quite some time, unless I actually manage to find myself an agent), but I do think it’s about time I discuss it here. Not the book itself, but the problems it touches on. After all, we’ve all heard about the conflicts in Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt and probably many more, but somehow, Yemen has been forgotten. Chances are you don’t even know where it is, let alone the problems it faces. But just because the international news doesn’t pick up on it, doesn’t mean that it isn’t important or that there aren’t some serious implications.
So, Yemen is an Islamic country in the south-west of the Arabian Peninsula, right next to Africa. It used to consist of two countries, north- and south-Yemen, which were united in 1990, but the schism between these two parts has never truly disappeared. When in 2009 AQAP (Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula) based themselves in Yemen, and when in 2011 the Arab Spring wreaked its havoc, the country truly ended up divided.
All this has led to a situation in which there are multiple wars being fought at the same time. The Americans are fighting against AQAP by killing people with drones, both terrorists and many innocent civilians. In the meantime, both the north and the south have separatist movements, who hate both the Americans and AQAP about equally (and for very similar reasons) while they resist against a government that works together with the Americans. Add to that the religious tensions between the Shia (mostly in the north) and the Sunni (mostly in the south), plus the many independent armed groups that perform kidnappings and other crimes for various reasons, and you’ve got a state in which basically everyone is at war with everyone.
The real question, to me, is how has this all remained hidden? How can it be that we know almost nothing about a country that quite likely* tops the rankings of “most civilians killed by American drone strikes”? Apparently, we in the West care enough about Yemen to go and kill people there, but not enough to actually spend time on it in the news.
I would suggest that there are two reasons for this. Firstly, the Yemeni government (who, to repeat once again, work together with the American government, probably involving a lot of oil), are not the biggest fans of free press. Local journalists have an awfully hard time getting their stories out, as being caught filming anything will quickly land you in an interrogation room, and non-local journalists have it even worse, as you do become an easy target for almost everyone. On top of that, most people don’t have access to the internet, which doesn’t make journalism any easier.
A second reason, however, might be that there are many things in Yemen that we just don’t want to know about. Not only is the situation terribly complicated, but the CIA and the US army aren’t always doing things that can be considered perfectly ethical. Even worse, they’re losing the battle, because AQAP remains incredibly strong and shows no signs of weakening. In fact, chances are that American involvement in Yemen has only increased the hate against the Americans, and therefore the amount of people willing to join AQAP, because civilian deaths by American hands have become almost normal.
In the end, the situation in Yemen is complex and depends greatly on interpretation. When it comes to the explanation of why these problems have never reached the news, I am most likely biased, but so is every other suggestion. What remains true, however, regardless of political beliefs, is that Yemen is divided and that it has turned into a political battlefield outside of the public eye. In fact, at this very moment, there is a civil war raging on, and that war might change the future of Yemen forever. Rather than caring, however, we only keep bombing. And that’s a problem.
*Drone strike statistics are rare and usually not reliable, since the US government would claim every victim is a terrorist (while human rights organisation would sooner place that estimate at 30% terrorists, 70% innocent civilians). More is known about Pakistan, where it is claimed that over 3000 people were killed by drones since 2004. The US Army and the CIA keep most of it a secret, however, and the Western media has never made much effort to find out the truth. Either way, drone strikes are part of the order of the day in Yemen, and it is certainly in the top two affected countries, together with Pakistan. More here.
Since I arrived in Scotland, I am absolutely bursting with inspiration again and my list of future topics could cover a month. Thank you for sticking around for those who did, I really appreciate it! Things will be going upwards again from now on.
Don’t forget to rate/share/like this post, and if you have any thoughts of your own, please do leave them in the comments! And if you’re new here? Feel free to like the Facebook page for regular updates, or try having a look at the list of most popular posts!
More on this topic from Dean Richards: