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Islam and Politics ( 6 Nov 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Burma: The Lady, The General, And The Future: New Age Islam’s Selection From World Press, 7 November 2015

New Age Islam Edit Bureau

7 November 2015

 Burma: The Lady, the General, And The Future

By Gwynne Dyer

 Why Brutal Attacks On Bangladesh's Secular Writers Won't Stop

By Nick Robins-Early

 The other 50% in Turkey


 Tolerance is a negative word


 'Go To Pakistan' Slander: An Insult To Both India And Pakistan

By Ravi Nitesh

 Turkey Deepens Its Alliance with Barzani

By Serkan Demirtaş

 Death Penalty in Malysaia: Allow Vigilantes Instead

By Boo Su-Lyn

 How Did The AKP Win Such A Major Comeback?

By Mustafa Akyol

 Assad must not get away with his crimes

By Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor


Burma: The Lady, the General, And The Future

By Gwynne Dyer


There are good generals in Burma – that is, generals who are not too corrupt, not too brutal, and not absolutely determined to maintain military control of the country forever. One such general is Thura Shwe Mann.

Shwe Mann retired from the army in 2010 to lead the newly created Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), a civilian front for the generals who still really control the country. Since that election was boycotted by the democratic opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi (known simply as “the Lady” to most Burmese), the USDP ended up with a majority and Shwe Mann became the speaker of parliament.

There was nothing in his past to suggest that he would ever jump the fence: he fought three successful campaigns against various minority ethnic groups featuring the usual human rights violations, and he was number three in the military hierarchy by the time he retired. But Shwe Mann is now Suu Kyi’s best hope for a peaceful transition to a real democratic government after next Sunday’s national election.

Something happened to Shwe Mann on the way to this election. Maybe it was just the realization that he might end up as president if he played his cards rights, but he certainly talks differently these days: “Now we are in a democracy, a different form of government that requires total dedication ... Our people are living below the poverty line. We have to change everything.”

That’s also what Aung San Suu Kyi wants to do: Change everything. She wants to end the army’s control of 25 percent of the seats in parliament. She wants to get it out of the economy (the military now directly or indirectly control half the Burmese economy.) And above all she wants to stand for the presidency (the constitution written by the army forbids her to run).

Could the Lady and the General actually cooperate? It looked like that to the current president, ex-general Thein Sein, because Shwe Mann was openly talking about a possible post-election coalition that would include both his own USDP and Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD). So in September troops surrounded the USDP’s headquarters – and when they left Shwe Mann was no longer the party’s leader.

Suu Kyi will still probably need Shwe Mann, because this election is not going to be like the last free election in 1990, when the NLD swept the board. (Of course, the military just ignored the outcome and Aung San Suu Kyi spent most of the intervening quarter-century in jail or under house arrest, so there is no foolproof formula for political success in Burma.)

Although the NLD will probably get a big win in this election, it will have trouble turning that into a government. It hasn’t managed to attract the support of the ethnic minorities, who see it as an ethnic Burmese party with the usual centralizing instincts. It must also face the fact that 25 percent of the members of parliament will be military officers appointed by the high command.

So here’s the deal. The NLD will win more than 50 percent of the seats, but it probably won’t get 67 percent, which is what it would need to elect a president over the opposition of the military bloc in parliament. Suu Kyi can’t run for the presidency anyway, because the constitution, written especially with her in mind, says the president must not have foreign relatives. (Suu Kyi’s husband was English, so her two sons have British passports.)

But if Suu Kyi and Shwe Mann form a coalition – although he is no longer the USDP’s leader, he could probably bring a large chunk of his party with him – then that coalition could elect a new president and form a government. The president would have to be Shwe Mann (for constitutional reasons), but Suu Kyi could be the most powerful member of his cabinet, which would be loaded with NLD members.

Burma has been ruled by brutal, ignorant and incompetent soldiers for more than 50 years, and what was once the richest country in South-East Asia is now the poorest. It’s time for a change. Take what you can get now, and come back for more later.


Why Brutal Attacks On Bangladesh's Secular Writers Won't Stop

By Nick Robins-Early


Every week, we bring you one overlooked aspect of the stories that made news in recent days. You noticed the media forgot all about another story's basic facts? Tweet @TheWorldPost or let us know on our Facebook page. 

