Edmund Burke, the Irish political philosopher, wrote: "When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle." Or if one prefers the popular version: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." Either way the sentiment is clear.
Looking at today's Iraq, I could think of no better advice than that uttered by Edmund Burke in 1770. The chaos, the sectarianism, and the terrorism engulfing the country is causing good men and women to leave if they have the resources to do so, or to keep their heads down and hope that somehow things will change.
I was talking to an Iraqi friend the other day who is living in Iraq, and has experienced the full horror of wars, sanctions, and more wars that have blighted the country of my birth for decades. He told me the situation is hopeless; the corruption, the violence, the criminality is overwhelming. Add to that the lack of basic services, and you begin to imagine the depths of despair to which ordinary people have descended.
When you are confronted with such a catastrophe, one reaction is to feel hopelessness and paralysis; simply existing from one day to the next and thanking God that you and your family have survived another day is just about all you can manage. Understandable, but is there a better way?
I can imagine the response of Iraqis who have been living in the hellhole that is today's Iraq saying - what does he know? He left Iraq 50 years ago. Valid point, but the wars and sanctions have caused enormous suffering to my close family and friends, and their ripples have impacted on me here in the UK, so I do have some idea of the suffering of its people.
I am aware that if one is to get involved in politics in Iraq and put his/her head above the parapet one could well be endangering not only his/her life, but also the lives of close family and friends. However, there is an enormous humanitarian need in Iraq for which good people could get together to do good, hopefully without putting themselves in danger. There are millions of orphaned and traumatized children, widows, and those disabled by war and terrorism, who need help and support.
Good people getting together to work for the common good would provide society with role models of people volunteering to alleviate hardship and suffering regardless of sect, ethnicity or religion.
Iraqi society needs to be built from the bottom up and will need a long time to recover. Ordinary citizens taking responsibility to work for the common good is a good place to start the long process of healing the wounds of a traumatized society. It is also a positive action that is far better for the mental health of the individual than the hopelessness and powerlessness that many Iraqis feel. Who knows, it may even shame the politicians into modifying and changing their attitude and actions.