New Age Islam Edit Bureau
18 Sep. 2015
Restoring Faith in Humanity
By Aijaz Zaka Syed
Al-Aqsa under Mortal Threat
By Jamal Doumani
Iraq In Clutches Of Iran
By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
By Nahela Nowshin
Is Bangladesh On The Right Track?
By Shah Husain Imam
Can Anyone Stop The Killing In Syria?
By Marwan Bishara
#Istandwithahmed Shows America at Its Best, And Worst
By Joyce Karam
In Yemen, Can The Houthi Leadership Abandon Radicalism?
By Manuel Almeida
Restoring faith in humanity
By Aijaz Zaka Syed
18 September 2015
The past couple of weeks have been rather traumatic. I found myself hanging between the extremes of hope and despair, often revisiting the long held beliefs and convictions. Mercifully, I’ve rarely had to face what people in my trade describe as ‘the writer’s block.’
Training as a scribe and a reverence for deadlines has helped me keep my sanity and the deadline in the midst of chaos. However did I try to collect my thoughts and write something … anything, my mind just wouldn’t budge. It remained frozen and totally blank. As blank and empty as the computer screen that stared back at me. The searing image of Aylan Kurdi, the 3-year-old Syrian whose small body washed up on a Turkish beach this month, kept dancing before me. When I first came across the photograph of the now famous toddler splashed across newspaper front pages around the world, my heart sank.
Aylan did not appear lifeless at all. He looked like any 3-year old, peacefully and happily napping next to his mother, without a care in the world after a long day of fun and games. Photojournalist Nilufer Demir took several shots of the dead baby, first lying on the beach, then being thoughtfully viewed by a Turkish policeman before being carefully lifted and carried away by the cop.
But the most arresting image without doubt was a close-up from behind, capturing the innocence and sweetness of the babyhood — his round, fair head, his plump little bottom, his tiny colorful shoes and his crooked little arm. It could have been anybody’s baby, snoozing in the comfort and warmth of his mother’s arms and his home. Except he was lying on a beach, far from home; with surf and sand in his face and tiny nostrils.
The fact that Aylan’s 5-year old sibling and mother also met the same fate made it all the more tragic. No wonder those images went viral as did the Twitter hashtag #Humanity Washes Ashore!
All that was not maudlin fakery. Most of those sentiments were genuine. That image indeed broke the world’s heart. Dead babies and children in pain melt the coldest of hearts. No wonder the tide of global public opinion has so decisively turned against Israel, something that long years of PLO’s armed struggle failed to.
No wonder the Turkish police officer who tenderly picked up Aylan thought it was the heaviest burden he had ever carried.
That iconic image of Aylan Kurdi became the defining image of Syria’s humanitarian catastrophe on the one hand and the larger refugee crisis on the other. He brought home, into the drawing rooms of Europe, the seriousness of the crisis that was entirely manufactured by the West. It is no coincidence that most of those arriving in droves in the West emanate from lands that have been turned upside down by the coalition of the willing — from Afghanistan to Iraq and Somalia to Syria.
While Iraq and Afghanistan-Pakistan haven’t still gotten over the US neocon gifts of freedom and democracy, Syria and Somalia are reeling from the half-baked, disastrous Western interventions. They have no love lost for Bashar Assad but no stomach for a change either.
In death, Aylan may have accomplished for his people that all the aid in the world and truckloads of newsprint couldn’t have. If the rich, elite club has opened its doors, just a wee bit, for the refugees, thank the toddler who undertook that perilous journey to Europe only to be brought back to Kobani for his final resting place. He singlehandedly reframed and turned around the whole debate, melting away Europe’s stony wall of silence and indifference. There have been exceptions of course like David Cameron of Britain and Viktor Orban of Hungary who remain the prisoners of their self-centered, tunnel-vision politics. On the whole though, Europe has done itself proud by responding generously and compassionately to the crisis.
Unlike Orban, who has chastised European leaders for their generosity toward refugees and tried his best to arrest the sea of refugees surging toward Western Europe, former Hungary PM Gyurcsány Ferenc and current Finnish Premier Juha Sipilä opened their own homes to refugees. Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann was so outraged by Hungary’s treatment of migrants that he compared it to the Nazi-era persecution and deportation of Jews.
The conduct of German leadership has been exemplary. Chancellor Angela Merkel went out of her way to welcome the refugees saying Germany could accommodate around 800,000 migrants this year and 800,000 every year. The country received more than 100,000 refugees last month alone.
