Yemen is a country suffering from a brutal, 7-year, ongoing military conflict. The violence escalated after 2010, when Shia minorities staged a series of rebellions. These occurred within an already unstable environment due to corruption, bitter religious and partisan animosity, and political upheaval.
After a few years of fighting, the Shia-backed forces gained control of the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, in 2015. Saudi Arabia—which embraces Sunnism as its state religion—viewed this growing Shia-backed movement as a threat to their self-interests, and also saw the growing Shia power in Yemen as a proxy move by Iran against Saudi interests.
Thus, Saudi Arabia joined the Sunnis and joined their efforts in attacking the Shia and their allies, waging what is now a one-sided war against the Shia still holding out in Yemen.
According to both UNICEF and the United Nations, Yemen is the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world. UNICEF notes that “At least 10,000 children have been killed or maimed since the beginning of the conflict, and thousands more have been recruited into the fighting. An estimated 2 million children are internally displaced” with “nearly 2.3 million children under the age of 5 suffering from acute malnutrition.”
Throughout this conflict, oil-rich Saudi Arabia has consistently received backing from the U.S. in the form of arms deals and the sale of billions’ worth of weapons. The longstanding alliance between the United States and Saudi Arabia has come under some public scrutiny, and instances of civilian deaths, reports of war crimes, and the occasional descriptions of the abysmal conditions within Yemen inspire some attention, yet the war rages on and is largely ignored by most American Christian communities.
Like all international conflicts, the Saudi/Yemen situation provides much partisan fodder. And while liberals criticized former President Trump’s foreign policy, and Biden campaigned against the Yemen war, not much has changed since Biden has been in office.
Biden’s administration has made a commitment to end “offensive” weapon sales to Saudi Arabia but has also reiterated U.S. support for the Saudi offensive by using rhetoric that reaffirms its right to defend itself and has continued arms sales. Despite Biden’s words, his administration pushed through a $650-million-dollar sale of missiles and missile launchers to Saudi Arabia.
There appears to be no end in sight for Yemen, described by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as a situation where “it is impossible to overstate the severity of the suffering.”
What does this suffering look like? It’s difficult to fully grasp the death toll of hundreds of thousands of Yemeni. It’s easy to see these horrific numbers about Yemen and think of them in terms of data points and statistics, but it’s quite another task to zoom in and view these atrocities at a micro level, to understand this war on an individual and human level.
Women, children, elderly people, and countless individuals live day-to-day on the cusp of starvation, sheltering in the rubble of bombed-out homes, their faces reflecting the trauma they’ve endured. These people, each of whom is individually made in God’s divine image and passionately loved by God, have seen first-hand both the violent deaths of their loved ones through bullets and explosives, and the slow and agonizing deaths caused by famine and disease.
The Yemen “conflict” hardly receives the notoriety or coverage of other worldwide current events. This is due to various factors, ranging from the United States’ close allyship with Saudi Arabia, to the societal and cultural factors that make Yemen an “unappealing” news story to many Westerners.
For example, as news coverage continues almost non-stop about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it may be understandable that this recent invasion has garnered so much international and domestic attention. But various people have alleged that the public reactions to Ukraine are hypocritical, and that the widespread apathy towards Yemen and other non-Western victims are because they aren’t as “relatable” as Ukrainians, who are often thought of as being white, Christian, and “Western.”
Critics have remarked that the reactions towards refugees and asylum seekers have differed between Ukranians fleeing the war and other refugees who happen to be Muslim or people of color, or who are from “underdeveloped” countries.
Bestselling author Dr. Ibram X. Kendi pointed out a recent article in the Telegraph that contained this controversial quote about Russia’s attack on Ukraine: “They seem so like us. That is what makes it so shocking. War is no longer something visited upon impoverished and remote populations. It can happen to anyone.”
Dr. Kendi responded with the poignant observation that “If only human beings recognized all human beings as ‘like us.’ If only racist ideas did not transform peoples of color into ‘remote’ populations. If only ‘anyone’ included everyone.”
“If only human beings recognized all human beings as ‘like us.’ If only racist ideas did not transform peoples of color into ‘remote’ populations. If only ‘anyone’ included everyone.”
Depending on the country and people involved in global current events, U.S. foreign policies and public interest have been inconsistent and contradictory. For various reasons, our national attention, energy, and resources are wildly different depending on a diverse set of reasons, factors, and motivations, but there can be no denying that right now Ukraine is in the central spotlight.
Yet as Christians, as followers of a God who passionately loves each person, it is our responsibility to “do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:17). Whether the oppressed are Ukrainian, Yemeni, Christian, or Muslim, we must love humanity and do our best to protect all people from the violence, hunger, homelessness, and other injustices that threaten them.
For many—but not all—Christians, the people of Yemen have largely remained invisible, and they continue to die while our homeland helps supply the firepower and military weapons that expedite their demise.
So let us heed the words of the Psalmist who cries, “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 82:3-4), and may we embrace the wisdom of Proverbs 31:8-9, which states, “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
Will we love our neighbors as ourselves? Or will our love be selective, withholding our love according to our own partisan, nationalistic, and even xenophobic tendencies? Pray for Yemen. Work for peace. Put political pressure on our government to no longer fund and fuel war. Love the Yemeni people in whatever ways you can.
May God love and protect the people of Yemen.
Stephen Mattson is the author of The Great Reckoning: Surviving a Christianity That Looks Nothing Like Christ and the social justice devotional On Love and Mercy.