Inter Press Service » Religion http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sat, 25 Oct 2014 15:11:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 India’s Crusader Against Impunityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/indias-crusader-against-impunity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indias-crusader-against-impunity http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/indias-crusader-against-impunity/#comments Sat, 25 Oct 2014 12:01:25 +0000 Beena Sarwar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137372 Manoj Mitta speaks at MIT. Credit: Beena Sarwar

Manoj Mitta speaks at MIT. Credit: Beena Sarwar

By Beena Sarwar
BOSTON, Oct 25 2014 (IPS)

As senior Indian journalist Manoj Mitta was testifying before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the U.S. Congress last month about mass violence and impunity in India, President Barack Obama escorted India’s newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the Martin Luther King Memorial.

“They were just three miles away,” Mitta told IPS, commenting on the irony of this coincidence, remembering that the United States had banned Modi’s entry on the mass violence on his watch in 2002 leading to the killing of about 1,000 Muslims in Gujarat state.“We can no longer pass off the shielding of mass murderers as the ‘internal affairs’ of any country. " -- Manoj Mitta

“Why should the U.S. Congress hold a hearing on human rights violations in India?” asked one Boston-based Indian expatriate on hearing about this. “By that token, we can have hearings in India about racial killings in the USA.”

“Why not indeed?” responds Mitta, a senior editor with The Times of India in New Delh, speaking to IPS in Boston when he was here for a talk at MIT, one of several book talks at universities around the country.

Focusing on legal and public policy issues, transparency and judicial accountability, both his books dissect judicial inquiries into the deadliest instances of communal violence in India: “When a Tree Shook Delhi: The 1984 carnage and its Aftermath”, co-authored with the eminent lawyer H. S. Phoolka (2007), and “The Fiction of Fact-Finding: Modi and Godhra” (2014).

The Lantos Commission event titled “Thirty Years of Impunity“, in collaboration with the Sikh Coalition, commemorated the 1984 carnage of Sikhs in the aftermath of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination by her Sikh bodyguards. Over 2,500 Sikhs were massacred in Delhi alone in just three days.

There is also a class-based element to such mass-violence, notes Boston-based writer and poet Sarbpreet Singh, whose long poem “Kultar’s Mime” about the 1984 carnage is currently being performed in the U.S., Canada and India. “Most people who suffered and died were very poor.”

After Boston, New York, Ottawa and Toronto, the compelling show will be performed in India — Delhi (Oct. 30-Nov. 1), Chandigarh (Nov. 2), and Amritsar (Nov. 4), before heading to the U.S. west coast: Los Angeles (Nov. 20-23) and San Francisco Bay Area (Dec. 6-7).

A scene from Kultar's Mime. Credit: Sikh Research Institute - sikhri.org

A scene from Kultar’s Mime. Credit: Sikh Research Institute – sikhri.org

“The ongoing struggles for justice in India gain strength from expressions of solidarity from abroad,” said Mitta. “We can no longer pass off the shielding of mass murderers as the ‘internal affairs’ of any country. As Martin Luther King famously put it, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’.”

Mitta quotes an old Sanskrit saying, “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (the world is one family) – which Modi also invoked in his speech before the United Nations General Assembly.

But Modi was speaking “in terms of commerce and business,” says Mitta. “With the world being increasingly globalised on the economic front, more than globalisation of the economy, we need a universalisation of human rights standards and practices.”

Mitta, who also addressed the British Parliament commemorating the 25th anniversary of the 1984 carnage five years ago, says he would like countries to talk about each other’s human rights violations.

“Those violations affect not just the country they take place in. There are also spin-off effects that impact other countries,” he says. “Like, an unstable Pakistan is bad for India, and violations in India are bad for America.”

“Human rights should remain on the agenda,” adds Mitta, who has written extensively on the undermining of the rule of law in India – patterns that are visible in other South Asian nations too.

“Could such a mass crime, in which rampaging mobs fatally attacked hundreds of people, have ever occurred in Washington DC?” he asks. “And could the perpetrators of mass murder have got away with it? Could the security forces in the USA have colluded with the mobs as blatantly as they did in Delhi.”

“Could your president have dared to justify the mass crimes, as Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi did, by declaring that when a big tree had fallen, the earth was bound to shake?” he asked in his presentation to the Lantos Commission.

Such questions would seem equally inconceivable about other leading capital cities too. Whatever the provocation, could there ever have been such massacres, at any rate post-World War II, in London, Paris, Berlin or Tokyo?”

Looking beyond liberal democracies, the scale of the bloodshed in Delhi 1984 is “perhaps comparable to what happened in Beijing five years later, during the Tiananmen Square massacre” – committed by security forces operating in a single-party political system.

In fact, the death toll of Delhi 1984 was similar to that of 9/11 – the big difference being that “9/11 was the result of sudden and unforeseen terror attacks, not mob violence that deliberately remained unchecked for three days. By any standards of the civilised world, Delhi 1984 is one of a kind, a monstrosity without a parallel.”

And yet, it took 23 years for the first book on this subject to be published – Mitta and Phoolka’s, in 2007. It was made possible by a new inquiry commission established in 2000 seeking to undo the damage caused by the earlier one that had held all its findings in secrecy and not given due hearing to survivors.

The new commission, headed by former Supreme Court judge G.T. Nanavati, conducted its proceedings in public and released many old records related to the 1984 carnage.

“India’s appalling lack of documentation culture, especially on human rights issues is clearly a deficiency that is another reason for the impunity,” believes Mitta.

In the case of 1984, there have been about 30 convictions for murder in 30 years. The Gujarat carnage of 2002 has seen some 200 convictions, due to the Supreme Court’s intervention. The SC transferred some high-profile cases out of Gujarat and appointed a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to look into some of the worst cases from 2002.

However, the SIT “balked at asking questions” or challenging Modi on any of his evasive or contradictory replies while examining him. Because of this “fact-fudging rather than fact-finding,” says Mitta, Modi ended up not facing trial, as recommended by the Supreme Court appointed amicus curiae.

It was only after the SIT exonerated him that Modi became the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. “The Supreme Court has yet to pronounce on Modi’s innocence or guilt.”

The Indian prime minister has called for a 10-year moratorium on caste and communal violence, urging Indians to stay focused on the challenges of economic development.

But Modi has taken no action or even condemn those who have since violated this moratorium by stepping up their hate speech. His “strategic silence” and “denial mode, pretending that there’s no escalation of religious tensions under his rule, effectively adds another layer of impunity,” says Mitta.

The bottom line, he adds: If it is allowed to continue, impunity for hate speech and violence in India will eventually impact U.S. corporations seeking to do business with India. Impunity affects all, whether it is for corporate corruption or human rights abuses.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Al Baghdadi and the Doctrine Behind the Namehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-al-baghdadi-and-the-doctrine-behind-the-name/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-al-baghdadi-and-the-doctrine-behind-the-name http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-al-baghdadi-and-the-doctrine-behind-the-name/#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 08:14:18 +0000 Farhang Jahanpour http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137294

In this column, Farhang Jahanpour – former professor and Dean of the Faculty of Languages at the University of Isfahan, who has taught for 28 years in the Department of Continuing Education at the University of Oxford – looks at the symbolism of the name adopted by Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, and argues that the views and actions of al-Baghdadi and his followers are almost an exact copy of the Wahhabi revivalist movement instigated by 18th century theologian Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab.

By Farhang Jahanpour
OXFORD, Oct 21 2014 (IPS)

When Ibrahim al-Badri al-Samarrai adopted the name of Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Husseini al-Quraishi and revealed himself to the world as the Amir al-Mu’minin (the Commander of the Faithful) Caliph Ibrahim of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, the whole world had to sit up and take notice of him. 

The choice of the long title that he has chosen for himself is most interesting and symbolic. The title Abu-Bakr clearly refers to the first caliph after Prophet Muhammad’s death, the first of the four “Orthodox Caliphs”.

Farhang Jahanpour

Farhang Jahanpour

The term Husseini presumably refers to Imam Hussein, the Prophet’s grandson and Imam Ali’s son, who was martyred in Karbala on 13 October 680. His martyrdom is seen as a turning point in the history of Islam and is mourned in elaborate ceremonies by the Shi’ites.

Both Sunnis and Shi’ites regard Imam Hussein as a great martyr, and as someone who gave up his life in order to defend Islam and to stand up against tyranny.

Finally, al-Quraishi refers to Quraish, the tribe to which the Prophet of Islam belonged.

Therefore, his chosen title is full of Islamic symbolism.

According to an alleged biography posted on jihadi Internet forums, al-Baghdadi is a direct descendant of the Prophet, but curiously enough his ancestors come from the Shi’a line of the Imams who descended from the Prophet’s daughter Fatimah.

Despite his great hostility towards the Shi’ites, is this genealogy a way of portraying himself as the true son of the descendants of the Prophet, thus appealing to both Shi’ites and Sunnis?“The decision of some Western governments, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to topple the regime of the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad by training and funding Syrian insurgents provided al-Baghdadi with an opportunity to engage in jihad and to widen the circle of his followers, until he suddenly emerged at the head of thousands of jihadi fighters, again attacking Iraq from Syria”

According to the same biography, al-Baghdadi was born near Samarra, in Iraq, in 1971. It is alleged that he received BA, MA and PhD degrees in Islamic studies from the Islamic University of Baghdad. It is also suggested that he was a cleric at the Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal Mosque in Samarra at around the time of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

According to a senior Afghan security official, al-Baghdadi went to Afghanistan in the late 1990s, where he received his early jihadi training. He lived with the Jordanian militant fighter Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Kabul from 1996-2000.

It is likely that al-Baghdadi fled Afghanistan with leading Taliban fighters after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan following the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States. After the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, Zarqawi and other militants, perhaps including al-Baghdadi, formed al-Qaeda in Iraq.

In September 2005, Zarqawi declared an all-out war on the Shi’ites in Iraq, after the Iraqi and U.S. offensive on insurgents in the Sunni town of Tal Afar. Zarqawi was killed in a targeted killing by U.S. forces on Jun. 7, 2006.

According to U.S. Department of Defense records, al-Baghdadi was held at Camp Bucca from February until December 2004, but some sources claim that he was interned from 2005 to 2009.

In any case, his history of militancy in both Afghanistan and Iraq and fighting against U.S. forces goes back a long way. He was battle-hardened in the jihad against U.S. forces, and being detained by U.S. forces further strengthened his ambitions and credentials as a militant jihadi fighter.

In the wake of the Arab Spring and anti-government protests in Syria, some Western governments, Saudi Arabia and Turkey decided to topple the regime of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by training and funding Syrian insurgents.

The upheaval in Syria provided al-Baghdadi with an opportunity to engage in jihad and to widen the circle of his followers, until he suddenly emerged at the head of thousands of jihadi fighters, again attacking Iraq from Syria.

His forces conquered vast swaths of territory in both Syria and Iraq, and he set up his so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Sham (or greater Syria), ISIS.

On the first Friday in the Muslim month of fasting or Ramadan on Jul, 4, 2014 (American Independence Day), al-Baghdadi suddenly emerged out of the shadows and delivered the sermon at the Great Mosque in Mosul, which had been recently conquered by ISIS.

His sermon showed not only his command of Koranic verses, but also his ability to speak clearly and eloquently. He is certainly more steeped in radical Sunni theology than any of the al-Qaeda leaders, past and present, ever were.

His biographer says that Al-Baghdadi “purged vast areas in Iraq and Syria from the filth of the Safavids [a term referring to the 16th century Iranian Shi’ite dynasty of the Safavids], the Nusayris [a derogatory term referring to the Syrian Alawite Shi’ites], and the apostate [Sunni] Awakening Councils. He established the rule of Islam.”

In his short sermon, al-Baghdadi denounced those who did not follow his strict interpretation of Islam as being guilty of bid’a or heresy. He quoted many verses from the Koran about the need to mobilise and to fight against non-believers, and to remain steadfast in God’s path.

He also stressed some key concepts, such as piety and performing religious rituals, obeying God’s commandments, and God’s promise to bring victory to the downtrodden and the oppressed. Finally, he talked about the need for establishing a caliphate.

In the Koranic context, these terms have broad meanings. However, in the hands of al-Baghdadi and other militant jihadis, these terms are given completely different and menacing meanings, calling for jihad and the subjugation of the non-believers.

The views and actions of al-Baghdadi and his followers are almost an exact copy of the Wahhabi revivalist movement instigated by an 18th century theologian from Najd in the Arabian Peninsula, Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1792).

Indeed, what we are seeing in Iraq now is almost the exact repetition of the violent Sunni uprising in Arabian deserts that led to the establishment of the Wahhabi state founded by the Al Saud clan almost exactly 200 years ago.

In 1802, after having seized control of most of Arabian Peninsula, the Saudi warlord Abdulaziz attacked Karbala in Iraq, killed the majority of its inhabitants, destroyed the shrine of Imam Hussein, where Prophet Muhammad’s grandson is buried, and his followers plundered everything that they could lay their hands on.

The establishment of that dynasty has resulted in the propagation of the most fundamentalist form of Islam in its long history, which eventually gave rise to Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda, and now to ISIS and al-Baghdadi.

The jihadis reduce the entire rich and varied scope of Islamic civilisation, Islamic philosophy, Islamic literature, Islamic mysticism, jurisprudence, Kalam and tafsir (hermeneutics) to the Shari’a, and even at that, they present a very narrow and dogmatic view of the Shari’a that is rejected by the greatest minds in Islam, putting it above everything else, including their rationality.

Indeed, it is a travesty that such barbaric terrorist acts are attributed to Islam. (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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U.S. Airdrops to Kobani Kurds Mark New Stage in ISIL Conflicthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/u-s-airdrops-to-kobani-kurds-mark-new-stage-in-isil-conflict/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-airdrops-to-kobani-kurds-mark-new-stage-in-isil-conflict http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/u-s-airdrops-to-kobani-kurds-mark-new-stage-in-isil-conflict/#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 00:00:13 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137285 By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Oct 21 2014 (IPS)

The U.S. air drop Sunday of new weapons and supplies to Kurdish fighters in the besieged border town of Kobani marks an important escalation in Washington’s efforts to “degrade and destroy” the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

The operation, which included the provision of 27 bundles of small arms, including anti-tank weapons, ammunition, and other supplies, also helped trigger a major change in Turkish policy, according to experts here.

School turned into refugee camp in Erbil, September 2014. Credit: Annabell Van den Berghe/IPS

School turned into refugee camp in Erbil, September 2014. Credit: Annabell Van den Berghe/IPS

Until then, Ankara had strongly opposed providing help to Kobani’s Kurdish defenders, who are dominated by members of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) which Ankara considers a terrorist organisation linked to the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK).

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu confirmed Monday that Kurdish peshmerga forces from Iraq will be permitted to transit the Turkish border to bolster Kobani’s fighters against ISIS, which has reportedly lost much of its hold on the city amidst heavy fighting and U.S. air strikes over the last few days.