Europe’s biggest and most vibrant economy remains the favorite destination of the Syrian and other refugees, followed by Sweden, Norway and other Scandinavian nations. Germany and Scandinavian nations are excellent models of welfare state, providing free education, health care, subsidized housing and unemployment allowance. It’s not only the economic opportunities and welfare measures of Germany and Scandinavian nations that attract the migrants. Their tolerant, liberal societies are a huge draw. Germany has already allocated billions of euros this year to accommodate tens of thousands of refugees. It has also urged other EU members to shoulder their humanitarian responsibility. Being the leader of the economic grouping and its biggest donor, the country commands huge respect.
What is heartening is not just the leaders of countries like Germany, Austria and Finland have come forward to reclaim humanity when it matters the most, it is ordinary Europeans who have come out in their thousands to express solidarity with the suffering multitudes pouring into their lands.
“REFUGEES ARE WELCOME” went up the vox populi in European capitals last week. Pope Francis urged the faithful to open their homes to refugees.
After Iceland’s government said it could accommodate only 50 Syrian refugees, author and Prof. Bryndis Bjorgvinsdottir appealed her countrymen to do their bit. More than 12,000 Icelanders responded to her call, offering to host a greater number in their homes and shaming their government. “I am a single mother with a six-year-old son,” wrote Hekla Stefansdottir. “We can take a child in need. I’m a teacher and would teach the child to speak, read and write. We have clothes, a bed, toys and everything a child needs. I would of course pay for the airplane ticket.”
It is at times like these that your faith in humanity and the essential goodness of mankind is restored. Besides, notwithstanding its humanitarian responsibility, it makes sense for Europe to embrace the new arrivals. With its fast aging and dwindling population, the continent increasingly looks like an old age home. Germany, Italy, Spain and others have some of the lowest birth rates in human history. One-third of their populations will be over 65 in 2050, according to the Pew Research Center.
If the economies like Germany are to survive and compete with emerging giants like China and India, they need new blood and able bodied men and women with fresh ideas. It is in Europe’s own interest therefore to accept more migrants, whatever their compulsions to flee their distant homes and lands.
More important, as Simon Kuper argues in Financial Times, Europe has the need, the space and the ability to accept people. According to the European Commission, humans inhabit a tiny slice of the continent’s territory. Only about 2.5 percent of the EU land is used for housing while a whopping 43pc is used for agriculture.
Europe can certainly make room for more refugees. And so can other Western and Arab and Muslim nations. Ten thousand is peanuts for a giant like America, especially considering its role in the godawful mess it has made of the Middle East.
Al-Aqsa under mortal threat
By Jamal Doumani
18 September 2015
It seems, at first blush, unconscionable to be writing today about Palestine in the midst of the refugee calamity, which so far this year involved half a million lost souls — with hundreds of thousands poised to follow — trying to reach safe havens in Europe, a calamity that has caused havoc in the continent, dissension among the European leaders about how to handle the crisis, and a display of xenophobic zeal by the continent’s bigots, including Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who vehemently denounce what they see as an “Islamic invasion.”
The scenes are reminiscent of the Great Migration in the US between 1910 and the middle of the 20th century, the movement of six million African Americans out of the rural southern states to the urban northeast; the Displaced Persons (DPs) camps in Europe, established by the Allies across Austria, Italy and Germany following the conclusion of World War II, primarily for refugees from Eastern Europe; and the population transfer between India and Pakistan in the wake of the subcontinent’s partition that resulted in the displacement of 14 million people — the largest mass migration in history.
So how could events in Palestine trump the refugee calamity in Europe today? I’ll let you decide.
We all know that the Noble Sanctuary in Jerusalem, dominated by the architecturally exquisite Al-Aqsa Mosque and the gold-roofed Dome of the Rock — an iconic symbol of the city — is of paramount significance to Muslims everywhere. It is, after all, the site from which our Prophet (peace be upon him) ascended to heavens on his Night Journey, as revealed in one of the chapters of the Qur’an known as Al-Isra.
Though in the past, successive Israeli governments had set their sights on the sanctuary, the current one makes no bones about its plans to take it over. Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, made of extremist right-wingers and a constituency of messianic Jews, is embarking on a sinister, not to mention sneaky, project to take full control of the grounds. How so? Begin progressively by allowing Jews to “pray” there and when that does not meet serious challenges by the world, assert these Jews’ “right” to build a permanent presence there, follow that by a complete takeover and then finally lead from there to the sanctuary’s destruction.
Unlikely? Far fetched? Not really. In recent days, Israelis who hail from various colonies in the West Bank have been allowed, according to news reports, to enter Al-Aqsa (in Arabic, “the farthest mosque”) and roam around freely under police protection. What other “rights” will they be given next? And who is there to stop them?