Faisal Abedin Deepan was found hacked to death at his office in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, this past Saturday. A secular book publisher, Deepan had printed writing that discussed topics like atheism and sexual orientation, and his work had garnered him death threats from religious extremists.

The murder is one of several attacks by religious extremists this year targeting Bangladesh's secular, liberal literary community.

The most prominent of these killings was also the first of the year. In February, a group of suspected Islamist extremists murdered noted Bangladeshi-American liberal blogger Avijit Roy with machetes. Roy's wife, blogger Rafida Ahmed, was wounded in the same attack. The militants chopped off one of her fingers.

Since then, four other secular writers and publishers have been killed, as well as an Italian aid worker and a 66-year-old Japanese man visiting the country on a business trip. Numerous others have been wounded in shootings and stabbings, including another three people in a separate attack on the same day that Deepan was murdered.

The incidents have stirred up fears of rising religious extremism in the majority Muslim but officially secular nation. After Roy's killing, hundreds demonstrated in Dhaka against the murder, while members of Bangladesh's media called for greater protection for non-religious writers. On Monday after Deepan's murder, publishers and book stores closed their businesses to demand that the government stop the violence.

But the reality is that the response of the Bangladeshi government has been woefully inadequate.

The targeting of secular writers in Bangladesh goes back further than this year's spike in attacks or last year's election. Radical Islamists have targeted Bangladeshi liberal writers in years previous, including a spate of attacks in 2013. That same year, hardline Islamists calling for anti-blasphemy laws clashed with police and opposing activists in fighting that killed nearly 50 people.

This year, however, attacks appear to have increased in both number and scope, as militants have expanded their targets to anyone who produces liberal work. Meanwhile, publishers and writers are growing increasingly outraged over government inaction despite the incredible danger that they face.

It's unclear which extremist group active in Bangladesh is behind the attacks, or whether it's a number of organizations carrying out separate plots. Various groups have taken credit for the different incidents, but many of their claims have been disputed.

In September, authorities arrested the leader and two other members of a group they said was behind some of the attacks, the al Qaeda-inspired Ansarullah Bangla Team, or ABT. Later that month, the extremist group was linked to the publication of a list of writers and activists it wanted dead, and government officials now suggest it is behind the latest killing.

The relatively new al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent offshoot claimed responsibility for killing Deepan, but police point to ABT as a more likely suspect. Likewise, the Islamic State claimed the murders of Japanese and Italian foreign nationals, but Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina rejected the group's declaration and blamed militants associated with her rival political party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

Hasina's suggestion that the opposition party was connected to the attacks highlights the deeply contentious state of Bangladeshi politics, after an election last year that saw hundreds of people killed during violent protests and a BNP boycott of the vote following the arrests of its supporters.

Secular activists have said the government is scapegoating its rivals, as well as failing to properly protect liberal, atheist aspects of society out of fear it will lose support among Bangladesh's religiously conservative populace, The Financial Times reports.

“If the government took a stance against radical Islam, they are worried they would be perceived as anti-religious,” secular activist Imran Sarkar told the FT.

Government regulations on speech also don't favor liberal and atheist writers, who can face over a decade in jail if convicted of publishing material deemed defamatory. One atheist blogger had his blog banned and was arrested in 2013 for anti-religious remarks, The Guardian reports.

Secular blogger Niloy Chakrabarti claimed in May that his request for police protection due to death threats was ignored. He was later hacked to death in his home in August.


The other 50% in Turkey


Published — Saturday 7 November 2015

The outcome of the snap election in Turkey, closely watched by the world, surprised everybody. The Justice and Development party (AKP), having lost a major part of its votes in June elections, was expected to fare better this time.

However, nobody expected a nine percent increase in its total votes. This was an incredible success, as even the opposition parties in Turkey couldn’t achieve a hike in votes like that after four years of constant campaigning. The result had been so incredible that representatives of poll companies had to appear on TV to apologize. But what was the reason behind this staggering success?

Five months’ time is too short to change the general tendencies in a country. However, change can be witnessed due to the fast-emerging scenarios in and around a country. This is what happened for the Turkish people during the past five months. In the course of five months, the biggest terror attack in country’s history occurred in Ankara, cease-fire with terrorist group PKK ended, and operations against PKK inside and outside Turkey started, all of which were substantial developments for the Turkish people.

