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In what was perhaps the most consequential presentation of the forum, the director of PATRIR, Kai Brand-Jacobsen, focused on the deep, violent conflicts that have been plaguing countries in the Middle East, while challenging the audience’s perspectives and understandings of these issues. In an emotionally charged narrative, Kai recalled the memory of meeting with Syrian and Iraqi women who had lived through the local occupation of the terrorist group, ISIS. After recalling this narrative, Brand-Jacobsen declared that he too, under such circumstances, would have joined ISIS, as many of their husbands had. While ISIS is no doubt heinous organization responsible for horrific crimes, so many local citizens are left with effectively no other option as corrupt government forces offer them no support and ISIS is the only group that can offer safety and basic necessities to local families.

The presentation continued by depicting statistics from the Syrian war, recounting the countless innocent people who have died from conflicts, those who have been forced from their homes and become refugees, both internally and externally in neighboring countries as well as Europe. As the debate about refugee acceptance continues to heat up, Kai exposed much of the fake images and reports spread by nationalist European media and reiterated the urgency of the refugee crisis and our need, as Europeans, to be proactive in embracing these migrants into our communities as so many are giving up everything, even paying with their lives, in an effort to arrive in a safe harbor.

Perhaps most convincing part of the session was when Kai recounted the history of European and American influence in the MENA region dating back to the Cold War, when Western entities actively sold weapons to Iran and Iraq, fueling war between the nations, to the American and UK-led war in Iraq which undermined local authority and resulted in millions of dead Iraqis, to the current-day sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia where they are actively being used to bombard opposition groups in neighboring Yemen, a country so rife with conflict. Countries across Europe, including Romania, continue to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia for profit as they continue to make war in Yemen.

But what is not reported amidst all this conflict are the multitudes of people standing up and crying out for an end to the ongoing conflict. The previous war in Iraq, in large part, was settled because of leaders on both sides reaching across the divide and seeking peace. In the same way, the people of Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen are tired of conflict. As the cries for peace become louder, leaders are forced to listen and seek a better solution. We in Romania have a voice we can use to encourage our government to cease its sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia. We have a voice to push for the settlement of more refugees in our country. It is the people who cannot sleep at night, knowing the problems our world is facing, that come to make a difference for good in our world.

Stephen Ianno