There is a dangerous pandemic sweeping the globe, and it’s not the Ebola virus. Rather, it’s the comprehensive loss of credibility among governments around the world. A tragedy like the Malaysian Airlines MH17 disaster shows just how many countries have already been affected by this plague. According to everyone but the Kremlin, the commercial flight en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down by a surface-to-air missile launched by pro-Russian separatists, who are loosely controlling territory in eastern Ukraine. All 298 passengers lost their lives in what seems to be a terrible mistake on behalf of the separatists, who thought it was a Ukrainian military jet.
Flight MH17 was carrying passengers from several countries, and in the wake of the crash, governments are scrambling to adopt the appropriate response. All signs point to Vladimir Putin’s reckless involvement in arming and agitating the rebels, with the international community being unable to muster any kind of unified response. The Malaysian government has been almost completely mum on the issue, even though it was the national airline and 43 Malaysian citizens died. Many analysts speculate this is because the ruling party enjoys good relations with Russia and doesn’t want to rock the boat. Unsettling, if true. European governments are not much better. While some sanctions against Russia for its presumed role in MH17’s downing have been imposed, most countries in the European Union have been busy trying to water down proposed penalties so that their commercial ties will not be affected.
Elsewhere, the credibility gap is having violent consequences. Several countries withdrew their diplomats from Tripoli over the weekend, as things in Libya took a turn for the worse. History will be the ultimate judge of whether a fractious Libya is better off than it was under Moammer Gaddafi’s dictatorship. However, many of those evacuated were from countries that clamoured for his overthrow three years ago, having conveniently forgotten how willing they were to make ‘deals in the desert’ with Gaddafi in 2004 — knowing full well that he was complicit in international crimes. As these countries spirit their nationals out of Tripoli under military escort, they must be asking if it was all worth it.
Perhaps, nowhere is the hypocrisy as stark as with the Muslim world’s lack of meaningful support for those trapped in Gaza. #FreePalestine has long been a rallying cry on the Arab street, with Muslim leaders encouraging their underemployed young men to protest in solidarity with their Palestinian brothers. Never mind that such leaders would rarely — if ever — tolerate such freedom of expression against their own questionable policies. More troubling is the fact that such protests are just spectacles to disguise these governments’ lack of interest in taking concrete action to aid the Gazans. The crisis could clearly benefit from a concerted, collaborative intervention from the Muslim world.
As the international community mulls over the appropriate responses to these ongoing crises, governments should reflect on what can happen when narrow self-interest is accorded more importance than the greater good. Moving forward, credibility will be key.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 9th, 2014.