For the first time in 13 years, the country was left without a government. When HDP, which achieved a surprise success in June election, failed to condemn the PKK for terror attacks, what many already knew was confirmed and borrowed votes were taken back. As the coalition talks continued, opposition parties made it clear that they didn’t want to be a part of a coalition, missing a historical opportunity.

At the same time, economy suffered substantially and the Turkish people had to experience the cruel face of instability after many years. However, the biggest factor leading to the success had been AKP’s change in its rhetoric of “presidential system,” which had been major cause of its defeat in June. Presidential system reminds of one thing to the Turkish people and that is separation, which is essentially the same as handing over a part of our country and our Kurdish brothers and sisters to a Stalinist terror group like PKK.

The real challenge starts now. The AKP has an immense job like it had never before. Following serious tests like Gezi protests, the peace talks and terror attacks, it has once again taken over charge, this time with a greater responsibility. On June 7, people forced the AKP out of power to prove that they would never accept a presidential system. They also made it clear that they needed a stronger democracy in this country, which should be free of polarization and separation, all within an improved parliamentary system, not a presidential system. If the AKP really received that message, the steps from this point on, will be crucial.

Our people will test the sincerity of the government. If the AKP goes back to that narrative, people would feel betrayed and might withdraw their support for good. During the cease-fire period dubbed “the peace process,” the PKK only expanded its foothold in the country while the government admitted that the talks had been a mistake. For this reason, the government should show its clear stance against the PKK and put an end to the terror organization once and for all.

Prime Minister Davutoglu, during his victory speech underlined the fact that the laws protected everyone in this country. That’s a crucial point. Various communities, who are uncomfortable with the way the legal system works, should be listened to and major improvements should be made accordingly.

However, the most important problem Turkey faces at the moment is the alarming polarization and tension in the country. The premier and the president should make efforts to win over the hearts of those 50 percent of the people who didn’t vote for them. Prime Minister Davutoglu said the victory belonged to all Turkish people and gave an important speech full of references to love, humility and compassion. Giving assurances to the other half of the country with a loving, embracing and compassionate attitude will play a key role in the future growth of Turkey.

It should be remembered that a country could develop, prosper and improve its democracy only when its peoples are happy. When this happens the AKP will find real success, it will gain the support of 78 million people in Turkey, and the country will then grow to unprecedented levels.


Tolerance is a negative word


7 November 2015

That the news is made by media and it decides what should be given publicity and what should be ignored is a given. The fact is the yardstick is arbitrary and intrinsically dangerous.

Take this attack on Shah Rukh Khan that pretty much amounts to savaging someone who is a celeb to get a little reflected attention poured on to oneself. It has become the trend of the week because the media chose to give it the attention it did not deserve. It also gave those who exploited it a platform to utter rubbish and market themselves. To that extent media is complicit in the communal divisiveness and will be increasingly so because it sells.

I am no fan of Khan’s since I am not much of a movie watcher and it did tee me off that if he was to be castigated it should be for the cavalier self indulgence of taking part in a skin whitening cream campaign. That was terrible and deserved censure for the mental agony he caused millions of men and women for bruising their self-esteem on grounds of skin color...while making money out of it.

But as a citizen of India if he speaks about intolerance or any other subject how is his right any less than yours or mine and why should every utterance be given so much attention. You not only make him bigger than he is, it is also pointless to make a remark of a general nature come off like this actor was a terrorist threat. To compare him with a terrorist like Hafiz Saeed is to trivialize all those who died in the Mumbai blasts. If I had a relative or friend who died in those blasts I would give a lot for him to be alive and critical of intolerance, real and imagined.

And what is even more baffling is dispatching everyone who upsets those in power to Pakistan. And they don’t mean the village in the Purnia district of Bihar. You talk of intolerance go to Pakistan. You don’t believe there will be fireworks in Pakistan if BJP loses in Bihar, on your bike go to Pakistan. Any criticism of the government points the way across the border. If you eat beef, peel off to Pakistan. You get caught by the cops with a girl go to Pakistan.

The pattern is followed religiously. Some high profile person makes a silly or relatively benign comment. There is a synthetic uproar. Then someone from the Opposition answers it with this dreary threat. The pot is desperately stirred. Then both sides exchange volleys of abuse. At which point some holy man trots on to the stage and adds a little fire and brimstone.

Transpose it to this latest episode. Khan makes a dinky toy statement of the sort made by a million Indians every day. Immediately Yogi Adityanand BJP MLA from Gorakhpur decides to set it to discordant music and compare him to the Mumbai mastermind. Is this tolerance?

