We are all accustomed by now to seeing images of starving brown and black babies with bloated bellies, with parchment-thin skin stretched over exposed rib cages, with the large eyes of starvation staring listlessly, uncomprehendingly, at an uncaring world.
We don’t know the name of the Yemeni boy pictured here. Nor do we know if his little spark has been extinguished by malnutrition as are millions of others throughout the world each year. UNICEF pegs the figure at 3.1 million.
We do know the fate of 7-year-old Amal Hussain. The heartbreaking portrait of the emaciated Yemeni girl appeared in The New York Times recently and was soon to be seen everywhere on the internet and social media. A few days later, the paper announced that she had died of starvation.
Ironically, in Arabic, “Amal” means “hope.”
Gut-wrenching images of starving Yemenis — there are 1.8 million severely malnourished children in the tiny country — have put a human face on fears that a catastrophic manmade famine will engulf the country in the coming months. According to the U.N., it could be the worst in decades.
The famine results from a sea, land and air blockade of Yemen started in 2015 by Saudi Arabia that is aided and abetted by the U.S. Like so much else in the Middle East, the roots of the Yemeni civil war are tangled. The Cliff Notes version is that Houthi rebels in North Yemen are Shia Muslim while the south of the country is predominately Sunni. Sunni Saudi Arabia, with U.S. backing, supports the Sunni faction while it is alleged that Iran supports the Shia rebel north.
So Yemenis are starving in the middle of this particular geopolitical nightmare — rooted, in this case, in religious fanaticism. But it’s just one of many conflicts festering at the moment around the globe and, as always, with more to come.
Why? My answer is that too much of the world — politically and economically — is controlled by the power-hungry, the greedy, the corrupt, the heartless who use tribalism, nativism, nationalism, supremacism and religious fanaticism to promote the fear, loathing and dehumanizing of the "others.” Thus are wars, civil wars, genocides and border walls justified. Thus are babies sacrificed on the altar of supposed differences between ethnicities and the “races.”
But there are no “others.” There’s only us.
Recent surveys indicate that about four of 10 U.S. adults reject the concept of evolution as an explanation for the existence of the human race. Some choose to believe a timeline for our creation developed in the 17th century by James Ussher, archbishop of Ireland. He based it on the number of “begats” in the Bible and came up with 4004 BC as the year humans appeared, fully formed, on the face of the planet. This view also considers the extensive 4-billion-year fossil record to have been planted by the devil to confuse Christians as to the truth of their divine creation.
In contrast, genetic science tells us that we — all seven billion of us — have the same mother. Known as the “Mitochondrial Eve,” she lived about 200,000 years ago in Eastern Africa and is the most recent woman from whom all living humans descend in an unbroken line through their mothers, and through the mothers of those mothers, back until all lines converge on her.
The differences that the concept of “race” is built on are truly only skin deep. As we spread around the globe from our ancestral African home over those 200,000 years, variations in climate and geography led, for example, to differences in skin color or build. But that doesn’t belie our common ancestry. We are all far more alike than we are different.
So the "other” is a bogeyman used to create fear and paranoia for the basest of political motives. It’s not speaking figuratively to say that the starving babies of the world are part of the single human family to which we all belong.
My grandchildren this Christmas are going to be surprised and pleased, I hope, that their gift from gramps is a letter from Save the Children International thanking them for sponsoring a child.
I don’t know what else to do.
Lorin R. Robinson, Ph.D., is a writer and former chair of the journalism department at UW-River Falls. His current book is "The 13: Ashi-niswi."
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