Inter Press Service » Peace Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 30 Jan 2015 22:24:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Kurdish Civil Society Against Use of Arms to Gain Autonomy Thu, 29 Jan 2015 17:21:29 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz Open market in the southeastern Turkish city of Dyarbakir, capital of the Kurds in Turkey. The city has been a focal point for conflicts between the government and Kurdish movements. December 2014. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz /IPS

Open market in the southeastern Turkish city of Dyarbakir, capital of the Kurds in Turkey. The city has been a focal point for conflicts between the government and Kurdish movements. December 2014. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz /IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
DIYARBAKIR, Turkey, Jan 29 2015 (IPS)

A rupture inside the movement for the creation of an independent state of Kurdistan has given new impetus to the voices of those condemning the use of weapons as the way to autonomy.

The 40 million Kurds represent the world’s largest ethnic group without a permanent nation state or rights guaranteed under a constitution.

“We are the only nationality with a great population without land,” Murat Aba, a member and one of the founders of the Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK), told IPS. “We’ve been split since after the First World War and we’ve never been allowed to rule ourselves. We are not a minority, we’re a huge number of people and we defend the independence of the four Kurdish groups living in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey.”“The peace talks between the PKK and the [Turkish] government should take a different direction. They are being done in secrecy without any transparency at all. We are against the use of firearms in our struggle for independence” - Sabehattin Korkmaz Avukat, lawyer for human right causes involving Kurds.

PAK, which was formally launched towards the end of 2014, is the first legally recognised party in Turkey to include the word ‘Kurdistan’ in its name which, until recently, was forbidden for political parties in the country. According to its leader Mustafa Ozcelik, PAK will pursue independence for Kurds ”through political and legal means”.

This distinction is intended to differentiate it clearly from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) – the armed group created in the 1970s to fight for self-determination for the Kurds in Turkey and considered illegal by the Turkish government. So far, the armed struggle for independence has killed over 40,000 people.

Today, around 20,000 PKK soldiers are being trained In the Qandil Mountains of northern Iraq, 1,000 kilometres from Diyarbakir, the capital of the Kurds in Turkey. Many of them are now fighting against the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq.

The financial resources to maintain PKK operations come illegally from Kurds living in Europe, Hatip Dicle of the Democratic Society Congress (DTK) admitted to IPS. The DTK is a political party which also includes members who are sympathetic to PKK ideology.

The Turkish government “does not allow us to collect donations by legal means,” Dicle continued. “There are over two million Kurds in Europe and all donations are sent secretly.” Dicle said that even it is a pro-democracy movement PKK does not give up the armed solution.

However, in recent years, the PKK has been involved in secret “peace talks” with the Turkish government. Through senior members of his cabinet, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been negotiating with Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK leader in jail since 1999 on Imrali island in the Sea of Marmara.

The DTK gained strength when the peace process between Turkish authorities and  Öcalan began and, now, “we want this conflict to be over and we wish to achieve a common solution,” Dicle told IPS.

Nevertheless, the secrecy surrounding the peace talks with Öcalan and the PKK is being strongly criticised by those who call for an open process.

“The peace talks between PKK and government should take a different direction. They are being done in secrecy without any transparency at all. We are against the use of firearms in our struggle for independence”, said Sabehattin Korkmaz Avukat, a lawyer advocating for human right causes involving Kurds.

According to Avukat, deep-rooted reform of the Civil Constitution in Turkey is needed. “We want to follow the path of democracy and not violence. Our fight is totally addressed to achieving our own autonomy in a peaceful way. We wish to have our rights included in the Civil Constitution”, he argued.

For Mohammed Akar, the general secretary and founder of a new Kurd cultural entity called Komeleya Şêx Seîd, an organisation dedicated to cultural and educational activities for the Kurdish community and based in Diyarbakir, the road to autonomy in Turkey should not include armed violence.

“We don’t want to use violence to achieve our independence. It may even spoil our claim for democracy”, said Akar, the grandson of Şêx Seîd.  Also known as Sheikh Said,  Şêx Seîd was a former Kurdish sheikh of the Sunni order and leader of the Kurdish rebellion in 1925 during Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s nationalist regime (1923-38).

Şêx Seîd’s name and image had been banned since then until recently, and this is the first time that a civil society entity has been authorised to use his name.

Famous Kurdish writer and political scientist Îbrahîm Guçlu also criticises the way in which the PKK is promoting its political view. He denounces drug trafficking, forced recruitment and coercion of young Kurds by the outlawed group.

“The PKK is an illegal formation whose leader is in jail and tries to manage his entire community from inside prison. We are different and we promote open discussion within society”, says Guçlu.

Edited by Phil Harris

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U.S. Ally Yemen in Danger of Splitting into Two – Again Wed, 28 Jan 2015 00:23:18 +0000 Thalif Deen Yemeni protesters in Sanaa carrying pictures of arrested men. Credit: Yazeed Kamaldien/IPS

Yemeni protesters in Sanaa carrying pictures of arrested men. Credit: Yazeed Kamaldien/IPS

By Thalif Deen

When North and South Yemen merged into a single country under the banner Yemen Arab Republic back in May 1990, a British newspaper remarked with a tinge of sarcasm: “Two poor countries have now become one poor country.”

Since its birth, Yemen has continued to be categorised by the United Nations as one of the world’s 48 least developed countries (LDCs), the poorest of the poor, depending heavily on foreign aid and battling for economic survival."This double game was well known to the Americans. They went along with it. It is what allowed AQAP to take Jar and other regions of Yemen and hold them with some ease." -- Vijay Prashad

But the current political chaos – with the president, prime minister and the cabinet forced to resign en masse last week – has threatened to turn the country into a failed state.

And, more significantly, Yemen is also in danger of being split into two once again – and possibly heading towards another civil war.

Charles Schmitz, an analyst with the Middle East Institute, was quoted last week as saying: “We’re looking at the de facto partitioning of the country, and we’re heading into a long negotiating process, but we could also be heading toward war.”

In a report released Tuesday, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group said the fall of the government has upended the troubled transition and “raises the very real prospect of territorial fragmentation, economic meltdown and widespread violence if a compromise is not reached soon.”

The ousted government of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi was a close U.S. ally, who cooperated with the United States in drone strikes against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) holed up in the remote regions of Yemen.

The United States was so confident of its ally that the resignation of the government “took American officials by surprise,” according to the New York Times.

Matthew Hoh, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy (CIP), told IPS, “I don’t know if Yemen will split in two or not. [But] I believe the greater fear is that Yemen descends into mass chaos with violence among many factions as we are seeing in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, all nations that have been the recipient of interventionist U.S. foreign policy.”

According to an Arab diplomat, the Houthis who have taken power are an integral part of the Shiite Muslim sect, the Zaydis, and are apparently financed by Iran.

But the country is dominated by a Sunni majority which is supported by neighbouring Saudi Arabia, he said, which could trigger a sectarian conflict – as in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.

Ironically, all of them, including the United States, have a common enemy in AQAP, which claimed responsibility for the recent massacre in the offices of a satirical news magazine in Paris.

“In short, it’s a monumental political mess,” said the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Vijay Prashad, George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History and Professor of International Studies at Trinity College, told IPS it is very hard to gauge what will happen in Yemen at this time.

“The battle lines are far from clear,” he said.

The so-called pro-U.S, government has, since 2004, played a very dainty game with the United States in terms of counter-terrorism.

On the one side, he said, the government of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and then Hadi, suggested to the U.S. they were anti al-Qaeda.

But, on the other hand, they used the fact of al-Qaeda to go after their adversaries, including the Zaydis (Houthis).

“This double game was well known to the Americans. They went along with it. It is what allowed AQAP to take Jar and other regions of Yemen and hold them with some ease,” Prashad said.

He dismissed as “ridiculous” the allegation the Zaydis are “proxies of Iran”. He said they are a tribal confederacy that has faced the edge of the Saleh-Hadi sword.

“They are decidedly against al-Qaeda, and would not necessarily make it easier for AQAP to exist,” said Prashad, a former Edward Said Chair at the American University of Beirut and author of ‘Arab Spring, Libyan Winter.’

Hoh told IPS: “Based upon the results from decades of U.S. influence in trying to pick winners and losers in these countries or continuing to play the absurd geopolitical game of backing one repressive theocracy, Saudi Arabia, against another, Iran, in proxy wars, the best thing for the Yemenis is for the Americans not to meddle or to try and pick one side against the other.”

American foreign policy in the Middle East, he said, can already be labeled a disaster, most especially for the people of the Middle East.

“The only beneficiaries of American policy in the Middle East have been extremist groups, which take advantage of the war, the cycles of violence and hate, to recruit and fulfill their message and propaganda, and American and Western arms companies that are seeing increased profits each year,” said Hoh, who has served with the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq and on U.S. embassy teams in Afghanistan and Iraq.

When the two Yemens merged, most of the arms the unified country inherited came from Russia, which was a close military ally of South Yemen.

Yemen’s fighter planes and helicopters from the former Soviet Union – including MiG-29 jet fighters and Mi-24 attack helicopters – were later reinforced with U.S. and Western weapons systems, including Lockheed transport aircraft (transferred from Saudi Arabia), Bell helicopters, TOW anti-tank missiles and M-60 battle tanks.

Nicole Auger, a military analyst monitoring Middle East/Africa at Forecast International, a leader in defence market intelligence and industry forecasting, told IPS U.S. arms and military aid have been crucial to Yemen over the years, especially through the Defense Department’s 1206 “train and equip” fund.

Since 2006, she pointed out, Yemen has received a little over 400 million dollars in Section 1206 aid which has significantly supported the Yemeni Air Force (with acquisitions of transport and surveillance aircraft), its special operations units, its border control monitoring, and coast guard forces.

Meanwhile, U.S. military aid under both Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and the International Military Education and Training (IMET) programme has risen substantially, she added.

Also, Yemen is now being provided assistance under Non-Proliferation, Anti-Terrorism, De-mining, and Related programmes (NADR) and International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) programmes.

According to the U.S. Congressional Budget Justification – U.S. support for the military and security sector “will remain a priority in 2015 in order to advance peace and security in Yemen.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Three Minutes Away from Doomsday Fri, 23 Jan 2015 00:29:53 +0000 Leila Lemghalef Images from the atomic bombing of Japan in 1945. Credit: public domain

Images from the atomic bombing of Japan in 1945. Credit: public domain

By Leila Lemghalef

Unchecked climate change and the nuclear arms race have propelled the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock forward two minutes closer to midnight, from its 2012 placement of five minutes to midnight.

The decision was announced in Washington DC by members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS), the body behind the calculations and creation of the 1947 Clock of Doom.“The simple truth on nuclear weapons is that they are inconsistent with civilisation." -- Alyn Ware

The last time the clock was at three minutes to midnight was in 1984, when U.S.-Soviet relations were described by BAS as having “reached their iciest point in decades”.

Today’s polemic takes into account the immutable laws of science in relation to the “climate catastrophe” as well as the activities of modernisation of massive nuclear arsenals, which come with inadvertent risks.

“The question gets much more complicated than someone with their finger on the button,” said Kennette Benedict, executive director of BAS.

Another major problem is the world’s addiction to fossil fuels, said BAS.

Climate change and nuclear tensions were placed on equal footing in this year’s warning.

“And while fossil-fuel burning technologies may seem like a less kind of abrupt way to ruin the world, they’re doing it in slow motion,” said Benedict.

Citizen’s potential

“Negotiators on the international treaty of climate change or any international treaty are working within the fairly narrow latitude afforded them by their governments. And the governments themselves are working within the latitudes afforded them by their constituencies,” said BAS member of the Science and Security Board Sivan Kartha, senior scientist with the Stockholm Environment Institute.

Real cooperation on the international front, he said, “will rely on there being a demand for that, a mandate for that, from constituencies within countries,” also noting “today’s extremely daunting political opposition to climate action”.

President of the Global Security Institute Jonathan Granoff described a series of global existential challenges that could accelerate the arrival of doomsday, including the stability of the climate, the acidity of the oceans, and biodiversity, as well as widespread goals of strategic stability and the pursuit of dominance.

“Remember we are extinguishing species at up to one thousand times faster than what would be the normal evolutionary base rate,” he told IPS. “The backdrop of these challenges arising from science, technology, and social organisation is the immature relationship between states in their pursuit of security through the application of the threat or use of force. The most dangerous tool of the pursuit of security through force are the world’s nuclear arsenals.

“…On the other hand, a growing consensus within informed members of global governance and civil society is rapidly coming to understand that no nation can be secure in an insecure world. And the business community has rapidly integrated in such a fashion that they have demonstrated the capacity of cooperation, if driven by recognised self-interests,” he said.

“I am reminded that in the 17th Century, the world moved from the predominance of the city-state into the modern world of the nation state. Such a phenomena required national identity. National identity occurred largely because of national grammar and language, which rested on the technological innovations of the printing press.

“Today, the technology that will allow us to have global cultural grammar and identity is being provided by the Internet. And thus, the tools, to move from the dis-functionality of posing national interest against the global common good has the potential to be overcome.”

In light of his analysis, the clock’s minute hand can be influenced for the better or for the worse, and 2015 will present opportunities for progress to be made.

The simple truth

Alyn Ware is a member of the World Future Council and the coordinator of Global Wave 2015, an initiative on “Global Action to Wave Goodbye to Nukes”.

Ware spoke to IPS ahead of the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

“The hundreds of billions of dollars that’s wasted on nuclear weapons is needed in order to shift our economy from a carbon-based economy to an economy based on renewable energy,” he told IPS, also explaining that “the competition and the confrontation and conflicts that are perpetuated by nuclear weapons prevent the type of cooperation that’s required for addressing climate change.

“The simple truth on nuclear weapons is that they are inconsistent with civilisation. Threatening to annihilate cities, innocent people, future generations, is not consistent with humanity,” Ware told IPS.

“And then there’s also a simple truth with climate change,” he added. “The simple truth is we have to move from a carbon-based economy to one that’s focused more on renewable energies.”