“I think the Turks are doing damage control,” Henri Barkey, a Turkey expert based at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, told IPS Monday. “Everybody wanted to save Kobani, and the Turks were essentially making it impossible. They’re doing this now to say ‘we’re doing something, too’.”

Despite recent and increasingly worrisome ISIL advances in neighbouring Iraq, particularly in Al-Anbar province, the battle over Kobani has dominated coverage of the two-month-old U.S. air campaign against the group, largely because the fighting can be closely followed by journalists from the safety of the hills on the Turkish side of the border.

Although senior Obama administration and military officers have repeatedly declared that Kobani’s fate is not critical to their overall strategy against ISIL, the town’s prominence in U.S. media coverage – as well as reports that the group has itself sent significant re-inforcements to the battle — has made it a politically potent symbol of Washington’s prospects for success.

Washington had largely ignored the battle until several weeks ago. As ISIL forces moved into the town’s outskirts from three different directions in the media spotlight, however, it began conducting air strikes which have steadily intensified over the last two weeks, even as Ankara, its NATO ally, made clear that it opposed any outside intervention on the PYD’s behalf.

“The government of Turkey doesn’t see [ISIL] as the worst problem they face,” former U.S. Amb. to Ankara Eric Edelman said during a forum at the Bipartisan Policy Center here last week.Erdogan is likely to bargain hard over U.S. requests to use Incirlik air base for offensive operations against ISIS in both Syria and Iraq.

He noted that senior Turkish officials have recently described the PKK, with which the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is engaged in critical peace negotiations, as worse — an observation which, he added “gives you a sense of the hierarchy” of threats as seen by Ankara. The PYD is widely considered the PKK’s Syrian branch.

“They see Kobani through the lens of negotiations with the PKK and [want] to cut the PKK down to size,” he said.

That strategy, however, may have backfired amidst increasingly urgent and angry appeals by the PYD and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq to come to Kobani’s aid, or, at the very least, permit Kurdish fighters to re-inforce the town’s defenders.

Even more important, Kurds, who make up about 20 percent of the Turkish population, mounted anti-government protests throughout the country. More than 30 people were killed in street violence before strict curfews were enforced earlier this month.

Moreover, the PKK threatened to break off peace negotiations, one of Erdogan’s signal achievements.

In addition to the domestic pressure, Washington and some of its NATO allies leaned increasingly heavily on Ankara to revise its policy.

Erdogan, however, insisted that it would help out in Kobani – and, more important strategically, permit the U.S. to use its giant Incirlik air base to launch air strikes — only if Washington met certain conditions regarding its overall Syria policy.

In particular, he demanded that Washington and its allies establish no-fly zones along the Turkish border that could be used as safe havens for anti-Syrian government rebels and target President Bashar al-Assad’s military infrastructure, as well as ISIL’s. While Secretary of State John Kerry indicated the administration was willing to consider such steps, the White House has remained steadfastly opposed.

Given the mounting symbolic importance of Kobani, Obama himself telephoned Erdogan Saturday to inform him that he had decided to authorise the resupply of Kobani’s defenders and urge him to open the border to Kurdish re-inforcements.

The initial resupply operation was carried out Sunday night local time by three C-130 cargo planes, marking a new level in Washington’s intervention in Syria.

Even as a few Democrats expressed concern about the latest escalation, the operation was hailed by Republican hawks who have called for much stronger action, including no-fly zones, as well as attacks on Syrian military targets.

“We support the administration’s decision to resupply Kurdish forces in Kobani with arms, ammunition and other supplies,” said Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, the Senate’s most prominent hawks, in a joint statement.

At the same time, they complained that “this tactical adjustment should not be confused for an effective strategy, which is still lacking.” They urged the administration to deploy U.S. special forces and military advisers on the ground in Syria to assist “moderate” opposition forces against both ISIL and the Assad regime.

What remains unclear is whether Obama merely informed Erdogan that the air supply operation would go forward whether he approved or not or if the Turkish president extracted some further commitments in return.

“I think they got nothing in exchange; I think the Turks are doing damage control,” Barkey told IPS. “I would say that the Turks are shell-shocked now by the American decision.”

At the same time, he added, Erdogan is likely to bargain hard over U.S. requests to use Incirlik air base, which is located close to the Syrian border and much closer to both Syria and Iraq than U.S. aircraft carriers and bases in the Gulf, for offensive operations against ISIS in both Syria and Iraq.

Turkey has permitted Washington to use the base to carry out humanitarian flights and launch surveillance drones – which are also used to track PKK movements in eastern Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Pakistan’s Ahmadis Faced with Death or Exilehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/pakistans-ahmadis-faced-with-death-or-exile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistans-ahmadis-faced-with-death-or-exile http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/pakistans-ahmadis-faced-with-death-or-exile/#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 14:21:32 +0000 Beena Sarwar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137258 Mujeeb-ur-Rahman (right) speaks at Harvard University. Amjad Mahmood Khan is seated to the left. Credit: Cara Solomon, Harvard Law School

Mujeeb-ur-Rahman (right) speaks at Harvard University. Amjad Mahmood Khan is seated to the left. Credit: Cara Solomon, Harvard Law School

By Beena Sarwar
BOSTON, Oct 20 2014 (IPS)

Two years ago, gunmen shot dead Farooq Kahloun’s newly married son Saad Farooq, 26, in an attack that severely injured Kahloun, his younger son Ummad, and Saad’s father-in-law, Choudhry Nusrat.

Saad died on the spot. In Pakistan after travelling from his home in New York for the wedding, Nusrat died in hospital later. Four bullets remain in Kahloun’s chest and arm. A bullet lodged behind the right eye of Ummad, a student in the UK, was surgically removed months later.“In Karachi, people are being killed every day. Doctors, professors, not just Ahmadis but also Shias and others.” -- Farooq Kahloun

As an Ahmadi leader in his locality, Kahloun knew he was a target for hired assassins in the bustling but lawless metropolis of Karachi. General insecurity in Pakistan is multiplied manifold if you are, like Kahloun, an Ahmadi – a sect of Islam that many orthodox Muslims abhor as heretic.

“I never thought they would target my family,” says Kahloun, 57, a successful businessman who left everything behind, obtained political asylum and moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where he lives with his wife and daughter.

In 1974, under pressure from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan’s parliament declared Ahmadis as non-Muslim (similarly pressured, the newly independent Bangladesh refused). A decade later, a military dictator made it a criminal offence for them to “pretend” to be Muslims.

These changes, say lawyers and human rights advocates, violate Pakistan’s own Constitutional provisions, specifically Articles 8-27 that are comparable to the U.S. Bill of Rights.

Saad Farooq-IPS-Ahmadi 300

Saad Farooq

“These are shameful laws,” says Kahloun. “If we have no other Prophet or Quran, what can we do?”

‘Takfiri’ ideology (declaring someone a non-Muslim) led to Pakistan’s first Nobel Prize winner Dr. Abdus Salam (Physics, 1979), an Ahmadi, being hounded out of the country, and to the attack on Swat schoolgirl Malala Yousufzai, now Pakistan’s second Nobel Laureate, also forced into exile.

Assailants behind such attacks are rarely caught, tried and punished, creating a culture of impunity that only encourages more attacks, say analysts.

Assailants whom Ahmadi survivors captured and handed over to the police in May 2010 following one of Pakistan’s deadliest terrorist attacks are yet to be punished. The attack targeted an Ahmadi mosque in Lahore, killing over 90 worshippers and injuring many more.

“We could not live in Pakistan anymore. No one would leave if he had a choice, but now, any Ahmadi will go out if given the opportunity,” Kahloun told IPS by telephone. “In Karachi, people are being killed every day. Doctors, professors, not just Ahmadis but also Shias and others.”

Takfiri militants also term Shias as ‘Kafir’ or infidel and have been targeting them in huge numbers.

The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan says that 687 people were killed in over 200 sectarian attacks in 2013, 22 per cent more than in 2012, while 1,319 people were injured, 46 per cent more in 2012.

“The number of Ahmadis and religious communities seeking asylum abroad is steadily increasing,” says Qasim Rashid, a Pakistani-born, Virginia-based Ahmadi lawyer and author of ‘The Wrong Kind of Muslim’ (2013) that documents the Ahmadi persecution in Pakistan.

“This goes to show the importance of maintaining freedom of religion and conscience worldwide. It is the failure to uphold these rights that empowers and emboldens groups like Taliban and ISIS,” Rashid told IPS.

Some Pakistani Ahmadis are protected by their prominence, like Mujeeb-ur-Rahman, 83, a senior Supreme Court advocate who lives in Rawalpindi near the capital Islamabad, and has no intention of leaving the country.

“The Thurgood Marshall of Pakistan”, he is currently in the U.S., invited by the newly organised 52-member Ahmadi Muslim Lawyers Association (AMLA) to address their inaugural conference in Silver Spring, Maryland, last month and “pass on the torch”.

“All participants came at their own expense because they have a deep love and admiration for Mr. Rahman’s extraordinary career and advocacy,” says AMLA President Amjad Mahmood Khan, a Pakistani-origin American born in California.

AMLA has organised talks by Rahman at various universities, starting with Khan’s alma mater Harvard Law School. He spoke at Princeton University Oct. 17, and will appear at Columbia University, Oct. 23; New York University Law School, Oct. 27; University of California, Irvine, Oct. 30; and Stanford University, Nov. 4.

A lively and humorous speaker despite his age, Rahman peppers his talks with references to U.S. case law and pioneers like Martin Luther King — “Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere” — besides Pakistan’s Constitution and legal cases.

He began his Harvard talk with the Muslim greeting “As-Salam-Alaikum” (peace be with you) — “almost a reflex greeting for any Pakistani, whether Christian or Muslim or from any religion”.

In Pakistan, the greeting could send him to jail for three years, he reminded the audience. So could saying the ‘Kalima’, the first prayer of Islam, “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his Prophet.”

“The first departure from the secular concept of Pakistan,” says Rahman, was Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly’s passage of the 1949 Objectives Resolution. Overriding the strong objections by some members, it declared Islam to be the state religion. “The clerics gained an inch”.

The Second Constitutional Amendment of 1974 that termed Ahmadis as non-Muslim is a “usurpation of constitutional authority, not a valid piece of law,” said Rahman. “The state cannot call into question anyone’s faith.”

In 1993, he argued a landmark case against restrictions on the Ahmadis’ right to freely practice their faith, consolidating eight appeals by Ahmadis, imprisoned for saying the ‘kalima’.

Zaheeruddin v. State is also known as the “trademark” or the “Coca Cola judgement” because the Supreme Court dismissed it on the grounds that Ahmadis by professing to be Muslims were violating the “trademarks” of Islam.

“As if religion is a merchandise, saleable commodity with financial interests attached,” scoffs Rahman, who carries with him two books that he adheres to: the Quran and Pakistan’s Constitution.

Lawyers in Pakistani courts cite hundreds of U.S. cases, but in the Zaheeruddin case, “American laws were wrongly cited and misapplied to give the colour of fairness to the case,” asserts Rahman.

Legal experts elsewhere have taken apart the Zaheeruddin judgement, like Martin Lau in a report for the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, and Karen Parker, J.D. in a study for the Humanitarian Law Project of the International Educational Development, USA.

Rahman pins his hopes on “intelligence of a future day” along the lines of what the U.S. witnessed when a U.S. Supreme Court bench overturned a case that earlier restricted the right of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to propagate their faith.

“The ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] was active in overturning the case,” says Rahman, noting that one of the judges who had been on the earlier bench admitted to having been wrong the first time.

Pakistan is the only country where it is a criminal offense for Ahmadis to profess and practice their faith as Muslims, but state-sanctioned discrimination and persecution of Ahmadis elsewhere are increasing.

“Pakistani laws are the most aggressive,” notes the advocate Qasim Rashid. “But other countries have started following Pakistan’s example. The onslaught is led not by locals but by Pakistani mullahs.”

Bangladesh has banned Ahmadi books on religion, Ahmadis are under attack in Malaysia, and Indonesia has started sealing Ahmadi mosques.

Khalida Jamilah, 21, lived in West Java in Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population. She says Ahmadi families like hers were free to practice their faith as Muslims until 2005 when hard-line Muslims attacked an Ahmadi convention in West Java that her family was attending.

In 2008, they sought political asylum in the U.S., and moved to Los Angeles, where Jamilah’s father drives a cab.

“Here [in America] we can express our faith freely,” says Jamilah, now a journalism student at the University of California, Berkeley. “The U.S. government values freedom of religion and there is separation of church and state. I hope the Indonesian government does that too.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Iraq’s Minorities Battling for Survivalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-iraqs-minorities-battling-for-survival/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-iraqs-minorities-battling-for-survival http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-iraqs-minorities-battling-for-survival/#comments Sat, 18 Oct 2014 13:56:31 +0000 Mark Lattimer and Mahmoud Swed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137255 Demonstrators in front of the White House call for greater U.S. intervention against ISIS to save Iraqi minorities, including Yazidi and Christians, from genocide. Credit: Robert Lyle Bolton/cc by 2.0

Demonstrators in front of the White House call for greater U.S. intervention against ISIS to save Iraqi minorities, including Yazidi and Christians, from genocide. Credit: Robert Lyle Bolton/cc by 2.0

By Mark Lattimer and Mahmoud Swed
LONDON, Oct 18 2014 (IPS)

Through all of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s campaigns of ‘Arabization’, they survived. The diverse Iraqi communities inhabiting the Nineveh plains – Yezidis, Turkmen, Assyrians and Shabak, as well as Kurds – held on to their unique identities and most of their historic lands.

So too they survived the decade of threats, bombings and killings that followed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, remaining on lands that in some cases they have settled for over 4,000 years.Responsibility for many of these attacks falls to ISIS or its predecessors, but regular killings have also been carried out by other militia groups, and by members of the Iraqi Security Forces.

But in less than three months this summer, much of the Nineveh plain was emptied of its minority communities.

The advance by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was marked by a series of atrocities, some of them recorded and posted on the internet by ISIS itself, which have outraged the international community.

Now the first comprehensive report on the situation of Iraq’s minorities, released Thursday by Minority Rights Group (MRG) International and the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights, documents the full extent of violations committed against all of Iraq’s minority communities and reveals ISIS as an organisation motivated by the logic of extermination.

Minorities have been principal targets in a systematic campaign of torture, killings, sexual violence, and enslavement carried out by ISIS.

It should be stressed that nearly all of Iraq’s communities have suffered at the hands of ISIS, including Shi’a and Sunni Arabs, but the varying religious and social status attributed by ISIS ideologues to different peoples – as well as the value of the lands they inhabit – have made some communities much more vulnerable, with the nature of abuse often being determined by the particular ethno-religious background of the victims.