Then Kailash Vijaivargiya a senior leader pitches in with the epiphany that Khan’s lives in India but his soul is in Pakistan, whatever that means. We now await a holy man unless the Gorakhpur Yogi makes the grade or that mantle falls on Sadhvi Prachi, a controversial Hindutva leader, who had also clobbered Shah Rukh yesterday, dubbing him a “Pakistani agent.”

Once the flames of hostility are nice and hot the Congress crawls out of the woodwork and promises to save the country from intolerance. Rahul Gandhi gets all upset. Come on people, that party has only 44 seats. I believe the Congress strategy seems to be to exploit every tragedy, every controversy, every act of crime by providing instant balm for hurt minds. Intolerance has now become the nation’s most popular buzzword.

We are all tolerant. We love all people regardless of caste, color or creed...we just hate those who do not. This nonsense wont stop until we recognize that tolerance itself is a negative word. By being tolerant we indicate that our embrace is not 360 degrees. But one of the greatest rights granted to our nation is the right to opinion. If these gentlemen elected to positions of power have the protection to attack an individual and believe it is their right how can they rob that right from someone else?

What they fail to understand is that every time they conduct this genre of a witch-hunt they stir more fear and suspicion and concern that our freedoms are predicated to saying the politically correct thing and we are vulnerable to self appointed keepers of our faith.

This flaming righteousness also legitimizes the same anxiety in the much-maligned intelligentsia who opted to return their awards, be it the arts or sciences. What is this unhealthy phobia about Pakistan that we have to weave it into every scenario or every crisis? Time to get over it. Whether it is Amit Shah or Owaisi, Mahesh Sharma or Naqvi this threat of dispatching people to Pakistan is now absurd.


'Go To Pakistan' Slander: An Insult To Both India And Pakistan

By Ravi Nitesh

06 November, 2015

In recent times, we are witnessing the rising trend of quoting ‘Go to Pakistan’ by many political leaders. It is not only Go to Pakistan, but even many other references that leaders are quoting in India is a matter to be worried about. Worrying about this is not limited to concern of logical thinkers or [progressive individuals (in general many of them have been called and seen as leftists), instead it is a concern of everyone, beyond this confinement of left and right.

It is a matter of concern for all is because this is something that reflects the representation of Indian politicians before rest of the world. Still, many in India who themselves as ‘most concerned’ citizens of this country, argue that such remarks are nice and made rightfully. It is again a matter of concern for Indian society, but probably in lesser impact. Lesser, because such individuals can exist in society and they may transform themselves as society becomes developed and mature, but when it comes to political leaders, it becomes a matter of peoples representation and their effective role in decision making and policy drafting, where India is heading and it affect not only society in India, but even the global social political and economical relations as well.

At a time when Indian politicians are using name of a country to show that how shameful it can be to live in that, this itself is extremely shameful activity of them. It is an insult of not only another government of that country, but of millions of people who are living there and who have equal rights like any citizen over the globe has. Describing in such a manner is , therefore, only damaging reputation of India itself, and not of Pakistan in anyway. It also shows the mentality and maturity level of Indian politics that try to symbolise itself as 'world's largest democracy' and also advocating to get permanent seat in UNSC. These uncontrolled politicians who mostly belong to present ruling party and their partners and supporters are actually unable to understand that countries of the world are actually trying to move towards pro human rights and pro human being with effectively applying concepts of freedom and rights, of life and of equality. Respect of another human being, society and country is one of the most important among these , while it is completely denied by right wingers in India.

Even if these politicians are threatening by their remarks and directing all those people to go to Pakistan, who are registering their dissent over the ideology, these politicians must know that there is a connection with Pakistan of lot of families who are living in north india and specially in states like Delhi, Haryana and Punjab. There are not only relations (of mostly muslim families), but also a historical connection (of hindus and of other religions as well), where places of their ancestors still exist there and they see it with all respect. In addition to this, there are friendly relations of many youths of India with people in Pakistan who had met during academic and other conferences and also via social media and other such mediums. In view of these, remarks of Go to Pakistan comes an absolute insult of emotions of people in India itself.