He also acknowledged the nuances surrounding the implementation of these simple truths.

“At the moment, we don’t have sufficient political commitment to either of them,” he said, addressing vested interests preventing that kind of action, including corporations making nuclear weapons or selling oil, coal or gas.

“What we’re looking at is empowering people,” he said.

For that reason, he thinks the Doomsday Clock is very good. “Because it’s simple, it’s really understandable, and it gives the idea that, hey, we can all be involved in this.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: After the Terrorist Attacks in Paris Tue, 20 Jan 2015 15:43:24 +0000 Johan Galtung

Johan Galtung is Professor of Peace Studies and Rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University, and the author of over 150 books on peace and related issues, including '50 Years – 100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives' published by TRANSCEND University Press. In this column, he looks behind the Western concept of “freedom of expression” and argues that “there is no argument against humour and satire as such, but there is against verbal violence”.

By Johan Galtung
KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 20 2015 (IPS)

What happened in Paris on Jan. 7 – known all over the world – is totally unacceptable and inexcusable.

As inexcusable as 9/11, the coming Western attack and the Islamist retaliation, wherever. As inexcusable as the Western coups and mega-violence on Muslim lands since Iran 1953, massacring people as endowed with personality and identity as the French cartoonists.

But to the West they are not even statistics, they are “military secrets”.

However, the unacceptable is not unexplainable.

Johan Galtung

Johan Galtung

In this tragic saga of West-Islam violence, the way out is to identify the conflict and search for solutions. I wonder how many now pontificating on Paris – a city so deep in our hearts – have taken the trouble to sit down with someone identified with Al Qaeda, and simply ask: “What does the world look like where you would like to live?”

I always get the same answer: “A world where Islam is not trampled upon but respected.”

“Trampled upon” sounds physically violent – but there are two types of direct violence intended to harm, to hurt: physical violence with arm-arms-armies; and verbal violence with words, with symbols, with, for example, cartoons.

The naiveté in blaming the secret police for not having uncovered the brothers on time is crying to the heavens. What happened to Charlie Hebdo was as predictable as the reaction to the 2005 cartoon in Jyllands-Posten, whose cultural editor thought he should save Danish media from the self-censorship he had found in Soviet journalists.

But one thing is political criticism of and in the former USSR, quite another is existential stabbing right in the heart of the basis of existence.“There are two types of direct violence intended to harm, to hurt: physical violence with arm-arms-armies; and verbal violence with words, with symbols, with, for example, cartoons”

Undermine the spiritual existence of others – as Charlie Hebdo did all over the spiritual world – but there may be reactions to that verbal violence. Some of the others deeply hurt by Charlie Hebdo and its cultural autism, sitting in some office and sending poisoned arrows anywhere, may celebrate the atrocity – but inside themselves, not publicly.

The West has one presumably killing argument in favour of verbal violence for spiritual killing: freedom of expression – a wonderful freedom, deeply appreciated by those who have something to express.

And very easily undermined, not by censorship by self or some Other, but by freedom of non-impression, the freedom not to be impressed: let expression happen, let them talk and write, but do not listen and read, make them non-persons. Nevertheless, a major achievement of, by and for the West more than elsewhere.

How simple life would be if that freedom were the only norm governing expression! Say or write anything about others as if they were stones, inanimate objects, unimpressed by oral and written expression. But human beings are not.

Of course, the targets of verbal violence can opt for the freedom of non-impression, shutting themselves off from the perpetrators, neither reading nor listening. Do we really want that, a
society now polarised by cartoons – into those who laugh and enjoy, and those who are hurt, suffering deeply?

We do not, and that is why there are others value, other norms, in the land of expression: consideration, decency, respect for life. We have libel laws asking not only “is it true?” but “is it relevant?” to cut out nastiness in, for example, political “debate”.

We rule out hate speech, propaganda for torture, genocide, war, child pornography. Some people unable to argue about issues insult persons instead; that is why they are often – perhaps not often enough – called to order: stick to the issue!

Many, unable to understand or argue with converts to Islam in France, overstep norms of decency instead.

Islam retaliated, and in Paris overstepped its own rule about doing so mercifully. No Muslim can retaliate with spiritual killing of Judaism-Christianity because both are believed to be the “incomplete message”. Bodies were killed in return for spiritual killing instead.

Incidentally, there is somebody else doing the same: the United States, very attentive to critical words as indicative not only of somebody being anti-American, but even a threat to America, to be eliminated. Could “freedom of expression” also be a tool to lure, smoke them out into the open, make them available for killing by snipers?

How should the Islamic side have handled the issue? The way they tried, and to some extent managed, in Denmark: through dialogue. They should have invited the Charlies to private and public dialogue, explaining their side of the cartoon issue, appealing to a common core of humanity in us all.

There is no argument against humour and satire as such, but there is against verbal violence hitting, hurting, harming others.

The Islamic side should also control better its own recourse to self-defence by violence: only legitimate if declared by appropriate Muslim authority. That the West fails to do so – just look at the enormities of violence unleashed upon Islam since 1953 – is no excuse for Islam to sink down to Western governmental levels, using democracy as a blanket cheque for war.

The two sides have millions, maybe billions, of common people who can easily agree that the key problem is violence by extremist governments and others. The task is to let such voices come forward with concrete ideas. Like the next Charlie online, hiring a Muslim consultant to draw a border between freedom and inconsideration?

This could have saved many lives, in Paris and where the West retaliates. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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Press Looks at Future After “Charlie” Thu, 15 Jan 2015 17:33:52 +0000 A. D. McKenzie By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Jan 15 2015 (IPS)

In the wake of last week’s attack on French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo that left 12 people dead, a heated battle of opinion is being waged in France and several other countries on the issue of freedom of expression and the rights of both media and the public.

On one side are those who say that freedom of expression is an inherent human right and a pillar of democracy, and on the other are representatives of a range of views, including the belief that liberty comes with responsibility for all sectors of society.

“I’m worried when one talks about our being in a state of war,” said John Ralston Saul, the president of the writers group PEN International, who participated in a conference here Jan. 14 on “Journalism after Charlie”, organised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

“The war against fundamentalists isn’t going to work,” he said, arguing that education about freedom of expression has to start at a young age so that people know that “you have to have a thick skin” to live in a democracy.“Ignorance is the biggest weapon of mass destruction, and if ignorance is the problem, then education is the answer” – Nasser David Khalili, Iranian-born scholar and philanthropist

PEN International, which promotes literature, freedom of expression and speaks out for “writers silenced in their own countries”, has strongly condemned the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, but the organisation is also worried about how politicians are reacting in the aftermath.

It called on governments to “implement their commitments to free expression and to desist from further curtailing free expression through the expansion of surveillance.”

In the Jan. 7 assault, two hooded gunmen gained access to the offices of Charlie Hebdo during an editorial meeting and opened fire, killing cartoonists, other media workers, a visitor and two policemen. The attackers were in turn killed by police two days later, after a huge manhunt in the French capital, where related attacks took place Jan. 8 and 9.

In the other acts, a gunman killed a young female police officer and later held hostages at a kosher supermarket, where police said he murdered four people before he was killed by the security forces.

Charlie Hebdo had been under threat since 2006 when it republished controversial Danish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad originally published in 2005, and in 2011 its offices were firebombed after an edition that some groups considered offensive and inflammatory.

Several critics accused the magazine of Islamophobia and racism, while the cartoonists defended their right to lampoon subjects that included religious leaders and politicians.

Before the attacks, the magazine’s circulation had been in decline, with readers apparently turned off by the crudeness of the drawings, but the publication is now being given wide moral and financial backing.

More than three million people of different ethnicities and faiths marched in Paris and other cities last Sunday in support of freedom of expression, including some 40 world leaders who joined French government representatives.

Among those marching, however, were officials from many countries active in “restricting freedom of expression”, according to PEN International and other groups. “This includes murders, violence and imprisoned writers on PEN’s Case List. These leaders, when at home, are part of administrations which are serious offenders,” said the organisation.

Saul told IPS that in the last 14 years, PEN International has noted a “shrinking in freedom of expression” in Western countries, “not only of writers and journalists but of citizens”. He said that the main problem for the organisation was impunity.

While everyone condemned the Charlie Hebdo attacks, some participants at the UNESCO conference argued that the media need to act more responsibly, especially as regards the portrayal of minority or marginalised communities.

As the debates took place, the latest edition of the magazine was being distributed, with another cover portraying Muhammad, this time holding a placard saying “Je Suis Charlie” and with the caption “All is forgiven”.

“The media must mediate and refrain from the promoting of stereotypes,” said French senator Bariza Khiari, in a segment of the conference debate titled “Intercultural Dialogue and Fragmented Societies”.

She said that most adherents of Islam were “quietly Muslim”, keeping their religion to themselves while respecting the secular values of the countries where they live. “But we have to recognise the existence and importance of religion as long as religion does not dictate the law,” she argued.

Khiari told IPS that the radicalisation of some French youth was taking place because of their hardships in France and the humiliation they faced on a daily basis. These include Islamophobia, joblessness and stops by the police.

The senator said she hoped that young people as well as the media would reflect on what had happened and draw some lessons that would result in positive advances in the future.

Annick Girardin, the French Secretary of State for Development and Francophonie, said that democracy meant that all newspapers of whatever belief or political learning could publish in France and that people have access to legal avenues. But she acknowledged that there was a failure of integration of everyone into society.

Regarding the protection of journalists, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova told IPS that “now was the time” for the United Nations and particularly UNESCO “not just to reaffirm our commitment to freedom of expression” but to consider other initiatives.

“Something that is probably not so well known to the general public is that we are constantly in contact with governments where these cases (attacks on journalists) have happened in order to remind them of their responsibilities and asking for information on the follow-up measures, and I would say that even if they are not spectacular, we’ve still seen more and more governments who are taking this seriously.”

Alongside journalists and cartoonists, the UNESCO conference included Jewish, Muslim and Christian representatives who called on the state to do more to educate young people about the co-existence of secular and religious values and ways to live together in increasingly diverse societies.

“Ignorance is the biggest weapon of mass destruction, and if ignorance is the problem, then education is the answer,” said Nasser David Khalili, an Iranian-born scholar and philanthropist who lives in London.

One topic overlooked however was the less discernible attacks on journalists, in the form of press conglomeration, cuts in income and a general lack of commitment to quality journalism.

“Freedom of expression has no meaning when you can’t find a job and when media is controlled by big groups,” said a former journalist who left the conference early.

Edited by Phil Harris

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Boko Haram Insurgents Threaten Cameroon’s Educational Goals Wed, 14 Jan 2015 18:41:04 +0000 Ngala Killian Chimtom A group of Nigerian refugees rests in the Cameroon town of Mora, in the Far North Region, after fleeing armed attacks by Boko Haram insurgents on Sep. 13, 2014. Credit: UNHCR / D. Mbaoirem

A group of Nigerian refugees rests in the Cameroon town of Mora, in the Far North Region, after fleeing armed attacks by Boko Haram insurgents on Sep. 13, 2014. Credit: UNHCR / D. Mbaoirem

By Ngala Killian Chimtom
MAROUA, Far North Region, Jan 14 2015 (IPS)

“I’d quit my job before going to work in a place like that.” That is how a primary school teacher responded when IPS asked him why he had not accepted a job in Cameroon’s Far North region.

James Ngoran is not the only teacher who has refused to move to the embattled area bordering Nigeria where Boko Haram has been massing and launching lightning strike attacks on the isolated region.“I looked at my kids and lovely wife and knew a bullet or bomb could get them at any time. We had to run away to safer environments. " -- Mahamat Abba

“Many teachers posted or transferred to the Far North Region simply don’t take up their posts. They are all afraid for their lives,” Wilson Ngam, an official of the Far North Regional Delegation for Basic Education, tells IPS. He said over 200 trained teachers refused to take up their posts in the region in 2014.

Raids by the Boko Haram insurgents in the Far North Region have created a cycle of fear and uncertainty, making teachers posted here balk at their responsibility, and forcing those on the ground to bribe their way out of “the zone of death.”

Last week, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau threatened Cameroon in a video message on YouTube, warning that the same fate would befall the country as neighbouring Nigeria. He addressed his message directly to Cameroonian President Paul Biya after repeated fighting between militants and troops in the Far North.

Shekau was reported killed in September by Cameroonian troops – a report that later turned out to be untrue.

As the Nigerian sect intensifies attacks on Cameroonian territory, government has been forced to close numerous schools. According to Mounouna Fotso, a senior official in the Cameroon Ministry of Secondary Education, over 130 schools have already been shut down.

Most of the schools are found in the Mayo-Tsanaga, Mayo-Sava and Logone and Chari Divisions-all areas which share a long border with Nigeria, and where the terrorists have continued to launch attacks.

“Government had to temporarily close the schools and relocate the students and teachers. The lives of thousands of students and pupils have been on the line as Boko Haram continues to attack. We can’t put the lives of children at risk,” Fotso said.

“We are losing students each time there is an attack on a village even if it is several kilometres from here,” Christophe Barbah, a schoolmaster in the Far North Region’s Kolofata area, said in a press interview.

The closure of schools and the psychological trauma experienced by teachers and students raises concerns that the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on education will be missed in Cameroon’s Far North Region.

Although both government and civil society agree that universal primary education could attained by the end of this year in the country’s south, the 49 percent school enrolment rate in the Far North Region, compared to the national average of 83 percent, according to UNICEF, means a lot of work still needs to be done here.

Mahamat Abba, a resident of Fotocol whose four children used to attend one of the three government schools there, has fled with his entire family to Kouseri on the border with Chad.

“I looked at my kids and lovely wife and knew a bullet or bomb could get them at any time. We had to run away to safer environments. But starting life afresh here is a nightmare, having abandoned everything,” he told IPS.

Alhadji Abakoura, a resident of Amchidé, adds that the area has virtually become a ghost town. “The town had six primary schools and a nursery school. They have all been closed down.”

Overcrowded schools

As students, teachers and parents relocate to safer grounds, pressure is mounting on schools, which have to absorb the additional students with no additional funds.

