Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)
Selecting a birthday present for someone very close to you sometimes appears to be an uphill task. Everybody wants to select the best possible birthday present for his or her near and dear ones. Those near ones may also include one’s next-door neighbors. In most cases, a watch seems to be the most befitting gift and one has a wide variety of brands to choose from. But what is the birthday gift is a mountain? Yes, I mean it. This is exactly what Finland might get from its neighbor, Norway, on its 100th independence day. Now, here is my side of the story. A few moons ago, I wrote a short piece in Arabic about Norway’s Halti mountain peak. In my article, I tried to highlight the importance of maintaining peace and harmony by resolving border conflicts in Norwegian style. I received an overwhelming response from my Arabic-speaking readers, most of them in their youth. The total area of Finland in 338,424 square kilometer with a population of around 6 million and is located way to the north. It is true that Finland is home to tens of thousands of lakes but it doesn’t have a real mountain unless a peak of around 1,000 meters high is considered a mountain. Finland may not have high mountain peaks but this country has been blessed with a neighboring country, which is very high in spirit and generous. This neighboring country, which is Norway, doesn’t only have high spirit but it also have a great sense of humor and an iron will that even can move mountains. Yes, dear readers, the Norwegians are going to move a mountain. It all started when Norway’s Bjorn Geirr Harsson of the Norwegian Mapping Authority led a campaign to convince the Norwegian government to give Finland the peak of the Halti Mountain, which is 20 meters within Norwegian borders as an anniversary gift. This small move will make Halditcohkka peak of the 1,365 meter-Halti Mountain part of Finland. This is genuine love, friendship, peace and harmony between two neighboring countries and their people. So, moving mountain is not such a daunting task. The funny part is, Finland didn’t ask for the mountain. It was the Norwegians who wanted to give it away. If Finland gets the mountain, then it will be the first incident of its kind in human history. In the past, we have seen long wars between many nations because of a wasteland that has no economic and strategic importance. And even if the disputed areas between neighboring countries have economic and strategic importance, they are not worth the human sacrifices or the destruction of assets. In other words, people of both countries can enjoy the Norwegian or Finnish mountain peak. Unfortunately, the world has not learned from its past mistakes. World wars were fueled by territorial disputes. And just as reports about this Norwegian mountain came to the fore, the world witnessed dangerous encounters between the United States and China. US Air Force planes and ships were challenged by Chinese warplanes when their manmade islands were approached. An encounter between such superpowers is not in the interest of our planet. Another example of disputes in the area regarding resolving border issues between countries is what the area have seen when a bloody 8-year war broke out between Iraq and Iran because of Shatt Al-Arab waterway. Hundreds of lives were lost, many more were injured, infrastructure got damaged and hundreds of billions of dollars were lost that could have been allocated to build schools, hospitals, roads and other services. What is more, the Shatt Al-Arab ecosystem and environment was destroyed at a time when it could have been utilized as one of the most important scientific labs to study the impact of decreased levels of freshwater flowing into Shatt Al-Arab and scientists would have been able to protect the area’s marine ecosystems from pollution. At the end, maybe the Norwegian mountain peak is not a significant birthday gift but it is a nice way to explain to the world the true meanings of the word neighbor. Written by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim. Norway’s Unusual Gesture reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al-Mulhim.