On the political maturity of India and Pakistan, it must be seen that Pakistan is a country where people know that such politicians exist, and they take it in the same line of truth that few politicians are there as well who try to criticise India in all possible ways, to keep their shop running. But it should also be observed that despite all extremism in Pakistan that has been symbolised far greater than India, Pakistan is successful in terms of bringing position to 'enhance friendship' with India through even its election manifesto, while India could not do it yet. It must also be seen that artists from Pakistan are facing numerous problems and threats in India (more frequently in these days) , while despite all extremism that we know about, no Indian artist got such threats in Pakistan even in a reaction of what is happening in India. We also came up with a recent story, where a family from Pakistan who was in Mumbai did not get any place to stay and was denied by all and stayed on footpath for whole night. On the other hand, there is not a single story that any Indian faced such situation in Pakistan. You can just talk to any India who has been in Pakistan and you can get to know about how Pakistan , more appropriately , Pakistanis are full of gesture.

India , that adopted and promoted multi cultural society and branded itself with tagline of 'unity in diversity' can not be seen as promoter of harmony within country, but also with neighbouring nations and most importantly with people of all other countries. When our politicians go to break this thread of harmony, it is the very duty of all of us to protect our country and heritage from such people. It must be understood that India's representation should not be in such hands who can only polarise minds.

Probably it is a time, when people in India should seriously think about change and denial of such politics.

Ravi Nitesh is founder of Founder-Mission Bhartiyam and a member of Gandhi Global Family, Peoples Alliance for Democracy and Secularism, South Asian Fraternity, All India Peace Mission Twitter @ravinitesh Blog


Turkey Deepens Its Alliance with Barzani

By Serkan Demirtaş


A coincidence or not, Turkish Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioğlu’s first visit abroad immediately after the parliamentary elections was to northern Iraq, where he held meetings with senior Iraqi Kurdish leaders, including Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Masoud Barzani.

The minister’s visit, as highlighted by media reports, was in a mood of direct support to Barzani’s leadership in northern Iraq, although the region’s iconic Kurdish leader is facing some in-house difficulties. In his address to a conference held by the Middle East Research Institute on Nov. 4, Minister Sinirlioğlu recalled Turkey’s continued support to the KRG in the face of growing danger posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

These following lines, however, displayed the importance and value Turkey pays to Barzani’s KRG: “We are convinced that the people of the KRG have the necessary vision, strong determination and requisite ingenuity to steer this region back to the right track and once again assume its rightful role as a locomotive that can lead Iraq out of the dire straits it is in.”

Sinirlioğlu’s meetings with Iraqi Kurdish leaders were not only focused on recent developments in northern Iraq and on the fight against ISIL. Media reports underlined the minister also asked Barzani to restrict the activities of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the region.

The two men should also have reviewed recent developments in northern Syria, where the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its military wing, the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG), are in control. Barzani’s affiliates and their armed forces in northern Syria have been expelled from northern Syria to northern Iraq on the basis that they refused to cooperate with the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, according to a Turkish source.

It could be well said the current picture creates a sort of renewed alliance betweenAnkara and Erbil against the PYD’s growing regional influence.

This alliance is in fact multidimensional. It has economic and energy aspects as well as political overlaps on many fronts. Turkey is eager to invest in energy reserves in northern Iraq and let the products be transferred to the rest of the world via its territory.

As Sinirlioğlu put it, “We are also resolved to further improve our economic cooperation in every way. This will bolster the unshakable foundation on which our partnership continues to thrive. By developing the means to serve our peoples better, we will also be able to more effectively shoulder the burden that the extraordinary circumstances have put on our shoulders. In short, let me leave you with one simple message: Turkey is fully committed to assisting Iraq and the KRG in every way. We will stand with you as you march toward the bright future you absolutely deserve.”

In a geography where two neighboring countries, Iraq and Syria, have been nearly dysfunctional as states, it’s very normal for Turkey to seek new partners and allies to work with for its own national interests. With Sinirlioğlu’s promise that Turkey will continue its military and humanitarian assistance to both Iraq and the KRG in their fight against ISIL, it should be thought that one of the leading targets of this alliance will be ISIL, and then the PYD’s growing role in northern Syria and the PKK presence in northern Iraq.    

Ankara-Erbil relations should be read within this context, which signal a more concentrated and intensified alliance.


Death Penalty in Malysaia: Allow Vigilantes Instead

By Boo Su-Lyn

November 6, 2015

Why waste taxpayers’ money in executions when citizens can do the job themselves (and take greater pleasure in personally exacting revenge too)?