The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) appears to be more preoccupied with raising the Palestinian flag outside the United Nations headquarters in New York, where the group’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, is slated to deliver his presentation to the annual meeting of heads of state at the General Assembly on Sept. 30, than it is, sadly, with protecting The Noble Sanctuary. With its role reduced by Israel to that of a passive observer of events in Palestine, the PNA finds itself helpless at confronting the schemes of the occupation authorities on that issue.
Moreover, the site at which the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock stand has been since 1948 legally administered by Jordan, whose king last Monday “warned” Israel in a statement that his country was “very concerned and angered with the recent escalation in Jerusalem” and that “further provocations” will prompt the Jordanian government to “take action.”
It is doubtful, you will agree, that Israeli officialdom, which often snubbed warnings even from the White House, will be swayed by threats, let alone entreaties, from Amman.
Every Muslim should be concerned about the potential destruction of our third holiest site. Lest we forget, Israel came close to doing just that on Aug. 21, 1969, when an Australian fanatic, with close ties to neo-fascist and messianic Jews in Israel, set fire to the pulpit at the mosque in his and his associates’ effort to destroy the whole edifice and ultimately have “Solomon’s Temple restored on the Mount.”
It may also be recalled that the incident so enraged — and later galvanized — the entire Muslim world that a month later a three-day Islamic summit conference was held in Rabat to “deal with the issue of Jerusalem,” which in turn was followed by two meetings in Jeddah of foreign ministers from the Islamic countries in March 1970 and in Karachi in December of the same year. From all that emerged the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), we need an equally muscular response today.
I care more — and not altogether shamefacedly — about the fate of Jerusalem than I do about the fate of asylum seekers knocking on the doors of affluent EU countries. I certainly care more about it than I do about seeing the Palestinian flag fluttering in the wind outside UN headquarters in New York.
Iraq in clutches of Iran
By Abdulrahman al-Rashed
17 September 2015
Last year, the Iraqi government was paying huge sums to Iran — in US dollars. This came at a time when Iran was barred from conducting deals in the currency, amid international sanctions on its oil sales.
So why did the Iraqis pay Iran? At the beginning, Nouri Al-Maliki’s government said the money was for Iranian weapons. When Washington pointed out that this was a violation of the UN Security Council’s resolutions, Iraq disputed its previous statement saying that the money was for mutual services deals.
It later turned out that Tehran was using Iraqi government’s money to fund its military activities in the region, mainly in Syria. The government of Iraq’s current Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi does not seem to be able to escape the Iranian hegemony, especially given that Tehran has become more powerful.
What is even more interesting is that Iraq, the second-largest crude oil producer, started to import oil from Iran! The latter has announced that it began exporting diesel to the Iraqi market. Iraq is buying petroleum products from Iran with the Iranian Rial, instead of US dollars in the oil market. This clearly shows that Iran is taking advantage of Iraq, without taking into account that Iraqis are still enduring a severe financial crisis as a result of the looting practiced by Al-Maliki’s government of eight years. Iran is now exploiting the Iraqi funds to finance its needs, taking advantage of its security and political influence.
Al-Abadi’s government, which was considered to be less dependent on Iran, turned out to be as weak as the previous Al-Maliki government. It accepted the request of Iran and allowed a Russian air bridge to cross Iraqi airspace to transport weapons to Syria.
The irony is that the Americans are the ones leading the war against Daesh and the armed Iraqi opposition forces in Baghdad. However, Iraqis couldn’t return the favor to the US through a simple decision to prevent the Russian Air Force from crossing the Iraqi airspace! This shows the extent of Iran’s influence on Baghdad, which certainly is behind Al-Abadi’s decision to accept the Iranian-Russian request.
In light of the growing influence of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Iranian dominance in Baghdad will increase. Tehran is controlling the government in Iraq and exploiting its resources at all levels. And Iran is taking advantage of the existing state of affairs in Iraq to impose its regional influence. In the past, Iranians were keen to convince the Americans that they are partners in Iraq, and that they endeavor to ensure the safety of American facilities and centers. However, the US has sacrificed more than 4,000 soldiers in Iraq, while Iran is the one that took over the leadership and resources.
Iran is now controlling the majority of the political parties and militias in Iraq, in addition to the country’s resources and shared water. But the Iraqis will certainly revolt against the Iranian occupation of today. There is a big difference between what Iran is doing today and the American occupation, which aimed to get rid of Saddam’s regime and introduce democracy.
Iraqi people are paying a heavy price in blood, dollars and dignity. Therefore, I think that the Iraq-Iran clash is unavoidable, especially given that the military presence of the Revolutionary Guards on Iraqi territories is increasing in number and influence.