Under the pretence of a religious edict, for example, ISIS confiscated Christian-owned property in Mosul and enforced an ultimatum on the community to pay jizya tax.

Yezidis have repeatedly been denied even a right of existence by ISIS, and some other extremist groups, on the erroneous grounds that they are ‘devil-worshippers’.

The report delineates a pattern of targeting of Yezidis and their property, now overshadowed by the latest wave of violence that has cost the lives of at least hundreds and the kidnapping of up to 2500 men, women and children since August.

Captured Yezidi men have been forced to choose between conversion or death, whilst Yezidi women and children have been sold to slavery and subjected to sexual abuse.

But it would be a mistake to imagine that the violations suffered by Iraqi minorities date from a few months ago – or to believe that ISIS was the only perpetrator.

Since 2003, Christians have been the target of bombings, assassinations and kidnappings, with groups often targeting property and places of worship. Most of Iraq’s Christian population, up to one million people, had already fled the country by the start of the year.

Yezidis suffered the single deadliest attack of the conflict, when a multiple truck bombing in Sinjar in 2007 killed as many as 796 people, according to the Iraqi Red Crescent.

And one of the most sobering pictures to emerge from the report is the series of mass killings of Turkmen and Shabak carried out in recent years, the violence intensifying in the latter half of 2013.

Responsibility for many of these attacks falls to ISIS or its predecessors, but regular killings have also been carried out by other militia groups, and by members of the Iraqi Security Forces.

Throughout these years of violence the Iraqi government has proved either unable or unwilling to protect its minority communities. Few incidents are properly investigated and the perpetrators nearly always go unpunished, in some cases with indications of official complicity.

Aside from the immediate threats of violence, communities including Yezidis, Roma and Black Iraqis continue to face chronic and institutionalised discrimination that hinders their cultural and religious rights as well as imposing restrictions on access to health care, education and employment.

The choice now confronting many of Iraq’s diverse communities is be forced to flee en masse or to endure a life of continuous fear and suffering. Some peoples, such as the Sabean-Mandaeans, have already seen their numbers reduced by emigration to the point where their very survival in Iraq as a distinct community is under threat.

Some community leaders interviewed expressed the hope and determination that they could return to their lands; others saw emigration as their only possibility.

A comprehensive plan for the restitution to minority communities of their former lands and properties in the Nineveh plains and elsewhere is thus an essential component of any positive vision for Iraq’s future.

The need to ensure that those responsible for attacks are held to account also requires Iraq to accede to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

More immediately, there is nothing to stop the ICC prosecutor from opening a preliminary investigation into alleged crimes committed by the growing number of nationals of existing ICC state parties fighting in Iraq.

But Iraq’s own response to the ISIS threat holds serious dangers, including in particular the wholesale re-mobilisation of the Shi’a militias.

With the international coalition beginning to ratchet up its air campaign against ISIS, it is imperative that the international community does not appear to condone or even encourage the growing sectarianism now gripping Iraq’s security forces.

From a new sectarian war every community stands to lose.

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.

Editing by Kitty Stapp

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Cash-Strapped Human Rights Office at Breaking Point, Says New Chiefhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/cash-strapped-human-rights-office-at-breaking-point-says-new-chief/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cash-strapped-human-rights-office-at-breaking-point-says-new-chief http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/cash-strapped-human-rights-office-at-breaking-point-says-new-chief/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 21:47:50 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137225 Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the new United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaks at the opening of the 27th session of the Human Rights Council on Sep. 8, 2014 in Geneva, Switzerland. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the new United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaks at the opening of the 27th session of the Human Rights Council on Sep. 8, 2014 in Geneva, Switzerland. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 16 2014 (IPS)

After six weeks in office, the new U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein of Jordan launched a blistering attack on member states for insufficient funding, thereby forcing operations in his office to the breaking point “in a world that seems to be lurching from crisis to ever-more dangerous crisis.”

“I am already having to look at making cuts because of our current financial situation,” he told reporters Thursday, pointing out while some U.N. agencies have budgets of over a billion dollars, the office of the UNHCHR has a relatively measly budget of 87 million dollars per year for 2014 and 2015."I have been asked to use a boat and a bucket to cope with a flood." -- U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein

“I have been asked to use a boat and a bucket to cope with a flood,” he said, even as the Human Rights Council and the Security Council saddles the cash-strapped office with new fact-finding missions and commissions of inquiry – with six currently underway and a seventh “possibly round the corner.”

Jens Martens, director of the Global Policy Forum (GPF) in Bonn, told IPS that governments treat the United Nations like firefighters.

“They call them to a fire but don’t give them the water to extinguish the fire and then blame the firefighters for their failure,” he said.

Martens welcomed the “the powerful statement” by the UNHCHR, describing it as a wake-up call for governments to take responsibility and finally provide the necessary funding for the United Nations.

Martens said for many years, Western governments, led by the United States, have insisted on a zero-growth doctrine for U.N. core budget.

“They bear major responsibility for the chronic weakness of the U.N. to respond to global challenges and crises,” he added.

The Office of the UNHCHR depends on voluntary contributions from member states to cover almost all of its field activities worldwide, as well as essential support work at its headquarters in Geneva.

“Despite strong backing from many donors, the level of contributions is not keeping pace with the constantly expanding demands of my Office,” Zeid said.

Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, told IPS the dramatic gap between the demands on the U.N. human rights office and the resources it has available is unsustainable.

“It’s time for states to match their commitment to human rights by providing the resources needed for the High Commissioner and his team to do their jobs,” she said.

Renzo Pomi, Amnesty International’s representative at the United Nations, told IPS it is wrong that the office of the UNHCHR’s core and mandated activities are not fully funded from the U.N.’s regular budget.

This, despite the fact, – as the High Commissioner himself points out – human rights are regularly described as one of the three pillars of the United Nations (along with development and peace and security).

Pomi said the office receives just over three percent of the U.N.’s regular budget.

“That makes for a short pillar and a badly aligned roof. U.N. member states should make sure that its core and mandated activities are properly funded,” he added.

Singling out the cash-crisis in the World Health Organisation (WHO), Martens told IPS a recent example is the weakness of WHO in responding to the Ebola pandemic.

Due to budget constraints WHO had to cut the funding for its outbreak and crisis response programme by more than 50 percent in the last two years.

It’s a scandal that the fraction of the regular budget allocation for human rights is less than 100 million dollars per year, and that the Office of the High Commissioner is mainly dependent on voluntary contributions.

Human Rights cannot be promoted and protected on a mere voluntary basis.

He said voluntary, and particularly earmarked, contributions are often not the solution but part of the problem.

Earmarking tends to turn U.N. agencies, funds and programmes into contractors for bilateral or public-private projects, eroding the multilateral character of the system and undermining democratic governance, said Martens.

“In order to provide global public goods, we need sufficient global public funds,” he said.

Therefore, member states must overcome their austerity policy towards the United Nations.

For many years Global Policy Forum has been calling for sufficient and predictable U.N. funding from governments, said Martens. In light of current global challenges and crises this call is more urgent than ever before, he added.

Zeid told reporters human rights are currently under greater pressure than they have been in a long while. “Our front pages and TV and computer screens are filled with a constant stream of presidents and ministers talking of conflict and human rights violations, and the global unease about the proliferating crises is palpable.”

He said the U.N. human rights system is asked to intervene in those crises, to investigate allegations of abuses, to press for accountability and to teach and encourage, so as to prevent further violations.

But time and time again “we have been instructed to do these and other major extra activities within existing resources,” said Zeid, a former Permanent Representative of Jordan to the United Nations.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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OPINION: The U.S. and a Crumbling Levanthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-u-s-and-a-crumbling-levant/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-u-s-and-a-crumbling-levant http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-u-s-and-a-crumbling-levant/#comments Wed, 15 Oct 2014 20:18:53 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137192

Emile Nakhleh is a Research Professor at the University of New Mexico, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of “A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World.”

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Oct 15 2014 (IPS)

As the international media is mesmerised by the Islamic State’s advance on Kobani or ‘Ayn al-Arab on the Syrian-Turkish border, Arab states and the United States would need to look beyond Kobani’s fate and the Islamic State’s territorial successes and defeats.

The crumbling Levant poses a greater danger than ISIL and must be addressed—first and foremost by the states of the region.Although the so-called deep security state has been able to maintain a semblance of order around the national capital, the state’s control of territories beyond the capital is fading and is rapidly being contested by non-state actors.

The British colonial term Levant encompasses modern-day Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine, with a total population of over 70 million people. The population—mostly young, unemployed or underemployed, poor, and inadequately educated—has lost trust in their leaders and the governing elites.

The Levant has become a bloody playground for other states in the greater Middle East, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Iran, and Turkey. While dislocations in the Levant could be contained, the regional states’ involvement has transformed the area into an international nightmare. The resulting instability will impact the region for years to come regardless of ISIL’s short-term fortunes.

The Levantine state has become marginalised and ineffectual in charting a hopeful future for its people, who are drifting away from nationalist ideologies toward more divisive, localised, and often violent, manifestations of identity politics. National political identity, with which citizens in the Levant have identified for decades, has devolved mostly into tribal, ethnic, geographic, and sectarian identities.

The crumbling state structure and authority gave rise to these identities, thereby fueling the current conflicts, which in turn are undermining the very existence of the Levantine state.

The three key non-state actors—ISIL, Hizbollah, and Hamas—have been the beneficiaries of the crumbling states, which were drawn up by colonial cartographer-politicians a century ago.

Although the so-called deep security state has been able to maintain a semblance of order around the national capital, the state’s control of territories beyond the capital is fading and is rapidly being contested by non-state actors.

This phenomenon is readily apparent in Baghdad, Damascus, Ramallah, and Gaza, partially so in Beirut, and less so in Amman. Salafi groups, however, are lurking in the background in Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine ready to challenge state authority whenever they sense a power vacuum.

Political systems in the Levant are often propped up by domestic ruling elites, regional states, and foreign powers for a variety of parochial and transnational interests. More and more, these ruling structures appear to be relics of the past. A key analytic question is how long would they survive if outside economic, military and political support dries up?

Levant regimes comprise a monarchy in Jordan; a perennially dysfunctional parliamentary/presidential system in Lebanon; a brutal, teetering dictatorship in Syria; an autocratic presidency in Palestine; and an erratic partisan democracy in Iraq. They have subsisted on so-called rentier or “rent” economies—oil in Iraq, with the rest dependent on foreign aid. Providers of such aid have included GCC countries, Iran, Turkey, the United States, the EU, Russia, and others.

Corruption is rampant across most state institutions in the Levant, including the military and the key financial and banking systems. For example, billions of dollars in U.S. aid to Iraq following the 2003 invasion have not been accounted for. According to the New York Times, American investigators in the past decade have traced huge sums of this money to a bunker in Lebanon.

The collapse of the Levant states in the next decade is not unthinkable. Their borders are already becoming more blurred and porous. The decaying environment is allowing violent groups to operate more freely within states and across state boundaries. ISIL is causing havoc in Iraq and Syria and potentially could destabilise Jordan and Lebanon precisely because the Levantine state is on the verge of collapse.

As these states weaken, regional powers—especially Saudi Arabia plus some of its GCC junior partners, Iran, and Egypt—will find it convenient to engage in proxy sectarian and ethnic wars through jihadist and other vigilante mercenaries.

Equally disturbing is that U.S. policy toward a post-ISIL Levant seems rudderless without a strategic compass to guide it. It’s as if U.S. policymakers have no stomach to focus on the “morning after” despite the fact that the airstrikes are proving ineffective in halting ISIL’s territorial advances.

Kobani aside, what should the Arab states and the United States do about the future of the Levant?

1. Iraq. If the Sunnis and Kurds are to be represented across all state institutions in Iraq, regional states with Washington’s help should urge Prime Minister Abadi to complete the formation of his new government on the basis of equity and fairness. Government and semi-public institutions and agencies must be made accountable and transparent and subject to scrutiny by domestic and international regulatory bodies. Otherwise, Iraq would remain a breeding ground for terrorists and jihadists.

2. Syria. If Washington remains committed to Assad’s removal, it should end its Russian roulette charade toward the Syrian dictator. Ankara’s view that Assad is more dangerous in the long run than ISIL is convincing and should be accepted and acted upon.

If removing Assad remains a serious policy objective, is the coalition contemplating imposing a no-fly zone and a security zone on Syria’s northern border any time soon to facilitate Assad’s downfall?

3. Lebanon. If Hizbollah and other political parties do not play a constructive role in re-establishing political dialogue and stability in Lebanon, it won’t be long before the ISIL wars enter the country. Are there regional and international pressures being put on Hizbollah to end its support of Assad and disengage from fighting in Syria?

The upcoming presidential election would be a useful barometer to assess the key Lebanese stakeholders’ commitment to long-term stability. If no candidate wins a majority, does Washington, in conjunction with its Arab allies, have a clear plan to get the Lebanese parliament to vote for a president?

Unless Lebanon gets its political house in order, religious sectarianism could yet again rear its ugly head in that fragile state and tear Lebanon apart.

4. Palestine. If the Obama administration urges Israel to facilitate a working environment for the Palestinian national unity government, to end its siege of Gaza, and dismantle its 47-year occupation, Palestine would no longer be an incubator of radical ideologies.

An occupied population living in poverty, unemployment, alienation, repression, daily humiliation, and hopelessness and ruled by a corrupt regime is rarely prone to moderation and peaceful dialogue. On the contrary, such a population offers fertile recruiting ground for extremism.

5. It is in the United States’ interest to engage Iran and Saudi Arabia—the two countries that seem to meddle most in the Levant—in order to stop their proxy wars in the region. These sectarian wars could easily lead to an all-out military confrontation, which would surely suck in the United States and other Western powers. Israel would not be able to escape such a conflict either.

The Saudi government claims that it opposes ISIS. Yet one would ask why hasn’t the Saudi clerical establishment denounced—forcefully and publicly—the ISIL ideology and rejected so-called Islamic State Caliphate? Why is it that thousands of ISIL jihadists are from Saudi Arabia and neighbouring Gulf countries?

6. Since Levant countries face high unemployment, it’s imperative to pursue serious job creation initiatives. Arab states, with Washington’s support, should begin massive technical and vocational education programs and entrepreneurial initiatives in the Levant countries. Young men and women should be trained in vocational institutes, much like the two-year college concept in the United States.

Vocational fields that suffer from shortages in Levant countries include plumbing, carpentry, home construction, electricity, welding, mechanics, automotive services, truck driving, computers and electronics, health services, hotels and tourism, technology management, and TV and computer repairs. Services in these fields are badly needed. Yet thousands of young men and women are ready to be trained and fill these needs.