Sarawakian Kho Jabing, 31, was to have been executed in Singapore today for murdering a man.

Unfortunately, the labourer’s case had very little media attention in Malaysia. Local human rights groups did not seem to mount much of a campaign for Jabing either, with only some writing press statements (a little too late) over the past few days. Singapore’s Court of Appeal had sentenced Jabing to death 10 months ago in January.

Do Malaysian human rights NGOs not care for an impoverished blue-collar worker from Sarawak? Why was Jabing’s campaign spearheaded by a Singaporean group ― We Believe in Second Chances ― instead of a Malaysian group?

Malaysians should have gone all out in campaigning against his death sentence.

Sarawak minister Tan Sri Dr James Masing also said the state government would not intervene in the execution as it was inappropriate for Malaysia to interfere with the justice system in Singapore.

The Sarawak government’s stand is unsurprising. However, I would argue that there’s nothing wrong with interference to protect our own citizens if the law itself is unjust.

The verdict by Singapore’s Court of Appeal was split 3-2.

According to Amnesty International Malaysia, the two dissenting judges held that there was no evidence to prove with certainty that Jabing had hit his victim, another labourer, more than twice, which would represent a “blatant disregard for the sanctity of human life” ― a key factor in deciding whether or not to sentence him to death. The other three judges thought Jabing’s actions merited the death sentence.

Jabing was convicted of beating a China national with a piece of wood; the man later succumbed to his injuries, and Jabing sentenced to death in 2010.

Singapore reviewed in 2012 its mandatory death penalty laws. Jabing was resentenced to life imprisonment after the review, but Singapore’s Court of Appeal later sentenced him to death in the 3-2 decision when the prosecution appealed.

Malaysia has yet to review laws on capital punishment.

Oxford University professors Roger Hood and Carolyn Hoyle wrote in their book The Death Penalty: A Worldwide Perspective that it is not “prudent” to accept the belief that capital punishment in the US deters murder significantly more than the threat of life imprisonment.

A study, which compared Singapore (that had among the highest execution rates in the world in the mid-1990s) with Hong Kong( that abolished the death penalty in 1993), reportedly found that homicide trends were similar in both countries, with neither an increase in Singapore’s executions nor a steep drop after 1997 making any significant impact.

Let’s put aside the question of imposing the death penalty on drug traffickers. If we are to live by the “an eye for an eye” principle, then any other crime but murder should not be punished with death.

On whether the death penalty deters homicide, there is no conclusive research that points to a deterrent effect.

So we get to the so-called justice factor in the death penalty. If killing someone for killing another person is right, then in cases of theft, why doesn’t the State take equal amounts of money from the accused based on the amount stolen? Why not appoint an official to sexually assault a convicted rapist?

Steal a loaf of bread, and the State takes bread as punishment. Beat and rape a woman till she bleeds? The State should do the exact same thing to her rapist.

These examples illustrate how ludicrous the death penalty is.

Even Singapore’s principle in deciding death sentences on whether the accused showed disregard for the sanctity of human life is arbitrary. So, two strikes are okay, but three strikes are not?

What are the criteria for disregarding the “sanctity” of human life? If human life is indeed so sacred, then capital punishment shouldn’t be in the picture at all.

The sanctity of human life surely doesn’t depend on what a person has done, even if she has killed someone. It should be inherent from birth.

If we were to judge how sacred one’s life is based on their deeds, then not only murderers, but rapists, child abusers and corrupt politicians would rank at the bottom of the scale.

Killing someone with a clean gunshot to the head may be more merciful than bludgeoning him to death with a rock, but the fact remains that the victim ends up dead in both scenarios.

We shouldn’t kill more people in the name of justice.


How Did The AKP Win Such A Major Comeback?

 By Mustafa Akyol


A few weeks before the elections of last Sunday, Nov. 1, I had written a piece in this column titled, “What to expect in the upcoming elections.”  My answer to the question was “some increase in AKP [Justice and Development Party] votes… perhaps something around 2-3 percent.” Well, I proved to be somewhat wrong. There was indeed a surge in the votes of the ruling AKP, but much more than what I expected: an impressive 9 percent of the votes. As a result, the AKP safely secured the parliament majority it lost five months ago, in the elections of June 7. It also secured four more years, at least, to govern single handedly.

