UP until recently I would regularly argue that the world was in a more peaceful time than in any other era in history – obviously a concept that is hard to comprehend in vast parts of the Middle East – but nonetheless, it seemed accurate.
But in recent weeks something has happened that has led to a seemingly overnight change in the situation. The world has become a frighteningly aggressive place. So much so, that some people say it’s not a question of when or if world war three will start – but that it’s already here.
India and Pakistan seem hell bent on blowing each other up in their ongoing feud over Kashmir. And most recently Indian troops were involved in a deadly gun battle with militants in the troubled region. The various ongoing wars across Africa and Afghanistan, that once hit the headlines on a daily basis, have almost become irrelevant in the bigger picture.
Russia and the US have of late reentered a dangerous stand-off, last seen back in the depths of the Cold War. The most worrying thing I heard recently was that Russian’s were holding nuclear attack drills in some towns.
As a man who grew up in the 1970s and ‘80s, a lot of this seems to me all too reminiscent of an era when a nuclear holocaust seemed a highly likely outcome – indeed it is well documented that in the early 1980s the world was close to annihilation
Across Europe and America populist politics are hitting the headlines on an almost daily basis. In Britain this rise happened as the Brexit referendum occurred with an ever increasing trend in hate crimes against migrants and Muslims. In the US, Donald Trump continues to display deep rooted prejudices against various groups of nonwhite, non-American groups of society.
Muslims have become public hate figure number one, because of a tiny minority of truly evil people operating in various terror groups that claim to be the true followers of Islam. As a man who grew up in the 1970s and ‘80s, a lot of this seems to me all too reminiscent of an era when a nuclear holocaust seemed a highly likely outcome – indeed it is well documented that in the early 1980s the world was close to annihilation. The proxy wars.
It was an era of proxy wars being fought by countries backed by the US and the former USSR. It was a frightening time to be a child growing up – my own mother would vouch for how scared I was. I remember as a child the public information films and other references that would usually start with a voice saying: “in the event of a nuclear attack…”
It was unsettling, to say the least, the stuff that nightmares are made of for me – who at that stage was just a young boy. Sadly it seems to me that history has a habit of repeating itself with these dangerous situations. You don’t have to take my word for it, on Friday Russia’s UN Mission, Vitaly Churkin admitted that relations between the US and Russia were “probably the worst … since 1973”.
Back then tensions became increasingly bad when Syria and Egypt launched a surprise attack against Israel on the holiest day in the Jewish calendar in October 1973, the Mideast was thrown into turmoil. The threat of an outbreak of fighting between the Arab-backing Soviet Union and Israel’s closest ally, the US, during the Yom Kippur War was the highest since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.
Back now to the present day, with tensions worsening across the Middle East and spilling over into the political spectrum of the wider world. With troubles ongoing in South Asia and in the South China Sea and North Korea apparently carrying out more missile tests, should we be afraid?
The only saving grace is that in this increasingly globalized world nations that appear to be archrivals in some respects are good business partners in others. But should we be concerned by the growing trend of populist politics across the world and aggressive nature of those people who follow them? I know I am.
[Peter Harrison is a British photojournalist whose career spans three decades, working for print, digital and broadcast media in the UK and the UAE. He’s covered a broad spectrum of subjects, from health issues and farming in England, to the refugee crisis in Lebanon and the war in Afghanistan. He is a senior editor with Al Arabiya English and tweets @PhotoPJHarrison.]