In addition to vocational training, wealthy Arab countries should help the Levant establish funds for entrepreneurial, job-creation initiatives, and start-ups. A partnership between government and the private sector, with support from the U.S and other developed countries, could be the engine that drives a new era of job creation and economic growth in the region where the ISIL cancer is metastasizing.

Let’s be clear, the United States has significant leverage to help implement these policies should American leaders decide to do so. One could ask why should the US make such a commitment? If ISIL is primarily a threat to Levantine countries, why can’t they deal with it?

These are fair questions but, as we have discovered with Ebola, what happens in Liberia doesn’t stay in Liberia. A crumbling Levant will have ramifications not just for the region but for the United States and the rest of the world as well.

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.

Editing by Kitty Stapp

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Civil Society in Cuba Finds More Space Under the Reformshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/civil-society-in-cuba-finds-more-space-under-the-reforms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-in-cuba-finds-more-space-under-the-reforms http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/civil-society-in-cuba-finds-more-space-under-the-reforms/#comments Wed, 15 Oct 2014 01:25:21 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137201 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/civil-society-in-cuba-finds-more-space-under-the-reforms/feed/ 2 Can China Pacify Its Restive Minorities Peacefully?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/can-china-pacify-its-restive-minorities-peacefully/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-china-pacify-its-restive-minorities-peacefully http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/can-china-pacify-its-restive-minorities-peacefully/#comments Mon, 13 Oct 2014 11:28:55 +0000 Piero Sarmiento http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137136 Uyghur elders and child. Credit: Todenhoff/cc by 2.0

Uyghur elders and child. Credit: Todenhoff/cc by 2.0

By Piero Sarmiento
HONG KONG, Oct 13 2014 (IPS)

The Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti was recently sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of separatism.

The former economics professor, who resided in Beijing for most of his career, is internationally known for his countless articles promoting stronger interethnic dialogue between Uighurs and China’s majority Han population. Through writing and peaceful advocacy, Tohti tried to lessen the friction between Uighurs and the Han community while advocating for Uighur rights.Intermarriage and cartoons are certainly preferable to violent suppression. But they will not ease the tensions that have been boiling over for decades.

Cynically, Chinese authorities treated his dedication to broader understanding among Chinese ethnic groups as a threat to the country’s territorial integrity. Tohti’s supporters consider him a peaceful yet passionate advocate for human rights. Instead he has been treated as just another Islamic extremist from Xinjiang.

In recent years, minority groups all over China have grown progressively more restive, with peaceful demonstrations increasing alongside violent terrorism. Separatists in the western regions have launched attacks against government buildings and innocent bystanders, while others have engaged in civil disobedience — included hundreds of self-immolations.

These are not arbitrary actions. Uighurs and Tibetans, among other underrepresented ethnic groups in China, have long felt oppressed by Communist Party policies. The government’s initial response has been to crack down on these “separatist forces” with an iron fist as a means to maintain social order and a semblance of unity.

Yet this response has only led to deeper resentment, prompting the government to explore alternative measures.

Although the government has not completely abandoned the “iron fist” policy, as the story of Ilham Tohti reveals, the Communist Party has devised a number of other strategies to address ethnic unrest. Many of these fall into the category of “soft power.” Nowadays the Chinese leadership is vigorously pursuing both approaches, deploying a carrot or a stick depending on the circumstances.

Rising unrest

Tibet is populated overwhelmingly by ethnic Tibetans, while Uighurs constitute a plurality in Xinjiang. Han Chinese have increasingly settled in both regions—especially in Xinjiang, where their numbers nearly match those of the Uighurs, which has led to clashes.

Even though China’s official language is Standard Mandarin, Tibetan and Uighur are the preferred tongues, and sometimes the only spoken ones, among many natives of the western regions. Unlike the generally nonreligious Han, Uighurs and Tibetans are highly religious—the Uighurs overwhelmingly Muslim and Tibetans overwhelmingly Buddhist.

Many Uighurs and Tibetans do not consider themselves actual Chinese citizens, or their homelands part of mainland China. For example, Uighurs in Xinjiang often refer to their region as East Turkestan and refuse to use any other name.

Even though minorities are exempted from certain national laws, such as the one-child policy, the Chinese government’s rigorous political oversight of their territories has created friction among the various ethnic groups. Many Muslims in Xinjiang believe that government policies pose a threat to their cultural identity and dignity.

In 2014, for example, Chinese authorities restricted the observance of Ramadan. Drastic measures were taken to prohibit the use of the Quran in educational settings, discourage attendance at madrasas, and curtail customary fasting habits.

Younger generations have been the most vulnerable to these sanctions, since they find themselves obliged by their teachers and superiors to ignore their Islamic traditions. The government in Beijing is not only targeting children and average Uighur citizens, but also the local authorities. Xinjiang officials themselves have been reprimanded for openly expressing their religious beliefs.

The people holding the highest positions of power in China tend to come from the dominant Han ethnic group. Smaller communities have been perennially marginalised and overshadowed. Lately, this underlying animosity has escalated, resulting in outbursts of violence—not only in Tibet and Xinjiang, but all over the nation.

One of the most recent tragic events took place in the province neighbouring Tibet known as Yunnan. Last March, knife-wielding assailants assaulted crowds in the Kunming train station, resulting in 29 deaths and over 140 injuries in a bloodbath the Chinese government blamed on Uighur separatists. Another dramatic attack followed two months later in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, when attackers crashed cars and threw explosives at a crowded marketplace, killing 31.

An earlier incident occurred in October 2013, when a car crashed in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and burst into flames in a suspected suicide attack. Five people were killed, including three in the car, and dozens were injured. Last August, the Chinese government executed eight Uighurs it accused of fomenting terrorism, including one allegedly linked to the Tiananmen attack.

The situation in Tibet—where there have been few reports of violent resistance since the uprising of 2008—has been somewhat different.

There, protestors have relied on “passive aggressive” tactics, including more than 120 cases of self-immolations. The Communist Party has blamed the Dalai Lama for inciting these activities and incarcerated many Buddhists who have attempted the same or urged others to do so. Most of these “separatist revolutionaries” have been labeled as traitors, given death sentences, or put behind bars.

Soft power

But without forsaking its “iron fist,” the government in Beijing is now experimenting with different approaches to balancing majority-minority relations without the use of force.

One such unorthodox tool has been encouraging interracial marriages. In order to promote these matches, economic and social incentives have been offered, including paid vacations, social security, and employment prospects. Even though there are still few of these interracial marriages, the numbers have more than quadrupled since 2008, going over the 4,000 mark.

Not everyone is thrilled at the strategy, however. Many minorities view inter-marriage, like the earlier efforts to relocate Han to the Western regions, as just another strategy to absorb and integrate non-Han Chinese into the dominant Han culture. The ultimate goal, they warn, is the destruction of minority cultures.

Other parties are experimenting with media outreach. A Chinese film company known as Shenzhen Qianheng, for example, is developing a 3D cartoon called “Princess Fragrant,” a love story about an 18th-century Han Chinese emperor and his Uighur consort. The cartoon’s Han creators hope it will encourage curiosity and communication between Uighurs and Hans.

Intermarriage and cartoons are certainly preferable to violent suppression. But they will not ease the tensions that have been boiling over for decades. The Chinese government needs to address the structural issues that have generated the mistrust and resentment.

But Beijing is not going to allow the vast, geopolitically significant territories of Xinjiang and Tibet to secede from the country. A common ground has to be found and more freedoms have to be granted if China is indeed going to maintain its internal cohesion in a peaceful and productive way.

Tohti’s imprisonment and the higher degree of surveillance imposed in Xinjiang and Tibet shows that the Chinese government will not hesitate to keep the country unified by any means. The long-term effects of such actions, however, might potentially escalate the existing conflict.

Sharon Hom, the executive director of Human Rights in China, believes that the Tohti verdict is only going to aggravate the overall domestic situation: “Rather than encouraging sensible, moderate voices like Tohti’s,” she said, “this will exacerbate the tensions in the region.”

After Tohti was incarcerated, many lost hope for the peaceful road to ethnic equality that he actively supported. It’s not too late, however, for the Chinese government to realize that a policy of carrots will be more successful in the long term than the sticks that it has recently deployed.

Piero Sarmiento is a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus. This article is a joint publication of Foreign Policy In Focus and TheNation.com

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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In Pakistan’s Tribal Areas, a Nobel Prize Is a ‘Ray of Hope’http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/in-pakistans-tribal-areas-a-nobel-prize-is-a-ray-of-hope/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-pakistans-tribal-areas-a-nobel-prize-is-a-ray-of-hope http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/in-pakistans-tribal-areas-a-nobel-prize-is-a-ray-of-hope/#comments Sun, 12 Oct 2014 14:03:19 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137125 The Taliban have damaged over a thousand schools in northern Pakistan since crossing over from Afghanistan in 2001, preventing scores of children, especially young girls, from receiving an education. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

The Taliban have damaged over a thousand schools in northern Pakistan since crossing over from Afghanistan in 2001, preventing scores of children, especially young girls, from receiving an education. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Oct 12 2014 (IPS)

For girls living in northern Pakistan’s sprawling tribal regions, the struggle for education began long before that fateful day when members of the Taliban shot a 15-year-old schoolgirl in the head, and will undoubtedly continue for many years to come.

Still, the news that Malala Yousafzai – a former resident of the Swat Valley in the northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province – had received the Nobel Peace Prize on Oct. 10, brought renewed vigor to those battling the Taliban’s hard-line attitude towards girls’ education.

Residents here told IPS that when she survived an attempt on her life on Oct. 9, 2012, Yousafzai became an icon, a representative of the state of terror that has become a part of everyday existence here.

“We appeal to Malala to spend funds to promote education in FATA." -- Yasmeen Bibi, a 13-year-old refugee who is not attending school.
By awarding her the world’s most prestigious peace prize, experts say, the Nobel Committee is sending a strong message to all who remain trapped in zones where the sanctity of education has been subordinated to the perils of conflict.

Muhammad Shafique, a professor at the University of Peshawar, the KP province’s capital, told IPS that Yousafzai’s prize has turned a “spotlight onto the importance of education.”

“It will be a motivational force for parents to send their daughters back to school,” he added.

Since militants began crossing the Afghan-Pakistan border in 2001, following the U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, residents of these mountainous areas have endured the full force of extremist campaigns to impose strict Islamic rule over the population.

At the height of the Taliban’s rule over the Swat Valley, between 2007 and 2009, approximately 224 schools were destroyed, stripping over 100,000 children of a decent education.

It was during this period that Yousafzai, just 12 years old at the time, began recording the hardships she faced as a young girl in search of an education, writing regular reports for the Urdu service of the BBC from her hometown of Swat.

Schoolgirls in Peshawar pray for Malala Yousafzai. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Schoolgirls in Peshawar pray for Malala Yousafzai. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Her struggle found echo all around northern Pakistan, where hundreds of thousands of young people like herself were living in constant fear of reprisals for daring to pursue their studies.

In the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), for instance, Taliban edicts banning secular schools as a “ploy” by the West to undermine Islam have kept 50 percent of school aged children out of the classroom.

Since the decade beginning in 2004, the Taliban have damaged some 750 schools, 422 of them dedicated exclusively to girls, according to a source within the FATA directorate for education.

FATA has one of the lowest enrollment rates in the country, with just 33 percent of school-aged children receiving an education. In total, about 518,000 children in FATA are sitting idle, as per government records.

The dropout rate touched 73 percent between 2007 and 2013, as families fled from one district to another to escape the Taliban. The latest wave of displacement has seen close to one million people from North Waziristan Agency evacuating their homes since Jun. 15 and taking refuge in Bannu, an ancient city in KP.

Schoolgirls at a demonstration in Peshawar in support of Malala Yousafzai. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

Schoolgirls at a demonstration in Peshawar in support of Malala Yousafzai. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

A rapid assessment report released by the United Nations in August found that 98.7 percent of displaced girls and 97.9 percent of the boys were not receiving any kind of education in the camps.

Already nursing a miserable primary school enrollment rate of 37 percent, Bannu is on the verge of a full-blown educational crisis, with 80 percent of its school buildings now occupied by refugees.

Thus the honour bestowed upon Yousafzai has touched many thousands of people, and breathed new life into the campaign for the right to education. Since October 2012, enrollment in the Swat Valley has increased by two percent, according to Swat Education Officer Maskeen Khan.

“Now, we are expecting a huge boost after the award,” the official told IPS.

Naila Ahmed, a 10th-grader originally hailing from North Waziristan Agency who now lives in a refugee camp in Bannu, feels her generation has been “unlucky”, forced to grow up without an education.

The situation is so dire that she views her displacement as a “blessing in disguise”, since the move to Bannu has enabled her to enroll in a private school for the first time in many years.

She is one of the fortunate ones; few parents in this militancy-infested region can afford the cost of private schooling, she says.

Thirteen-year-old Yasmeen Bibi is one of those whose parents cannot shoulder the bill for an education. “We hope that the government will make arrangements for our education,” she told IPS from her makeshift home in a refugee camp in Bannu, adding, “We appeal to Malala to spend funds to promote education in FATA.”

Her words hearken back to the time immediately following Yousafzai’s decision to flee the country, when many from the Swat Valley and its surrounding provinces felt let down by the rising star, left behind to face the Taliban’s wrath stemming from the teenager’s newfound fame.

Some agreed with the Taliban’s claim that she had “abandoned Islam for secularism” by accepting an offer to live and study in the UK.

In the last few days, however, any ill feeling towards Yousafzai, now the world’s youngest Nobel laureate, appears to have dissipated, replaced by a kind of collective euphoria at the global acknowledgement of her courage.

All throughout Swat, girls’ schools distributed free sweets on Oct. 10 and celebrated in the streets.

Yousafzai’s former classmate, Mushatari Bibi, explained that the news has been like “a ray of hope” to other girls, who take a big risk each time they leave their homes to head to school.

Some even say that the Nobel Prize, and the hope it has instilled in the population, represents a challenge to the very foundations of the Taliban’s power, since more people now feel compelled to stand up to the militants that have plagued the lives of millions for well over a decade.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.S. Anti-ISIL Strategy Drawing Growing Scepticismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/u-s-anti-isil-strategy-drawing-growing-scepticism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-anti-isil-strategy-drawing-growing-scepticism http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/u-s-anti-isil-strategy-drawing-growing-scepticism/#comments Tue, 07 Oct 2014 02:29:56 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137025 By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Oct 7 2014 (IPS)

Hopes that the strategy announced by President Barack Obama a month ago against the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIL) might yield a relatively quick victory have disappeared amidst growing fears that the U.S.-led air campaign has at most only slowed the radical group’s advance.

