What will 2016 be remembered for… Brexit; Syria; Iraq; Yemen; Trump; ISIS; Refugees; Leicester City winning the Premier league? Whilst Leicester City winning the Premier League in May was indeed in football terms a momentous feat, what was to follow with Brexit and the election of Donald Trump were events which would have implications far beyond the shores of the UK and USA.
The tone for the year was set early: On 20th January ISIS destroyed the oldest Christian Monastery in Iraq.
March saw 34 people murdered and 151 wounded in the Brussels terror attacks at the airport and underground network.
On Friday 14th July, a truck ploughed into people celebrating Bastille Day in France resulting in 85 deaths. Less than 2 weeks later two terrorists entered a church in Normandy and murdered 85-year-old priest Jacques Hamel.
Germany suffered 5 terrorist attacks within one week in July, one of them was a doctor shot dead in a Berlin hospital.
In August a Machete-wielding man attacked two female police officers in Charleroi, Belgium. Acts of terror were no longer confined to the Middle East or far off countries but increasingly Western Europe was becoming a battle ground.
Looking back there are key events which sum up 2016 as a year of division and increased polarization of people and society. Brexit, and its aftermath, created an atmosphere that saw families and communities divided. Its repercussions will still be resonating in 2017 and beyond. Politics somehow seemed more angry and personal during 2016.
The tragic murder of British MP Jo Cox seemed so unreal and senseless. A week before the EU vote, on the 16th June, she was shot and stabbed multiple times outside her constituency office. A Nazi obsessed loner was charged with her murder and Britain almost fell silent. For a few days EU campaigning was stopped and people began to ask how could this happen in the UK. This attack on democracy sent shockwaves across the country and left a family in grief having lost a wife, mother and daughter.
Acts of terrorism and ongoing wars have continued to dominate our news. In Turkey, there were multiple deadly bombings and a failed coup in July. The most recent were on 10th December with two deadly explosions in Istanbul which resulted in 38 deaths.
For Syria 2016 ends with the country in ever greater turmoil. It has been gripped by war since 2011. Recently the battle of Aleppo has again brought into sharp focus the desperate plight of the Syrian people and shown the impotence of the West.
Israel too has suffered repeated acts of terror on her civilians with the murder in June of a 13-year-old girl in her bed being one of the more heinous. Hallel Yaffa Ariel was stabbed to death by a 17-year-old Palestinian terrorist. Most recently Jordan saw the murder of 10 people in Karak one of whom was a Canadian tourist.
On one day alone,19th December, three terrorist attacks played out across Europe. In Zurich 3 people were shot and injured near a Muslim Prayer centre; The Russian Ambassador to Turkey in Ankara was murdered by a Turkish policeman, which on any other day would have been the main news, but all this was over shadowed when in Berlin a terrorist murdered 12 people and injured scores of others at a Christmas Market. Six months on from Nice the same tactics of using a vehicle was again used. The fact the Berlin terrorist was able to move so freely across Europe will only heighten concerns about Europe’s open borders in 2017. Throughout all this the security services made it known that other attacks planned around Christmas had been foiled.
As we head towards 2017 many of these issues are unresolved and yet to be played out. Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th President of the USA on 20th January. Theresa May has promised to invoke Article 50 by the end of March 2017 and start the formal Brexit process. The turmoil in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and much of the Middle East will rumble on and Europe will continue to be a focus for those who see it as a legitimate target.
So, what can we learn from 2016? That hate, incitement, and extremes lead to the murder of innocent people and can never solve our problems and differences. Most of us know this but it seems almost inevitable that the cycle will not be broken in 2017. But you never know it could be yet another year of shocks and surprises.