Who are the “worthy victims” of our world, the ones who deserve our attention, our compassion, our empathy and our action? Children are now dying in Yemen as a result of a Saudi-led war effort aided by our government. Considering that this has gone on for some time, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Americans either do not care or find this acceptable.
But after the appalling murder of Washington Post journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, our relationship with Saudi Arabia has come under new scrutiny. For decades, the United States has maintained an alliance with that nation because of our demand for Saudi oil and our appreciation for a friend, even if an unreliable one, in a tumultuous region. Economic and national security interests have long led the United States to overlook egregious human rights violations in Saudi Arabia. Now the current crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has portrayed himself as a reformer and has led a charm campaign in pursuit of even more U.S. investment in his country.
Economic and national security interests have long led the United States to overlook egregious human rights violations in Saudi Arabia.
Foreign alliances always involve compromise; to have any foreign policy necessarily requires a willingness to cooperate with suboptimal, often unsavory and even corrupt leaders in order to accomplish broader strategic goals.
But followers of Jesus must not turn our eyes away from what is occurring in Yemen and the war crimes that our country is enabling and even profiting from as a result of arms sales to Saudi Arabia. This summer the Saudi coalition used weapons supplied by the United States on at least two occasions to kill dozens of innocent children. In one of these instances, sky-blue Unicef backpacks were strewn across the ground afterward, covered in dirt and the blood of the children whose school bus was bombed by air forces that benefited from refueling and intelligence support from the United States.
The devastation of the war upon Yemen has reached an almost incomprehensible and utterly dire magnitude; the United Nations warned on Oct. 23 that the famine in Yemen is the worst in 100 years, with 14 million people at risk of starvation. The World Health Organization reports that 10,000 cases of cholera are reported per week, clean drinking water has become scarce for millions, and Yemen’s medical care system is on the verge of a total collapse, creating a dire situation for cancer patients, the elderly, persons with intellectual and physical disabilities, and those in need of surgery and medical service of any kind.
The devastation of the war upon Yemen has reached an almost incomprehensible magnitude; the United Nations has warned that 14 million are at risk of starvation.
It is tempting to shield our eyes from horrifying images of gaunt, starved Yemeni children dying in their mothers’ arms, both reduced to unrecognizable skeletons. Either we are too distracted to be aware in the first place or we look away from such horror to the distractions provided by our comparatively unfathomable wealth. But the blood of Yemeni children demands justice.
Moreover, the pro-life community in the United States has shown little regard for the sanctity of life in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, whether it comes to the drone attacks in Yemen that started under the Obama administration or the murder of Mr. Khashoggi.
When Jesus of Nazareth was asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” he answered that we are to love God and neighbor, to which a listener responded, “And who is my neighbor?” It is not simply that the priests and Levites of the United States are leaving Yemeni children to die on the side of the Jericho highway; in fact, we are the bandits assaulting these children.
The complexities of U.S. foreign policy should not be oversimplified. Nonetheless, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion thatthe United States could end the war in Yemen if we wanted to. We have the opportunity for an unmasking about the state of our true selves. How do we regard the sanctity of life in Yemen? Union with the crucified Messiah from Nazareth necessitates a refusal to shrug, “Who is my neighbor?” in response to his call to love. We must not accept the current state of affairs as expediently acceptable or nihilistically inevitable. The people of God have the theological resources for imagining better, more just relations between our government and the most vulnerable humans on earth. Will we do so?
We must speak out. The children of Yemen need an advocate. Even if a break with Saudi Arabia costs us financially, those who are co-crucified with Christ belong to a different economy than that of the earthly world concerning the price of life.
You are not our own. You were bought with a price. So glorify God with your body.