According to UNICEF figures for Cameroon, school participation for boys topped 90 percent in 2013, while girls lagged behind at 85 percent or less. However, participation has been much lower in the extreme northern region.

According to the Institut National de la Statistique du Cameroon, literacy is below 40 percent in the Far North, 40 to 50 percent in the North, and 60-70 percent in the central north state of Adamawa. The Millennium Development Goal is full primary schooling for both sexes by 2015.

“Many of us are forced to follow lectures from classroom windows since there is practically very limited sitting space inside,” Ahmadou Saidou, a student of Government Secondary School Maroua, tells IPS. He had escaped from Amchidé where a September attack killed two students and a teacher.

Ahmadou said the benches on which three students once sat are now used by double that number.

“It’s an issue of great concern,” Mahamat Ahamat, the regional delegate for basic education, tells IPS.

“In normal circumstances, each classroom should contain a maximum of 60 students. But we are now in a situation where a single classroom hosts over one hundred and thirty students,” he said. “We are redeploying teachers who flee risk zones…we are getting them over to schools where students are fleeing to.

“These attacks are really slowing things down,’ Mahamat said.

Government response to the crisis

The Nigerian-based sect Boko Haram has intensified attacks on Cameroon in recent years, killing both civilians and military personnel and kidnapping nationals and expatriates in exchange for ransoms.

To respond to the crisis, Cameroon has come up with military and legal reforms. A new military region was set up in the country’s Far North Region. According to Defence Minister Edgar Alain Mebe Ngo’o, “The creation of the 4th Military Region is meant to bring the military closer to the theatre of threats, and to boost the operational means in both human and material resources.”

Military equipment has been supplied by the U.S., Germany and Israel, according to press reports.

Mebe Ngo’oo said Cameroon will recruit 20,000 soldiers over the next two years to step up the fight against the terrorists. Besides the military option, Cameroon has also come up with a legal framework to streamline the fight against terrorism. An anti-terrorism law was passed by Parliament in December, punishing all those guilty of terrorist acts by death.

But opposition political leaders, civil society activists and church leaders have criticised it as anti-democratic and fear it is actually intended to curtail civil liberties.

Edited by Lisa Vives

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U.N. Field Operations Deadlier Every Year Wed, 14 Jan 2015 03:56:32 +0000 Thalif Deen United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) peacekeepers provide security at a trial. U.N. staffers have been killed in the country in recent years. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret.

United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) peacekeepers provide security at a trial. U.N. staffers have been killed in the country in recent years. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret.

By Thalif Deen

The widespread field operations of the United Nations – primarily in conflict zones in Africa, Asia and the Middle East – continue to be some of the world’s deadliest.

The hazards are so predictable that the United Nations – and its agencies – subtly encourage staffers to write their last will before leaving home.

And working for the United Nations proved especially deadly in 2014 as its personnel “continued to be subject to deliberate attacks and exposed to hazardous environments”, according to the Staff Union’s Standing Committee for the Security and Independence of the International Civil Service.“I think the most appropriate question is: should the U.N. send staff members to places where their security and safety cannot be guaranteed?” - Barbara Tavora-Jainchill, president of the U.N. Staff Union

Asked if the United Nations was doing enough to protect its staff in these overseas operations, Barbara Tavora-Jainchill, president of the U.N. Staff Union, told IPS:  “This is a tricky question, because in principle the responsibility for the protection belongs primarily to the host country, i.e., the country where the staff member is working/living”.

“I think the most appropriate question is: should the U.N. send staff members to places where their security and safety cannot be guaranteed?” she asked.

At least, 61 United Nations and associated personnel were killed in 2014, including 33 peacekeepers, 16 civilians, nine contractors and three consultants, compared to 58 in 2013, including 33 peacekeepers and 25 civilians and associated personnel.

In 2012, 37 U.N. personnel, including 20 civilians and 17 peacekeepers, two of them police officers, were killed in the line of duty.

According to the Staff Union Standing Committee, the incident with the most casualties took place in Northern Mali, where nine peacekeepers were killed last October when their convoy was

Northern Mali was the most deadly place for U.N. personnel: 28 peacekeepers were killed there between June and October. And Gaza was the most deadly place for civilian personnel, with 11 killed in
July and August.

The killings, some of them described as “deliberate”, took place in Afghanistan, Somalia, Mali, Cambodia, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, North Darfur, Central African Republic and Gaza.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed serious concern over the continued killings of U.N. staffers in field operations.

“I am appalled by the number of humanitarian workers and peacekeepers who have been deliberately targeted in the past year, while they were trying to help people in crisis,” he said, at a memorial ceremony last week to honour fallen staff members.

In the past year, he said, U.N. staff members were killed while relaxing over dinner in a restaurant in Kabul while two colleagues were targeted after getting off a plane in Somalia.

Speaking at the same ceremony, Ian Richards, president of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions, said: “We are asked to work in some of the world’s most difficult and dangerous places.”

He said the work is fulfilling and “we do it willingly.”  “But all we ask in return is that the Organisation do its best to protect us, look after our families, and hold those who attack us, including governments, responsible for their actions.”

In a statement released Tuesday, the Staff Union Standing Committee said South Sudan was the country with the highest number of national staff members detained or abducted.

In May, there were allegations that members of South Sudan’s security forces assaulted and illegally detained two staff members in separate incidents in Juba.

In August, South Sudan’s National Security Service detained two national staff.  And in October, eight armed men wearing plain clothes seized a World Food Programme staff member who was waiting in line for a flight from Malakal airport and drove him to an unknown location.

Scores of United Nations staff and associated personnel were also subject
to hostage-taking, kidnapping and abductions, the statement said.

The worst incidents took place in the Golan Heights, where 44 Fijian peacekeepers were detained by armed opposition elements between 28 August and 11 September last year.

Meanwhile, U.N. personnel were abducted in Yemen, the Sudan’s Darfur region, Pakistan and in South Sudan.

An international contractor from India working for the U.N Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) was released on 12 June after 94 days of captivity.

Asked about “hazard pay” for staffers in overseas operations, Tavora-Jainchill told IPS staff members do get hazard/danger pay depending on conditions of the individual duty station.

She said, “Each duty station is a unique duty station and receives unique consideration for hazard/danger pay, so your question cannot be answered in a general manner.”

United Nations staff members participate in a Pension Fund and there are provisions in that pension related to their death and the payment of pension/indemnities to their survivors, she added.

Asked about the will, she said: “That question is very interesting because I also heard that and some time ago asked someone from the U.N. Administration if it was really the case.”

The response was that those staff members are asked to consider “putting their business and paperwork in order”.

“My understanding from the answer is that the paperwork might include a will, she added.”

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OPINION: The Paris Killings – A Fatal Trap for Europe Mon, 12 Jan 2015 18:35:46 +0000 Roberto Savio

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that the wave of indignation aroused by last week’s terrorist attack on French magazine Charlie Hebdo runs the risk of playing into the hands of radical Muslims and unleashing a deadly worldwide confrontation.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jan 12 2015 (IPS)

It is sad to see how a continent that was one cradle of civilisation is running blindly into a trap, the trap of a holy war with Islam – and that six Muslim terrorists were sufficient to bring that about.

It is time to get out of the comprehensible “We are All Charlie Hebdo” wave, to look into facts, and to understand that we are playing into the hands of a few extremists, and equating ourselves with them. The radicalisation of the conflict between the West and Islam is going to carry with it terrible consequences

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

The first fact is that Islam is the second largest religion in the world, with 1.6 billion practitioners, that Muslims are the majority in 49 countries of the world and that they account for 23 percent of humankind. Of these 1.6 billion, only 317 million are Arabs. Nearly two-thirds (62 percent) live in the Asia-Pacific region; in fact, more Muslims live in India and Pakistan (344 million combined). Indonesia alone has 209 million.

A Pew Research Center report on the Muslim world also inform us that it is in South Asia that Muslims are more radical in terms of observance and views. In that region, those in favour of severe corporal punishment for criminals are 81 percent, compared with 57 percent in the Middle East and North Africa, while those in favour of executing those who leave Islam are 76 percent in South Asia, compared with 56 percent in the Middle East.

Therefore, it is obvious that it is the history of the Middle East which brings the specificity of the Arabs to the conflict with the West. And here are the main four reasons.“We are falling into a deadly trap, and doing exactly what the radical Muslims want: engaging in a holy war against Islam, so that the immense majority of moderate Muslims will be pushed to take up arms … instead of a strategy of isolation, we are engaging in a policy of confrontation”

First, all the Arab countries are artificial creations. In May 1916, Monsieur François Georges-Picot for France and Sir Mark Sykes for Britain met and agreed on a secret treaty, with the support of the Russian Empire and the Italian Kingdom, on how to carve up the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War.

Thus the Arab countries of today were born as the result of a division by France and Britain with no consideration for ethnic and religious realities or for history. A few of those countries, like Egypt, had an historical identity, but countries like Iraq, Arabia Saudi, Jordan, or even the Arab Emirates, lacked even that. It is worth remembering that the Kurdish issue of 30 million people divided among four countries was created by European powers.

As a consequence, the second reason. The colonial powers installed kings and sheiks in the countries that they created. To run these artificial countries, strong hands were required. So, from the very beginning, there was a total lack of participation of the people, with a political system which was totally out of sync with the process of democracy which was happening in Europe. With European blessing, these countries were frozen in feudal times.

As for the third reason, the European powers never made any investment in industrial development, or real development. The exploitation of petrol was in the hands of foreign companies and only after the end of the Second World War, and the ensuing process of decolonisation, did oil revenues really come into local hands.

When the colonial powers left, the Arab countries had no modern political system, no modern infrastructure, no local management.

Finally, the fourth reason, which is closer to our days. In states which did not provide education and health for their citizens, Muslim piety took on the task of providing what the state was not providing. So large networks of religious schools and hospital were created and, when elections were finally permitted, these became the basis for legitimacy and the vote for Muslim parties.

This is why, just taking the example of two important countries, Islamist parties won in Egypt and Algeria, and how with the acquiescence of the West, military coups were the only resort to stopping them.

This compression of so many decades into a few lines is of course superficial and leaves out many other issues. But this brutally abridged historical process is useful for understanding how anger and frustration is now all over the Middle East, and how this leads to the attraction to the Islamic State (IS) in poor sectors.

We should not forget that this historical background, even if remote for young people, is kept alive by Israel’s domination of the Palestinian people. The blind support of the West, especially of the United States, for Israel is seen by Arabs as a permanent humiliation, and Israel’s continuous expansion of settlements clearly eliminates the possibility of a viable Palestinian State.

The July-August bombing of Gaza, with just some noises of protest from the West but no real action, is for the Arab world clear proof that the intention is to keep Arabs down and seek alliances only with corrupt and delegitimised rulers who should be swept away. And the continuous Western intervention in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and the drones bombing everywhere, are widely perceived among the 1.6 billion that the West is historically engaged in keeping Islam down, as the Pew report noted.

We should also remember that Islam has several internal divisions, of which the Sunni-Shiite divide is just the largest. But while in the Arab region at least 40 percent of Sunni do not recognise a Shiite as a fellow Muslim, outside the region this tends to disappear, In Indonesia only 26 percent identify themselves as Sunni, with 56 percent identifying themselves as “just Muslim”.

In the Arab world, only in Iraq and Lebanon, where the two communities lived side by side, does a large majority of Sunni recognise Shiites as fellow Muslims. The fact that Shiites, who account for just 13 percent of Muslims, are the large majority in Iran, and the Sunni the large majority in Saudi Arabia explains the ongoing internal conflict in the region, which is being stirred by the two respective leaders.

Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, then run by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (1966–2006), successfully deployed a policy of polarisation in Iraq, continuing attacks on Shiites and provoking an ethnic cleansing of one million Sunnis from Baghdad. Now IS, the radical caliphate which is challenging the entire Arab world besides the West, is able to attract many Sunnis from Iraq which had suffered so many Shiite reprisals, that they sought the umbrella of the very group that had deliberately provoked the Shiites.

The fact it is that every day hundreds of Arabs die because of the internal conflict, a fate that does not affect the much larger Muslim community.

Now, all terrorist attacks in the West that have happened in Ottawa, in London, and now in Paris, have the same profile: a young man from the country in question, not someone from the Arab region, who was not at all religious during his teenage years, someone who somehow drifted, did not find a job, and was a loner. In nearly all cases, someone who had already had something to do with the judicial system.

Only in the last few years had he become converted to Islam and accepted the calls from IS for killing infidels. He felt that with this he would find a justification to his life, he would become a martyr, a somebody in another world, removed from a life in which there was no real bright future.

The reaction to all this has been a campaign in the West against Islam. The latest number of the New Yorker published a strong article defining Islam not as a religion but as an ideology. In Italy, Matteo Salvini, the leader of the right-wing and anti-immigrant Lega Nord has publicly condemned the Pope for engaging Islam in dialogue, and conservative Italian pundit Giuliano Ferrara declared on TV that ”we are in a Holy War”.

The overall European (and U.S.) reaction has been to denounce the Paris killings as the result of a “deadly ideology”, as President François Hollande called it.

It is certainly a sign of the anti-Muslim tide that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was obliged to take a position against the recent marches in Dresden (Muslim population 2 percent), organised by the populist movement Pegida (the German acronym for “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West”). The marches were basically directed against the 200,000 asylum seekers, most of them from Iraq and Syria, whose primary intention, according to Pegida, was not to escape war.

Studies from all over Europe show that the immense majority of immigrants have successfully integrated with their host economies. United Nations studies also show that Europe, with its demographic decline, requires at least 20 million immigrants by 2050 if it wants to remain viable in welfare practices, and competitive in the world. Yet, what are we getting everywhere?

Xenophobic, right-wing parties in every country of Europe, able to make the Swedish government resign, conditioning the governments of United Kingdom, Denmark and Nederland, and looking poised to win the next elections in France.

