TWO seemingly unconnected events happened this week.
One concerned textbooks for the children of refugees. The other,
which got much more media attention, was the United States'
extension into Syria of air strikes against the zealots of the
self-styled Islamic State.
The connection is this: Islamist zealots have begun
recruiting in Lebanon among the young impressionable refugees who
have fled there over the past three years, since the civil war
began in Syria. A mind-boggling three million people- a million of
them school-age children - have fled their homes in fear, and are
now camped in neighbouring countries.
The biggest group is in Lebanon, where facilities
are so limited that, even with a double shift of morning and
afternoon lessons, four out of five boys cannot get an education.
Previously, almost all Syrian children were in school; so this
constitutes a reversal in educational opportunity without
parallel in recent history, according to a report by the think tank
the Overseas Development Institute.
The result is not just a lack of education, but a
rise in child labour and forced marriage: offices are being opened
in which men can choose a child bride, often 15 years younger than
themselves. And boys are falling prey to the blandishments of
recruiters from IS and other terrorist extremists.
Education would provide some kind of defence against
the radicalising talk of the IS recruiting sergeants. And yet a
conference in New York on Wednesday was told of a massive failure
by the international community to deliver on pledges that were made
in 2013 to provide education for these children. The EU and Germany
have contributed significant amounts, but the United States and
the UK have not. Of the $200 million needed, Britain has given just
£3 million - to buy textbooks for Lebanese schools.
The Tomahawk missiles fired against IS in Syria the
day before the conference cost $1.2 million each. To date, the US
has launched 140 airstrikes against the Islamist fanatics. That
would suggest that the cost of war will soon outstrip the provision
for education for the boys who could be the next generation of
suicide-bombers. This is false economy in the extreme.
This week, David Cameron announced that Britain
backed the strikes inside Syria. Some analysts suggest that UK
forces will eventually join the action, although the House of
Commons may have something to say about that.
This is not to adopt a pacifist position. Some kind
of action is clearly necessary to halt the tide of fanaticism which
is raping, pillaging, beheading, and crucifying its way across
what was once the cradle of world civilisation. But exactly what
kind of action is required is open for debate, when the 140
airstrikes appear to have done little to shift the existing battle
What is clear is that neglecting a future seedbed of
terrorism in the region is culpably myopic. Schools for refugees
may not provide media images as compelling as airborne explosions
and burned-out buildings; but they are a sensible and far-sighted
part of any fight against international terror.
Paul Vallely is a Senior Fellow at the Brooks
World Poverty Institute at the University of Manchester.