While air strikes, combined with ground attacks by Iranian-backed Kurdish peshmerga and Iraqi Special Forces, succeeded initially in pushing back militants of the self-described Islamic State, from positions close to Erbil and from their control of the Mosul Dam and more recently in taking back the Rabia and Daquq districts in the north, U.S. air power has failed to prevent ISIL from taking most of the Kurdish town of Kobani on the Syrian Turkish border as of Monday.More than one commentator has noted that Baghdad’s International Airport, which hosts a U.S. command centre and aircraft, including helicopter gunships, is now within range of artillery and rockets.

Even more worrisome here have been ISIL advances in the so-called Sunni Triangle on the eastern edge of Al-Anbar province in Iraq.

In a significant escalation of Washington’s direct involvement in the fighting, the U.S. Central Command (CentCom) announced Sunday that it had sent attack helicopters into battle against ISIL positions just west of Baghdad.

“It’s definitely boots in the air,” Jeffrey White, a veteran military analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), told McClatchy Newspapers.

“Using helicopter gunships in combat operations means those forces are in combat,” he noted, adding that the resort to slower-moving and low-flying aircraft posed a much greater threat of U.S. casualties and an implicit recognition that air strikes so far had failed to stop ISIL forces from launching offensive operations.

ISIL forces also appear to have taken control of Abu Ghraib, the Baghdad suburb made infamous by abuses committed at a prison there by U.S. troops against Iraqi detainees during Washington’s occupation.

More than one commentator has noted that Baghdad’s International Airport, which hosts a U.S. command centre and aircraft, including helicopter gunships, is now within range of artillery and rockets – considerable quantities of which ISIL captured from military bases abandoned by Iraqi forces earlier this summer — fired from the town.

In recent days, ISIL forces also successfully took control of two key towns – Kubaisa and Hit — west of Anbar’s capital, Ramadi, in an apparent bid to consolidate their hold on the province and gain control over key oil pipeline. Their advances have also isolated several Iraqi military bases that may now prove more difficult to supply.

Obama, who has repeatedly promised not to send ground troops to fight in either Syria or Iraq since he announced the first deployments of what now numbers approximately 1,600 U.S. trainers and advisers to Iraq in the wake of ISIL’s summer offensive, been under persistent pressure from hawks, especially Congressional Republicans, and even some of his former senior Pentagon officials, including Robert Gates, to reconsider.

“The reality is, they’re not gonna be able to be successful against ISIS strictly from the air, or strictly depending on the Iraqi forces, or the Peshmerga, or the Sunni tribes acting on their own,” Gates warned in mid-September.

“So there will be boots on the ground if there’s to be any hope of success in the strategy. And I think that by continuing to repeat that [the U.S. won't put boots on the ground], the president, in effect, traps himself.”

Even Obama’s own top military commander, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, has suggested that Washington may need Special Forces on the ground in Iraq, at least to act as spotters for U.S. and allied aircraft to hit ISIS targets more precisely, if not in a more aggressive role in hunting down key ISIS leaders, as they have done against enemy forces previously Iraq and Afghanistan.

Some neo-conservatives have called for deploying as many as 25,000 U.S. Special Forces in Iraq and Syria, although recent polls have found that the public, even including many self-identified Republicans, tend to side with Obama in opposing any combat role for U.S. ground troops even as they support stronger action against ISIS.

Obama’s strategy appears to rely on steadily degrading ISIS’s military forces – especially the heavy weapons and transport vehicles it has captured from the Syrian and Iraqi armies — through a U.S.-led air war with the substantial participation of Sunni Muslim states, notably Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) members, and as many NATO allies as are willing, although none has yet agreed to take part in operations against ISIS targets in Syria.

U.S. warplanes have also struck oil refineries used by ISIS in Syria to deny the group a key source of income, part of a financial war that also includes exerting unprecedented pressure on GCC governments to crack down against their citizens and charities that have been supporting ISIS or Jabhat al-Nusra (JAN), al-Qaeda’s closest affiliate in Syria.

Washington is pushing the Shi’a-led government of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to follow through on plans to share more power with the Sunni community, in major part by training some 10,000 “national guard” troops recruited from key tribes to take on ISIS in Anbar and elsewhere in a replay of the so-called “Anbar Awakening” that isolated ISIS’ predecessor, al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), in 2007-8.

That part of the strategy remains a work in progress, as Abadi has so far failed to gain a consensus for the key defence and interior portfolios, and, despite a few reports of Sunni tribal forces allying with Iranian-backed Shi’a militias and the Iraqi army against ISIS, most Sunni leaders continue to express scepticism about Abadi’s intentions.

Even if all goes according to plan, including rebuilding the Iraqi army, a major portion of which collapsed in the face of ISIS’s onslaught this summer, the U.S. commander chosen to co-ordinate the international coalition, Gen. John Allen, warned over the weekend that it will take at least a year for Iraqi forces to be ready to challenge ISIS’s control over Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, which it conquered in June.

One year will also be needed to train some 5,000 “moderate” Syrian recruits in Saudi Arabia and Georgia for war against ISIS, JAN, and the government of President Bashar al-Assad, according to administration officials who admit that such a force by itself is unlikely to substantially tilt the battlefield in one direction or another without the aggressive use of air power to defend it.

Already, however, Washington’s air war in Syria has drawn heavy criticism from various Syrian factions from which the U.S. is expected to recruit the new force. They have opposed attacks against JAN, which has co-operated with them in their war against Assad. Strikes against ISIS in and around its stronghold at Raqqa have also reportedly killed civilians, alienating the population from the coalition.

Observers here are also concerned about Turkey, whose co-participation in the coalition in both Syria and Iraq is seen as critical to the strategy’s success.

While President Recept Tayyip Erdogan last week persuaded parliament to authorise military operations in both countries, he has still not permitted Washington the use of strategically located air bases in southern Turkey to launch operations.

Moreover, while the Turkish last week re-inforced its presence along the border with Kobani last week, it failed to intervene against ISIS’s offensive there and actively prevented Turkish Kurds from crossing the border to bolster the town’s defences.

“For Turkey, the most dangerous fallout of the Syrian civil war has been the resurgence of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)” with which the Kurdish fighters – mostly members of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Kobani — are allied, according to an analysis by Gonul Tol of the Middle East Institute published by CNN.

“Turkey believes that fighting the Assad regime is more important than the narrow counter-terrorism mission that President Obama has in mind. A military attack against ISIS is likely to strengthen not only Assad’s but also the PYD’s hand,” she wrote.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: On Reproductive Rights, Progress with Concernshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-on-reproductive-rights-progress-with-concerns/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-on-reproductive-rights-progress-with-concerns http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-on-reproductive-rights-progress-with-concerns/#comments Wed, 01 Oct 2014 16:29:45 +0000 Joseph Chamie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136954 Contraceptives on sale at a store in Sanaa, Yemen. Credit: Rebecca Murray/IPS

Contraceptives on sale at a store in Sanaa, Yemen. Credit: Rebecca Murray/IPS

By Joseph Chamie
NEW YORK, Oct 1 2014 (IPS)

For most of human history, reproductive rights essentially meant men and women accepting the number, timing and spacing of their children, as well as possible childlessness. All this changed radically in the second half of the 20th century with the introduction of new medical technologies aimed at both preventing and assisting human reproduction.

Those technologies ushered in historic changes in reproductive rights and behaviour that continue to reverberate around the world, giving rise to increasingly complex theological, ethical and legal concerns that need to be addressed.New reproductive technologies have given rise to serious theological, ethical and legal concerns that have not been satisfactorily addressed.

Up until around the middle of the past century, reproductive rights were limited. The available birth control methods were rhythm, coitus interruptus (withdrawal), condoms and for some, the diaphragm.

Those methods in too many instances were unreliable and not considered user friendly. Also, while induced abortion has been practiced for ages, it was a drastic, dangerous and largely unlawful medical procedure.

In 1960, the oral contraceptive pill was introduced, dramatically transforming women’s reproductive rights and behaviour. In addition to the pill, modern methods of family planning, including the intra uterine device (IUD), injectables, implants, emergency contraceptive pills and sterilisation, have given women and men effective control over procreation.

Modern contraceptives have contributed to major changes in sexual behaviour and marriage. Women empowered with modern contraception can choose without the fear of pregnancy whether to have sexual relationships, enabling them to postpone childbearing or avoid it altogether.

And instead of marriage, cohabitation has become increasingly prevalent among many young couples, especially in industrialised countries.

The use of modern contraceptives also facilitated a rapid decline in family size worldwide. Between 1950 and the close of the 20th century, the world’s total fertility rate fell from five children per woman to nearly half that level.

Every major region of the world experienced fertility declines during that half century, with the greatest occurring in Asia and Latin America and the smallest in Africa.

With improved medical techniques, changing social norms and grassroots movements, induced abortion also became increasingly legalised globally. Although some remain strongly opposed to induced abortion, nearly all industrialised countries have passed laws ensuring a woman’s right to abortion.

Also at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), 179 governments indicated their commitment to prevent unsafe abortion and in circumstances where abortion is not against the law, such abortion should be made safe.

Reproductive rights to terminate a pregnancy, however, have also led to excess female fetus abortions. Particularly widespread in China and India, their sex ratios at birth of 117 and 111 boys per 100 girls are blatantly higher than the typical sex ratio at birth of around 106.

Consequently, the numbers of young “surplus males” unable to find brides are more than 35 million in China and 25 million in India.

The introduction in 1970 of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) – fertilisation in a laboratory by mixing sperm with eggs surgically removed from an ovary followed by uterine implantation – radically altered the basic evolutionary process of human reproduction.

IVF provides childless couples the right and means to have biological children. It is estimated that more than five million IVF babies have followed since the birth of the first “test-tube baby” in 1978.

However, IVF has also raised ethical concerns. In addition to creating a pregnancy through “artificial” means, IVF has become a massive commercial industry prone to serious abuses and exploitation of vulnerable couples in the desire to make profits from childbearing.

IVF also permits gestational surrogacy, which extends reproductive rights to same-sex couples. In contrast to traditional surrogacy, where the surrogate is the actual mother, gestational surrogacy allows the surrogate to be unrelated to the baby with the egg coming from the intended mother or donor.

While those who are childless have a right to have biological children, gestational surrogacy raises challenging ethical questions, such as the exploitation of poor women, as well as complex legal issues, especially when transactions cross international borders.

In 1997, the cloning – or propagation by self-replication rather than through sexual reproduction – of the first mammal, Dolly the sheep, was achieved. The birth of Dolly was a major reproductive development.

Following the cloning of Dolly, scores of other animals, including fish, mice, cows, horses, dogs and monkeys, have been successfully cloned. These developments suggest that in the near future some humans may wish to assert their reproductive rights to be cloned, again raising serious theological, ethical and legal questions.

Among the transhumanist reproductive technologies imagined in the more distant future, one that stands out is ectogenesis, or the development of a fetus outside the human womb in an artificial uterus.

While ectogenesis may expand the extent of fetal viability, free women from childbearing and expand reproductive rights, it poses serious, unexplored medical, ethical and legal issues.

During the past half-century remarkable technological progress has been made in human reproduction. As a result of this medical progress, women and men have acquired wide-ranging reproductive rights and technologies to determine the number, timing and spacing of their children and to overcome childlessness with biological offspring.

The new reproductive technologies, however, have also given rise to serious theological, ethical and legal concerns that have not been satisfactorily addressed. Anticipated future medical breakthroughs in human reproduction make it even more imperative for the international community of nations to address the growing challenges and concerns regarding reproductive technologies and rights.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Iraq Looking for an ‘Independent’ Sunni Defense Ministerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/iraq-looking-for-an-independent-sunni-defense-minister/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iraq-looking-for-an-independent-sunni-defense-minister http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/iraq-looking-for-an-independent-sunni-defense-minister/#comments Sat, 27 Sep 2014 13:54:06 +0000 Barbara Slavin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136909 By Barbara Slavin
WASHINGTON, Sep 27 2014 (IPS)

Iraqi President Fouad Massoum said this past week that the government was looking for an independent Sunni Muslim to fill the post of defense minister in an effort to improve chances of reunifying the country and defeating the group that calls itself the Islamic State (IS).

Massoum, in his first extended comments to a U.S. audience since his recent selection as president of Iraq, also said Sept. 26 that Iraqi Kurds – while they might still hold a referendum on independence – would not secede from Iraq at a  time of such major peril.

“Today there is no possibility to announce such a state,” Massoum, a Kurd and former prime minister of the Kurdish region, told a packed room at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

“Forming a Kurdish state is a project, and a project like that has to take into account” the views of regional and other countries and the extraordinary circumstances of the current terrorist menace to Iraq.

Kurdish threats to hold a referendum and declare independence were widely seen as leverage to force the resignation of former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Maliki,also under pressure from President Barack Obama’s administration, Iraqi Sunnis and Iran, stepped down to allow a less  polarizing member of his Shi’ite Dawa party – Haider al-Abadi – to take the top job.

Abadi, however, has been unable so far to get parliament to approve his choices for the sensitive posts of defense and interior ministers. Queried about this, Massoum said, “There seems to be some understanding that the minister of defense should be Sunni and there is a search for an independent Sunni.”

As for interior minister, Massoum said, they were looking for an “independent Shiite” to take the post.

For the time being, Abadi is holding the portfolios, but unlike his predecessor, who retained them, has clearly stated that he does not want to assume those responsibilities for long. Massoum said a decision was likely after the coming Muslim holiday, the Eid al-Adha.

The Iraqi president also said there was progress on a new arrangement for sharing Iraq’s oil revenues, a major source of internal grievances under Maliki. A decision has been made that each of the regions will have representation on a higher oil and gas council, Massoum said. He also expressed confidence in Iraq’s new oil minister, Adel Abdel-Mahdi.

Asked whether Iraq would split into three countries – as Vice President Joe Biden once recommended – Massoum said there might be an eventual move toward a more confederal system but “partitioning Iraq … into three independent states is a bit far-fetched, especially in the current situation.”

Massoum began his remarks with a fascinating explanation of how IS – which he called ISIS, for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams – came into being. He said the group began “as a marriage” between nationalist military officers and religious extremists that took place when they were in prison together while the U.S. still occupied Iraq.

The notion of combining Iraq with the Levant – made up of Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Jordan – is actually an old Arab nationalist concept, Massoum said.

As for the religious aspects of the movement, Massoum traced that to the so-called Hashishin – users of hashish. This Shiite group, formed in the late 11th century, challenged the then-Sunni rulers of the day, used suicide attacks and were said to be under the influence of drugs. The English word “assassin” derives from the term.

“Many times these terrorist practices [were used] in the name of a religion or a sect,” Massoum said.

He praised the United States for coming to the aid of Iraqis and Kurds against IS and also expressed support for the recent bombing of IS and Jabhat al-Nusra positions in Syria. But Massoum sidestepped repeated questions about whether such strikes would inadvertently bolster the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“Hitting ISIS in Syria should not mean this is to support the regime or as a beginning to overthrowing Bashar al-Assad,” Massoum said. “That’s why the attacks are limited.”

