By Rinaldo Brutoco, Founding President of the World Business Academy
Youth have a unique ability to serve as peacekeepers between Muslim and Western communities, but the missing link among youth has been their recognition of the possibility of creating an improved human condition for both Muslim and Western nations through increased commerce. Young people have the energy and the drive for entrepreneurial engagement, so it is likely they will be the most effective peacekeepers through commerce.
Young people also have far more to gain from peace than their elders do, and far more to lose from war. Totally apart from the fact that youth constitute a disproportionate number of the casualties of war, war is not good for any youth, ever.
The youth caught up in the Israeli-Palestine conflict can see that if the conflict continues on its present course, they will be caught in a grim lifetime of grinding poverty stretching decades into the future. Young people can see that their lives will be better in peace than war. Peace provides the opportunity for commerce. Without peace, a community cannot create meaningful jobs; young people cannot easily nurture their new families; and the grinding cycle of poverty rolls on infinitely into the future.
Violence has taken a toll on both the Palestinian and Israeli economies, but the contrast between the economies of the West Bank and Gaza highlights the opportunities for economic development that come with an improved security situation.
The West Bank’s economy is improving, thanks to Prime Minister Sala Fayyad, an American-educated reformer; a clamp-down by Palestinian security forces that prompted Israel to remove many of the checkpoints that had cut off movement and trade; and the Obama Administration’s more effective, highly targeted, quiet diplomacy. Life in Hamas-ruled Gaza remains grim, the Israeli blockade remains in place, and the economy has ground to a halt.
As young people realize that with peace come economic opportunities, they will slowly recognize that there is no need to endure decades devoid of a secure livelihood and stable family life. At that point, they will be better able to move beyond the old fears and hatreds that have circumscribed the lives and narrowed the visions of their elders.
The challenge for the rest of the world will be to help create economic opportunities in conflict areas—to create hope. Jordan’s Queen Rania has called rising unemployment among Arab youth a “ticking time bomb” that must be defused. Last year, she predicted that the number of unemployed people under 30 in the Middle East could increase from 15 million in 2008 to 100 million by 2020. The Middle East has the highest rate of youth unemployment in the world.
Can anyone doubt that such an enormous number of unemployed youth, and even greater number of underemployed youth, will ignite into a firestorm of hatred with each passing stressful incident in the Middle East? Is this level of youthful idleness not the very breeding ground for the next wave of terrorism, and the next, and the next?
Business leaders, especially young business leaders who can see the necessity of breaking the cycle of violence by employing their fellow youth, can best foster the network of commercial and business ties that can bring hope to the Mideast and other conflict areas. In the process of creating new commercial relationships, they will create a new platform for peace.
Tragically, the adults of the Middle East have been only too willing to stay intertwined in a culture of reciprocal violence under the mistaken belief that an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” will somehow result in a solution. As Gandhi so correctly observed, such a mindset will leave everyone blind and toothless. It is time for the youth, who have their entire lives in front of them, to let the scales of this false reality fall from their eyes so that they can begin to co-create together, Muslim and Westerner, the grand enterprise which will be the new Middle East.