By Nahela Nowshin
The photo of the lifeless body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi on the shore of a Turkish beach captured international headlines and reminded the world of its responsibility in the face of Syria's harrowing refugee crisis. The pathetic sight of Aylan lying face down in the sand has come to symbolise the human cost of the ongoing Syrian conflict that sees no end in sight. The powerful photo has transformed itself into a rallying cry for world leaders to take action for what can be described as one of the worst refugee crises since World War II.
Western leaders reacted with shock and dismay. British Prime Minister David Cameron said that he was “deeply moved” while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, “Humanity has drowned in the Mediterranean Sea.”
Some 10 million people have been displaced from their homes in Syria and tens of thousands continue to stream across European borders. Germany has been most generous in terms of taking in refugees by far; around 450,000 refugees have already entered Germany and the number is likely to increase to one million during the course of this year. But unsurprisingly, Germany's open-door policy was reversed when the country re-introduced identity checks within the passport-free Schengen zone and officially closed its borders to refugees. Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and Czech Republic, among other European nations, have also tightened border security. Clashes have been reported at the Hungary-Serbia border between refugees and riot police and Hungary has started fast-track trials of arrested refugees.
With all eyes on the escalating refugee crisis, much of the media seem to be focusing on Europe's dilemma on how to contain this mass influx, and rightfully so. But amidst the discussion of Europe's struggle with the stream of asylum seekers, we mustn't lose sight of the hypocrisy of the world leaders who are now showing reluctance in accepting refugees they have helped create. The same governments responsible for sustaining the destructive civil war in Syria are now balking at the idea of letting asylum seekers cross the border into their country.
The US, UK, France and other EU nations have been at the forefront of backing the armed opposition in Syria while Russia, Iran and North Korea have been staunchly supporting Assad's government. These governments have been heavily involved in providing military and logistic support to Syrian rebels and loyalist forces. While some of these countries have also been providing humanitarian aid, supposedly to restore infrastructure and services for civilians, it is unclear whose hands these funds are ultimately falling into. The involvement of 30+ armed groups like the YPG, Jabhat al-Nusra and IS among several others, and internal divisions within allied forces make things even more complex than they already are.
While David Cameron is being showered with praise for promising to take in some 20,000 refugees and visiting Syrian families at settlement camps on the Syrian-Lebanese border, he is simultaneously shoring up support to bomb IS out of Syria. France, one of the primary providers of military support to the opposition, is under pressure from the far right National Front Party to control immigration. The US, having spent more than $7 billion in weapons to Syrian rebels, has so far taken in only around 1,500 Syrian refugees through its resettlement program. Russia, a primary supplier of weaponry to loyalist forces, has only taken in over only 1,000 refugees so far. Iran, a steadfast supporter of Assad, has taken in zero refugees, just like Israel, a supporter of the rebels. Canada, having spent well over $700 million to arm the opposition, has taken in a little more than 2,000 refugees. Coincidentally, Prime Minister Stephen Harper came under severe criticism when it was reported that Aylan's family had been trying to reach Canada but couldn't because of insufficient documentation needed to certify refugee status. Countries like Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have also come under flak for not doing enough to accommodate refugees when they have been actively playing a part in arming anti-Assad forces. It must be noted though that war-torn Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt and Jordan are hosting 95 percent of Syrian refugees.
Given the prominent roles these nations have in reducing the once thriving Middle Eastern country to rubble and displacing millions in the process, it is nothing short of hypocrisy for them to essentially demand refugees to respect their borders when they had no qualms about invading Syria's border. Every single country who has had a part in the war must take responsibility of its pro-war hysteria – disguised as a hypocritical moral attempt to establish democracy in Syria – which paved the way for the unparalleled suffering of the people some of these very countries are now refusing to let in. Their failure to adequately fund the squalid refugee camps housing thousands of refugees is appalling. The dominant rhetoric that suggests that world governments are all responsible for the rehabilitation of these refugees is hogwash. There is no question that some are more responsible than others, simply because of their complicity in the systematic destruction of Syria through criminal policies of regime change intervention and aggressive war in the sovereign nation.
In the same way bombing an oil-rich country is part of what is called "counter-terrorism strategy", the thousands of refugees pouring into Europe are insensitively being called "migrants" in the media and by European officials. The difference between a migrant and a refugee lies in the simple concept of choice. It is as if the thousands of Syrian refugees are risking their lives across dangerous stretches of the Mediterranean and Aegean out of choice; as if these people are inherently suicidal. They aren't "economic migrants" as they are being called on many news outlets but victims of a disaster brought about by destructive and deceitful "humanitarian" interventionist policies designed to serve parochial interests.