Asked about Iraqi relations with Iran and whether the Iraqis and Kurds were serving as go-betweens for the United States and Iran in mutual efforts to degrade IS, Massoum noted Iraq’s historic relations with its neighbour and that Iraq also had common interests with the United States.

“We don’t look at America with Iranian eyes and we don’t look at Iran with American eyes,” Massoum said. He evaded questions about Iran’s military role in Iraq, saying that while he had heard reports that Quds Force Chief Qasem Soleimani had visited the Kurdish region, requests for a meeting were not fulfilled.

As for Iranian military advisers who were said to have helped liberate the town of Amerli and relieve the siege of Mt. Sinjar, Massoum said, there were “many  experts” who had come to help the Kurdish peshmerga forces.

Massoum attributed the collapse of the Iraqi army at Mosul to poor leadership, corruption and decades of setbacks starting with Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran in 1980. This was followed a decade later by his invasion of Kuwait and subsequent refusal to cooperate with the international community.

“These blows all had an impact on the psychology of the commanders and soldiers,” Massoum said. Iraqi armed forces have gone “from failure to failure.”

The president confirmed that under the new Iraqi government, each governorate will have its own national guard made up of local people. This concept – which may be partly funded by the Saudis and other rich Gulf Arabs – is an attempt to replicate the success of the so-called sons of Iraq by motivating Sunni tribesmen to confront IS as they previously did al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Asked what would happen to Shi’ite militias – which have committed abuses against Sunnis and helped alienate that population from Baghdad – Massum said the militias would eventually have to be shut down but only after the IS threat had been eliminated. He did not indicate how long that might take.

Massum was also asked about reported IS plots against U.S. and French subway systems. Abadi earlier this week made reference to such plots, but U.S. officials said they had no such intelligence.

Iraqi officials accompanying Massoum, who spoke on condition that they not be identified, said Abadi had been misinterpreted and was referring only to the types of attacks IS might mount in the West. Massoum warned, however, that “sleeper cells” in the West as well as in Iraq might be planning terrorist attacks.

Asked about Turkey – which has been reticent about aiding Iraq against IS – Massoum, who met at the U.N. this week with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said he expected more help now that 49 Turkish hostages in Mosul have been freed.

Massoum also urged Turkey to do a better job vetting young men who arrive there from Europe and America, and prevent them from reaching border areas and slipping into IS-controlled areas in Syria.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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OPINION: How Obama Should Counter ISIShttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-how-obama-should-counter-isis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-how-obama-should-counter-isis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-how-obama-should-counter-isis/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 10:52:48 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136896

Emile Nakhleh is a Research Professor at the University of New Mexico, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of ‘A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World’.

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Sep 26 2014 (IPS)

President Obama’s speech at the United Nations on Sep. 23 offered a rhetorically eloquent roadmap on how to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). 

He called on Muslim youth to reject the extremist ideology of ISIL (as ISIS is also known) and al-Qa’ida and work towards a more promising future.  President Obama repeated the mantra, which we heard from President George Bush before him, that “the United States is not and never will be at war with Islam.”

There is no argument but that the Islamic State must be defeated.  But is the counter-terrorism roadmap, which President Obama set out in his U.N. speech, sufficient to defeat the extremist ideology of ISIS, Boko Haram, or al-Qa’ida?  Despite U.S. and Western efforts to degrade, decapitate, dismember and defeat these deadly and blood-thirsty groups for almost two decades, radical groups continue to sprout in Sunni Muslim societies."As the United States looks beyond today’s air campaign over Syria and Iraq, U.S. policymakers should realise that ISIS is more than a bunch of jihadists roaming the desert and terrorising innocent civilians. It is an ideology, a vision, a sophisticated social media operation and an army with functioning command and control"

The President also urged the Arab Muslim world to reject sectarian proxy wars, promote human rights and empower their people, including women, to help move their societies forward. He again stated that the situation in Gaza and the West Bank is unsustainable and urged the international community to strive for the implementation of the two-state solution.

The President did not address Muslim youth in Western societies who could be susceptible to recruitment by ISIS, al-Qa’ida, or other terrorist organisations.

Arab publics will likely see glaring contradictions and inconsistencies in the President’s speech between his captivating rhetoric and actual policies. They most likely would view much of what he said, especially his global counter-terrorism strategy against the Islamic State, as another version of America’s war on Islam.  Arabs will also see much hypocrisy in the President’s speech on the issue of human rights and civil society.

Although fighting a perceived common enemy, it is a sad spectacle to see the United States, a champion of human rights, liberty and justice, cosy up to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain, serial violators of human rights and infamous practitioners of repression. It is even more hypocritical when Arab citizens realise that some of these so-called partners have often spread an ideology not much different from what ISIS preaches.

These three regimes in particular have emasculated their civil society and engaged in illegal imprisonment, sham trials and groundless convictions.  They have banned political parties, both Islamic and secular, silenced civil society institutions and prohibited peaceful protests.

The President praised the role of free press, yet Al-Jazeera journalists are languishing in Egyptian jails without any justification whatsoever. The regime continues to hold thousands of political prisoners without indictments or trials.

In addressing the youth in Muslim countries, the President told them: “Where a genuine civil society is allowed to flourish, then you can dramatically expand the alternatives to terror.”

What implications should Arab Muslim youth draw from the President’s invocation of the virtues of civil society when they see that genuine civil society is not “allowed to flourish” in their societies? Do Arab Muslim youth see real “alternatives to terror” when their regimes deny them the most basic human rights and freedoms?

The Sisi regime in Egypt has illegally destroyed the Muslim Brotherhood, and Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have used the spectre of ugly sectarianism to destroy the opposition.  They openly and viciously engage in sectarian conflicts even though the President stated that religious sectarianism underpins regional instability.

In his U.N. speech, Field Marshall Sisi hoped the United States would tolerate his atrocious human rights record in the name of fighting ISIS.

Human Rights Watch and other distinguished experts sent a letter to President Obama asking him to raise the egregious human rights violations in Egypt when he met with Sisi in New York.  He should not give Sisi and other Arab autocrats a pass when it comes to their repression and human rights violations just because they joined the U.S.-engineered “coalition of the willing” against ISIS.

Regardless of how the air campaign against the Islamic State goes, U.S. policymakers will have to begin a serious review of a different Middle East than the one President Barak Obama inherited when he took office.  Many of the articles that have been written about ISIS have warned about the outcome of this war once the dust settles.

Critics correctly wondered whether opinion writers and experts could go beyond “warning” and suggest a course of policy that could be debated and possibly implemented. If the United States “breaks” the Arab world by forming an anti-ISIS ephemeral coalition of Sunni Arab autocrats, Washington will have to “own” what it had broken.

A road map is imperative if a serious conversation is to commence about the future of the Arab Middle East – but not one deeply steeped in counter-terrorism.  The Sunni coalition is a picture-perfect graphic for the evening news, especially in the West, but how should the United States deal with individual Sunni states in the coalition after the bombings stop and ISIS melts into the population?

As the United States looks beyond today’s air campaign over Syria and Iraq, U.S. policymakers should realise that ISIS is more than a bunch of jihadists roaming the desert and terrorising innocent civilians.  It is an ideology, a vision, a sophisticated social media operation and an army with functioning command and control.

Above all, ISIS represents a view of Islam that is not dissimilar to other strict Sunni interpretations of the Muslim faith that could be found across many Muslim countries, from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan. In fact, this narrow-minded, intolerant view of Islam is at the heart of the Wahhabi-Salafi Hanbali doctrine, which Saudi teachers and preachers have spread across the Muslim world for decades.

Nor is this phenomenon unique in the ideological history of Sunni millenarian thinking.  From Ibn Taymiyya in the 13th century to Bin Ladin and Zawahiri in the past two decades, different Sunni groups have emerged on the Islamic landscape preaching ISIS-like ideological variations on the theme of resurrecting the “Caliphate” and re-establishing “Dar al-Islam.”

Although the historical lines separating Muslim regions (“Dar al-Islam” or “Abode of Peace”) from non-Muslim regions (“Dar al-Harb” or “Abode of War”) have almost disappeared in recent decades, ISIS, much like al-Qa’ida, is calling for re-erecting those lines.  Many Salafis in Saudi Arabia are in tune with such thinking.

This is a regressive, backward view, which cannot possibly exist today.  Millions of Muslims have emigrated to non-Muslim societies and integrated into those societies.

If President Obama plans to dedicate the remainder of his term in office to fighting and defeating the Islamic State, he cannot do it by military means alone.  He should:

1.  Tell Al Saud to stop preaching its intolerant doctrine of Islam in Saudi Arabia and revise its textbooks to reflect a new thinking. Saudi and other Muslim scholars should instruct their youth that “jihad” applies to the soul, not to the battlefield.

2.  Tell Sisi to stop his massive human rights violations in Egypt and allow his youth – men and women – the freedom to pursue their economic and political future without state control.  Sisi should also empty his jails of the thousands of political prisoners and invite the Muslim Brotherhood to participate in the political process.

3.  Tell Al Khalifa to end its sectarian war in Bahrain against the Shia majority and invite opposition parties – secular and Islamic – including al-Wifaq, to participate in the upcoming elections freely and without harassment.  Opposition parties should also participate in redrawing the electoral districts before the Nov. 22 elections, which King Hamad has just announced.  International observers should be invited to monitor those elections.

4.  Tell the Benjamin Netanyahu government in Israel that the situation in Gaza and the Occupied Territories is untenable.  Prime Minister Netanyahu should stop building new settlements and work with the Palestinian National Government for a settlement of the conflict. If President Obama concludes, like many scholars in the region, that the two-state solution is no longer workable, he should communicate his view to Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas and strongly encourage them to explore other modalities for the two peoples to live together between the River and the Sea.

If President Obama does not pursue these tangible policies and use his political capital in this endeavour, his U.N. speech will soon be forgotten.  Decapitating and degrading ISIS is possible, but unless Arab regimes move away from autocracy and invest in their peoples’ future, other terrorist groups will emerge.

Over the years, President Obama has delivered memorable speeches on Muslim world engagement, but unless he pushes for new policies in the region, the Arab Middle East will likely implode. Washington would be left holding the bag.  This is not the legacy the President would want to leave behind.

(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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Obama Blasts Brutality and Bullying, but Not by Israelhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/obama-blasts-brutality-and-bullying-but-not-by-israel/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=obama-blasts-brutality-and-bullying-but-not-by-israel http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/obama-blasts-brutality-and-bullying-but-not-by-israel/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 03:04:24 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136882 Abu Mohammed, whose family of 15 lost their home after an Israeli bomb attack, unearths papers from the rubble of a civil government office building in Gaza. Credit: Eva Bartlett/IPS

Abu Mohammed, whose family of 15 lost their home after an Israeli bomb attack, unearths papers from the rubble of a civil government office building in Gaza. Credit: Eva Bartlett/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 26 2014 (IPS)

When U.S. President Barack Obama addressed the U.N. General Assembly Wednesday, he was outspoken in his criticism of Russia for bullying Ukraine, Syria for its brutality towards its own people, and terrorists of all political stripes for the death and destruction plaguing Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Somalia.

But as the New York Times rightly pointed out, Obama made only a “fleeting” reference to Israel and Palestine in his 40-minute speech to the world body.

Nadia Hijab, executive director of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, told IPS much of what Obama said about the “brutality” of the Assad regime in Syria and his criticism of “a world in which one nation’s borders can be redrawn by another” applies directly to Israel.

"What is remarkable and [bears] mentioning is that despite the tension in the region, despite the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, despite the long and forbidding occupation, despite all this, the Palestinians are yet reasonable and willing to sit and have a debate." -- Vijay Prashad, author of 'Arab Spring, Libyan Winter'
But he simply paid lip service to “the principle” that two states would make the region and the world more just without any indication of what the U.S. might do – or stop doing, she added.

Addressing the U.S. president directly, Hijab said: “Mr. Obama, the world would be a lot more just, if the U.S. just stopped footing the bill for Israel’s gross violations of human rights and international law.”

In his speech, replete with political double standards and hypocrisy, Obama avoided mentioning the killings and devastation caused by Israel with its relentless bombings and air strikes in Gaza – deploying weapons provided mostly by the United States.

“Russian aggression in Europe”, he said, “recalls the days when large nations trampled small ones in pursuit of territorial ambition” (reality check: Israel and its illegal settlements in the occupied territories).

“The brutality of terrorists in Syria and Iraq forces us to look into the heart of darkness” (reality check: the brutality of Israel in Gaza in 2014 and the killings of over 2,100 Palestinians, mostly civilians).

Each of these problems demands urgent attention. But they are also symptoms of a broader problem – the failure of our international system to keep pace with an interconnected world, he added.

Obama also told delegates there is a vision of the world in which might makes right – a world in which one nation’s borders can be redrawn by another (reality check: Israel after the 1967 Six-Day War and its determination to hold onto the spoils of war despite Security Council resolutions to the contrary.)

Obama said: “America stands for something different. We believe that right makes might — that bigger nations should not be able to bully smaller ones, and that people should be able to choose their own future” (reality check: a U.S.-armed Israel, which used its prodigious military strength to prove might is right).

And these are simple truths, but they must be defended, he added.

Obama also said America is pursuing a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue, as part of its commitment to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and pursue the peace and security of a world without them (reality check: Israel, the only country in the Middle East with nuclear weapons and the U.S.’ refusal or reluctance to push for a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East.).

Vijay Prashad, professor of international studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, told IPS it is interesting that Obama wants to insulate the Israel-Palestine conflict from the recent crises in the Middle East.

“Is that possible?” he asked.

“Has Israeli occupation of Palestine not been one of the main points of radicalisation of young people in the region?” asked Prashad, referring to Obama’s concern over the rise in radicalism among youth, specifically in the Middle East.

“What is remarkable and [bears] mentioning is that despite the tension in the region, despite the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, despite the long and forbidding occupation, despite all this, the Palestinians are yet reasonable and willing to sit and have a debate,” said Prashad, author of ‘Arab Spring, Libyan Winter’.

He said there remains, even in psycho-socially battered Gaza, a consensus for a political solution. This the President should have mentioned, he added.

At the conclusion of his speech, Obama said the status quo in the West Bank and Gaza is not sustainable.

“We cannot afford to turn away from this effort – not when rockets are fired at innocent Israelis, or the lives of so many Palestinian children are taken from us in Gaza.”

“So long as I am President, we will stand up for the principle that Israelis, Palestinians, the region and the world will be more just and more safe with two states living side by side, in peace and security,” he added.

Prashad told IPS Obama addressed the rightward turn in Israeli society, and spoke to this toxic social agenda that is against peace and against negotiations.

This second part, which he did say, is very important.