It should be added that, while what happened in Paris was of course a heinous crime, and while expression of any opinion is essential for democracy, very few have ever seen Charlie Hebdo and its level of provocation. Especially because in 2008, as Tariq Ramadan pointed out in The Guardian of Jan. 10, Charlie Hebdo fired a cartoonist who had joke about a Jewish link to the French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s son.

Charlie Hebdo was a voice defending the superiority of France and its cultural supremacy in the world, and had a small readership, which it obtained by selling provocation – exactly the opposite of the view of a world based on respect and cooperation among different cultures and religions.

So now we are all Charlie, as everybody is saying. But to radicalise the clash between the two largest religions of the world is not a minor affair. We should fight terrorism, be it Muslim or not (let us not forget that a Norwegian, Anders Behring Breivik, who wanted to keep his country free of Muslim penetration, killed 91 of his co-citizens).

But we are falling into a deadly trap, and doing exactly what the radical Muslims want: engaging in a holy war against Islam, so that the immense majority of moderate Muslims will be pushed to take up arms.

The fact that European right-wing parties will reap the benefit of this radicalisation goes down very well for the radical Muslims. They dream of a world fight, in which they will make Islam – and not just any Islam, but their interpretation of Sunnism – the sole religion. Instead of a strategy of isolation, we are engaging in a policy of confrontation.

And, apart from September 11 in New York, the losses of life have been miniscule compared with what is going on in the Arab world, where just in one country – Syria – 50,000 people lost their lives last year.

How can we so blindly fall into the trap without realising that we are creating a terrible clash all over the world? (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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Video Games, Poverty and Conflict in Bab Al-Tabbaneh Sat, 10 Jan 2015 15:38:01 +0000 Oriol Andrés Gallart Ahmad (right), a 19-year-old student of engineering and one of Bab Al-Tabbaneh’s fortunate young people, chatting with a friend. He has been able to go to university, thanks to a grant from the Ruwwad Al Tanmeya NGO. Credit: Oriol Andrés Gallart/IPS

Ahmad (right), a 19-year-old student of engineering and one of Bab Al-Tabbaneh’s fortunate young people, chatting with a friend. He has been able to go to university, thanks to a grant from the Ruwwad Al Tanmeya NGO. Credit: Oriol Andrés Gallart/IPS

By Oriol Andrés Gallart
TRIPOLI, Lebanon, Jan 10 2015 (IPS)

“People get used to war. During the last battle, children were still coming to play. Can you imagine, a seven-year-old boy running through the bullets just to play video games,” says Mohammad Darwish, a calm man with a curled beard framing his face.

Sitting behind the counter of his cybercafé, located in one of the main streets of the Bab Al-Tabbaneh neighbourhood in this northern Lebanese city, Darwish says that his young customers have resigned themselves to the persistence of armed conflicts.“People get used to war. During the last battle, children were still coming to play. Can you imagine, a seven-year-old boy running through the bullets just to play video games” – Mohammad Darwish, owner of a cybercafé in the Bab Al-Tabbaneh neighbourhood of Tripoli

Despite their age, they are pretty sure that clashes – which have become routine here over the past six years – will erupt again sooner or later. Even when calm reigns, the shelled and bullet-riddled buildings in Tabbaneh stand as a reminder of previous clashes.

The last eruption of violence was in late October 2014. Clashes between the army and local Sunni gunmen paralysed Tripoli for three days and destroyed part of the historic old city, leaving at least eight civilians, 11 soldiers and 22 militants dead. The army now controls Tabbaneh, with soldiers and tanks deployed on every street corner.

Curiously, flags and posters of the Islamic State (IS) can be seen displayed in houses and shops.

“I support IS [Islamic State] and the [Al-Qaeda-affiliated] Jabhat Al-Nusra (JN)”, says 19-year-old unemployed Hassan with a smile, explaining that he thinks IS will give him rights “to have a job, to live peacefully according to Islamic precepts, to move freely.”

Tabbaneh is probably the hardest neighbourhood to grow up in the whole of Tripoli. Despite being the second largest city in Lebanon, barely 80 kilometres north of Beirut, policy neglect by various central governments has left this Sunni-majority city suffering from alarming poverty, unemployment and social exclusion, and Tabbaneh is one of its poorest and most marginalised areas.

Seventy-six percent of Tabbaneh inhabitants live below the poverty line, according to a study on ‘Urban Poverty in Tripoli’, published in 2012 by the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA).

These circumstances, aggravated by the political exploitation of sectarianism within a very conservative society, have fuelled the frequent rounds of violence, mainly between Tabbaneh and the neighbourhood of Jabal Mohsen.

A giant poster on a balcony in Bab Al-Tabbaneh in memory of a young boy killed during clashes in the neighbourhood. Credit: Oriol Andrés Gallart/IPS

A giant poster on a balcony in Bab Al-Tabbaneh in memory of a young boy killed during clashes in the neighbourhood. Credit: Oriol Andrés Gallart/IPS

Both neighbourhoods are separated just by one street, but while Bab Al-Tabbaneh inhabitants are mostly Sunni (like the main Syrian rebel groups), most of Jabal Mohsen’s inhabitants are Alawites (the same sect as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad).

This sectarianism has determined a rivalry that dates back to the Syrian occupation of Lebanon which began in 1976 and ended in 2005, but which has turned violent again since 2008, and especially since the beginning of Syrian civil war in 2011. During the last three years, more than 20 rounds of fights have broken out in Tripoli, most of them between Tabbaneh and Mohsen militias.

“We fight to defend our people, to achieve peace,” says 19-year-old Khaled, who usually works in a bakery but also belongs to a local militia. But Ahmad, who is of the same age, is sceptical: “People fight because they don’t have money or work.”

Ahmad is studying engineering, thanks to a grant provided by Ruwwad Al Tanmeya, a regional NGO that works in the area through youth activism, civic engagement and education. Because his father served in the army, the state paid the major part of his school fees when he was younger and he was able to study in private schools outside Tabbaneh.

Hoda Al-Rifai, a Ruwwad youth officer, agrees with Ahmad: “Many families don’t have incomes. Whenever the conflict starts, the fighters get paid. And these fighters also give money to children to fulfil specific tasks. They can have three dollars a day and this is better than going to school. Their parents also think this way.”

Stereotypes also contribute to make things hard for Tabbaneh’s youth – including finding a job outside the neighbourhood – and shape their personality, explains Hoda. “When we started, the youth had no self-confidence. The media do not produce an image of these neighbourhoods as areas where you can find brilliant young men, willing to study. They just underline the clashes and all kinds of negatives things.”

“There are no members of JN or IS here,” Darwish tells IPS, adding that many in Tabbaneh see the IS flags as a way of showing dissatisfaction over the government’s alleged abandonment of the Sunni community and specifically of Tabbaneh.

“This is not a religious conflict but political. When politicians want to send a message to each other, they pay for clashes here,” adds Darwish’s 49-year-old aunt, veiled and dressed completely in black. “In this city, you can give 20 dollars to a boy so he starts a war,” explains Darwish.

Nevertheless, various studies have found that only a small percentage of the estimated up to 80,000 Tabbaneh inhabitants take part in combats, and Sarah Al-Charif, Lebanon director of Ruwwad, stresses the immediate improvements observed in Tabbaneh and Mohsen youths who participate in the NGO’s projects.

“They become aware of their shared interests, values and pain,” she says. “They became more open-minded, especially the girls.”

For Sarah, in addition to public investment and job opportunities, any solution must include awareness and education, to which Hoda adds: “First of all, citizens need to understand why the clashes take place.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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OPINION: Global Citizenship, A Result of Emerging Global Consciousness Sat, 10 Jan 2015 11:56:54 +0000 Arsenio Rodriguez

Arsenio Rodriguez is Chairman and CEO of Devnet International, an association that works to create, promote and support partnerships and exchanges among civil society organisations, local authorities and entrepreneurs throughout the world.

By Arsenio Rodriguez
MYRTLE BEACH, South Carolina, Jan 10 2015 (IPS)

Globalisation is an integral feature of modernity. It already has significantly advanced to transform local experiences into global ones, to unify the disparate villages of the world into a global community, and to integrate national economies into an international economy.

At the same time, however, the process of globalisation brings about the loss of cultural identity.

Arsenio Rodriguez

Arsenio Rodriguez

Many young people today grow up and live in a consolidating global world and define themselves as people not belonging to any particular culture. In 2013, 232 million people, or 3.2 per cent of the world’s population, were legal international migrants, compared with 175 million in 2000 and 154 million in 1990.

To these figures one must add at least an estimated 30 million undocumented migrants.

As a result, more people in the world are intermarrying across cultural, ethnic and religious groupings. In Europe, for example, in the period 2008-10, on average one in 12 married persons was in a mixed marriage. Their children are exposed to hybrid cultural settings plus sometimes the host country setting if both parents are immigrants.

In 2013, more than one billion traveled internationally as tourists, thus increasing their firsthand knowledge of the world beyond their own borders. On the other hand, there are nearly three billion Internet users in the world today. More than a billion are connected in social networks across the planet.For many now, home is not bound to a specific location, but rather to a conscious experience of culture.

The interconnectedness of people today is beyond anything that has happened before in history. And to this one must add the ecological, cosmological and modern physics concepts that emphasise interconnectedness in the world at large and our appreciation of being on the same planet, the global village.

For many now, home is not bound to a specific location, but rather to a conscious experience of culture. People living between cultures feel more “natural” in a globalised world because it reflects the combination of different cultures, views and social belongings.

There is, however, as part of the global synthesis and interconnectedness process, a socio-cultural energy of resistance, acting as a counterforce. And although many people define and identify themselves as global citizens, the cultures and societies in which they live do not easily accept their status, and constantly try to place and categorise them.

Wherever they feel at home, they are simultaneously perceived as outsiders, tourists, and as members of a foreign culture. Simultaneously, as the world integration persists, cultural entrenchments, ethnic, religious and parochial groups resist, fearing the dissolving forces of globalisation, manifesting the resistance in fundamentalism, violence and tribal and ethnic wars.

Culture and globalisation have come to be understood as mutually exclusive and antithetical; the former is typically associated with one specific culture while the latter signifies the homogenisation of all cultures into one.

For the global citizen, self-understanding and cultural identity are defined by the lack of belonging to a specific culture. Global citizens lose their sense of belonging and become strangers to society, but in return they gain the freedom of self-expression and self-definition since they are unfettered by the normative constraints of culture and society.

The world is in the midst of a great transition. Prevailing business as usual models are not going to work for a nine billion, highly consumptive society. Scientific, business and government authorities throughout the world agree that we need to align our production and consumption cycles, our markets, with the natural cycles of our life support systems.

And our fragmented approaches are not efficient or effective enough to accomplish this. We need a global consciousness and a global citizenship.

Not a global government but a federated international system based on collaboration and cooperation, rather than competition and hegemony, linking citizenry in their respective communities and countries on issues of common interest and with respect for the cultural diversity.

And it cannot be not just be governments participating in this concerted effort of international cooperation. Private business stands today as the most powerful sector in the planet. However, it has yet to assume a corresponding responsibility in shaping the future of the societal context in which it is embedded and on which it ultimately depends.

A new world-culture is emerging through an integral vision, which is independent of existing traditions and conserved values. It is initiating a new way of thinking in terms of an indivisible totality, and it discards the relative values of comparison in favour of the recognition of the intrinsic worth of everything and everyone.

Increasing numbers of people, communities, even corporate enterprises are increasingly understanding this interconnectedness and the advantage of cooperation and collaboration as a business model.

The movement to global citizenship should be to connect people committed to create a just, peaceful, and sustainable world, to accelerate a cohesive global movement of personal and social transformation, reflecting the unity of humanity.

True global citizens aim to connect caring communities, groups, and individuals at a global level, to promote understanding of humanity’s underlying unity and advance its expression through peace, social justice and ecological balance.

Anyone who transforms his/her perception of the world from one of me against “the other”, of “us” versus “them”, into a unified perception that recognises the interconnectedness of life starts to belong to the global citizenship movement.

This emergence is already happening everywhere as people are becoming conscious at many levels of political organisation, that the functioning of the life support systems that underwrite the well-being and prosperity of humanity is at risk.

There is broad consensus amongst the world’s scientific, business, intergovernmental and non-governmental communities that: (a) we need to align our production and consumption cycles and our markets with the natural regenerative cycles of nature; (b) prevailing business-as-usual models based on intense and wasteful consumption are not going to work for the expected nine billion inhabitants; (c) there is an urgency to change our ways; and (d) piecemeal approaches are not effective or scalable enough.

Sustainable solutions are there, people are already making a difference, making things happen. All we need to do is a wide-range scaling up and a fast acceleration of this process.

We have a systems problem, so we need a systemic solution. There is only one force on earth that is powerful enough to fix this – all of us. We need to collaborate consciously in the largest enterprise, ever to be set in motion; one that contains all others –a truly global citizenry and for this we need a massive cultural change in our consciousness.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Attack on French Magazine a “Black Day” for Press Freedom Thu, 08 Jan 2015 00:57:08 +0000 A. D. McKenzie Drawing for peace - a signature cartoon by Plantu

Drawing for peace - a signature cartoon by Plantu

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Jan 8 2015 (IPS)

“They are cowards who react to satire by going for their Kalashnikovs.” That was how renowned French cartoonist Plantu described the killers of 10 media workers and two policemen in Paris Wednesday.

One of the murdered journalists, cartoonist Bernard Verlhac who went by the pen name of Tignous, was a member of Cartooning for Peace, the organisation that Plantu founded with former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2006, following the protests sparked by the controversial Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad.

Tignous worked for Charlie Hebdo, the satirical French magazine that the murderers targeted.

According to police and eyewitness reports, two hooded gunmen entered the premises of the magazine and opened fire in the late morning. After they fled the scene, in a car driven by a third participant, 12 people were confirmed dead and at least 11 injured, some critically.“Cartoonists – Christian, Muslim, Jewish cartoonists – are scandalised and angry. And to express ourselves, we take up a marker and we draw” – Plantu, co-founder of Cartooning for Peace

Video footage, filmed from neighbouring buildings, showed the attackers killing an injured policeman as he lay in the road. On Wednesday night, the police presence in France’s capital city was huge as security officials tried to track down the attackers who reportedly had been identified.

