Europe’s Middle East Mission

LONDON – America’s gradual withdrawal from the Middle East puts increasing pressure on Europe to help foster peace in the region. With complex and heated wars threatening to bring about the collapse of states like Syria and Iraq, and the long-simmering conflict between Israel and Palestine seemingly as far from resolution as ever, it is almost easier to ask what Europe should avoid than what it should do.

The starting point must be a simple, fundamental principle: Europe should not take sides. Allowing preconceptions or emotional reactions to overshadow facts could make the situation much more dangerous.

Consider sectarian struggle between Sunni and Shia Muslims – now the prime mover of events in the Middle East. Fueled by religious rhetoric and a bloody history, the conflict engenders a degree of passion and irrationality that is difficult to moderate. As has been said: “Where the fires of faith are burning, the goddess of reason tiptoes silently out of the room.”

Likewise, when it comes to the Israel-Palestine conflict, Europe must recognize that both sides are hypersensitive. If they are faced with criticism that they deem unfair, they will resort to the kind of truculence and bitterness that has long thwarted efforts to reach an agreement.