“There are few things more difficult to see than when politicians use the divisions within a society to further divide people to pursue political ends,” said USAID’s Assistant Administrator for the Middle East Michael Harvey.
“It’s terrible to watch politicians abuse people’s faith as a way of stimulating conflict and mobilizing people toward conflict, whether it’s ISIS or it’s the regime in Tehran.”
One such conflict causing violence and upheaval in the region is the strife between the Sunni and the Shia world, said Assistant Administrator Harvey in a recent interview.
Another is the terrible persecution of religious minorities:
“To watch what was done by ISIS to the Christian and Yazidi minority communities in Syria and northern Iraq was one of the great tragedies of this century.”
But “it is not something we have to stand back and passively watch when there are people in this region that do not want to see this happen,” Assistant Administrator Harvey said. USAID is there to give assistance:
“A lot of what we are doing,” he said, “is helping come up alongside these communities to reknit those bonds,” whether it’s between Yazidis and their Sunni neighbors on the Syrian border or Christians and their neighbors in Iraq.
USAID’s help, Assistant Administrator Harvey noted, is often practical:
“We’ve been very actively involved in rebuilding schools, rebuilding towns, cleaning up rubble, helping to get water systems and electricity back, so these Christian and Yazidi communities can go back home. But a lot of it is not a physical problem. It’s getting the trust rebuilt between the Christian and Yazidi communities and their Muslim neighbors around them.”
“So we’re spending a lot of time trying to help these communities work through this tragic history and try to reach a shared vision of how they’re going to go forward.”
“What I have found,” he noted, “is that the people who want to stoke division are a minority, and the people who want to build on what they share are in the majority. And giving a voice to those people is what we will spend our time and energies doing as we go forward.”