The year 2016 has been scarred by a persistent contagion – the resurgence of far-right populism.
The dogs of war have peed all over this year’s calendar. Every month. Every week. Every day.
Entire cities and communities have been ravaged by indiscriminate bombing, violence, destruction, as more and more people abandoned their lives for the unknown.
Certainly, 2016 was one of the worst years in decades, perhaps not as bad as 1916 – one of the 20th century’s worst – but the Middle East is in the midst of its own World War I after more regional and global military powers jumped in.
“Never again” has happened again and again, but the international community did little more than bicker, complain or perhaps condemn. Worse, the world has grown numb to the horrors of the greater Middle East.
The tragic image of five-year-old Omran Daqneesh, sitting in an ambulance after being pulled from a building hit by an air strike in Aleppo, less than a year after three-year old Aylan Kurdi was washed ashore in Turkey, made it clear that nothing will make a difference.
Five thousand more refugees drowned in the Mediterranean in 2016. And the lucky ones, like the hundred thousand-plus refugees who crossed the Red Sea from the Horn of Africa this year, have actually found refuge in war-torn Yemen!
And something else happened in 2016; something that didn’t figure in the long lists of the end-of-the-year reviews; something that went beyond violence, beyond suffering. It’s the year that added insult to injury, as disagreement translated into indecency, and arrogance bred incivility. It’s the year of lies and post-truth.
The Jewish Talmud lists a number of signs that that signal the end of times. For example, chutzpah or insolence will increase, the truth will be hidden, and the face of a generation, that is to say, its leaders, will be as the face of a dog.
Coincidentally, I’ve been hearing a lot of barking in recent times, coming from the most likely and, indeed, the most unlikely places.
The Talmud’s face of a dog appearing on the horizon, like Shakespeare’s “let slip the dogs of war”, comes when leaders wreak havoc on the world. And just as dogs march ahead of their master, but are in fact being led from behind, so the leaders will only appear to be leading; in reality they will be following the whims of the masses and their worst instincts.
There are countless examples of such arrogance, recklessness and myopia. Here are three specific examples of chutzpah in 2016.
Five years after people accumulated victories in the struggle for freedom and justice in the Arab world, they now only count their losses.
The tide began to turn three years ago when the regimes cracked down on popular upheavals with impunity, choking the spirit of the Arab Spring amid mounting foreign meddling. It started with Libya and Syria, followed by Egypt and Yemen, and shows no signs of ebbing this year.
As moderates lingered in jails and cemeteries, moderation gave way to extremism, which in turn became the new norm that would come to shape 2016. New extremist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and al-Qaeda took to the fore, destroying all that was left from the Arab Spring.
The “birth pangs of a new Middle East” have continued to grow, but there is little evidence of the birth of a new Middle East.
Nowhere is this more evident than in Syria. Helped by Russia, Iran and various militias, the Assad regime destroyed much of the country under the pretext of fighting terrorism.
As the Syrian death toll rose to several hundreds of thousands, Bashar al-Assad, who in 2011 claimed that Syrians would never rise against the regime, boasted against the backdrop of falling Aleppo: “The Syrian people have won.”
And just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, Donald Trump was elected US president. Those who were disappointed by Barrack Obama’s under-reach are infuriated by the president-elect’s overreach.
His incitement against Muslims is unprecedented, advocating a ban on Muslim travel to America and the creation of a registry for American Muslims by Homeland Security.
Trump has already made friends and allies from among some of the most notorious racists in the United States and beyond and has brought a number of Muslim and Arab haters to the White House as senior advisers.
2016 doesn't signal the end of times. There's still lots of time to do the right thing, to follow our moral compass, not our fears, celebrate hope and birth, and reverse this year's embrace and even reward for insolence, indecency, and incivility.
A bragger who “lies”, according to The Washington Post and New York Times, Trump boasted to know more about ISIL “than the US generals”, and that only he “can protect America”, but then he argued it’s best to leave it to the Russians and Syrian regime to finish the job. The job as described above.
Even before entering the White House, Trump has been making allies with the likes of Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as well as Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu. Even President Assad reckons they’ll be allies.
And to top it all, after claiming that he would be neutral on Israel and Palestine, Trump promised to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and assigned his campaign advisers, the ultra-Zionists David Friedman and Jason Greenblatt, as diplomatic envoys to Israel and to the “peace talks”. The latter once served as a guard at an Israeli settlement.
So now the commander-in-tweet, who boasted of being the only one capable of resolving the conflict, threatens to punish the United Nations for approving a resolution condemning the illegal Israeli settlements and vowing to stop US disdain of Israel.
OK, just to be clear, if anyone disdained anyone in this relationship, there is an overwhelming international consensus, except in Israel, that it is Netanyahu that has treated Obama with disdain, not the other way around.
Despite “unprecedented” US military and intelligence cooperation with Israel; despite granting it a record package of military aid of $38bn over the next 10 years; despite vetoing the UN Security Council resolution condemning the Israel illegal settlement in 2011 – the only veto the US used at the council on that year; and despite blocking all diplomatic pressures on Israel at various international forums, Netanyahu persisted in railing against and humiliating the Obama administration.
Otherwise, known as “biting the hand that feeds you”.
Nowhere was this clearer than when he colluded with Republican leaders of Congress to speak out against US diplomacy on the Iran nuclear deal. The president was informed only hours before Netanyahu’s speech.
Meanwhile, Israeli officials have chastised their US counterparts as if they were the representatives of a banana republic. One called Obama’s politics anti-Semitic, and John Kerry a man with the brain of a 12-year-old.
But the Secretary of State has been unrelenting. And this week he delivered a long speech defending US abstention during the Security Council vote on the resolution condemning the illegal Israeli settlement.
The 14 out of 15 majority in favour of the resolution was followed by an almost unprecedented cheer and applause. But the Obama administration has had to defend itself non-stop under a barrage of attacks and disinformation by Israel and its friends, including the most vocal, Donald Trump.
After all, in the words of one Israeli minister, supporting such a resolution is tantamount to supporting the 9/11 attacks, or, as Prime Minister Netanyahu menaced his New Zealand counterpart, it’s “declaration of war” on Israel. A declaration of war! Oh, what chutzpah!
Syrian, Iranians, Russians and others have little or no choice. Insisting on better leadership has proved deadly. But what about Americans and Israelis! What is their excuse?
Yes, there is a lot of insolence out there, but rest assured, 2016 doesn’t signal the end of times. There’s still lots of time to do the right thing, to follow our moral compass, not our fears, celebrate hope and birth, and reverse this year’s embrace and even reward for insolence, indecency, and incivility.
Say goodbye 2016, hello 2017. Wishing only that next year will be the year when ethics guide politics, not the other way around. Wishful thinking? Perhaps. But isn’t that what we do on New Year’s Eve?
Remember, as I always say: “In the end, everything will be OK. If it’s not OK, it’s not the end.”
The dogs bark, but the caravan must go on.
PS: Dear dog lovers, The New York Times columnist and author of The Year of Voting Dangerously, Maureen Dowd, commented in her October 8 piece, Donald Goes to the Dogs: “Given that Trump has dubbed so many women dogs, there’s poetic justice in comparing him to one … But it’s not fair to compare Trump to a dog. Dogs are awesome.” Her words, not mine.
Marwan Bishara is the senior political analyst at Al Jazeera. Follow him on Facebook.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.