This was, of course, a victory for the AKP, but even more so for its ultimate leader, President Tayyip Erdoğan. It was he who insisted on having snap elections after the setback in June, and it was he who discouraged a coalition with opposition parties, which would rule out snap elections. No wonder the pro-Erdogan media (which is the core of the pro-AKP media, but is not exactly identical to it) makes a great emphasis that this is “Erdogan’s victory” – not that of anybody else, such as Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. The result is the strengthening of the cult of personality built around the president over the years.

But what was the secret of this major victory? How did the AKP pull of millions of additional votes in just five months? Lots of commenters in the Turkish opposition and Western media find the answer in an imagined Erdoğan conspiracy: That the president and his men intentionally created terror inside Turkey to scare the voters and make them seek “stability.”

My answer is less conspiratorial. Yes, the upsurge of terrorism in the past five months, both by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), did help the AKP a lot.

But these organizations are controlled by their own zealotry, rather than the palace of the president. If the PKK were a saner group, it would not have declared an “end to the ceasefire” in June, just a month after the election of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), despite the president’s latter-day loss of interest in the “peace process.” Last Sunday, the HDP lost about a million votes from Kurds who voted for it in June and nobody is more responsible for this than the PKK. The PKK was either too fanatic to see this result coming or it intentionally discredited the HDP, fearing that the “civilian side” of the Kurdish political movement may sideline its armed presence.

Meanwhile, ISIL carried out suicide attacks in Turkey, including the Ankara bombing, the worst act of terror in Republican history that killed more than 130 people. The ISIL militants who carried out these horrors, too, were acting on behalf of their own zeal: They were merely targeting the extensions of the “infidel Kurds” that they are fighting in northern Syria.

The government did not orchestrate this chaos, but it did extract some helpful propaganda out of it. Depicting the Ankara bombing as “cocktail terrorism,” for which not just ISIL but also the PKK were responsible, was one such manipulation. As a result, millions were convinced that Turkey is under attack from a coalition of united demons, and the best way out is a “strong government.”

Finally, the biggest help to the AKP came from Devlet Bahçeli, the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), who lost two million votes to the AKP last Sunday. His incredibly dull and static political stance after June 7 disillusioned many MHP voters, some of which opted for the AKP. For the AKP is not only shrewd. It also has the blessing of highly incompetent rivals.


Assad must not get away with his crimes

Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

6 November 2015

Ancient cities and World Heritage sites across Syria have been turned into wastelands of blood-soaked rubble littered with infants’ shoes and toys. Almost 300,000 Syrians have been killed and 11 million displaced. If there is one person to blame for the four-year-long tragedy it is Bashar al-Assad, who instructed his army to slaughter his own citizens rather than heed his people’s call to step down. He put his chair before his country and he is responsible for the influx of terrorists.

Assad is the greatest war criminal of our time, and as long as he is in Russia’s embrace he can sleep soundly. He is assured of immunity because, firstly, Syria is not a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and, secondly, he is confident that the U.N. Security Council cannot refer him to The Hague thanks to Russia’s power of veto. Russia makes a mockery of international laws and institutions set-up to hold leaders to account for crimes against humanity.

What concerns me most is how impotent the international community has become, both diplomatically and militarily. Assad’s future is being used as a bargaining chip in this disgraceful geopolitical power play in which Syrian lives are considered collateral damage.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s defence of Assad has nothing to do with warm personal chemistry between the two leaders. His longevity is dependent purely on his usefulness to Moscow’s interests:

• Preservation of Russia’s naval base in the port of Tartus – its only deep water base on the Mediterranean.

• Compliance with the demands of Russia’s prime regional ally Iran seeking to maintain Syrian state control over the capital, the Mediterranean coast and areas of central Syria serving as a conduit for Iranian weapons destined for its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah.

• The necessity of proving to Moscow’s allies that they will not be abandoned when the chips are down and also to encourage regional partners allied with the West to shift into Russia’s sphere of influence.

• Projection of Russian power in the Middle East through the agency of an informal Russian-Syrian-Iranian (and a potential Iraqi) bloc.

Unfortunately, President Barrack Obama’s hesitancy to stop the bloodshed some years ago following the regime’s use of chemical weapons, the ineffectiveness of year-long U.S.-led coalition airstrikes against ISIS and his unwillingness to put boots on the ground left a vacuum for Russia to fill. Obama’s ‘Syria strategy’ has been marked by failure.

