By Owei Lakemfa
AMERICAN, Richard Russell, 29, was what you could call a normal guy. Married with a son, he was a Horizon Air ground control staff, directing aircraft and handling baggage.
He might have watched the pilots with their pips and swag, and concluded there was no big deal in flying an aircraft. To make his dream come true, last Friday, August 10, he entered an empty Q400, a Bombardier turboprop 76-seat passenger plane at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. He tried the controls; they yielded, taxied on the runway and took off! Once in the air, he carried out some acrobatic displays which indicated that although he was not a pilot, he had some flight skills.
It seemed his act was instinctive; he apologised to air traffic controllers and suggested he might have a few screws loose. He said he admired the sunset but was also apprehensive of going to jail. He might also have calculated the cost of the two fighter jets scrambled into the air to shadow him. Then after one hour of his fancy flight, he crashed the aircraft. I am not sure it was a straight forward case of theft because he knew an aircraft is not a car he could hide or park in his garage or sell off. For his motive; he said he was just a broken man.
Yet, there are millions of people who would stake their lives just to live on American soil like him, even if it means being cut off from their families and friends. For instance, that Friday Russel was piloting himself to a crash, the Aquarius rescue ship jointly run by Doctors Without Borders, MSF, and SOS Mediterranee, plucked 141 migrants from the grasp of the furious Mediterranean Sea. Twenty five of them were rescued from a wooden boat, and the rest 116 who were mainly children, were rescued from another migrant vessel which had run out of water and food.
The Aquarius was stranded in the sea as no country was willing to take in its human cargo. This included Italy, Spain and Malta and the African country of Tunisia. For the Europeans, the Aquarius which in June plucked 630 migrants from the hungry sea, has become notorious. On that occasion, it was stranded before Spain allowed it in.
This time, Italy said the United Kingdom should take in the vessel because it is sailing under the Gibraltar flag; this the British rejected. Two days ago, Spain brokered a deal with some European countries under which it agreed to take in sixty of the migrants, Portugal agreed to receive thirty while the rest will be shared amongst Germany, France and Luxemburg.
There seems to be no end to this desperate journey in which migrants are ready to commit suicide and sacrifice their underage children just to reach Europe. The rescued migrants are the lucky ones, as annually, thousands perish at sea. Between January and May, 2017, Nigerian authorities said over 10, 000 Nigerians died in the desert and the Mediterranean Sea in an effort to reach Europe.
While we can argue that Russel’s flight to death and death of migrants are not unexpected outcomes, not so for a group of Yemeni school children age between 6 and 11 who packed themselves into a bus on a field study during their holidays. It was on Thursday, August 9. Schoolboy Osama Zeid Al Homran videoed his mates playing, and reciting verses from the Quran.
As the children were returning home, a Saudi Arabian jet fighter targeted the bus and bombed it tearing many of the children, limb by limb. Hussein Hussein Tayeb, was one of the first medics that arrived at the scene: “As soon as I arrived with others wanting to help out, we figured we had to quickly nurse the wounded because there was chaos… people were running over bodies and shouting. As I was nursing people, I lifted a body and found that it was Ahmed’s face. I carried him and hugged him — he was my son.”
Out of the 51 lives snuffed out by the deadly neigbour’s strike, 40 were children, and of the 79 injured, 56 were children. The children had no hand in politics or the Gulf conflict in which Saudi Arabia assumes it has the right to bomb any site including markets, funerals, schools, hospitals and marriages. The Yemeni children lived in a world they did not understand, and if the dead can look back and reflect, the children would wonder what their crime or sin was that warranted their little limbs being blown to shreds by their powerful Saudi neigbour. Except, of course, that they were Yemenis.
As their small caskets were being conveyed for burial, there were banners like: “America killed the children of Yemen.” Of course, the Yemenis knew it was not America that bombed the children. Rather, the reference is to the fact that the Saudis are flying jets supplied by the Americans. On its part, America made the usual noise. Its Defense Secretary James Mattis asked Saudi Arabia and their coalition partners to ”investigate” the attack.
But as in the past, Saudi Arabia has immunity because no country, especially the United States and Europe, is willing to risk the displeasure of the Saudis by calling them to order and asking that they put a stop to the genocide they are perpetrating in Yemen. Saudi airstrikes has since 2015, claimed over 10,000 Yemeni civilian lives and injured over 40,000.
This month, Canada picked up courage to criticise Saudi Arabia, not for its atrocities in Yemen, but for the detention of human rights activist, Ms. Samar Badawi. The Saudis were furious. They expelled the Canadian ambassador, suspended a S12 Billion arms deal, stopped flights to Toronto and ordered the relocation of 7,000 Saudi students on scholarship to other countries. Ironically, in the face of the Saudi diplomatic and economic onslaught, Canada was like an orphan. Other countries refused to raise their voice; not their American neigbour, foster parent, Britain or allies in Europe. They all seem to be telling Canada to mind its business when it affects the free-spending Saudi Arabians.
But while Russel was blasting into the sky with an empty plane, migrants were stranded in the seas, Yemeni children were being massacred and Canada and Saudi Arabia were engaged in a spat on human rights, America began humanity’s first attempt to reach the sun. Its Parker Solar Probe whose take off was delayed Saturday, blasted off this Sunday from Florida. It is expected that within six weeks, the probe will encounter the Venus orbit which will assist it to orbit around the sun. So, beyond the confusion and darkness enveloping our world, the sun is shining.