December 31, 2014
I love New Year’s Eve. I don’t actually do anything – or go anywhere, but there is something very satisfying about letting a year expire – with all the good or not-so-good that happened, at least it’s over and there’s a chance to start a new year.
But before we officially say goodbye to 2014, we need to recap some of the biggest stories that occurred during the last twelve months. Even though there’s a new year just hours away, I am sure that some of these issues will continue to shape our world and the global conversation. While there are many stories that could be written about, I have chosen these five. So, in no particular order, here are the stories that I think mattered this year:
1. Airplanes: Crashes, Shootings and Disappearances
According to the Wall Street Journal, 2014 has actually had fewer airline accidents than anytime in the last 10 years. There have been only 19 accidents this year which is far below the 10-year average of 32 accidents per year. Which sounds like air safety is improving.
Until you realize that those numbers don’t include Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, because it was shot down over Ukraine (by the Russians or the pro-Russian Ukrainians or by the CIA, or whoever the conspiracy theorist of the moment say did it). It also doesn’t include the recent AirAsia fight, because that’s still being investigated. And we still have no idea where Malaysia airline MH370 is – it disappeared in March and we haven’t found one single sign of it. How is that possible in the 21st century?
One thing is clear – and disturbing: There might have been fewer accidents, but there were more deaths this year. In 2013 there were 265 deaths resulting from airline accidents. This year, the death count is at 526 and might rise higher than 676, which will put the death toll at a 10-year high.
2. The Combat Mission in Afghanistan is Over (sort of)
It’s been 13 years. 3500 international soldiers have been killed. And now NATO and President Obama have declared that the combat mission in Afghanistan is over. And the Taliban – the group that ruled Afghanistan and sheltered bin Laden and al-Qaeda – has declared that they have won. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid stated, “ISAF rolled up its flag in an atmosphere of failure and disappointment without having achieved anything substantial or tangible.”
The Taliban have made the most of 2014 by increasing their deadly attacks. According to Reuters, nearly 3200 Afghan civilians were killed in the conflict between he Taliban and the army in 2014 and more than 4600 Afghan army and police officers died as a result of Taliban attacks.
Ebola – a deadly hemorrhagic fever that was once thought to be relegated to Africa has now found a home in the US and Europe, where at least 24 cases have been treated. Of course, this number is tiny compared to the 20,000 people in Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, and Sierra Leone who have contracted Ebola since March (according to the World Health Organization). More than 7800 people have died – which makes this the largest (and most widespread) outbreak on record.
4. Israel and Gaza
They’ve had their differences before – and it seems that every few years things boil over and there is military conflict between Israel and Gaza. But this past August, things really got heated, starting with the murder of three Israeli students and the discovery of infiltration tunnels leading from Gaza into Israel.
From the Palestinian perspective, they have had enough with blockades and restricted movement and limited freedom due to Israel’s security concerns. And Israel has had enough with Hamas, the government of the Palestinian people in Gaza. (Which Israel views as a terrorist organization – and yet strangely Hamas has been removed from the list of terrorist organizations by an EU court.) For now, a cease-fire (brokered by Egypt) is holding. But it won’t hold forever. General global opinion is moving towards sympathy with the Palestinians in Gaza and Israel is becoming more and more isolated.
ISIS or as they now call themselves, the Islamic State (IS) is a jihadist organization that has managed to form a caliphate (Islamic State) over a region stretching from Iraq to Syria. They are brutal and compelling. They have killed Muslims, Christians and other minority groups, released videos of beheadings and developed a slick public relations campaign. In spite of all the violence, they have recruited more than 17,000 fighters, (many more according to some sources) including about 100 Americans and 500 UK citizens. The US continues airstrikes, the Kurdish peshmerga fighters continue to engage in battle and Iran has agreed to help rebuild Iraq’s depleted military. But as of now, ISIS continues its brutality.
There are lots of others things that made 2014 the year that it was: Russia’s claiming of Crimea (which according to my friend and geopolitical specialist, Michael Akerib, is where our attention should really be – not so much in the Middle East, but on what is going on with Russia), the Pakistan School Shooting in Peshawar – one of the most brutal Taliban attacks I’ve ever heard of, claiming 140 lives, most of them children (my friend Ammar Ajmal, who lives in Peshawar gave me real-time updates and says that the bodycount is much higher), and the events in Ferguson, Missouri which ramped up racial issues in a way that continues to create mistrust between Americans – and hurts all of us in the process.
Yes, 2014 was quite a year – but it’s almost over. I hope that 2015 brings you happiness, loyal friends, time with family and the faith to live a life of purpose in the upcoming year.
“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language, And next year’s words await another voice, And to make an end is to make a beginning.”
(Thank you, Ali Majoka for sharing this with me!)