Governments responsible for the forced displacement of the Syrian people owe it to the latter to provide them with refuge. Instead of playing the blame game and continuing the asylum charade which is now dominating media outlets, these powers must acknowledge responsibility and take action to stem the flow of desperate refugees risking their lives further. Hopefully, it won't take the sorry sight of another lifeless toddler lying face down to prompt the world leaders responsible for this catastrophe into action, because it is already too late.
Nahela Nowshin is a journalist at The Daily Star.
Is Bangladesh on the right track?
By Shah Husain Imam
If you go by the results of the latest survey by US-based International Republican Institute (IRI), you would think the country is on course, primarily as set by the ruling party chief and PM Sheikh Hasina. Politically, it implies a certain democratic deficit that we have to come to terms with someday. Economically, we are on a good footing, rather on a firm wicket, to use a spectacular cricketing phrase.
You have seen some positive energy lately, radiating three-dimensionally: IRI's lively findings, withdrawal of VAT imposed on private universities and removal of indemnity against trials of those who passed off many a custodial killing as death from 'heart attack'. This happened in Operation Clean Heart during BNP rule.
The first served as a barometer of public opinion on political weather, the second safeguarded higher education from commodity taxation and the third opened a window for victims of custodial deaths to seek justice in a particular case.
One of the least said things about US-based International Republic and Institute (IRI)'s latest series of findings concerns shedding light in the circle of darkness. You have got some basis for understanding how public opinion has quietly changed in the last one and a half years of the AL's second term stalked by controversy from day one. By freeing us of the dull consistency of stock political observations, thanks to the IRI survey, we are put in a relatively comforting zone.
A word about the credibility of the IRI survey. The reputed research organisation claims a margin of error not exceeding plus or minus two percent but confidence level at 95 percent. For all we know, the dependability of its surveys remains unassailed.
Awami League waltzed to the statistical lyrics of an improving image to an extent that the parliament in a resolution congratulated the PM on favourable IRI survey ratings.
An IRI survey between January 12 and 27, 2014, hot on the heels of the January 5 elections, showed only 35 percent of the people thought the country was headed towards the right direction; in September of the same year, 56 percent believed that the country was on the right track; and now 62 percent believe the country is headed in the right direction.
Support for the ruling government and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina reached 66 percent and 67 percent respectively.
BNP could, in theory, latch on support indicated (in the survey) in favour of pre-poll neutral caretaker arrangement and early election. But the preferential gaps are narrowing down between the parties even on those counts.
"68 percent (up from last year's 65 percent) regard democracy definitely more important while only 27 percent, down from last year's 30 percent, choose a prosperous economy."
The high watermark of the survey is that 81 percent of respondents keep faith in democracy despite its flaws. That being a very positive deduction, one feels, a quest for inclusive democracy, once timed-out, needs to be undertaken in good time. And time is all we have to be utilised optimally for maximising democracy and minimising conflict and tension across the board.
In parallel, we energise and invigorate national economy primed on a global concept of growing together, despite shrinking spaces and fast depleting resources of the planet.
As if to reinforce the argument for lending primacy to the economy even in politics, please note that we are the 35th largest economy among 189 economies by World Bank's reckonings. This ranking is based on purchasing power parity. It means with one dollar a Bangladeshi can buy more than an American or a British would. There is meat to our being a large economy: Our per capita annual income is around US$1300 and the size of our population 160 million which has a multiplier effect on our purchasing power parity. One of the downsides of a growing population is the difficulty in reducing innumeracy and illiteracy. The last literacy figure has slightly dropped from the previous level in the face of a rising population stripping away at the literacy drive.
Our GDP is slightly below the 50th largest among the world economies. With consistent GDP growth rate above 6 percent, which again is poised for acceleration, we have modest incrementals (trickle downs) in terms of purchasing power and affording amenities among a greater mass of people.
We are yet to strive meaningfully to attract, hold and employ three potential sources of capital lying in abundance but out of reach: Plug the holes of capital flight, tap in on the large high income groups in the country whose per capita income equals that of some East European countries. This is the high-end potential domestic market capable of garnering foreign investment, including on a collaboration basis waiting to be utilised. Then you have a complement of a 5 million Bangladeshi expatriate community to add to our potential resource base.
We have maritime water territories equal to the size of another Bangladesh, a huge bonanza to capitalise on in every sense of the term to fast-track into a developed stage that is simply beckoning us.
Shah Husain Imam is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.
Can anyone stop the killing in Syria?