French President François Hollande said in a public address that the killers would be brought to justice and “severely punished” for their actions. Appealing for unity, he said the attack was an assault on national ideals and freedoms, including freedom of expression.

Meanwhile, many French residents took to social media to express solidarity with the magazine’s staff, posting images with the words “Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie), and thousands gathered on the historic Place de la Republique in Paris, and in several other cities in France.

The magazine had been a target for several years, since it published cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. In 2011, assailants firebombed its offices in the city’s 11th district, and its cartoons have been considered offensive by various groups over the past two years. Its cover this week featured the controversial French writer Michel Houellebecq, whose newly published novel “Soumission” portrays a future France living under an Islamic regime.

But condemnation of the murders came from all sides of the religious and political spectrum on Wednesday. The French Muslim Council said the “barbaric action” was also an attack “against democracy and the freedom of the press,” while the Protestant Federation of France expressed “revulsion” and said the “hateful” acts could have no justification in any religion.

Irina Bokova, the director-general of Paris-based UNESCO, the United Nations cultural agency, said she was “horrified” by the attack. “This is more than a personal tragedy,” she stated.  “It is an attack on the media and freedom of expression.  The world community cannot allow extremists to silence the free flow of opinions and ideas.  We must work together to bring the perpetrators to justice and stand together for a free and independent press.”

Rights group Amnesty International said the attack was a “black day” for freedom of expression and a free press, while the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) called the assault a “barbaric act of violence against journalists and media freedom.”

EFJ president Mogens Blicher Bjerregaard stressed that journalists today face a greater range of dangers and threats than ever before.

Last year, 118 journalists and media workers died for doing their jobs, according to the EFJ and other organisations, bringing the total to more than 700 deaths over the past decade.

On Nov. 2, the United Nations marked the first international Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists. The organisation said that the majority of the killings “were deliberate murders committed in connection with journalists’ denunciation of crime and corruption.”

Charlie Hebdo’s recent cartoons had poked fun at the head of IS, or the Islamic State, and had even seemed to forecast an attack, saying that fighters had until the end of January to “present their wishes” – a reference to the French tradition of government ministers presenting their “voeux” to the press each new year.

From around the world, condemnation of the acts and condolences for the victims’ families were transmitted to France by heads of state and foreign ministers. But perhaps the most profound messages came from colleagues in the media world – cartoonists.

Plantu said that Cartooning for Peace, where staffers worked late into the evening, had received thousands of messages and drawings.

“We are angry,” he said on French television. “Cartoonists – Christian, Muslim, Jewish cartoonists – are scandalised and angry. And to express ourselves, we take up a marker and we draw.”

He said that Cartooning for Peace had been created for the very purpose of creating bridges between people, religions and regions and that cartoonists’ work was “stronger” than the “barbaric acts” committed by the “cowards” on Wednesday.

Plantu told IPS at a conference last year in the southern French city of Montpellier that the work of the non-profit organisation was important in promoting dialogue, understanding and mutual respect by using cartoons as a universal language.

At that conference, one of the featured participants was Tignous, who showed himself to be funny in both speech and drawing. As he and a journalist got lost trying to make it to the conference centre, he cracked jokes about his legs being too short to jump fences, but he ended up being the one to find the right direction.

Later at the conference, he produced cartoons that had the audience laughing out loud. For him, and other cartoonists, the work was about freedom to poke fun at extremists and political hypocrites.

At the creation of Cartooning for Peace, the founders said the initiative was meant to highlight the notion that cartoonist’s influence comes with a “responsibility to encourage debate rather than inflame passions, to educate rather than divide.”

According to commentators, Charlie Hebdo may have inflamed passions with its satire, but the killings on Wednesday seemed an attempt to end all debate, and to foster further division in France, where the extreme-right National Front party has been rising in popularity.

“The targeted assassinations were staged in order to establish terror and muzzle journalists, cartoonists but also every citizen,” Cartooning for Peace said in a statement. It added that the attackers would not have the last word because “art and freedom will be stronger than any intolerance.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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OPINION: Political Islam and U.S. Policy in 2015 Tue, 06 Jan 2015 18:16:46 +0000 Emile Nakhleh President Barack Obama speaks at Cairo University in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Jun. 4, 2009. In his speech, President Obama called for a 'new beginning between the United States and Muslims', declaring that 'this cycle of suspicion and discord must end'. Credit: White House photo

President Barack Obama speaks at Cairo University in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Jun. 4, 2009. In his speech, President Obama called for a 'new beginning between the United States and Muslims', declaring that 'this cycle of suspicion and discord must end'. Credit: White House photo

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Jan 6 2015 (IPS)

This year, Arab political Islam will be greatly influenced by U.S. regional policy, as it has been since the Obama administration came into office six years ago. Indeed, as the U.S. standing in the region rose with Obama’s presidency beginning in January 2009, so did the fortunes of Arab political Islam.

But when Arab autocrats perceived U.S. regional policy to have floundered and Washington’s leverage to have diminished, they proceeded to repress domestic Islamic political parties with impunity, American protestations notwithstanding.Coddling autocrats is a short-term strategy that will not succeed in the long run. The longer the cozy relationship lasts, the more Muslims will revert to the earlier belief that America’s war on terrorism is a war on Islam.

This policy linkage, expected to prevail in the coming year, will not bode well for political Islam. Like last year, the U.S. will in 2015 pay more attention to securing Arab autocrats’ support in the fight against Islamic State forces than to the mistreatment of mainstream Islamic political parties and movements, which will have severe consequences in the long run.

Since the middle of 2013, the Obama administration’s focus on the tactical need to woo dictators in the fight against terrorist groups has trumped its commitment to the engagement objective. America’s growing support for Arab dictators meant that Arab political Islam would be sacrificed.

For example, Washington seems oblivious to the thousands of mainstream Islamists and other opposition activists languishing in Egyptian jails.

What is political Islam?

Several assumptions underpin this judgment. First, “political Islam” applies to mainstream Islamic political parties and movements, which have rejected violence and made a strategic shift toward participatory and coalition politics through free elections.

Arab political Islam generally includes the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jordan, Hamas in Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon, al-Nahda in Tunisia, and al-Wefaq in Bahrain.

The term “political Islam” does not include radical and terrorist groups such as the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL or IS), al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa, Iraq, and Syria, or armed opposition groups in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Libya. Nor does it apply to terrorist groups in Africa such as Boko Haram, al-Shabab, and others.

Unfortunately, in the past three years, many policy makers in the West, and curiously in several Arab countries, have equated mainstream political Islam with radical and terrorist groups. This erroneous and self-serving linkage has provided Washington with a fig leaf to justify its cozy relations with Arab autocrats and tolerance of their bloody repression of their citizens.

Repression breeds radicalism

It has also given these autocrats an excuse to suppress their Islamic parties and exclude them from the political process. In a press interview late last month, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi forcefully denounced the Muslim Brotherhood and pledged the movement would not enter the Egyptian parliament.

Egypt’s recent terrorism laws, which Sisi and other Arab autocrats have approved, provide them with a pseudo-legal cover to silence the opposition, including mainstream political Islam.

They have used the expansive and vague definitions of terrorism included in these decrees to incarcerate any person or group that is “harmful to national unity.” Any criticism of the regime or the ruler is now viewed as a “terrorist” act, punishable by lengthy imprisonment.

The Dec. 28 arrest of the Bahraini Sheikh Ali Salman, Secretary General of al-Wefaq, is yet another example of draconian measures against peaceful mainstream opposition leaders and parties in the region. Regime repression of these groups is expected to prevail in 2015.

Second, whereas terrorist organisations are a threat to the region and to Western countries, including mainstream political Islam in the governance of their countries in the long run is good for domestic stability and regional security. It also serves the interests of Western powers in the region.

Recent history tells U.S. that exclusion and repression often lead to radicalisation.  Some youth in these parties have given up on participatory politics in favour of confrontational politics and violence. This phenomenon is expected to increase in 2015, as suppression of political Islam becomes more pervasive and institutionalised.

Third, the serious mistakes the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Nahda made in their first time ever as governing parties should not be surprising since they lacked the experience of governance. Such poor performance, however, is not unique to them.  Nor should it be used as an excuse to depose them illegally and to void the democratic process, as the Sisi-led military coup did in Egypt in 2013.

Although Islamic political parties tend to win the first election after the toppling of dictators, the litmus test of their popular support lies in succeeding elections. The recent post-Arab Spring election in Tunisia is a case in point.

When Arab citizens are provided with the opportunity to participate in fair and free elections, they are capable of electing the party that best serves their interests, regardless of whether the party is Islamic or secular.

Had Field Marshall Sisi in 2013 allowed the Muslim Brotherhood and President Mohammed Morsi to stay in power until the following election, they would have been voted out, according to public opinion polls at the time.

But Sisi and his military junta were not truly committed to a genuine democratic transition in Egypt. Now, according to Human Rights Watch reports, the current state of human rights in Egypt is much worse than it was under former President Hosni Mubarak.

The U.S. and Political Islam

Upon taking office, President Obama understood that disagreements between the United States and the Muslim world, especially political Islam, were driven by specific policies, not values of good governance. A key factor driving these disagreements was the widely held Muslim perception that America’s war on terror was a war on Islam.

The Obama administration also realised that while a very small percentage of Muslims engaged in violence and terrorism, the United States must find ways to engage the other 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide. That drove President Obama early on in his administration to grant media interviews to Arab broadcasters and give his historic Cairo speech in June 2009.

However, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan dragged on, and as drone strikes caused more civilian casualties in Yemen, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, many Muslims became more sceptical of Washington’s commitment to sincere engagement with the Muslim world.

The Arab uprisings beginning in 2011 known as the Arab Spring and the toppling of dictators prompted the United States to support calls for freedom, political reform, dignity, and democracy.

Washington announced it would work with Islamic political parties, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Nahda, as long as these parties were committed to peaceful change and to the principles of pluralism, elections, and democracy.

That unprecedented opening boosted the fortunes of Arab political Islam and inclusive politics in the Arab world. American rapprochement with political Islam, however, did not last beyond two years.

The way forward

Much as one might disagree with Islamic political ideology, it’s the height of folly to think that long-term domestic stability and economic security in Egypt, Bahrain, Palestine, or Lebanon could be achieved without including the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Wefaq, Hamas, and Hezbollah in governance.

Coddling autocrats is a short-term strategy that will not succeed in the long run. The longer the cozy relationship lasts, the more Muslims will revert to the earlier belief that America’s war on terrorism is a war on Islam.

The Arab countries that witnessed the fall of dictators, especially Egypt, will with Washington’s acquiescence revert back to repression and autocracy, as if the Arab Spring never happened.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Doubling Down on Dictatorship in the Middle East Mon, 05 Jan 2015 21:14:31 +0000 Amanda Ufheil-Somers At Tahrir Square. Credit: Mohammed Omer/IPS

At Tahrir Square. Credit: Mohammed Omer/IPS

By Amanda Ufheil-Somers
WASHINGTON, Jan 5 2015 (IPS)

For a moment, four years ago, it seemed that dictators in the Middle East would soon be a thing of the past.

Back then, it looked like the United States would have to make good on its declared support for democracy, as millions of Tunisians, Egyptians, Bahrainis, Yemenis, and others rose up to reject their repressive leaders. Many of these autocrats enjoyed support from Washington in return for providing “stability.”

Amanda_Ufheil_Somers-113x140Yet even the collapse of multiple governments failed to upend the decades-long U.S. policy of backing friendly dictators. Washington has doubled down on maintaining a steady supply of weapons and funding to governments willing to support U.S. strategic interests, regardless of how they treat their citizens.

Four years after Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, for example, the country once again has a president with a military pedigree and an even lower tolerance for political opposition than his predecessor.With a new year upon us, it’s our turn to face down fear and insist that another path is possible.

Mass arrests and hasty convictions of political activists — over 1,000 of whom have been sentenced to death — have reawakened the fear that Egyptians thought had vanished for good after Mubarak was ousted and democratic elections were held.

When the Egyptian military — led by now-president Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi — deposed the democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, the Obama administration wavered about whether it would suspend military aid to Egypt, which U.S. law requires in the case of a coup. Yet despite some partial and temporary suspensions, the U.S. government continued to send military hardware.

Now that Sisi heads a nominally civilian government — installed in a sham election by a small minority of voters — all restrictions on U.S. aid have been lifted, including for military helicopters that are used to intimidate and attack protesters. As Secretary of State John Kerry promised a month after Sisi’s election, “The Apaches will come, and they will come very, very soon.”

In the tiny kingdom of Bahrain, meanwhile, the demonstrations for constitutional reform that began in February 2011 continue, despite the government’s attempts to silence the opposition with everything at its disposal — from bird shot to life imprisonment.

Throughout it all, Washington has treated Bahrain like a respectable ally.

Back in 2011, for instance, just days after Bahraini security forces fired live ammunition at protesters in Manama — an attack that killed four and wounded many others — President Barack Obama praised King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa’s “commitment to reform.” Neither did the White House object when it was notified in advance that 1,200 troops from Saudi Arabia would enter Bahrain to clear the protests in March 2011.

Since then, there’s been a steady drip of troubling news. A State Department report from 2013 acknowledged that Bahrain revokes the citizenship of prominent activists, arrests people on vague charges, tortures prisoners, and engages in “arbitrary deprivation of life.” (That’s bureaucratese for killing people.)

And what have the consequences been?

Back in 2012, international pressure forced the United States to ban the sale of American-made tear gas to Bahraini security forces. And last August, some U.S. military aid was cut off after the regime expelled an American diplomat for meeting with members of an opposition party.

But that’s it.

Delaying shipments of tanks, jets, and tear gas amounts to little more than a slap on the wrist when the Fifth Fleet of the U.S. Navy remains headquartered outside Bahrain’s capital. And Bahrain’s participation in air raids against the Islamic State has only strengthened the bond between the regime and the White House.