“But it is lessened by the lack of the first point: that the Palestinians remain reasonable despite the war that batters them and the crises around them.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

The writer can be contacted at: thalifdeen@aol.com

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OPINION: ISIS Appeals to a Longing for the Caliphatehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-isis-appeals-to-a-longing-for-the-caliphate/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-isis-appeals-to-a-longing-for-the-caliphate http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-isis-appeals-to-a-longing-for-the-caliphate/#comments Wed, 24 Sep 2014 16:41:09 +0000 Farhang Jahanpour http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136861

In this column, Farhang Jahanpour – former professor and Dean of the Faculty of Languages at the University of Isfahan, who has taught for 28 years in the Department of Continuing Education at the University of Oxford – examines the historical background to the emergence of ISIS and argues that it is basing its appeal on reinstatement of the caliphate.

By Farhang Jahanpour
OXFORD, Sep 24 2014 (IPS)

When, all of a sudden, ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) emerged on the scene and in a matter of days occupied large swathes of mainly Sunni-inhabited parts of Iraq and Syria, including Iraq’s second city Mosul and Tikrit, birthplace of Saddam Hussein, and called itself the Islamic State, many people, not least Western politicians and intelligence services, were taken by surprise.

Farhang Jahanpour

Farhang Jahanpour

Unlike in the Western world, religion still plays a dominant role in people’s lives in the Middle East region. When talking about Sunni and Shia divisions we should not be thinking of the differences between Catholics and Protestants in the contemporary West, but should throw our mind back to Europe’s wars of religion (1524-1648) that proved to be among the most vicious and deadly wars in history.

Just as the Hundred Years’ War in Europe was not based only on religion, the Sunni-Shia conflicts in the Middle East too have diverse causes, but are often intensified by religious differences. At least, various groups use religion as an excuse and as a rallying call to mobilise their forces against their opponents.

Ever since U.S. encouragement of Saudi and Pakistani authorities to organise and use jihadi fighters following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, to the rise of Al Qaeda and the terrorist attacks on Sep. 11, 2001, followed by the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, and military involvement in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Syria and elsewhere, it seems that the United States has had the reverse effect of the Midas touch, in the sense that whichever crisis the United States has touched has turned to dust.“Now, with the rise of ISIS and other terrorist organisations, the entire Middle East is on fire. It would be the height of folly to dismiss or underestimate this movement as a local uprising that will disappear by itself, and to ignore its appeal to a large number of marginalised and disillusioned Sunni militants”

Now, with the rise of ISIS and other terrorist organisations, the entire Middle East is on fire. It would be the height of folly to dismiss or underestimate this movement as a local uprising that will disappear by itself, and to ignore its appeal to a large number of marginalised and disillusioned Sunni militants.

In view of its ideology, fanaticism, ruthlessness, the territories that it has already occupied, and its regional and perhaps even global ambitions, ISIS can be regarded as the greatest threat since the Second World War and one that could change the map of the Middle East and the post-First World War geography of the entire region, and challenge Western interests in the Persian Gulf and beyond.

When Islam appeared in the deserts of Arabia some 1400 years ago, with an uncompromising message of monotheism and the slogan “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the Prophet of God”, it changed the plight of the Arabs in the Arabian Peninsula and formed a religion and a civilisation that even now claims upward of 1.5 billion adherents in all parts of the world, and forms the majority faith in 57 countries that are members of the Islamic Cooperation Organization.

Contrary to many previous prophets who did not see the success of their mission during their own lifetime, in the case of Islam not only did Muhammad manage to unite the Arabs in the name of Islam in the entire Arabian Peninsula, but he even managed to form a state and ruled over the converted Muslims both as their prophet and ruler. The creation of the Islamic umma or community during Muhammad’s lifetime in Medina and later on in the whole of Arabia is a unique occurrence in the history of religion.

Consequently, while most religions look forward to an ideal state or to the “Kingdom of God” as a future aspiration, Muslims look back at the period of Muhammad’s rule in Arabia as the ideal state. Therefore, what a pious Muslim wishes to do is to look back at the life and teachings of the Prophet, and especially his rule in Arabia, and take it as the highest standard of an ideal religious government.

This is why the Salafis, namely those who turn to salaf or the early fathers and ancestors, have always proved so attractive to many fundamentalist Muslims. Being a Salafi is a call to Muslims to reject the modern world and to follow the example of the Prophet and the early caliphs.

When, in 1516-17, the armies of Ottoman Sultan Selim I captured Syria, Palestine, Egypt and Muslim holy places in Arabia, the sultan assumed the title of caliph, and therefore the Ottoman Empire was also regarded a Sunni caliphate.

Although not all Muslims, especially many Arabs, recognise Ottoman rule as a caliphate, the caliphate nevertheless continued in name until the fall of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War when the caliphate was officially abolished in 1922.

The fall of the last powerful Islamic empire was not only traumatic from a political and military point of view but, with the end of the caliphate, the Sunnis lost a unifying religious authority as well.

It is very difficult for many Westerners to understand the feeling of hurt and humiliation that many Sunni Muslims feel as the result of what they have suffered in the past century. To have an idea, they should imagine that a mighty Christian empire that had lasted for many centuries had fallen as the result of Muslim conquest and that, in addition to the loss of the empire, the papacy had also been abolished at the same time.

With the end of the caliphate, Sunni countries were left rudderless, to be divided among various foreign powers which imposed their economic, military and cultural domination, as well as their beliefs and their way of life, on them. The feeling of hurt and humiliation that many Muslims have felt since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and the strong longing for its reinstatement, still continues.

To add insult to injury, before the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Western powers, especially Great Britain, had promised the Arabs that if they would rise up against the Ottomans, after the war they would be allowed to form an Islamic caliphate in the area comprising all the Arab lands ruled by the Ottoman Empire.

Not only were these promises not fulfilled, but as part of the Sykes-Picot_Agreement on 16 May 1916, Britain and France secretly plotted to divide the Arab lands between them and they even promised Istanbul to Russia. Not only was a unified Arab caliphate not formed, but the Balfour_Declaration generously offered a part of Arab territory that Britain did not possess to the Zionists, to form a “national home for the Jewish people”.

In Winston Churchill’s words, Britain sold one piece of real estate (to which it had no claim in the first place) to two people at the same time.

The age of colonialism came to an end almost uniformly through military coups involving officers who had the ability to fight against foreign occupation. From the campaigns of Kemal Ataturk in Turkey, to the rise of Reza Khan in Iran, Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt, Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, the military coups in Iraq and Syria that later led to the establishment of the Baâthist governments of Hafiz al-Assad in Syria and Abd al-Karim Qasim, Abdul Salam Arif and Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and so on, practically all Middle Eastern countries achieved their independence as the result of military coups.

While the new military leaders managed to establish some order through the barrel of the gun, they were completely ignorant of the historical, religious and cultural backgrounds of their nations and totally alien to any concept of democracy and human rights.

In the absence of any civil society, democratic traditions and social freedom, the only path that was open to the masses that wished to mobilise against the rule of their military dictators was to turn to religion and use the mosques as their headquarters.

The rise of religious movements, such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Ennahda Movement in Tunisia, FIS in Algeria and Al-Dawah in Iraq, were seen as a major threat by the military rulers and were ruthlessly suppressed.

The main tragedy of modern Middle Eastern regimes has been that they have been unable not only to involve the Islamist movements in government, but they have even failed to involve them in the society in any meaningful way.

This is why after repeated defeats, divisions and humiliation, there has always been a longing among militant Sunni Muslims, especially Arabs whose countries were artificially divided and dominated by Western colonialism and later by military dictators, for the revival of the caliphate. Even mere utterance of ‘Islamic caliphate’ brings a burst of adrenaline to many secular Sunnis.

The failure of military dictatorships and the marginalisation and even the elimination of religiously-oriented groups have led to the rise of vicious extremism and terrorism. The terrorist group ISIS is making use of this situation and is basing its appeal on the reinstatement of the caliphate. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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OPINION: Fighting ISIS and the Morning Afterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-fighting-isis-and-the-morning-after/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-fighting-isis-and-the-morning-after http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-fighting-isis-and-the-morning-after/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 13:14:53 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136715 Protesters in Ahrar Square in the Iraqi city of Mosul, January 2013. Credit: Beriwan Welat/IPS

Protesters in Ahrar Square in the Iraqi city of Mosul, January 2013. Credit: Beriwan Welat/IPS

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Sep 18 2014 (IPS)

As the wobbly anti-ISIS coalition is being formed with American prodding, the Obama administration should take a strategic look at the future of the Arab world beyond the threat posed by the self-declared Islamic State. Otherwise, the United States would be unprepared to deal with the unintended chaos.

Driven by ideological hubris, the Bush administration on the eve of the Iraq war rejected any suggestions that the war could destabilise the whole region and rock the foundations of the Arab nation-state system.Invading Iraq was a “dumb” war. Chasing after ISIS in the Iraqi/Syrian desert without a clear vision of the endgame could result in something far worse.

That system, which was mostly created under the colonial Sykes-Picot treaty of 1916, is now being severely stressed. The Obama administration should avoid repeating the tragic mistake of its predecessor. While trying to halt the advance of ISIS by focused airstrikes, and regardless of the coalition’s effectiveness in “degrading” and “defeating” ISIS, President Obama should instruct his senior policymakers to explore possible architectures that could emerge from the ashes of Sykes-Picot.

The stresses and fault lines we are witnessing in the region today could easily lead to implosions tomorrow. Rightly or wrongly, Washington would be blamed for the ensuing mayhem.

As Secretary of State John Kerry shuttles between countries chasing the elusive coalition to fight ISIS, the administration seems to be unclear even about terminology. Is it a war or a multifaceted counter-terrorism strategy against ISIS? Whatever it’s called, if this strategy fails to eradicate the Islamic State and its Caliphate, is there a “Plan B” in the making?

Briefing senior policymakers on the eve of the Iraq war, I pointed out the possible unintended consequences of the invasion. George Tenet, former CIA director, alludes to several of these briefings in his book, “At the Center of the Storm.”

One of the briefings discussed the possibility that the Iraq invasion could fundamentally unsettle the 100-year old Arab nation-state system. National identity politics, which heretofore has been managed and manipulated by autocratic regimes—tribal, dynastic, monarchical, and presidential—could unravel if the Bush administration failed to anticipate what could happen following Saddam’s demise.

The artificiality of much of those states and their boundaries would come unhinged under the pressures of the invasion and the unleashing of internal forces that have been dormant. National loyalties would be replaced by religious and sectarian affiliations, and the Shia-Sunni disputes that go back to the 7th century would once again rise to the surface albeit with more violence and bloodshed.

The briefings also emphasised Iraq’s central Islamic dilemma. While for many Sunni Muslims Baghdad represents the golden age of Islam more than 1,200 years ago, Iraq is also the cradle of Shia Islam.

Najaf and Karbala in southern Iraq are sacred for the Shia world because it was there where the fourth Caliph Ali’s son Hussein was “martyred” and buried. Iran, as the self-proclaimed voice of Shia Islam all over the world, is deeply embedded in Iraq and will always demand a central role in the future of Iraq.

Bush administration senior policymakers ignored these warnings, arguing Iraqis and other Muslim Arabs would view American and coalition forces as “liberators” and, once the dictator fell, would work together in a spirit of tolerance, inclusion, and compromise. This view, unfortunately, was grounded in the neocons’ imagined ideological perception of the region. As we now know, it was utterly ignorant of ground truths and the social fabric of the different Arab Islamic societies.

Many Bush White House and Defense Department policymakers generally dismissed briefings that focused on the “morning after.” It’s safe to say they cared less about the post-Saddam Middle East than about toppling the dictator.

The region still suffers from those disastrous policies.

ISIS did not emerge in a vacuum, and its transnational ideology, warped as it may be, seems to appeal to Arabs and Muslims who have become disenchanted with the existing political order in Arab lands.

Many citizens view their states as fiefdoms of the ruling elites with no genuine respect for individual rights, personal freedoms, and human dignity. The “securitisation” of politics has alienated many young Arabs and is driving them toward extremism.

If the borders between Syria and Iraq are erased by the transnational “Caliphate,” what will become of the borders of Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq? Is the Obama administration ready to pick up the pieces when these nation-states disintegrate?

These are the critical questions the Bush administration should have pondered and answered before they invaded Iraq. They are the same questions the Obama administration should ponder and answer before unleashing American air power over the skies of the Levant.

Invading Iraq was a “dumb” war. Chasing after ISIS in the Iraqi/Syrian desert without a clear vision of the endgame could result in something far worse.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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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U.S. Ground Troops Possible in Anti-ISIS Battlehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-s-ground-troops-possible-in-anti-isis-battle/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-ground-troops-possible-in-anti-isis-battle http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-s-ground-troops-possible-in-anti-isis-battle/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 12:28:21 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136671 General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Credit: DoD/public domain

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Credit: DoD/public domain

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

U.S. combat troops may be deployed against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) if the strategy announced by President Barack Obama last week fails to make substantial progress against the radical Sunni group, Washington’s top military officer warned here Tuesday.

The statement by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, delivered during testimony before a key Congressional committee, suggested for the first time that the administration may substantially broaden military operations in Iraq beyond air strikes and advising Iraqi and Kurdish forces far from the front lines.As long as Saudi Arabia and Iran do not make common cause, any coalition to combat Islamist fanatics will be half-hearted at best and unrooted in the region at worst." -- Amb. Chas Freeman (ret.)

“If we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific targets, I will recommend that to the president,” Dempsey told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“At this point, his [Obama’s] stated policy is we will not have U.S. ground forces in direct combat,” he said. “But he has told me as well to come back to him on a case-by-case basis.”

Dempsey’s remarks, which came as Congress appeared poised to approve a pending 500-million-dollar request to train and equip Syrian rebels committed to fighting ISIS, as well as the government of President Bashar al-Assad, appeared certain to fuel doubts about Obama’s plans, particularly given his promise last week that U.S. forces “will not have a combat mission.”

“We will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq,” he declared in last week’s nationally televised speech in which he also pledged to build an international coalition, including NATO and key regional and Sunni-led Arab states, to fight ISIS forces in both Iraq and Syria.

While Secretary of State John Kerry has since gathered public endorsements for the administration’s strategy to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS, notably at a meeting of Arab states in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, last week and from a larger group of nations in Paris Sunday, scepticism over the strength and effectiveness of such a coalition appears to have deepened.

Although Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and France appear committed to provide some air support to anti-ISIS operations, several key allies, including Britain, have remained non-committal about their willingness to help with military operations.

Turkey, whose army is the largest and most potent in the region and whose porous borders with ISIS-controlled regions in eastern Syria have been fully exploited by the group, has been particularly disappointing to officials here.

Despite repeated appeals, for example, Ankara has reportedly refused to permit U.S. military aircraft to use its strategically located Incirlik air base for carrying out anything but humanitarian missions in or over Iraq, insisting that any direct involvement in the campaign against ISIS would jeopardise the lives of dozens of Turkish diplomats seized by the group at Ankara’s consulate in Aleppo earlier this year.