By Marwan Bishara
Perhaps I should have seen it coming. I didn't. I was dumbstruck. To explain the effects of psychological violence on Syrians, a Syrian scholar gave us an example during the "Conference on Violence and Politics in Contemporary Arab Societies".
It's a "personal anecdote" he said, as he moved closer to the microphone. "When I told my sister that she must find a way to escape, she said she wouldn't/couldn't move an inch after the beheading of my nephew as he tried to escape the violence."
US military under fire over failure to train Syrian rebels
As the words echoed in the room, I couldn't tell if I heard right until I looked at the sympathetic faces around me. In retrospect, the revelation was as sobering as it is shocking.
Most of the academics, intellectuals and journalists who gathered here in Tunis this week, have had first hand experience with violence. Iraqis, Algerians, Libyans, Palestinians, Egyptians, and others shared similar insights, shaped in no small part by a bitter dose of realism. They prescribed remedies to the imploding situation in the region (which I will discuss separately), but no one had illusions about the monumental challenges ahead. Not even the Tunisian attendees.
Will 100,000 more Syrians die to show that Assad can no longer rule over Syria?
Not least for Syria and Syrians.
Unlike those Arab intellectuals, who are mindful of human suffering, the regional and international leaders involved in Syria have proven to be either terribly insensitive or outright psychopaths. In other words, they clearly don't care how their policies harm ordinary people.
The choice was clear from the outset: sacrifice Assad to save Syria, or sacrifice Syria to save Assad. The regime embraced the latter to preserve itself and more than 100,000 Syrians died in the process. No regrets, no hesitation. None whatsoever.
When it failed, Iran and its Lebanese ally, Hezbollah stepped in to save the Assad regime, and in the process another 100,000 or more died. No worry, no sorry. None.
As that effort also failed, and the regime continues to bleed, Russia has stepped in under the same pretext: Only by saving Assad could the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) be defeated and Syria saved, contends President Putin.
So, will 100,000 more Syrians die to show that Assad can no longer rule over Syria?
Filling the void
Ever since President "No Drama" Obama decided to back off from his threat to hit the Syrian regime following its use of chemical weapons, the American president has argued, rather poorly, that it was in Syria's best interest not to interfere; that outside involvement was no remedy for the country's civil war.
But instead of putting the US' weight behind a political solution, he chose to start a long-term bombing campaign against ISIL - 6,000 sorties and counting. To no avail, alas. In the process, ISIL has become an alibi for who's who to interfere in Syria as long as they steered away from the regime.
And Syria, Iraq, and the entire Middle East region re-emerged as the landscape for a renewed so-called "war on terror", where the US led the way and Assad, Rouhani, Sisi, and Abbadi are privileged members.
Russia saw an opportunity and stepped in rather aggressively to reshape the scramble for Syria.
Is Moscow acting unilaterally to take ownership of the Syrian regime? Is it complicit with Iran to expand its influence in the region? Or, is it coordinating its actions with Washington to pave the way for a political solution?
Bad to worse
Russia could be taking the military lead in order to spearhead a diplomatic process that bridges the Iranian-American divide over Syria; one that phases out Assad but preserves the regime (along with the Russian-designated "healthy" part of the opposition) under its tutelage. Lacking any credibility among Syrian opposition, if Russia has such wishes, they could prove mere wishful thinking. That is unless the commitment to remove Assad & Co is ironclad.
Russia could also be trying to phase out Iran or partake in its influence over the Syrian regime following the signing of the nuclear deal. If it's true, Moscow will discover, sooner rather than later, that it can't succeed where Tehran has already failed. In the process, many more will die in vain.
(Speaking of another Afghanistan might be premature, but then, who could have imagined we would be here five years ago?)
Lastly, Russia might also be taking advantage of Western indifference towards Syria by aligning their strategies with Tehran in support of the Syrian regime. Such scenario will prove most costly to Syria and Syrians as the country continues to fall apart.
Which of these scenarios is most plausible is unclear. But if US leaders continue to play innocent (read stupid) and Europeans continue to play catch up, Russia's foul play is sure to pave the way for another bitter and bloody chapter in Syrian history.
Tunis to Syria
It's clear at this point in time that there are no good options for Syria; that the sweetest among all plausible scenarios is bitter. But the record also shows that quick and peaceful transition as here in Tunisia has proven the least costly among the Arab nations, while on the other hand, the protracted and violent change in Syria is deadly and destructive.
Indeed, the last five years of turmoil, like the previous 50 years of dictatorships, have taught us that the bloodier the change, the worse the outcome, and the longer the wait, the more complicated the change.