Indeed, the crisis in Iraq and Syria has breathed new life into the military-first approach that has long dominated Washington’s thinking about the Middle East. Any government willing to join this new front in the “War on Terror” is primed to benefit both from American largesse and a free pass on repression.

People power in the Middle East must be matched by popular demand here in the United States to shake the foundations of our foreign policy. With a new year upon us, it’s our turn to face down fear and insist that another path is possible.

This story originally appeared on Otherwords.orgThe views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: JFK’s Secret Negotiations with Fidel Mon, 05 Jan 2015 07:49:29 +0000 Robert F. Kennedy Jr

This is the second of three articles written by Robert F. Kennedy – son of late U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and nephew of President John F. Kennedy – which address relations between the United States and Cuba during the 60-year period of the U.S. embargo against the island nation. The first article – “We Have So Much to Learn From Cuba” – was run on December 30, 2014, and the third – “Sabotaging U.S.-Cuba Détente in the Kennedy Era” – will run on January 6.

By Robert F. Kennedy Jr
WHITE PLAINS, New York, Jan 5 2015 (IPS)

On the day of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, one of his emissaries was secretly meeting with Fidel Castro at Varadero Beach in Cuba to discuss terms for ending the U.S. embargo against the island and beginning the process of détente between the two countries.

That was more than 50 years ago and now, finally, President Barack Obama is resuming the process of turning JFK’s dream into reality by re-establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Robert F Kennedy Jr

Robert F Kennedy Jr

Those clandestine discussions at Castro’s summer presidential palace in Varadero Beach had been proceeding for several months, having evolved along with the improved relations with the Soviet Union following the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.

During that crisis, JFK and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, both at odds with their own military hardliners, had developed a mutual respect, even warmth, towards each other.  A secret bargain between them had paved the way for removing the Soviet missiles from Cuba – and U.S. Jupiter missiles from Turkey – with each side saving face.

Fidel, on the other hand, was furious at the Russians for ordering the withdrawal of the missiles without consulting him.  After the missile crisis, Khrushchev invited an embittered Fidel to Russia to smooth over the Cuban leader’s anger at the unilateral withdrawal of Soviet missiles.

Castro and Khrushchev spent six weeks together, with the Russian leader badgering Fidel to seek détente and pursue peace with President Kennedy.  Khrushchev’s son Sergei would later write that “my father and Fidel developed a teacher-student relationship.”  Khrushchev wanted to convince Castro that JFK was trustworthy.

Castro himself recalled how “for hours [Khrushchev] read many messages to me, messages from President Kennedy, messages sometimes delivered through Robert Kennedy [JFK’s brother]…”.  Castro returned to Cuba determined to seek a path toward rapprochement.“I cannot help hoping that a leader will come to the fore in North America (why not Kennedy, there are things in his favour!), who will be willing to brave unpopularity, fight the corporations, tell the truth and, most important, let the various nations act as they see fit. Kennedy could still be this man” – Fidel Castro in an interview with French journalist Jean Daniel, one of JFK’s secret channels to Castro

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was spying on all parties.  In a top secret January 5, 1963 memo to his fellow agents, Richard Helms (later to become Director of the CIA in 1966) warned that “at the request of Khrushchev, Castro was returning to Cuba with the intention of adopting with Fidel a conciliatory policy toward the Kennedy administration for the time being.”

JFK was open to such advances.  In the autumn of 1962, he and his brother Robert had dispatched James Donovan, a New York attorney, and John Dolan, a friend and advisor to my father Robert Kennedy, to negotiate the release of Castro’s 1500 Cuban prisoners from the Bay of Pigs invasion.

Donovan and Nolan developed an amiable friendship with Castro.  They travelled the country together.  Fidel gave them a tour of the Bay of Pigs battlefield and then took them as his guests to so many baseball games that, Nolan told me, he vowed to never watch the sport again.

After he released the last 1200 prisoners on Christmas Day 1962, Castro asked Donovan how to go about normalising relations with the United States.  Donovan replied: “The way porcupines make love, very carefully.”

My father Robert and JFK were intensely curious about Castro and demanded detailed, highly personal, descriptions of the Cuban leader from both Donovan and Nolan.

The U.S. press had variously caricatured Fidel as drunken, filthy, mercurial, violent and undisciplined. However, Nolan told them: “Our impression would not square with the commonly accepted image. Castro was never irritable, never drunk, never dirty.”  He and Donovan described the Cuban leader as worldly, witty, curious, well informed, impeccably groomed, and an engaging conversationalist.

From their extensive travel with Castro and having witnessed the spontaneous ovations when he entered baseball stadiums with his small but professional security team, they confirmed the CIA’s internal reports of Castro’s overwhelming popularity with the Cuban people.

JFK was intuitively sympathetic towards the Cuban revolution.  His special assistant and biographer Arthur Schlesinger wrote that “President Kennedy had a natural sympathy for Latin American underdogs and understood the source of the widespread resentment against the United States.”

He said that “the long history of abuse and exploitation had turned Fidel against the United States and toward the Soviets at a time when he might have turned toward the West.  JFK’s objection was to Cuba’s role as a Soviet patsy and platform for expanding the Soviet sphere of influence and fomenting revolution and Soviet expansion throughout Latin America.”

Castro had his own nationalistic reasons to bridle at Soviet dependency, particularly after the missile crisis.  He made his desire for rapprochement clear during private talks with ABC newswoman Lisa Howard, who served as another informal emissary between JFK and Fidel.

Howard reported back to the White House that, “in our conversations [Fidel] made it quite clear that he was ready to discuss the Soviet personnel and military hardware on Cuban soil, compensation for expropriated American lands and investments, the question of Cuba as a base for communist subversion throughout the hemisphere.

Once the Cuban prisoners were free, JFK began seriously looking at rebooting relations with Castro.  That impulse took him sailing into perilous waters.  The very mention of détente with Fidel was political dynamite as the 1964 U.S. presidential elections approached.

Barry Goldwater [the Republican Party’s nominee for president in the 1964 election], Richard Nixon [Vice-President under Eisenhower and JFK’s rival for the presidency in 1960] and Nelson Rockefeller [Goldwater’s competitor for nomination as Republican presidential candidate] all regarded Cuba as the Republican Party’s greatest asset.

Certain murderous and violent Cuban exiles and their CIA handlers saw talk of co-existence as hell bound treachery.

In September 1963, JFK secretly asked William Attwood, a former journalist and U.S. diplomat attached to the United Nations, to open secret negotiations with Castro.

Atwood had known Castro since 1959 when he covered the Cuban Revolution for Look magazine before Castro turned against the United States.

Later that month, my father told Attwood to find a secure location to conduct a secret parlay with Fidel.

In October, Castro began arranging for Atwood to fly surreptitiously to a remote airstrip in Cuba to begin negotiations on détente.  On November 18, 1963, four days before JFK’s assassination in Dallas, Castro listened to his aide, Rene Vallejo, talk by phone with Attwood and agreed to an agenda for the meeting.

That same day, JFK prepared the path for rapprochement with a clear public message.  Speaking to the Inter American Press Association in the heart of Cuba’s exile community in Miami, he declared that U.S. policy was not to “dictate to any nation how to organise its economic life.  Every nation is free to shape its own economic institution in accordance with its own national needs and will.”

A month earlier, JFK had opened another secret channel to Castro through French journalist Jean Daniel, editor of the socialist newspaper Le Nouvel Observateur.  On his way to interview Fidel in Cuba on October 24, 1963, Daniel visited the White House where JFK talked to him about U.S.-Cuba relations.

In a message meant for Castro’s ears, JFK criticised Castro sharply for precipitating the missile crisis.  He then changed tone, expressing the same empathy toward Cuba that he had evinced for the Russian people in his June 10, 1963 American University speech announcing the nuclear test ban treaty with the Soviets.

Kennedy launched into a recitation of the long history of U.S. relations with the corrupt and tyrannical regime of Fulgencio Batista. JFK told Daniel that he had supported that Castro’s Sierra Maestra Manifesto at the outset of the Cuban revolution.

Between November 19 and 22, 1963, Castro conducted his own series of interviews with Daniel.  Castro carefully and meticulously debriefed the Frenchman about every nuance of his meeting with JFK, particularly JFK’s strong endorsement of the Cuban Revolution.

Then Castro sat in thoughtful silence, composing a careful reply that he knew JFK was awaiting.  Finally he spoke carefully, measuring every word.  “I believe Kennedy is sincere,” he began.  “I also believe that today the expression of this sincerity could have political significance.”

He followed with a detailed critique of the Kennedy and Eisenhower administrations which had attacked his Cuban Revolution “long before there was the pretext and alibi of Communism.”

But, he continued, “I feel that [Kennedy] inherited a difficult situation; I don’t think a President of the United States is every really free, and I believe Kennedy is at present feeling the impact of this lack of freedom.  I also believe he now understands the extent to which he has been misled, especially, for example, on Cuban reaction at the time of the attempted Bay of Pigs invasion.”

He told Daniel: “I cannot help hoping that a leader will come to the fore in North America (why not Kennedy, there are things in his favour!), who will be willing to brave unpopularity, fight the corporations, tell the truth and, most important, let the various nations act as they see fit.  Kennedy could still be this man.”

Castro continued: “He still has the possibility of becoming, in the eyes of history, the greatest President of the United States, the leader who may at last understand that there can be coexistence between capitalists and socialists, even in the Americas.  He would then be an even greater President than Lincoln.” (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

*             Robert F. Kennedy Jr serves as Senior Attorney for the National Resources Defense Council, Chief Prosecuting Attorney for the Hudson Riverkeeper and President of Waterkeeper Alliance. He is also a Clinical Professor and Supervising Attorney at Pace University School of Law’s Environmental Litigation Clinic and co-host of Ring of Fire on Air America Radio. Earlier in his career, he served as Assistant Attorney General in New York City.

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OPINION: Quo Vadis? Post-Benghazi Libya Sun, 04 Jan 2015 17:38:16 +0000 Christopher Occhicone

Christopher Occhicone is a New York-based U.S. photojournalist who recently returned from Libya.

By Christopher Occhicone
NEW YORK, Jan 4 2015 (IPS)

A concerted disinformation campaign is being conducted to manufacture consent for military action against the government in Tripoli and the town of Misrata, which has been at the forefront of toppling the despotic Gaddafi dictatorship.

It is ironic that the very same people who called in NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) led airstrikes on satellite phones in 2011 are now being labeled as dangerous ‘Islamist militants’.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

chris o 300It looks like Western policymakers and legislators in the U.S. and Europe, and the United Nations may all be misinformed, which in turn could unleash catastrophic consequences for the people of Libya.  Undoubtedly a protracted civil war in Libya will swell the numbers of refugees fleeing to Europe manifold.

Impact of Benghazi

To understand the difference between fact and fiction, I spent several days interviewing senior members of the government of Libya and Fajr Libya known in English as Libya Dawn (LD).  My main subject on the side of the government was Mustafa Noah, director of the Intelligence Service of Libya.

What was very clear throughout the interview is that both Noah and his supporters in the government in Tripoli and Libya Dawn are very much pro-U.S. and pro-NATO who they say are “the saviors of Libya”.The Libya story in 2015 is about disinformation, lies and a power-grab in motion clandestinely supported by the Egyptians and their Saudi and Emirati counterparts.

They are genuinely upset at the murder of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and his three colleagues in Benghazi.  Ambassador Stevens is considered “an honourary Libyan who loved the country and its peoples” and who was “above all, a guest whose murder is sacrilege”.

Noah said that the “perpetrators have been paying a heavy price for their crime that is being slowly but surely being exacted upon them”.  He stated categorically for the record that “extremist Takfiri Islamists are clearly rejected by Libya Dawn and the government in Tripoli”.

In my four-hour interview, Noah made it clear that he was happy to talk about any issue, but did not want to be the focus or want it to appear as though he may be vying for power. This was something he came back to later on in the recorded conversation.

In fact, he spoke little about himself and his role despite several attempts to steer the conversation in that direction.

The major point Mustafa Noah made is that the government in Tripoli and Libya Dawn (as it stands now) is/are in the process of trying to set up an inclusive government for all Libyans.  His opinion is that opponents – specifically retired Libyan General Khalifa Belqasim Haftar – were “concerned about consolidating their own personal power base”.

There is mounting evidence that Hafter’s power-grab is being carried out with support of Egypt’s President Abdul Fattah al Sisi and his Saudi and Emirati backers. For example: the MiG-21 bombing runs from across the border, which are tantamount to a war crime for unprovoked and undeclared bombing of a neighbouring country.

And the recent purchase of six Sukhoi Su-30 warplanes delivered to Tobruk by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military (i.e. paid for allegedly by Egypt with funds that most probably originated from the Arab Gulf).

Mustafa Noah seemed genuine insofar as he always had a humble, well-composed, and thoughtful approach to any subject discussed.

He never framed anything in terms of his own accomplishments or involvement but in terms of the people and the revolution for change, stability and prosperity for all Libyans.

Noah was genuinely upset at the thought that someone-like Haftar, who is “working for his narrow personal interests and self-aggrandizement”, could be successful in building a personal power base without regard for the people.

He said Haftar was “using the divisive methods he learned from his time as a crony in the Gaddafi dictatorship”.  Noah found the “thought of a ‘strong man’ coming to power particularly offensive and abhorrent in light of recent history in Libya”.

Mustafa Noah clearly has put a lot of trust in the ability of Libya Dawn, however he is not blindly committed to them.  When I read a list of different militias, brigades, groups that composed Libya Dawn and asked about the character of specific militias, he painted them as all equally for the revolution and composed of good people.

Noah said any group that was not focused on the spirit of the revolution (i.e. anti-corruption, against arbitrary political violence, etc.) would not be a part of the future of a peaceful, stable and prosperous Libya.

His main focus is the Libyan people, creating better institutions, employment opportunities, social services, education, health services, etc.

