Suffer the Little Children
I grew up with a text dedicated to a king, the King James Version of the Bible, so it should not be surprising that many of the quaint KJV turns of phrase have stayed with me over the years. A particularly poignant verse has recently come to mind given the blackmail action of a current King, Salman of Saudi Arabia. The verse is a classic from Matthew 19:14: “But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
Modern translations no longer suffer the rendering of “suffer” here but replace it with “let,” but the nuance of the KJV is a fitting reminder of precisely the kind of evil that Jesus, as well as Muhammad, was warning against. It is beyond belief to imagine that either Jesus or Muhammad would approve of the thousands of children that have been brutally killed and wounded during the current conflict in Yemen, overwhelmingly from the indiscriminate bombing campaign of the Saudi-led coalition. And, King Salman, through his warlording son Muhammad, initiated a war that has led to a humanitarian crisis in Yemen that goes far beyond the deaths of innocent children.
The Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict issued a report on June 2 naming the many culprits whose fighting has resulted in harming children either through child recruitment or causing death. Readily recognizable terrorist groups like the Islamic State and Boko Haram were mentioned, but also the ongoing conflict in Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen. “Again in 2015, children were significantly affected by violent extremism and too often the direct targets of acts intended to cause maximum civilian casualties and terrorize communities,” notes the UN, an obvious fact for anyone following these conflicts. Regarding Yemen, all sides were criticized: “In Yemen, owing to the very large number of violations attributed to the two parties, the Houthis/Ansar Allah and the Saudi Arabia-led coalition are listed for killing and maiming and attacks on schools and hospitals.” The evidence for this is overwhelming, as reported by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the few reporters who have gone to the war zone.
But the Saudi oligarchy wants the world to believe it can do no wrong. It did not take long for the public relations juggernaut that the Saudi wealth buys to go after the UN, as they have done before regarding human rights violations. On June 6 Secretary-General Ban-Ki-moon removed the Saudi coalition from the list, pending a review with the Saudi authorities. What is there to review? Can facts be dismissed as not facts? Can new facts be bought and paid for?
Reaction to the Saudi move was quick. “Blatant pandering such as this undermines all of the UN’s work to protect children caught up in war. Secretary-General Ban must not succumb to pressure and undermine the important role of his own Special Representative. By doing so he also damages the credibility of the UN as a whole,” said Richard Bennett, Head of Amnesty International’s UN Office. Major news organizations in American and Europe finally found something about Yemen worth reporting.
Bowing to pressure from a country whose deeds are indeed odious, exposes the weakness of the UN as something no more than a political pawn. In this case Ban Ki-moon was literally backed up against the wall. The Saudis, he noted, had threatened to cut off all their humanitarian aid through the UN to Palestine, South Sudan and Syria. “I also had to consider,” noted the Secretary-General, “the very real prospect that millions of other children would suffer grievously if, as was suggested to me, countries would defund many U.N. programs.” This is not the first time that children suffering has been politicized, since Israel had been accused of violations in the 2015 Gaza War and then removed due to lobbying by the Israelis and the United States.
But let’s return to the atrocious action of the Saudis, who have put regime preservation above all else, no matter who suffers. The overall war launched against its poor neighbor as a proxy war with Iran is bad enough in causing unprecedented humanitarian damage and creating an insecurity that will take decades to unravel. But in this action children suffer in every way possible. Not only do the Saudis seek to deny the fact that their bombing has resulted in most of the deaths of children in Yemen, including babies dying in their mother’s arms. They would cause further suffering to children victimized in Palestine, Sudan and Syria by threatening to remove their contributions to humanitarian aid. Thousands upon thousands of Muslim children are wallowing in poverty, refugee camps or lacking food and health care all over the Middle East. All the while, Salman, his relic Ibn Sa’udists and spoiled self-agrandized super shaykhs relax in their palaces, chauffeured in their Bentleys and captivated by turning the holy city of Mecca into a touristic shopping mall. And all of this is happening in the month of Ramadan.
Little children are suffering because older men who act like spoiled children are without empathy. If Jesus and Muhammad are right, the kingdom of heaven awaits children, but the hell created by those who cause children to suffer, even deny that they are doing so, is the hell of their own choosing in this life and the next.