Marwan Bishara is the senior political analyst at Al Jazeera.
#IStandWithAhmed shows America at its best, and worst
By Joyce Karam
17 September 2015
In the last 24 hours, a 14-year-old Muslim-American teen has gone from being perceived as a “bomb maker” handcuffed and arrested by the Texas police, to an innovator celebrated by millions on social media and in the business community.
The story of Ahmed Mohamed showcased the worst forms of Islamophobia and racial profiling in the United States, followed by unprecedented embrace and public support for the teen, exposing the discrimination against him.
Ahmed went to his high school in Irving, Texas on Monday proudly dressed in his NASA t-shirt and holding onto his latest invention: a digital clock that he had made from a pencil case to show his teachers.
If his name were Charles Adams or his skin color was white, Ahmed would probably have been applauded by his teachers.
Little did he know that his school day would end in him being handcuffed and arrested, taken by the police to a juvenile detention center without his parents or a lawyer, where he was interrogated for “trying to make a bomb.”
Arrested for being Muslim
In post 9/11 America, Ahmed Mohamed was only arrested because of his skin color and for being a Muslim. If his name were Charles Adams or his skin color was white, Ahmed would probably have been applauded by his teachers and classmates for creativity at a time when the U.S. school system is lagging behind other industrialized nations.
It should also be noted that the arrest of Ahmed is not in isolation, given the growing anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States. The fear and paranoia that drove Ahmed’s teacher to report him to the police is by no means exclusive to MacArthur High School or to the state of Texas. Hate crimes and negative stereotypes of Muslims have been on the rise across the United States.
Fourteen years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, an average of 100-150 hate crimes target the Muslim community annually, compared to 20 or 30 prior to 2001, according to FBI records. The Chapel Hill shooting in North Carolina last February, and the assault on a Sikh man in Chicago mistaken for a Muslim-Arab last week, illustrate the rising level of bigotry against the U.S. Muslim community.
A poll conducted by The Economist/YouGov in February suggests that a slight majority of Americans (52%) view Islam as more likely than other religions to encourage violence. While this could be a product of increased anti-Muslim rhetoric following the rise of ISIS and other terrorist groups exploiting the banner of Islam, it goes against what Muslim-Americans stand for, and contradicts the message of assimilation and diversity that the United States champions in today’s world.
Ahmed to visit the White House
For the few hours between the arrest and the police asking Ahmed Mohamed repeatedly ‘So you tried to make a bomb?’, to which he responded “no, I was trying to make a clock”, the 14 year old boy regretted taking his invention to school. According to the Dallas Morning News, “he’s vowed never to take an invention to school again”.
Discouraging free thought and innovation because of the state of fear and prejudice is entirely un-American and feeds into the terrorists’ propaganda that the United States is the enemy of Islam. It is also rejected by millions of Americans who have flooded the internet and social media websites in solidarity with Ahmed.
The story of Ahmed’s clock renews hope that despite the prejudice and the fear mongering, the majority of Americans is neither silent nor intolerant.
The outpouring of public support, the tweet from the U.S. President Barack Obama inviting Ahmed (and his clock) to the White House, and the post from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to host him in Palo Alto are a better reflection of American values than the circumstances that led to the arrest. In one day, Ahmed has received a scholarship to Space Camp, an invitation to Google’s science fair, a lifetime membership to Dallas electronics club, an offer to visit General Electric headquarters and a new NASA shirt – one flown in space by astronaut Daniel Tani.
At a time when fear mongering and stereotypes of Muslims dominate far-right talk shows and statements by several xenophobic Republican Presidential candidates, it is those voices embracing Ahmed that give confidence in America’s future. Muslims have since the 19th century flocked to the United States, charting a better story of assimilation than in Europe, and excelling in opportunities that are not abundant in their countries of origin.
The story of Ahmed’s clock renews hope that despite the prejudice and the fear mongering, the majority of Americans is neither silent nor intolerant. It shows once again that injustice can be confronted, and that a Sudanese-American boy can grow and innovate, undeterred by voices of divisiveness, fear and delusion.
Joyce Karam is the Washington Correspondent for Al-Hayat Newspaper, an International Arabic Daily based in London. She has covered American politics extensively since 2004 with focus on U.S. policy towards the Middle East. Prior to that, she worked as a Journalist in Lebanon, covering the Post-war situation. Joyce holds a B.A. in Journalism and an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution. Twitter: @Joyce_Karam
In Yemen, can the Houthi leadership abandon radicalism?
By Manuel Almeida
17 September 2015
Soon after taking over the Yemeni capital Sanaa in September last year, the northern Houthi rebels included the strategically important and energy rich Marib govornate in their plans.