America’s programs to train and arm ‘moderate’ rebels have had to be binned because without heavy weapons they were no match for the better-armed terrorist groups. Since Russia seized the initiative, the U.S. is trying to play catch up with ramped up airstrikes and the insertion of a 50-strong contingent of Special Forces set to work alongside Kurdish and Arab fighters battling ISIS.

The White House has no plans to assist opposition forces fighting to bring down the Assad regime, as deduced by an irate Senator Lindsey Graham recently while grilling Secretary of Defence Ash Carter and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford on the administration’s objectives during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing recently.

Under the veteran lawmaker’s relentless battering, Carter was forced to admit that U.S. strategy is solely to assist rebels fighting ISIS. In his testimony Graham promptly lost his cool. “Russia, Iran and Hezbollah are gonna fight for their guy, and we’re not gonna do a damn thing to help the people who want to change Syria for the better by getting rid of the dictator in Damascus,” he ranted.

“So what you’ve done gentlemen, along with the President, is you’ve turned Syria over to Russia and Iran. You’ve told the people in Syria, who’ve died by the hundreds of thousands, ‘we’re more worried about a political settlement than we are about what follows...’”

A softened stance

Western leaders, including President Obama have at one time or another affirmed that Assad is the problem and insisted he must step down. But in light of Russia’s military intervention, they are softening their stance, suggesting the Syrian president can take part in a transition leading to a transitional government in which top regime figures will be free to participate.

They have dumped their principles in favour of politics. In other words, they have folded out of expediency, which makes them look weak. In any case, what gives foreign powers the right to make deals that have not been sanctioned by representatives of all Syrian parties and factions?

Syrians have given their blood and sacrificed their parents and children to be free from a tyrannical regime. They have a right to a say in their future, but they have been shut out of negotiations. Not a single Syrian was invited to participate in the recent talks in Vienna, not even as an observer. The foreign ministers of 16 countries, including the opponent of many Arab states - Iran - sat around the table to discuss Syria’s destiny. It was a complete waste of time as some attendees were only there to block any progress.

Iran, in my opinion the biggest threat to regional stability, was dignified with an invitation. That should have been a warning sign. It had no intention of compromising, a seen in its verbal attacks on Saudi Arabia, which Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian accused of playing “a negative role.” He also threatened Iran’s withdrawal from the peace efforts should they become unconstructive. Good riddance!

Enough meetings

Syrians will be able to choose their next government at the ballot box, according to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who told reporters after their bilateral meeting that all Syrians both inside and outside the country – including refugees – will get a vote. Is this a joke? How can they propose something so ludicrous? It is likely to be years before free and fair elections can be held. Let us not forget that regime barrel bombs still fall and over dozens of terrorist and militant groups controlling large swathes of Syrian territory.

I am distressed that the world cannot get its act together to bring peace to Syria. Enough conferences and meetings! Enough talking! Decisive action is needed so that Syrian families trudging through a freezing Europe with their babies can go home. Does the U.S. or Russia or Iran truly have those poor people at heart or are they more concerned with their own hegemonic or economic stake in the issue? Russia is the kingpin for without its backing the regime could not have survived until now – and Putin must be persuaded to stop giving Assad a free pass.

Syrians need closure before they can move forward with a process of forgiveness and reconciliation. The idea that Assad will be permitted to walk scot-free and enjoy a life of luxury in Tehran is unacceptable for those who have lost everything at his hands.

Too much time has been wasted and worryingly we now know that the idea of an “international community” is just a meaningless concept.

Self-serving countries trumpeting their values, while juggling for influence and gain without real concern for humanity, is what our world has evolved into – a dog-eat-dog planet where those with the biggest bombs rule.

Khalaf Ahmad al-Habtoor is a prominent UAE businessman and public figure. He is Chairman of the Al Habtoor Group - one of the most successful conglomerates in the Gulf. Al Habtoor is renowned for his knowledge and views on international political affairs; his philanthropic activity; his efforts to promote peace; and he has long acted as an unofficial ambassador for his country abroad. Writing extensively on both local and international politics, he publishes regular articles in the media and has released a number of books. Al-Habtoor began his career as an employee of a local UAE construction firm and in 1970 established his own company, Al Habtoor Engineering. The UAE Federation, which united the seven emirates under the one flag for the first time, was founded in 1971 and this inspired him to undertake a series of innovative construction projects – all of which proved highly successful.


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