In an effort to explain our motivations behind the founding of the Yemen Peace Project, each co-director will be blogging about why we’re here this month. I’ll do my best to follow Will’s compelling blog entry with my own perspective about why peace in Yemen is imperative for me. William and I were high school friends when he spent the summer in Yemen in 1999. The experience clearly had a profound impact on him. In an effort to learn more about Yemen, I read Tim Macintosh-Smith’s Yemen: An Unknown Arabia a dozen times, and hoped that I too would get to experience it for myself. In 2009, Will and I were fortunate enough to spend 7 weeks in the capital studying Arabic. I felt both in awe of the place and instantly at home there. The country itself is gorgeous, unlike anything I could have imagined. The 14,000 foot-terraced mountains, the 7th-century mosques, the 2,500 year-old heart of Sana‘a… a traveler’s dream!
The people were also the kindest I had ever met abroad. At first, I was startled that complete strangers were inviting us into their shops for tea and conversation, but I quickly realized that this hospitality was the Yemeni way. We talked about politics, culture, poverty, the high birth rate, the serious water shortage, and the steep decline in tourism. Why don’t they come? We love Americans! they insisted. Despite these problems, all Yemenis I met lauded Obama's then-recent election as a relief, and as a promise of improvements to come.
I also learned that the Yemeni people are brave. Women and men march on the streets, run non-profit organizations, publish newspapers, and risk (or bear) imprisonment or torture for expressing their opinions and exposing corruption in Yemen. Despite the ruling regime’s war on political pluralism and human rights, the people continue to take a stand. However, the efforts of activists and journalists have grown even riskier with the bolstering of the Yemeni government by the West, who are pouring military resources into the country without regard for civilian casualties. When Will and I returned to Sana‘a during the summer of 2010, the optimism about President Obama had deflated. Ordinary Yemenis were not hopeless about the U.S. government's potential, but their faith was waning rapidly.
As the U.S. “Pursues a Wider Role in Yemen,” (as reported today by The Wall Street Journal), we urge you to learn about the consequences of war in Yemen, and to support us in our efforts for peace and cross-cultural understanding. Thank you for reading! For more information, visit our media page and our Pens for Peace page!