Since late 2014, the strong local resistance in Marib against both the Houthis and the military forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh managed to halt their advance (at the time rumoured to aim as far as Hadhramaut in the southeast). Yet it did not prevent the Houthi-Saleh forces from eventually taking control of some areas of the governorate.
Now, however, the tables have turned and the Houthis find themselves on the retreat in Marib, facing a determined counteroffensive by local tribes (which have received strong logistical support from the Arab coalition), pro-government forces and the coalition's ground and aerial units. In the grand scheme of things, this key fight is the likely prelude to the chapter every party to the conflict should want to avoid: the battle for control of Sanaa, which sits about 35 miles from the border of Marib province.
A distant political solution
How and when the current conflict will end remains uncertain and so does the political future of the Houthis. Not only the country-wide military offensive the group led by Abdul Malik al-Houthi launched in tandem with the forces loyal to Ali Abdullah Saleh did not go as planned, it also made a lot of enemies for the group in the process. The very fact they allied themselves with Saleh, against whom the rebel group fought six wars between 2004 and 2011 and Yemenis of all stripes rebelled during Yemen’s uprisings, completely discredited the Houthis’ claim they are fighting the corruption of the old system.
The friends of the Houthis now may no longer be their friends in the future.
Also, in Yemen, tribal and other local alliances often shift mercurially when there is the realization the power balance might be changing, so the friends of the Houthis now may no longer be their friends in the future. This maxim applies to the members of the General People’s Congress and the military and security forces that remained loyal to the former president’s camp.
No less significant, the Arab coalition and pro-government forces have intensified the military pressure on the Houthis and dealt the rebel group important blows (starting in Aden, the former capital of South Yemen abandoned by the Houthis in late July).
If reason is any guide then, even in a time of war, there seem to be many reasons for the Houthis to consider a political settlement. On the table since April has been a proposed solution well-known to the Houthis: U.N. Security Resolution 2216. It calls all Yemeni parties, but the Houthis in particular, to withdraw from all areas seized during the latest conflict (including Sanaa), relinquish arms seized from military and security institutions, cease all actions falling exclusively within the authority of the legitimate government of Yemen and fully implement previous Council resolutions.
Resolution 2216, the terms of which have been endorsed by the Yemeni government and the Arab coalition, provides general guidelines and key requirements for a political solution. What it does not and cannot do, however, is to offer a specific, practical path to end the hostilities and a decisive move toward political negotiations. On this front, all diplomatic efforts and negotiations so far, including the talks that took place in Oman’s capital of Muscat, have failed to produce tangible results. The next round of talks, supposed to take place this week in Oman, has been cancelled.
A political incentive for the Houthis?
It is unclear whether or not the Houthi leadership sees any real benefit in negotiating a solution to the crisis.
It is becoming evident that no military solution will suit the Houthis, quite the contrary. The best they can achieve at this point is to delay as much as possible the assault on the capital. Yet it is unclear whether or not the Houthi leadership sees any real benefit in negotiating a solution to the crisis.
Part of the problem with reaching a deal with the Houthis is their recent history of violating the terms of the deals their leadership has entered since the group’s southward offensive started in June last year. This continues to generate great scepticism among Yemeni officials and the coalition that the Houthis will honor any commitments. The same goes for Saleh, who was allowed by the GCC to return to Yemen under the condition of staying away from politics, only to facilitate the Houthis’ take-over of Sanaa and then supporting militarily and financially their foolish endeavour.
For all the blame the Houthis will get for the conflict and chaos (after destroying big chunks of Aden, the pro-Houthi forces continue to intentionally destroy civilian areas in Taiz), the Yemeni government or any transitional government should try to avoid a return to the past under Saleh. This of course, when and if the Houthis abandon the capital and Saleh’s forces capitulate. With a complete seclusion of the Houthis in their Saada stronghold, it would only be a matter of time until the next Houthi uprising. It would also provide Iran and Hezbollah with a future opportunity to explore Houthi grievances and threaten Saudi Arabia when the need arises again.
Eventually, the Yemeni government should distinguish the unrepentant radicals among the Houthi leadership from any others willing to compromise. Positions in the government and state apparatus, integration into the military (what is a neglected armed militia that can only fight going to do but fight?) for the rank and file and a serious commitment to address long standing grievances in the north could all be part of a reconciliation strategy.
Manuel Almeida is a writer, researcher and consultant on the Middle East. He holds a PhD in International Relations from the London of Economics and Political Science and was an editor at Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. He can be reached on @_ManuelAlmeida on Twitter.