Mustafa Noah talked about an “inclusive future” for Libya.  He described the “old system of tribalism and manipulation by Gaddafi” and how the “mentality has to change in order for the country to progress”.  Regarding inclusivity in the future, Noah said that they are “open to people from the Gaddafi regime returning to public life once stability is created”.

In fact, Mustafa Noah’s senior advisor on Anti-Terrorism Operations, who joined the conversation halfway through, was in the Gaddafi regime for 37 years.  For Mustafa Noah, the government in Tripoli and Libya Dawn, “there is a place for people from the Gaddafi regime who could prove they were not stealing from the Libyan people or … involved in atrocities against the people”.

Quo vadis Libya 2015?

What I discerned from my recent visit to Tripoli and Misrata is that the power-grab spearheaded by Haftar has more to do with Libya’s oil and gas resources, which are coveted by their neighbours, rather than the red herring of ‘Islamist militants in Tripoli and Misrata’ that is being trumpeted in the news media.

The Libya story in 2015 is about disinformation, lies and a power-grab in motion clandestinely supported by the Egyptians and their Saudi and Emirati counterparts.  What will the U.S. and the Europeans do?

Will they play along in the new ‘Great Game’ or stop another Syria-like imbroglio unfolding where extremist Takfiri militant organisations like the Islamist State (ISIS or ISIL) can feed off and emerge to threaten peace and stability in the Mediterranean and beyond?

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Oil Price Plunge Could Take a Bite from Arms Budgets Fri, 02 Jan 2015 20:38:20 +0000 Thalif Deen The continuing decline  in oil prices has already reduced purchasing power and impacted negatively on some of the world's currencies. Credit/Justin R/cc by 2.0

The continuing decline in oil prices has already reduced purchasing power and impacted negatively on some of the world's currencies. Credit/Justin R/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen

In a satirical piece titled ‘An Unserious Look at the Year Ahead’ in the Wall Street Journal last week, Hugo Rifkind predicts the price of a barrel of oil will fall so low that people across the world would start buying oil for the barrel – and throw the oil out.

The journalistic spoof about the oil market may be an improbable scenario, but in reality the sharp decline in prices has generated both good and bad news – mostly bad.If Middle Eastern sales flatten out or decrease, arms companies may fight harder for contracts in other parts of the world where military expenditure is still on the increase and less dependent on oil prices, such as in North, South East and South Asia.

In the United States, the fall in oil prices is being viewed as an unexpected – but welcome – stimulus to the country’s recession-struck economy.

As one U.S. newspaper headline read: ‘For (U.S. President Barack) Obama, Low Oil Prices Bring Hope’

The London Economist points out that a 40-dollar price cut would shift about 1.3 trillions dollars from oil producers to consumers.

But in the developing world, the current plunge is threatening to undermine oil-dependent economies in Africa, Asia, Latin American and the Middle East.

The continuing decline – from around 107 dollars per barrel last June to less than 70 dollars last month – has already reduced purchasing power and impacted negatively on some of the world’s currencies, including the ruble (Russia), real (Brazil), rupiah (Indonesia), bolivar (Venezuela), naira (Nigeria), peso (Chile), lira (Turkey) and ringgit (Malaysia).

But sooner or later the fall in oil prices is also likely to have a negative impact on both military spending and the thriving multi-billion-dollar arms market in the Middle East.

Perhaps for peace activists, this may be a positive sign in the global campaign for disarmament – mostly in conventional arms.

Arms buying by the six Gulf monarchies alone – Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain – have been traditionally fueled by rising oil incomes: more incomes, more state-of-the art weapons.

The exceptions in the Middle East are Israel and Egypt, which depend heavily on U.S. military grants that are gratis and non-repayable.

Pieter Wezeman, a senior researcher at the Arms Transfers and Arms Production Programme, at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), told IPS lower oil revenues will undoubtedly put pressure on the military expenditure of Middle Eastern states, as in the past.

Saudi Arabia’s arms imports peaked in the 1990s, he said, but then fell rapidly, partly because of oil price-related lower government revenues.

“However, for 2013, we estimated Saudi Arabia will be the world’s fourth largest military spender [about 67 billion dollars] and the UAE the fifteenth largest [19 billion dollars],” said Wezeman, who closely tracks the Middle Eastern arms market.

The world’s three largest military spenders are the United States (640 billion dollars), China (188 billion) and Russia (88 billion), according to 2013 figures released by SIPRI.

Striking a cautionary note, Wezeman said it is, however, too early to say anything about this with certainty, as the arms procuring states in question tend to be highly secretive and undemocratic about military matters and arms procurement programmes and plans.

“They may very well decide to cut spending in other sectors instead, if lower oil prices force them to cut overall government spending,” he declared.

Unveiling its 2015 budget last week, Saudi Arabia said it was “rationalising” its expenditure, but did not specify any details.

According to estimates by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Saudi Arabia’s total foreign exchange reserves amount to about 750 billion dollars.

Nicole Auger, a military analyst covering the Middle East and Africa at Forecast International, a leader in defence market intelligence and industry forecasting, told IPS a projected five-year defence spending (2015-2019) for the Middle East region shows the Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) at approximately 3.48 percent.

This number is lower than the past five years’ CAGR (2010-2014), which was 8.45 percent.

“I do credit some of this decline to the anticipated fall in oil prices,” she said.

For Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and the UAE, this trend will only serve as a nuisance they can comfortably withstand for a few years – “so I do not expect any significant changes in their defence spending tendencies.”

These markets are huge, and they all spend lavishly on building up their defence capabilities, she said.

Saudi Arabia alone has the world’s fourth-largest military budget and will continue to dominate the Middle East arms market, with a defence budget nearly four times the size of the next closest Middle East military investor, she noted.

“I don’t see a major change in Iran and Iraq’s defence spending trends, even though they stand to be the most hurt by this.”

Auger said due to other regional and internal fractures, these two neighbours will have to maintain their defence spending levels as a cautionary measure.

Even though Iran is already suffering from international sanctions with its unresolved nuclear issue, it still feels it is being threatened, and therefore lower defence spending will only make it more vulnerable from its own perspective, she added.

“With Iraq, you may see them lean more heavily on its allies,” Auger said.

SIPRI’s Wezeman told IPS the importance of the Middle Eastern market for arms producing companies is the fact that sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia alone accounted for 20 percent of sales in 2013 for the third largest arms producer in the world, BAE systems.

And the second largest arms producer, Boeing, sees declining sales of combat aircraft to its main client the United States, and is increasingly dependent on exports, he added.

At the same time, Wezeman said, there are signs the military industry in the region is growing too, though it is still small compared to arms industries in the traditional arms producing countries.

If Middle Eastern sales will flatten out or decrease, he predicted, arms companies will have to fight harder for contracts in other parts of the world where military expenditure is still on the increase and less dependent on oil prices, such as in North, South East and South Asia.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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U.S. Twists Arms to Help Defeat Resolution on Palestine Wed, 31 Dec 2014 21:02:13 +0000 Thalif Deen Riyad H. Mansour, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the U.N., addresses the Security Council after the vote. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Riyad H. Mansour, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the U.N., addresses the Security Council after the vote. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Thalif Deen

The United States re-asserted its political and economic clout – and its ability to twist arms and perhaps metaphorically break kneecaps – when it successfully lobbied to help defeat a crucial Security Council resolution on the future of Palestine this week.

Nadia Hijab, executive director of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, told IPS, “Did [U.S. Secretary of State John] Kerry manage to pull the rug out from under Palestine by convincing supportive Nigeria to abstain during the 13 calls he made to world leaders to torpedo the resolution?"Despite U.S. threats and blandishments, the PLO/Palestine does have room for maneuver in the legal and diplomatic arena - it just has not yet been effective at using it." -- Nadia Hijab

“Or did the U.S. pressure Palestine to go to a vote now, [in order] to ensure failure, since the Jan. 1 change in Security Council composition favours the Palestinians?”

If so, what promises of future support did it make? asked Hijab.

The resolution failed because it did not receive the required nine votes for adoption by the Security Council. Even if it had, it likely would have still failed, because the United States had threatened to cast its veto.

But this time around, Washington did not have to wield its veto power – and avoid political embarrassment.

The eight countries voting for the resolution, which called for the full and phased withdrawal of Israeli forces from occupied territories by the end of 2017, were France, China, Russia, Luxembourg, Argentina, Chad, Chile and Jordan.

The two negative votes came from the United States and Australia, while the five countries that abstained were the UK, South Korea, Rwanda, Nigeria and Lithuania.

A single positive vote, perhaps from Nigeria, would have made a difference in the adoption of the resolution.

Days before the vote, Kerry was working the phones, calling on dozens of officials, who were members of the Security Council, pressing them for a vote against the resolution or an abstention.

According to State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke, one such call was to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, which ensured an abstention from Nigeria, a country which was earlier expected to vote for the resolution.

After the vote, there were three lingering questions unanswered: Did the United States put pressure on Palestine to force the vote on the draft resolution on Tuesday since the re-composition of the Security Council would have been more favourable to the Palestinians, come Jan. 1?

And why didn’t Palestine wait for another week to garner those votes and ensure success?

Or did they misjudge the vote count?

Beginning Jan. 1, the composition of the Security Council would have changed with three new non-permanent members favourable to Palestine: Malaysia, Venezuela and Spain.

Samir Sanbar, a former U.N. assistant secretary-general who keeps track of Middle East politics, told IPS it is beyond a misjudgment of the vote count or miscalculation of the timing when in only a few days there would have been more likely positive votes by Malaysia, Spain and Venezuela.

“The actual intent of the Palestinian Administrative Authority from that failed move – and with whom it coordinated discreetly – remains to be politically observed,” he said.

“It is a tactical and strategic retreat at the expense of the universally supported inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, as stipulated in a succession of clearly assertive resolutions (including on statehood; right of return/or compensation; Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories; inalienable people’s rights).”

These rights, he said, have been endorsed by an overwhelming majority when the Palestinian cause was predominant in U.N. deliberations, and when Palestinian leadership was united in its quest and all Arab states, let alone most of the international community, were solidly behind it.

Sanbar said political logic would suggest maintaining what was gained during a positive period because any new resolution in the current weak status within a tragically fragmented Arab world will obviously entail a substantive retreat.

“It may be more helpful if efforts were mobilised to sharpen the focus on implementation of already existing resolutions and gain wider alliances to accomplish practical steps based on an enlightened knowledge of working through the United Nations rather than merely resorting to it on occasions when other options fail,” Sanbar declared.

Still, Hijab told IPS, whatever the case, many Palestinians breathed a sigh of relief that the resolution did not pass because it would have given a U.N. imprimatur to a lower bar on Palestinian rights.

The resolution implicitly accepted settlements with talk of land swaps and watered down refugee rights with reference to an agreed solution, effectively handing Israel a veto over Palestinian rights.

She said the Palestine Liberation Organization/Palestine will now be forced to take some meaningful action to maintain what little credibility it has with the Palestinian people.

“Despite U.S. threats and blandishments, the PLO/Palestine does have room for maneuver in the legal and diplomatic arena – it just has not yet been effective at using it,” she said. “It must urgently do so in 2015 – the 2335th Palestinian was killed by Israel this week as it colonises the West Bank and besieges Gaza – while Palestinian refugees suffer in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.”

Hijab said the Palestinian people need respite from this cruel reality, and they need their rights.

After the vote, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power, told the Council: “We voted against this resolution not because we are comfortable with the status quo. We voted against it because … peace must come from hard compromises that occur at the negotiating table.”

But she warned Israel, a close U.S. ally, that continued “settlement activity” will undermine the chances of peace.

Riyad Mansour, U.N. ambassador to Palestine, told the Council, “Our effort was a serious effort, genuine effort, to open the door for peace. Unfortunately, the Security Council is not ready to listen to that message.”

On the heels of the failed resolution, Palestine took steps Wednesday to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague – specifically to bring charges of war crimes against Israel – even though the U.S. Congress, which is virulently pro-Israel, has warned that any such move would result in severe economic sanctions.

“There is aggression practiced against our land and our country, and the Security Council has let us down — where shall we go?” Abbas said Wednesday, as reported by the New York Times, as he signed onto the court’s charter, along with 17 other international treaties and conventions.

“We want to complain to this organisation,” he said, referring to the ICC. “As long as there is no peace, and the world doesn’t prioritise peace in this region, this region will live in constant conflict. The Palestinian cause is the key issue to be settled.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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OPINION: Understanding Education for Global Citizenship Tue, 30 Dec 2014 18:40:16 +0000 Kartikeya V. Sarabhai

Kartikeya V.Sarabhai is the founder and director of the Centre for Environment Education headquartered in Ahmedabad, with 40 offices across India.

By Kartikeya V. Sarabhai
AHMEDABAD, India, Dec 30 2014 (IPS)

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) brings together concerns about the environment, economic development and social aspects. Since 1972, when the first U.N. Conference on the Human Environment was held in Stockholm, Sweden, there has been increasing awareness of the intricate link between conserving the environment and human development.

Photo courtesy of Purvivyas/cc by 3.0

Photo courtesy of Purvivyas/cc by 3.0

The fact that our lifestyles and the way we have developed have a major impact on the environment was known earlier. Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, in 1962, had been an eye-opener, especially in the United States where it was published.

But the 1976 U.N. Conference on the Human Habitat was perhaps the beginning of the realisation that development and environment had to be dealt with together. By the time of the first Rio conference in 1992, the deterioration of the environment was recognised as a global issue.

The conventions on biodiversity and climate change both were formulated at this conference. It was increasingly clear that no longer could countries solve their problems at the national level. With greater awareness especially on climate change one realised that what happens in one part of the planet has an impact on another.

Notwithstanding what President George W. Bush declared at Rio – that “The American way of life is not up for negotiations” – the world came to realise that ultimately these issues had to do with people’s lifestyles. The development paradigm that had emerged was carbon intensive and extremely wasteful.It is not laws alone that can change people’s behaviour but people themselves behaving with a sense of responsibility.

The global footprint measure was developed in 1990 by Canadian ecologist William Rees and Swiss-born regional planner Mathis Wackernagal at the University of British Columbia. It was a good way of knowing just how an individual’s action impacted the planet. Since the 1970s the total human footprint has exceeded the capacity of the planet.

