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The Train Rolling Towards the Abyss

The Train Rolling Towards the Abyss

Monday, 15 August, 2022 - 06:30
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

My British friend said he was sad because drought had hit his country. It pains him to see the dying trees and wilting flowers.


He believes that successive governments had not done their job. They should have adopted more mature policies on the environment and climate change.


He believes that political forces spend most of their energy on wars and races for seats at parliament and in government.


He wondered how the public could be so preoccupied by a passing scandal and end up forgetting about major impending dangers. He criticized how massive funds are spent on less pressing issues.


I acknowledged my friend’s sorrow. How hard it must be to see dying gardens as abandoned imaginations. To see forests as vast graves for their plants.


I paused at his saying that the death of trees reminds him of the death of people and of losses that cannot be compensated. This death deepens the alienation between man and the earth he is standing on.


Trees are the love letters of the earth to its inhabitants. Flowers emit a rich aroma that makes life less harsh or lonely.


Saxton’s remarks were only a leeway to his conversation on his real fears.


He said: “You have nothing left to lose when you approach your 90s. I have buried nearly all of my friends. I buried my life partner. I am a lonely man awaiting his final date.”


“My memory bleeds names and places that I cannot return to. I have forgotten the names of the majority of symphonies that I used to pursue from one city to another,” he recalled.


“I have also forgotten those incredible books, whose pages I used to revel in,” he added. “Who knows, tomorrow I may forget Shakespeare himself, perhaps even Flaubert and Voltaire. I have lost the essence of the very few memories that I still recall.”


I paused at this man who spent his life searching for musical and literary masterpieces and comparing written English and French works.


He said that what pains him the most is not his impending death, but that he would go to it in despair.


Saxton loathes American policies. He sees them as vulgar, inconsistent and incapable of understanding the world and its complexities.


His greatest disappointment now comes from Russia, which was once dear to him because it was the land that birthed Dostoevsky, Gogol, Pushkin and Chekhov. Russia’s war on Ukraine revealed to him that the Russia of illustrious authors is not the same as the Russia of the czars and Stalin’s heirs.


Saxton compared his current fear to the one he felt when he used to scramble to take shelter from air strikes during World War II. He noted that the sound of artillery in Ukraine targets the whole of Europe, not just the direct arena of war.


He said that one state’s move to annex a part of a neighboring country reminds him of those days when armies marched in the greatest bloody epic in history: Erasing international borders, ripping lands apart, changing the identity of locations and turning people into refugees.


He noted that the war in Yugoslavia was bloody and carried a lot of significance, but it was contained and led the Europeans to believe that that crime was only an exception.


The game today is more dangerous. Russia is trying to execute Ukraine as an independent state, while the West is pumping weapons in the veins of the Ukrainian army to bleed Russia.


Amid this great collapse, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi paid a visit to Taiwan, giving the Chinese dragon the opportunity to declare its ability to engage in a major conflict that could bloody the world and kill its economy.


Saxton noted that the tragedy begins when countries become prey to fear or panic due to the absence of international safety guarantees. Countries are quick to drink the poison. They bank on their armies to ease their fears, but instead, they compound the chances of sparking conflicts that leave nothing in their wake.


He said Britain is trying to put up a strong front, but it is in fact troubled. Germany is afraid and France is confused.


Arsenals will deplete funds that could have been spent on development, growth and improving the standards of living.


We were led to believe that this world, which had made leaps and bounds in technology, had learned its lesson. We were led to believe that its humanity had become enriched and more rational. Fears are a product of extremism and calls for engagement and divorce.


Saxton said he wasn’t sure at all whether London would be in better shape in a decade or two than from what it is now. The same goes for Berlin, Paris and Moscow. He suddenly asked me if I was sure whether Beirut would be better in a decade or two.


His question put me at a loss. I am not sure. In fact, I am not sure at all. I fear that Beirut may become forgotten, living on the edges of the age and floundering in the poverty of what remains of its residents.


I don’t want to guess about the future of Damascus, Baghdad, Tripoli and Sanaa. Their people know better. I am not sure whether the coming years will be better than the present.


It is evident that Europe was taken by surprise by the return of artillery fire on its territories. Its concern is clear, but at least European countries can turn to institutions that can hold an errant government or ruler accountable. It can change the government and reassess its reading of events. They at least boast hospitals that can treat the wounded and have fire brigades to combat blazes.


Our countries are poor. They stand naked, their maps afflicted by the “ring of fire”. There can be no saving maps that for decades have been afflicted by failed governments and politicians who are like gravediggers, seizing public funds with the voracity of pirates.


A world that shifts and changes to fears and rumbling conflicts is in store for more funerals, refugees and poverty. Security is under threat and bread is hard to come by.


What if we were to wake up to a nuclear disaster in Ukraine? What if Putin were to discipline a NATO state? What if Xi Jinping were to deploy the Chinese army to Taiwan?


Henry Kissinger warned that the world was approaching a very dangerous confrontation between the United States on one side and China and Russia on the other. We don’t want to believe that, but clearly, the world is rolling on towards the abyss.


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