Critics of Washington’s strategy are also concerned that Kerry may have reduced the chances for co-operation with another potentially key anti-ISIS ally – Iran – which he explicitly excluded from participation in any international coalition due to its support for Assad and its alleged status as a “state sponsor of terror”.

While Kerry Monday said Washington remained open to “communicating” with Tehran — which, along among the regional powers, has provided arms and advisers to both Kurdish and Iraqi forces — about its efforts against ISIS, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who earlier this month reportedly authorised limited co-operation over ISIS, ridiculed the notion, insisting that it was Iran who had rebuffed Washington.

But Kerry’s exclusion of Iran from the anti-ISIS coalition, according to experts here, was motivated primarily by threats by Saudi Arabia and the UAE to drop out if Tehran were included – a reflection not only of the ongoing Sunni-Shi’a conflict in the region, especially in the Syrian civil war, but also of the difficulty Washington faces in persuading governments with widely differing interests to unite behind a common cause.

“Leaving Iran out of the collective effort to contain and eventually destroy ISIS, especially after what happened in Amerli [a town whose siege by ISIS was eventually broken by a combination of U.S. airpower and Iranian-backed militias and Iraqi troops], defies logic and sanity and cannot be explained away by anyone in Iran,” noted Farideh Farhi, an Iran specialist at the University of Hawaii.

“It suggests to many [in Iran] that the fear of legitimising Iran’s role in regional security continues to be a driving force in U.S. foreign policy,” she told IPS in an email exchange.

Indeed, the success of Obama’s strategy may well depend less on U.S. military power than on his ability to reconcile and reassure key regional actors, including Iran.

“To have any hope of success, America’s do-it-yourself approach needs to be replaced with an effort to facilitate co-operation between the region’s great Muslim powers,” according to Amb. Chas Freeman (ret.), who served as Washington’s chief envoy to Riyadh during the first Gulf War.

“… As long as Saudi Arabia and Iran do not make common cause, any coalition to combat Islamist fanatics will be half-hearted at best and unrooted in the region at worst,” he told IPS.

Despite these difficult diplomatic challenges faced by Obama, most of the scepticism here revolves around his military strategy, particularly its reliance on air power and the absence of effective ground forces that can take and hold territory, especially in predominantly Sunni areas of both western and north-central Iraq and eastern Syria.

While U.S. officials believe that Kurdish peshmerga forces and the Iraqi army – with Iranian-backed Shi’a militias – can, with U.S. and allied air support, roll back most of ISIS’s more-recent gains in Iraq, it will take far more time to wrest control of areas, including cities like Fallujah and Ramadi, which the group has effectively governed for months.

Obama announced last week that he was sending nearly 500 more military personnel to Iraq, bringing the total U.S. presence there to around 1,600 troops, most of whom are to serve as trainers and advisers both for the peshmerga and the Iraqi army.

According to Dempsey, however, these troops have not yet been authorised to accompany local forces into combat or even to act as spotters for U.S. aircraft.

As for Syria, Washington plans to train and equip some 5,000 members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a fractious coalition of “moderate” fighters who have been increasingly squeezed and marginalised by both pro-government forces and ISIS and who have often allied themselves with other Islamist groups, including Jabhat al-Nusra, an Al Qaeda affiliate.

It will take at least eight months, however, before that force can take the field, according to Dempsey and Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel. Even then, they said, such a force will be unable “to turn the tide” of battle. Dempsey’s said he hoped that Sunni-led Arab countries would provide special operations forces to support the FSA, although none has yet indicated a willingness to do so.

Hawks, such as Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, have argued that these plans are insufficient to destroy ISIS in either country.

Some neo-conservative defence analysts, such as Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations and Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute, have called for as many as 25,000 U.S. ground troops, including thousands of Special Forces units to work with “moderate” Sunni forces, to be deployed to both countries in order to prevail. They have also warned against any co-operation with either Iran or Assad in the fight against ISIS.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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FILM: From Hamas Royalty to Israel’s Spyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/film-from-hamas-royalty-to-israels-spy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=film-from-hamas-royalty-to-israels-spy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/film-from-hamas-royalty-to-israels-spy/#comments Mon, 15 Sep 2014 14:31:36 +0000 Mitchell Plitnick http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136630 In the past few years, Mosab has become something of a minor celebrity on right-wing and fundamentalist Christian talk shows. His message varies, but his target is often Islam in general.

In the past few years, Mosab has become something of a minor celebrity on right-wing and fundamentalist Christian talk shows. His message varies, but his target is often Islam in general.

By Mitchell Plitnick
WASHINGTON, Sep 15 2014 (IPS)

The son of one of the founders of the biggest Palestinian militant group decides to work with Israel. He spends a decade working undercover with the Israeli security service, the Shin Bet, thwarting dozens of Palestinian attacks and contributing significantly to the arrest or elimination of dozens of leading Palestinian militants.

This sounds like the makings of a Hollywood big budget spy thriller. In fact, it is the plot of a documentary, “The Green Prince,” based on the autobiography of Mosab Hassan Yousef."As long as Hamas is digging tunnels and promoting extremism, I don’t see how anyone can co-exist with this type of danger.” -- Mosab Hassan Yousef

Yousef and his handler in the Shin Bet, Gonen Ben Yitzhak, narrate the film, which somewhat frenetically throws together surveillance footage and live interviews. Although the film tries to focus on the growing bond between Ben Yitzhak, “The Handler”, and Yousef, “The Asset,” there is an underlying tension in the film that is only partially due to the sense of overwhelming danger that Yousef faced on a daily basis.

The most obvious question that is raised by the film is “how does the son of Hassan Yousef, who helped found Hamas and is one of its most prominent leaders to this day, become a spy for Israel?”

The film itself offers only a very succinct answer to this question. As a youth, Mosab was arrested by Israel and was tortured in his interrogation, which was also when he was identified as a potential mole.

He was then sent to prison, where he witnessed far worse torture by Hamas activists, including murder, against fellow Palestinians they suspected might be Israeli agents. This, he said, convinced him to take up the Shin Bet’s offer to work for them.

Indeed, it seems that Mosab’s disillusionment with the Palestinian leadership runs much deeper than just antipathy toward Hamas. In the film, Hamas is the focus, but in the wake of Israel’s recent devastation of the Gaza Strip, the absence of the difficulties of occupation in the film is even more keenly felt. Yet Mosab very much holds to the Israeli view of recent events.

“Palestinians can continue to export their internal problems and blame Israel, but at the end of the day, they have bigger problems than occupation,” he told IPS. “There is corruption, greed, and mismanagement; those are actual enemies of Palestinian people.

“If they can come to a higher conscience where they can see violence is not the way, but negotiations and co-existence is the higher path to achieve their freedom, then the international community will trust them and build bridges. But as long as Hamas is digging tunnels and promoting extremism, I don’t see how anyone can co-exist with this type of danger.”

In fact, in the past few years, Mosab has become something of a minor celebrity on right-wing and fundamentalist Christian talk shows. His message varies, but his target is often Islam in general.

In 2010, on the Canadian news show, Power and Politics, Mosab told a shocked host that “The problem is much bigger than Hamas, the problem is in the God of Islam…he is a god of torture, he is the deceit god, this is what he talks (sic) about himself.”

More recently, on Sep. 6, in the aftermath of the massive destruction by Israel in Gaza, Mosab told Fox News that “I recommend that we stop saying ISIS, this is the Islamic State, this is the Islamic dream, and this is the manifestation of the Qur’anic verses on the ground.”

This echoes the views he has espoused several times as a guest on the far-right wing Sean Hannity show.

When talking with Pat Robertson on his Christian Broadcasting Network in 2010, which caters to the most extreme of Christians in the United States, Mosab continually spoke of his love of Jesus and how Jesus was the only true path to peace.

This would displease many Jews who have come to adore him, not only for his story but for stances like the one the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported him telling an orthodox Jewish crowd in 2011.

“There is no room for another state in that small country [of Israel],” he said. “The Jewish nation has the historic right to that land [in] the West Bank…The Israeli historic right to this land is obvious and clear to any person who can read.”

All of this raises some real questions about Mosab’s motivations, and indeed how sincere the story we saw in the film was. “The Green Prince shows a man who made a difficult choice but believed he was doing it to save lives. The film does note that Mosab converted to Christianity, but gives no hint of his deep antipathy toward Islam.

What we do see in the film, quite clearly, is the growing bond between Mosab and his Shin Bet handler, Gonen Ben-Yitzhak.

Ben-Yitzhak, now a lawyer in Israel after losing his job with the Shin Bet, echoes Yousef’s view that the Palestinians are to blame for the perpetuation of the conflict, although Ben-Yitzhak has a somewhat less idealized view of Israel.

“Look, I’m not pleased with all Israeli policies,” Ben-Yitzhak told IPS. “But now, Palestinians need to find a way to develop. But for many years, they are stuck with bombing and terrorism and violence. Many (people around the world) criticize Israel, but can you compare occupation to blowing up people on a bus? What is the comparison, what are the values that make him blow himself up?

“I’m sure he doesn’t share any values with you… My grandparents, although they suffered and left family in Europe, took responsibility to build a new future, rather than wait for an outside power, a miracle to change their lives. The biggest problem the Palestinians have is that they don’t take responsibility for their own lives, waiting [instead] for the outside world to do something.”

Clearly, Mosab and Gonen built a strong and devoted bond. They both believe that their friendship can be a model for co-existence between Israelis and Palestinians.

“I don’t see a big difference between Israelis and Palestinians,” Gonen told IPS. “When I worked with Shin Bet, I was working with people. I didn’t see a Palestinian as anything but a human being. If we all look at each other as human beings, not as Israelis, Palestinians, occupier and occupied, we can solve these problems.” Mosab put forth a similar sentiment.

Yet it seems that this coming together only happened because Mosab fully came over to the Israeli worldview, and a somewhat extreme one at that. This accounts for some of the discomfort in the film, where one has the feeling that there is a lot that is being omitted. Mosab’s and Gonen’s relationship seems more like a blueprint for surrender than for co-existence.

Editing by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at plitnickm@gmail.com

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OPINION: Bishop Appeals to U.N. to Rescue Minorities in Northwestern Iraqhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-bishop-appeals-to-u-n-to-rescue-minorities-in-northwestern-iraq/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-bishop-appeals-to-u-n-to-rescue-minorities-in-northwestern-iraq http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-bishop-appeals-to-u-n-to-rescue-minorities-in-northwestern-iraq/#comments Fri, 12 Sep 2014 15:07:03 +0000 Bishop Bawai Soro http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136599 Iraqi Christians attend an Easter mass at Chaldean Catholic church in Amman Apr. 24, 2011. Thousands of Iraqi Christians fled to neighbouring Jordan following a spate of bombings that targeted churches in Iraqi cities in the past few years. Credit: http://catholicdefender2000.blogspot.com/

Iraqi Christians attend an Easter mass at Chaldean Catholic church in Amman Apr. 24, 2011. Thousands of Iraqi Christians fled to neighbouring Jordan following a spate of bombings that targeted churches in Iraqi cities in the past few years. Credit: http://catholicdefender2000.blogspot.com/

By Bishop Bawai Soro
SAN DIEGO, Sep 12 2014 (IPS)

For decades, the minority Christian population of Iraq has been suffering hardships. But in the summer months of 2014 – and since the beginning of the military campaign by ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham, also known as ISIL or Islamic State) – the situation has gone from bad to intolerably worse.

The Chaldean Catholic Church is one of the Eastern Catholic Churches, which is an autonomous, self-governing church in full communion with the Pope (Bishop of Rome) and the wider Roman Catholic Church.What is needed is not short-term panacea or lip-service or promises but long-term institutional solutions overseen by the United Nations and aimed at protecting the human right to life of the minority Chaldea and Assyrian Christians, and their Yazidi neighbours.

Chaldean Christians number over half a million people who are ethnic Assyrians and indigenous to predominantly northwestern Iraq and parts of northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey and northwestern Iran.

The core villages of the Chaldean people, located in the Nineveh plain in northwestern Iraq, were attacked and decimated by ISIS in a matter of days, leaving the fleeing Christian inhabitants not only homeless but also internally displaced refugees (IDRs) in their own ancient land.

After having their lives threatened and facing the stark choice of either converting to the warped and extremist interpretation of Islam proselytised by ISIS, paying a heavy tax, or dying in large numbers (many by beheading), tens of thousands of men, women, children, the elderly and infirm fled.

And many of them fled on foot in the searing heat with little or no food, water or shelter – into Iraqi Kurdistan, mostly to Erbil and Duhok, seeking safety, security and asylum.

It is incumbent on all democratic peoples to aid the scattered Chaldean people who find themselves in such a desperate, stark life or death situation. Some are encouraging the displaced to return to their villages, and indeed they are always free to do so.

However, we must understand that people have chosen to leave their beloved homeland to reach safety and protect their families, even at the cost of their dignity.

Upon their return, the displaced would more often than not find their homes damaged, looted or destroyed by ISIS and their local allies.

The million-dollar question therefore is: What kind of future awaits the minority Chaldean and Assyrian Christian population of Iraq?

The people fleeing and begging for international asylum have spoken for themselves. It is now up to those in the democratic West led by the United States and Europe, together with the United Nations, to respond to this acute humanitarian crisis and crimes against humanity.

They need swift justice and human generosity.

What is needed is not short-term panacea or lip-service or promises but long-term institutional solutions overseen by the United Nations and aimed at protecting the human right to life of the minority Chaldea and Assyrian Christians, and their Yazidi neighbours.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s White House address to the nation on Wednesday night was very encouraging, to say the least.

As President Obama stated, the launching of “a steady, relentless effort” to root out the extremists from ISIS “wherever they exist” shall create the necessary security environment to bring about peace and stability.

It will undoubtedly create conducive conditions for the return of displaced minority Chaldean and Assyrian Christians and the Yazidi to their homes in Nineveh province they have inhabited for over two thousand years.

The future of a united Iraq depends on maintaining peace, stability and economic prosperity for all the peoples inhabiting this ancient land.

Ensuring that the spirit of tolerance and cohabitation deepens and thrives is part and parcel of any such long-term structural solution.

It is imperative that policymakers in Washington, DC, New York and at the United Nations and in western European capitals take this long-term vision on board and act accordingly with adequate resources made available.

It is then, and only then, that the plight of the minority Chaldean and Assyrian Christians and other minorities can be addressed in a truly meaningful fashion in a future peaceful, multi-religious, multi-ethnic and economically prosperous Iraq.

Failure to do so will only see a recurrence of the tragic events unfolding in Iraq and Syria, further compounding the destitution, misery and desperation of millions of human beings caught up in the mayhem being unleashed by armed terrorists.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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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