While the global debate then and to a large extend even today seems based on the idea that making changes in policy and introducing new technologies can somehow shrink this footprint to sustainable levels, this assumption is widely questioned.

At the core of the change that is required is the transformation that happens in the way people relate to the planet and how we produce, consume and waste resources. It is not laws alone that can change people’s behaviour but people themselves behaving with a sense of responsibility. This sense of responsibility is at the heart of the concept of citizenship.

Global Citizenship therefore almost naturally emerges from an understanding of environment and sustainable development. ESD therefore becomes the foundation for Global Citizenship Education (GCE).

A Global Citizen is not someone who can be passive, but needs to contribute. ESD, unlike most formal education programmes, has the necessary action component built into it. ESD though shortened to three letters actually stands for four words. The missing word in the abbreviation is “for”, a word as important as the other three.

It is not Sustainable Development Education, which would indicate it is about teaching people about sustainable development (SD). What “for” does is, it puts an action goal at the end of the education process. It is not just to increase public awareness and knowledge about SD but in fact to act to achieve it.

The Global Education First Initiative (GEFI) of the U.N. secretary-general speaks of Global Citizenship as one of the three key concepts that the world needs to strive for in education today. GCE involves widening horizons and seeing problems from different points of view. Multi-stakeholder discussions are an important part of a GCE Programme. While we may strive for this, it is not always easy to understand and experience different points of view.

The Centre for Environment Education (CEE) in Ahmedabad, India, along with CEE Australia has launched the Global Citizenship for Sustainability (GCS) Programme which involves connecting children in schools in different countries around a nature-based theme.

For instance, Project 1600 connects eight schools on the coast of Gujarat in Western India with similar number of schools on the coast of Queensland in Australia. Through projects concerning the marine environment, children living in very different societies at different levels of development compare notes. The exchange forces students to think out of the box and understand issues from a very different perspective, from a different part of the globe.

Internships where students spend time in countries and environments that are very different from their own are also a very effective tool for GCE. Increasing global connectivity has also opened up possibilities for GCE that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago.

The work on ESD done during the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development led by UNESCO and partnered with a number of organisations across the globe has set the foundation towards GCE. Tools to measure GCE are still under development, as is the concept itself. The Brookings Institute through its Global Citizenship Working Group of the Learning Metrics Task Force 2.0 Program has made a beginning in these tools.

The continuous feedback and strengthening of the programme should lead to specific insights on GCE much as the last decade of work in ESD has taught the global community the finer points of creating a sense of responsibility to the planet while the same time engaging in a development process.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Years in the Making, Arms Trade Treaty Enters into Force Wed, 24 Dec 2014 14:14:44 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands A soldier stands over the weapons seized from four suspected members of Al Shabaab, the Islamic insurgent group, in Mogadishu, Somalia. The militants, all in their mid-twenties, were captured during joint security operation by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Somali security services and were found in possession of a rocket-propelled grenade, two sub-machine guns and 84 rounds of ammunition. Credit: UN Photo/Stuart Price

A soldier stands over the weapons seized from four suspected members of Al Shabaab, the Islamic insurgent group, in Mogadishu, Somalia. The militants, all in their mid-twenties, were captured during joint security operation by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Somali security services and were found in possession of a rocket-propelled grenade, two sub-machine guns and 84 rounds of ammunition. Credit: UN Photo/Stuart Price

By Lyndal Rowlands

A new Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) beginning on Dec. 24 represents a historic moment in global efforts to keep weapons proliferation in check.

Nounou Booto Meeti, programme director at the Centre for Peace, Security and Armed Violence Prevention, told IPS that in her own home country, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the uncontrolled trade of arms has contributed to human rights violations including rape and the recruitment of child soldiers."We’ve seen the Syrian government do horrendous things to their own civilians, and arms are continuing to go there, notably from Russia. That is a perfect modern case in point of what the ATT could stop if both of those countries were a part of it." -- Allison Pytlak from Control Arms

Meeti has actively campaigned for a global ATT, including advocating for the inclusion of a gender-based violence criterion.

The criterion is especially important for countries like the DRC where rape and sexual slavery has been used to systematically terrorise village after village.

Meeti emphasised that women, men and children are all affected by gender-based violence. In the DRC, when a village is attacked the men are often killed so that the women who are alive will not be able to defend themselves, she explained.

The Arms Trade Treaty, if implemented properly, will require states selling weapons to not only consider if the weapons are going to a country where there are systematic violations of human rights, including gender-based violence, but also how likely it is that those weapons will end up there through diversion from another country.

Meeti urged all countries to do their best to put the ATT into practice “so that we can see the reduction of armed violence, the reduction of armed conflict and the end of gender-based violence.”

She said that it has taken a long time to get to this point because there are a lot of interests in the global arms trade, which is an industry that earns billions and billions of dollars primarily for a small group of arms producing countries.

She added that “the transparency within the ATT will influence the reduction of military expenses in favour of development.”

The proliferation of weapons in countries like the DRC and the free flow of weapons into the ‘wrong hands’ has been allowed to continue because of an almost complete lack of international regulation of the arms trade.

According to Amnesty International, there are more international laws regulating the trade of bananas than of weapons.

Meeti said that they had shown that there was no management of government stockpiles of weapons in the DRC, making it easy for arms to be diverted to the wrong hands. Porous borders meant that weapons could easily be brought in from any of the nine countries that share borders with the DRC.

She said that non-state actors also had ready unregulated access to arms, funded by the DRC’s vast resource wealth and international actors with interests in exploiting those resources.

Allison Pytlak from Control Arms told IPS that the ATT is “about introducing responsibility into the arms trade, not about trying to stop the trade of arms.”

The treaty also asks “all parties involved, especially the arms dealers, to think twice about where their weapons are going,” Pytlak said.

She said that the ATT aims to fix problems like states receiving weapons after they had stopped acting responsibly.

“Syria is a good example, we’ve seen the Syrian government do horrendous things to their own civilians, and arms are continuing to go there, notably from Russia. That is a perfect modern case in point of what the ATT could stop if both of those countries were a part of it,” Pytlak said.

Pytlak also said that weapons often end up in the ‘wrong hands’ through diversion, corrupt officials and theft from insecure government stockpiles.

“A lot of guns start out on the legal market and then end up on the illegal market,” she noted.

“By having export licensing officials who have a second thought about, where are these weapons really going to go? It looks a little bit unstable there, or there’s a history of diversion there, if they start thinking twice about that, the source might dry up and diversion will cease,” she said.

Only the first step

The Arms Trade Treaty covers everything from small arms and light weapons to warships, including battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large-calibre artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, missiles and missile launchers. The treaty also covers ammunition and parts and components.

Millions of new weapons and 12 billion bullets are produced each year, while over 800 million guns already exist in the world.

The entering into force of the ATT on Wednesday with 61 ratifications and 130 signatures is only a small, albeit notable, step in the right direction.

Two thousand people die from armed violence every day. Armed violence is also fuelling the global refugee crisis, with over 26 million people around the world displaced due to conflict.

Arms affected countries are predominantly also lower income countries, and may struggle to implement the treaty.

Pytlak says that one current option being explored is the possibility of using Official Development Assistance (aid) to help lower income countries with the costs of implementing the treaty.

A new report from Chatham House says that the indirect impact of the arms trade on development includes the diversion of funds from healthcare to defence, increased unemployment and decreased educational opportunities.

In a statement Tuesday U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon described the adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty as historic.

“Ultimately, it attests to our collective determination to reduce human suffering by preventing the transfer or diversion of weapons to areas afflicted by armed conflict and violence and to warlords, human rights abusers, terrorists and criminal organisations,” Ban said.

Follow Lyndal Rowlands on Twitter: @lyndalrowlands

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Cuba and United States Now Foment Moderation in the Americas Tue, 23 Dec 2014 12:26:21 +0000 Mario Osava U.S. and Cuban Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro greet each other at the funeral of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, as Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff looks on. A lengthier, more formal greeting is expected at the Summit of the Americas in Panama in April. Credit: Government of Brazil

U.S. and Cuban Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro greet each other at the funeral of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, as Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff looks on. A lengthier, more formal greeting is expected at the Summit of the Americas in Panama in April. Credit: Government of Brazil

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO , Dec 23 2014 (IPS)

With the decision to reestablish diplomatic ties, Cuba and the United States, polar opposites that have long inspired or fomented extremism of different kinds in the Americas, have now become factors of moderation and pragmatism.

The continued isolation of Cuba 25 years after the end of the Cold War was so widely rejected that the U.S. embargo, which dates to October 1960, has completely lost relevance. But it can only be abolished by the U.S. Congress. It is politics that reigns in this case.

Moreover, the measures announced by U.S. President Barack Obama on Dec. 17 undermine the embargo. Raising the quarterly limit of cash remittances to Cuba from 500 to 2,000 dollars and freeing up transactions between banks in the two countries are just two examples.

Another initiative, the removal of Cuba from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism, opens doors to external financing that were closed up to now.Obama’s gesture, although late in coming, and Cuba’s acceptance will reduce tensions at a regional level that continue to exist largely due to the confrontation between the two countries. The new situation will save the Organisation of American States (OAS) from the corrosion caused by the exclusion of Cuba, which is rejected by Latin American and Caribbean nations.

Obama’s gesture, although late in coming, and Cuba’s acceptance will reduce tensions at a regional level that continue to exist largely due to the confrontation between the two countries. The new situation will save the Organisation of American States (OAS) from the corrosion caused by the exclusion of Cuba, which is rejected by Latin American and Caribbean nations.

The impatience with Cuba’s isolation was manifested by the invitation extended by the host government of the seventh Summit of the Americas, scheduled for April 2015 in Panama, to Cuban President Raúl Castro. Significantly, Castro and Obama were the first to confirm their attendance.

At the last summit, in 2012, Canada and the United States vetoed Cuba’s participation, blocking the consensus needed for Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to invite the Cuban leader to the summit in Cartagena de Indias. But the controversy contaminated the debates, standing in the way of meaningful in-depth discussions.

The dialogue launched by Obama and Castro is aimed at strengthening the OAS, which in 2009 repealed its 47-year suspension of Cuba. The Cuban government refused to return to an organisation where, it said, “the United States continues to exercise oppressive control.” But it is likely to change its stance given the new situation.

The OAS, however, will have to step up its role as a continental forum for debate on differences and conflicts, even human rights – another issue that has stood in the way of Cuba’s reinsertion, because of complaints of abuses.

The regional organisation will also provide an important space for Washington to rebuild its ties to Latin America, a region that has lost priority for the United States in recent decades.

That could reduce the weight of regional associations like the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), created to bring together countries in the region with cultural affinity and similar levels of development, but also as a counterpoint to the Inter-American system where the U.S. plays a hegemonic role.

With the easing of the confrontation between Havana and Washington, one of the reference points for radicalism of all stripes will disappear in the Americas.

The world could even be surprised by a congressional vote on lifting the embargo, where Obama’s position is expected to suffer a defeat at the hands of the Republican majority.

The anti-Castro lobbying groups have won elections in the state of Florida, but they are ageing and the opening up to Cuba stimulates economic interests against trade barriers.

The easing of tension between Cuba and the United States should also boost the effort to put an end to Colombia’s armed conflict, which has dragged on for over five decades. For the last two years, the government and the guerrillas have been involved in peace talks in Havana, which is hosting the negotiations.

Not so long ago it would have been unthinkable to consider Cuba sufficiently neutral ground for talks between the Colombian government and the insurgents.

Along with the embargo against Cuba, Colombia represents the persistence of conflicts that have outlived the context that gave rise to them, confirming that history is anything but linear.

Colombia’s internal conflict has claimed at least 220,000 lives since 1958 – 81.5 percent of them civilians. In addition 4.7 million people have been displaced, at least 27,000 have been “disappeared” and a similar number have been kidnapped, according to the report “Basta Ya” by the National Centre for the Historical Memory, a public institution created in 2011.

It also gave rise to the phenomenon of the far-right paramilitaries who are responsible for most of the estimated 150,000 people killed between 1981 and 2012 – far more than the victims of the government forces or the left-wing guerrillas.

U.S. support for the government had a lot do with the death toll. The repression against the insurgents was intensified by Plan Colombia, a strategy of U.S. financial and military aid put into effect in 1999, to combat leftist armed groups as well as drug trafficking.

But it was in the 1960s and 1970s that Cuba and the United States were protagonists in the most violent clashes, often by means of indirect involvement.

While the socialist island nation fomented armed revolutionary movements in Latin America and backed anti-colonialist struggles in Africa, even sending its own soldiers, Washington helped spread military dictatorships throughout the world and intervened directly where it believed its interests were threatened, such as in the Dominican Republic in 1965.

Direct battles, such as the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion by anti-Castro forces trained by the United States, espionage operations and attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro fueled the longstanding enmity that is to now be overcome by pragmatism in the face of new challenges.

Cuba’s economic decline, aggravated by the crisis in Venezuela, its primary source of oil on generous terms, has encouraged new understandings with “imperialism.”

Also needed in Cuba is self-criticism, the recognition of mistakes that have been made.

Cuban history is plagued with half-baked measures only explained by centralised decisions reached without prior consultation or advice, such as the planting of coffee, basically a high-altitude crop, on land close to sea level on the outskirts of Havana. Very little was grown and the important vegetable-producing belt around the capital was lost in the 1960s.

If the revolution that inspired left-wing movements around the region – and the world – adopts a pragmatic stance and engages in dialogue with the “enemy”, it could have a moderating effect on anti-imperialist governments and parties in Latin America.

Brazil could benefit from the new thaw, because of the dialogue with all political currents, and its presence in strategic projects in Cuba, such as the Mariel special economic development zone, whose port was expanded by a Brazilian construction company, with financing from Brazil.

And the sugar industry, once the pillar of the Cuban economy, could recover thanks to technology from Brazil, which replaced Cuba as the world’s biggest sugarcane producer.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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